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Earl Ruhl v. County of Lancaster

August 31, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stengel, J.


Earl Ruhl was employed with the Lancaster County Assessment Office as an appraiser and then clerical worker from March of 1990 until March of 2009. He was 60 years old at the time he stopped working for the County, and he claims he involuntarily retired or was fired from his position. His complaint contains causes of action for wrongful termination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"). The County has filed a motion for summary judgment arguing, among other things, that Mr. Ruhl is estopped from asserting that he was qualified for his position because he has represented to the Social Security Administration that he was unable to work as of the date of his termination. For the reasons set forth below, I will grant the motion.


Mr. Ruhl began working for the County in its Assessment Office in 1990. Ruhl Dep. 32:10-13, Jan. 28, 2011. He started out as an appraiser and in this position, visited homes, farms, and other properties to assess their value. Id. at 37:13-38:25. His work involved driving to and walking around the properties, in addition to speaking to the owners. Id. at 39:13-19; 41:18-23. The first time his job duties changed, sometime in 2002, he stopped doing general appraisal work and instead focused exclusively on farm assessment. Id. at 43:20-45:19. This involved no change in the physical requirements of his position. See id. In 2006, while he was doing an outdoor farm inspection, Mr. Ruhl fell, injuring his shoulder, back, and neck. Id. at 48:18-49:10. He continued working for a period of time after his fall, but ultimately had surgery on his neck in April or May of 2007. Id. at 52:1-12. When he returned to work following his surgery in June or July of 2007, he stopped doing field work as an appraiser, and instead began doing various types of clerical work in the office. Id. at 52:17-54:4. Then, early in 2008, his job duties changed again -- this time from performing general clerical duties to acting full-time as the clerical worker in charge of "the Homestead work."*fn1 Id. at 60:20-61:9. His physical restrictions at that time prevented him from lifting, bending, or standing for more than an hour. Id. at 63:4-13.

Mr. Ruhl was awarded 25 weeks of workers‟ compensation, worth approximately $14,000, in connection with the neck surgery he underwent in 2007. See Def.‟s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts in Support of Motion for Summ. J. ("Def.‟s SUF") ¶ 39; Pl.‟s Resp. to Def.‟s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ("Pl.‟s SUF") ¶ 39. Ultimately, Mr. Ruhl collected $30,000 in workers‟ compensation benefits. Def.‟s SUF ¶ 40; Pl.‟s SUF ¶ 40. He claims he did not do anything wrong in connection with the overpayment, and that he was informed by a supervisor that the mistake was the result of a "computer glitch." Pl.‟s SUF ¶ 40. In any case, Mr. Ruhl‟s supervisor, Wendy Chan, discovered the overpayment in February of 2009, and first discussed it with Mr. Ruhl during a meeting she held with him and another supervisor, Denielle McGuire, on March 6, 2009. Def.‟s SUF ¶¶ 41, 48; Pl.‟s SUF ¶ 48. There, they accused Mr. Ruhl of both embezzlement and fraud. Def.‟s SUF ¶¶ 62, 63. Mr. Ruhl claims Ms. Chan told him during the meeting that he was going to be fired for his actions if he did not retire.

Id. at ¶ 72. Ruhl retired that day, with the understanding that if he did not, he would be terminated. Pl.‟s SUF ¶¶ 51, 79; Def.‟s SUF ¶ 79.

In June of 2009, Mr. Ruhl completed an application for Social Security Disability Insurance ("SSDI"). See Disability Benefit Application, Ex. 6 to Ruhl Dep. He stated in his application that he was unable to work as of March 6, 2009. Id. His application was approved with a disability onset date of March 6, 2009 and he continues to receive SSDI payments today.


Summary judgment is proper "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute

as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED.

R. CIV. P. 56(a). A factual dispute is "material" only if it might affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). For an issue to be "genuine," a reasonable fact-finder must be able to return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party. Id.

A party seeking summary judgment initially bears responsibility for informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record that it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by citing relevant portions of the record, including depositions, documents, affidavits, or declarations, or showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or showing that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c).

Summary judgment is therefore appropriate when the non-moving party fails to rebut the moving party=s argument that there is no genuine issue of fact by pointing to evidence that is Asufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at ...

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