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Stephen G. Smith v. R.R. Donnelley and Sons Company

September 16, 2011


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


September ___, 2011

Presently before this Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 13), Plaintiff's Response in Opposition thereto (Doc. 15), and Defendant's Reply (Doc. 17). For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Defendant's Motion.


Plaintiff, a Pennsylvania resident, initiated this action against Defendant, a Delaware corporation, for allegedly wrongfully terminating his employment because he pursued a worker's compensation claim. The facts giving rise to Plaintiff's Complaint are as follows. Plaintiff worked for Defendant from 1975, most recently as an assistant press operator at Defendant's plant located at 391 Steel Way, Lancaster, Pennsylvania 17601 ("Steel Way Plant"), until his employment was terminated on June 8, 2009. Although Plaintiff received a few warnings regarding attendance and quality issues during his tenure with Defendant, his overall employment was satisfactory.

On March 12, 2009, Plaintiff was working beside a print press when he claims he inadvertently collided heads with his co-worker Amanda Sierra. At the time, Plaintiff did not think he sustained any injuries from the collision and continued to work. Over the next few days, however, Plaintiff noticed problems developing in his left eye. On March 19, 2009, Plaintiff sought treatment with a physician who diagnosed Plaintiff with detached retinas in both eyes and a vitreous hemorrhage in his left eye. The physician indicated that the collision Plaintiff suffered at work could have been a possible cause of the detached retinas, or could have aggravated pre-existing retinal tears. Plaintiff ultimately had eye surgery on March 20, 2009 to treat the condition.

On March 20, 2009, one hour before the surgery was to take place, Plaintiff called his supervisor, Candido Crespo, to report that he had suffered a work-related injury resulting from the collision with Ms. Sierra eight days earlier. Shortly after speaking with Crespo and upon Crespo's advice, Plaintiff called and reported the accident to Clare Sterback, a MedCor Workplace Management Nurse assigned to the Steel Way Plant. In an email to several of Defendant's management personnel, Ms. Sterback indicated that she would file a claim with Workers Compensation and collect the required medical information to pass on to the claim representative. (See Doc. 16, Ex. F.)

On March 21, 2009, Mr. Crespo interviewed Ms. Sierra as part of the internal investigation into the alleged incident. Ms. Sierra indicated that she could not recall ever having collided with Plaintiff. Ken Engle another co-worker who worked on the same press as Plaintiff and Ms. Sierra also informed Mr. Crespo that he had not observed any collision, nor had he heard Plaintiff mention the collision prior to Plaintiff's report. (See Doc. 16, Ex. G.)

On March 23, 2009, Plaintiff was interviewed by Sonya Lucas, an employee of Gallagher Bassett, the third party administrator for Defendant's worker's compensation benefit program.

Gallagher Bassett ultimately notified Plaintiff that Defendant would not pay worker's compensation benefits based on the alleged collision. (See Doc. 16, Ex. B.) Plaintiff never filed a claim petition with Pennsylvania's Worker's Compensation Bureau challenging that denial, and Defendant has not paid Plaintiff any worker's compensation benefits related to the alleged collision.

On June 8, 2009, Plaintiff was released to return to work. The same day, Defendant terminated Plaintiff's employment after determining that Plaintiff violated Defendant's policies requiring prompt reporting of work-related injuries and after concluding that Plaintiff had lied about the accident during the course of the internal investigation. Defendant reached the latter conclusion in part because Plaintiff's account of the incident was not corroborated by Ms. Sierra, Plaintiff could produce no other witnesses to corroborate his version of the story, Ms. Sierra's story remained consistent throughout the internal investigation, and Plaintiff's account of the incident allegedly changed several times during the course of the investigation.

On February 8, 2010, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Lancaster County alleging that Defendant terminated his employment in retaliation for reporting the work-related injury in pursuit of his workers' compensation claim. Defendant removed the case to federal court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction on March 31, 2010. On May 12, 2010, Defendant filed an Answer generally denying Plaintiff's allegations and asserting that it terminated Plaintiff's at-will employment for legitimate, non-retaliatory reasons. On November 8, 2010, Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 13).*fn1 On November 23, 2010, Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition thereto (Doc. 15). On December 6, 2010, Defendant filed a Reply (Doc. 17).


Summary judgment is appropriate where the movant establishes that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Levy v. Sterling Holding Co., LLC, 544 F.3d 493, 501 (3d Cir. 2008). The threshold inquiry is whether there are "any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986) (noting that no triable issue exists unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict in its favor). See also Dee v. Borough of Dunmore, 549 F.3d 225, 229 (3d Cir. 2008). The moving party must show ...

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