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Janice L. Hubbell v. World Kitchen

December 8, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joy Flowers Conti United States District Judge


I. Introduction

Pending before the court are motions for reconsideration of the partial denial of motions

for summary judgment (ECF Nos. 104 & 107) filed by defendants, World Kitchen, LLC ("World Kitchen"), United Steel Workers of America, AFL-CIO-CLC-Local 53 ("USW Local 53") and United Steelworkers of America District 10 ("USW D-10" and, together with USW Local 53, the "USW entities" or the "Union"). For the reasons that follow, these motions will be granted.

II. Legal Standard

A motion for reconsideration is typically granted only if one of three situations is shown:

"(1) an intervening change in controlling law, (2) the availability of new evidence not previously available, or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or to prevent manifest injustice." Reich v. Compton, 834 F.Supp. 753, 755 (E.D.Pa. 1993)(citing Dodge v. Susquehanna Univ., 796 F.Supp. 829, 830 (M.D.Pa. 1992)).

Because of the interest in finality, at least at the district court level, motions for reconsideration should be granted sparingly; the parties are not free to relitigate issues the court has already decided. Rottmund v. Continental Assurance Co., 813 F.Supp. 1104, 1107 (E.D.Pa. 1992). Stated another way, a motion for reconsideration is not properly grounded in a request for a district court to rethink a decision it has already made, rightly or wrongly. Glendon Energy Co. v. Borough of Glendon, 836 F.Supp. 1109, 1122 (E.D.Pa. 1993).

Williams v. City of Pittsburgh, 32 F.Supp.2d 236, 238 (W.D.Pa. 1998).

III. Background*fn1

Hubbell commenced this action against World Kitchen, the Union and Robert Crabb ("Crabb") on December 21, 2006, alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621 et seq., and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 PA. CON. STAT. ANN. §§ 951 et seq. (ECF No. 1). On February 12, 2009, the parties stipulated to the dismissal of Crabb as a defendant in this action. (ECF No. 46). On April 24, 2009, World Kitchen and the Union filed separate motions for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 52 & 56). The motions were partially granted and partially denied in a memorandum opinion and order dated February 24, 2010. Hubbell v. World Kitchen, LLC., 688 F.Supp.2d 401 (W.D.Pa. 2010). The Union filed a motion for reconsideration on March 12, 2010. (ECF No. 89). The motion was denied in a memorandum opinion and order dated June 9, 2010. Hubbell v. World Kitchen, LLC, Civil Action No. 06-1686, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 56584 (W.D.Pa. June 9, 2010). The pending motions for reconsideration were filed respectively by the Union and World Kitchen on July 9, 2010, and July 12, 2010. (ECF Nos. 104 & 107).

Hubbell works as a selector and back-up quality control inspector for World Kitchen. Hubbell, 688 F.Supp.2d at 404. She performs her duties at a plant located in Charleroi, Pennsylvania. Id. As a selector, Hubbell examines completed kitchen and cooking products (before they are packaged for shipment) in order to ensure that they meet the applicable production specifications. Id. at 404-05.

The claims remaining in this case concern a ten-day suspension imposed on Hubbell by World Kitchen for conduct occurring on June 1, 2006. Id. at 424-29, 434-35. In order to ensure the safety of its employees, World Kitchen requires its selectors to wear gloves on both hands while performing their duties. Id. at 409. During the early morning hours of June 1, 2006, Hubbell and Don Kearns ("Kearns"), a male employee, were each wearing only a single glove while working as selectors. Id. Their immediate supervisor, Crabb, approached them and reminded them about World Kitchen‟s safety rule requiring selectors to wear gloves on both hands. Id. After hearing Crabb‟s admonition, Kearns immediately pulled out a second glove and put it on his exposed hand. Id. Hubbell did not do so. Instead, she testified she refused to wear a nearby glove because it had already been worn by another employee. Id. At 4:18 a.m., Crabb sent an email to Donald Good ("Good"), World Kitchen‟s human resources manager for the Charleroi plant, complaining about Hubbell‟s alleged refusal to follow his instructions and urging Good to view a surveillance tape of the incident. Id. at 426. On June 22, 2006, Hubbell received a ten-day suspension in connection with her failure to wear two gloves and related "insubordination." Id. at 410, 424-25.

Hubbell‟s suspension took effect on June 23, 2006. Id. at 426. On the next day, Hubbell sent a letter to Union President Patrick J. Cahill ("Cahill") and Union Staff Representative James Watt ("Watt") requesting that the Union initiate the applicable grievance procedure and contest the suspension. Hubbell, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 56584, at *23. Hubbell returned to work on July 3, 2006. Hubbell, 688 F.Supp.2d at 426. On August 9, 2006, Cahill initiated the grievance procedure on behalf of Hubbell. Id. Later that month, however, Watt decided to abandon the grievance procedure after viewing the surveillance tape depicting the incident of June 1, 2006. Id. at 410.

In the memorandum opinion of February 24, 2010, the court determined that Hubbell had established a prima facie case of sex-based discrimination against World Kitchen, given that Kearns had not been suspended for failing to wear two gloves while working as a selector. Hubbell, 688 F.Supp.2d at 424. Hubbell‟s prima facie case shifted the burden of production to World Kitchen to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for suspending Hubbell. Id. World Kitchen satisfied this burden by producing documentary and testimonial evidence that Hubbell had been suspended for insubordination rather than for failing to strictly comply with the applicable safety rule. Id. at 424-26. The relevant documentary evidence demonstrated that Hubbell, unlike Kearns, had been formally warned on November 11, 2005, that her failure to wear two gloves was in violation of the safety rules applicable to selectors working in the Charleroi plant. Id. at 424. In addition, the written notice of Hubbell‟s suspension, which had been signed by Good on June 22, 2006, contained the following language:

You have been cited as Violating Plant/Safety Rule:

* Level 1, Number 6

* Required safety equipment and PPE, per department, must be worn when performing designated tasks. (i.e. respirators, protective aprons, goggles, steel toed shoes, proper hearing protection, etc.)

* On June 1, 2006 employee was not wearing two gloves on line 115. Supervisor instructed employee to put the glove on and she refused stating he was to write her up. Supervisor returned and employee still refused to wear proper PPE. Notice of two glove rule posted in plant and employee should be aware.

* June 1, 2006

* Level 3, Number 1

* Insubordination and refusal to perform an assigned task will not be permitted.

* One June 1, Supervisor Crabb requested Janice Hubbell to put on the second glove and she refused. Employee asked supervisor Crabb to write her up. The other employee on the line was also without a second glove and when asked, he complied immediately. Ms. Hubbell was insubordinate concerning a direct order from her supervisor to wear her proper PPE and work safely. She refused and evidence is clear she was insubordinate.

* June 1, 2006

Id. at 424-25. This documentary evidence supported World Kitchen‟s assertion that Hubbell had not been treated more harshly than Kearns because of her sex. Id. at 426.

In order to provide further support for its position, World Kitchen pointed to deposition testimony which had been given by Crabb. During the course of his deposition, Crabb testified as follows:

Q. And we talked earlier today about a write-up in June 2006 with Ms. Hubbell. On that incident can you explain for us in a little bit more detail what happened on that particular day? I believe it was June 1st of 2006.

A. That‟s the incident with Ms. Hubbell and Don [Kearns] I believe.

Q. Yes.

A. I came by the end of the line, I noticed that they were not wearing gloves on both hands. I walked up to Mr. [Kearns], told him-explained to him-he was a new hire at this time, I explained to him that gloves have to be worn on both hands so you don‟t get cut. He said okay, he took his glove out of his pocket, put it on his hands. I leaned over across the belt which would be a good four foot away, I leaned towards Janice and told her she knows better, she‟s been here long enough, she knows she should have gloves on both hands, and I told her to put gloves on both hands. At that point I left the area, made a round through the automatics department, stopped into the automatics lining coordinator‟s office to talk with one of my line coordinators, I noticed on a monitor-this could have been four, five minutes transpired by this time, I noticed on the monitor that Janice still didn‟t put a glove on. So I went back out to the line. At this time I told her I was going to write her up for not having gloves on both hands. At that point she told me go ahead and write her up. I said go ahead and put gloves on both hands. At that point she told me I only have one glove. I said, well, there‟s a glove sitting right there on your table. She said, that‟s dirty, I‟m not wearing it. She jumped up out of her seat at that point and said I ain‟t putting that glove on. I said, where‟s your gloves. She said, I‟ll go get them. I said, no, I will go get them. So I walked back to the rack that held the gloves, probably 30 feet from where she was working, grabbed a pair of gloves, came back, gave them to Ms. Hubbell, at that point went back to my office, filled out the safety violation slip and came back out and gave her copy of it.

Q. Whose responsibility is it to have gloves with them while they‟re working?

A. The employees should pick those gloves up from the glove areas. There‟s three or four of them throughout the selecting area to get gloves from. You can grab a hundred pair a day if need be.

Q. Did I hear you correctly that there was a bin of clean gloves about 30 or 40 feet from where she was working?

A. From that selection end, yes, there‟s some probably no more than 30 foot away.

Q. On that day did anybody else refuse to put on gloves when you asked them to?

A. Don [Kearns], the other one I noticed at the same time, had no problems taking his glove out of his pocket ...

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