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Frank J. Bruno v. At&T Mobility LLC

June 3, 2011

FRANK J. BRUNO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
AT&T MOBILITY LLC, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Nora Barry Fischer

AMENDED MEMORANDUM OPINION

I. PREFACE

At the request of the parties, the Court convened a status conference on May 20, 2011, after issuing its original Memorandum Opinion and related Order, (Docket Nos. 46, 47), granting Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, (Docket No. 36), and Order entering judgment in favor of Defendant. (Docket No. 48). During the status conference, Defendant, through counsel, requested clarification of the Court's original Memorandum Opinion. Specifically, Defendant sought clarification of the sentence on the final page of the opinion that read: "Consequently, under these circumstances, the Court is constrained to hold, based on the evidence before it, that Plaintiff is entitled to severance payments from Defendant." (See Docket No. 46 at 21).

The Court construed this request as a motion for clarification, and issued an order expressly stating its intent with respect to the opinion and clarifying the meaning of the questioned sentence. For the purposes of the record, the Court issues this Amended Memorandum Opinion and related Orders. The only changes made to the body of the opinion are the inclusion of this Preface section and the substitution of the following sentence for that contained in the original opinion: "Consequently, under these circumstances, the Court is constrained to hold, based on the evidence before it, that Plaintiff is not entitled to severance payments from Defendant." See infra at 21-22 (emphasis added).

II. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Frank J. Bruno ("Plaintiff") brought this action against Defendant AT&T Mobility LLC ("Defendant") to recover severance pay under the terms of Defendant's Severance Pay Plan. (See Docket No. 4). Presently pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Docket No. 36). For the reasons outlined herein, that Motion is GRANTED.

III. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Unless otherwise specified, the facts of record are uncontested. Viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, they are as follows.

A.Plaintiff's Employment and Termination

Plaintiff was employed by Defendant or its predecessors from November 11, 1996 until his termination on July 7, 2008. (Docket Nos. 37-3 at 6, 12, 37-6). During his employment, Plaintiff initially began as an Audio Quality Engineer, but later became an RF Engineer I when his former position was eliminated companywide in 2004. (Id. at 6). This transition proved difficult for Plaintiff. (See Id. at 9). Indeed, as early as May 2005, and continuing through May 2008, Plaintiff acknowledges that performance-related issues were brought to his attention in the form of annual performance reviews, as well as performance improvement plans and written warnings. (See Docket Nos. 37-3 at 12, 37-7, 37-8, 37-9, 37-10, 37-11, 37-12, 37-13). Additionally, as late as 2007, Plaintiff admits that his performance was below the standard set by the other RF Engineers in his group.*fn1

In advance of his termination, Matthew Thomas, who was Plaintiff's direct supervisor, and Allison Menster, Defendant's Employee Relations Manager, exchanged a series of emails and voicemails relating to Plaintiff. (See Docket No. 37-5). The dialogue began when, on July 2, 2008, Ms. Menster received an automated message that Mr. Thomas had submitted a "terminate request" for Plaintiff that required her approval, (Id. at 7), and culminated five days later when, on July 7, 2008, Ms. Menster sent an email to Mr. Thomas, carbon copy to Scott Sorice*fn2 and Karen Mendolia,*fn3 with a subject line entitled "Frank Bruno termination," (Id. at 4).*fn4 In the latter email, Mr. Thomas was informed that he could "proceed with [the] termination meeting for [Plaintiff] . for his continued pattern of unacceptable job performance." (Id. at 4). The email also identified certain "key points" related to said meeting. (Id.). In particular, the email instructed Mr. Thomas to:

Review with [Plaintiff] the key points mentioned in the [performance improvement plan] he received, your last meeting with him, and the fact that you have not seen improvements in the areas discussed.

Advise [Plaintiff] that the company has made the decision to terminate his employment for continued pattern of unacceptable Job Performance.

Provide [Plaintiff] with the numbers to payroll . and benefit . hotlines for any issues related to either.

Submit the termination via Manager Self-Service. Terminate Date is day AFTER the termination meeting. Select "DIS -- Performance" for reason code. Select "Not eligible for rehire." (Id. at 4-5). The email did not indicate that Plaintiff's termination was based on or part of a reduction in Defendant's work force. (See Id.).

Subsequently, Plaintiff was called to Mr. Thomas' office for a meeting with Mr. Thomas, who had been joined by Mr. Sorice. (Docket No. 37-3 at 12). At this time, Plaintiff was told that his employment with Defendant had been terminated. (Id.). Plaintiff was then escorted to his desk to gather his belongings before he was eventually led out of the building by Mr. Thomas. (Id. at 12-13). During the course of these proceedings, no documents*fn5 were provided to Plaintiff and there was no discussion about any type of workforce reduction. (Id.). Likewise, Plaintiff was not asked to sign a waiver and release in exchange for severance benefits. (Id. at 14). At the time of his termination, Plaintiff was earning approximately $54,000 per year. (Docket No. 4 at 3).

Within Defendant's management structure, various levels of approval were needed in order to effectuate Plaintiff's termination. (See Docket No. 37-4 at 20). As identified in Defendant's "Termination Document" pertaining to Plaintiff, in addition to Mr. Thomas, Mr. Sorice, and Ms. Menster, Defendant's Regional Executive Director Chris Bondurant and attorney Bettina Wing-Che Yip were also involved in the decision to involuntarily terminate Plaintiff's employment on July 7, 2008.*fn6 (See Docket Nos. 37-4 at 20, 37-6 at 4). The Termination Document lists the reason for Plaintiff's termination as "Performance Improvement Plan," (Docket Nos. 37-4 at 20, 37-6 at 2), and describes various performance issues that were perceived during Plaintiff's employment for Defendant, (Docket No. 37-6 at 2-4). It does not contain a reference to any type of force reduction process. (Id.). Indeed, to this end, Mr. Sorice states, regarding his involvement in the decision-making process, that Plaintiff's "termination was not the result of any type of workforce reduction" and that "[t]he sole reason that [Plaintiff] was terminated was due to his continued pattern of unacceptable job performance."*fn7 (Docket No. 37-19 at 2). Similarly, Mr. Thomas testified that, in the course of his employment as a manager in Defendant's RF Engineering department, he has never been involved in any type of reduction in force. (Docket No. 37-4 at 20).

B.Severance Pay Plan

The AT&T Inc. ("AT&T") Severance Pay Plan ("the Plan") "is an employee welfare benefit plan which provides for . the payment of Severance Allowances out of general assets of the Participating Company to eligible employees who are selected for involuntary termination as a direct result of force surplus, technological, operational, organizational and/or structural changes affecting the Company." (Docket No. 37-2 at 4). Defendant is a "Participating Company" under the Plan. (Id. at 17).

According to its terms, the Plan was "established effective January 1, 1994, and revised July 1, 2007 and is applicable to any Eligible Employee who receives a written Surplus Notification Letter provided after that date." (Id. at 4). Eligibility for severance pay benefits under the Plan is governed by Article 1.3, which provides, in relevant part, as follows:

An individual is an "Eligible Employee" and is eligible for benefits under this Plan, if the individual:

A. is a non-bargained employee of a Participating Company.. An individual is a non-bargained employee of a Participating Company if the individual is not employed in a position that is represented by a union, paid on the U.S. dollar payroll of a Participating Company, and receives a regular and stated compensation, ...


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