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Emma Miller v. Tyco Electronics

November 23, 2011

EMMA MILLER, PLAINTIFF
v.
TYCO ELECTRONICS, LTD., DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Chief Judge Kane)

MEMORANDUM

Currently pending before the Court is Defendant Tyco Electronics, Ltd.'s ("Tyco") motion for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 18.) The matter is ripe for disposition, and for the reasons stated more fully herein, the Court will deny Defendant's motion for summary judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Emma Miller, worked for Tyco from 1994 until Tyco terminated her employment in 2009. (Doc. No. 20 ¶¶ 1-2; Doc. No. 25 ¶¶ 1-2, 13, 15.) Plaintiff filed a workers' compensation claim against Tyco on March 24, 2009, alleging that she suffered a work-related injury on February 27, 2009. (Doc. No. 25 ¶¶ 4, 16.) She was represented by Attorney Karl Januzzi in her workers' compensation proceeding. (Id. ¶ 17.)

Plaintiff also filed a charge of discrimination with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC), and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). (Id. ¶¶ 18-21.) She filed her initial complaint with the PHRC on March 10, 2009, and she filed an amended complaint on April 21, 2009. (Id.) Plaintiff's PHRC complaint contains allegations of unlawful harassment, unequal pay, denial of benefits, negative performance appraisal, and layoff based on sex discrimination, race discrimination, national origin discrimination, disability discrimination, and retaliation. (Doc No. 25-1 at 17-34.)

While her PHRC and EEOC matters were still pending, Plaintiff and her attorney began the process of negotiating a settlement of her workers' compensation claim against Tyco. (Id. ¶ 23.) After attending mediation with a workers' compensation judge, Plaintiff and Tyco reached an agreement to settle the workers' compensation case for $82,500. (Id. ¶ 24.) Shortly before a hearing on the settlement, an attorney for Tyco gave Plaintiff and her attorney a copy of the parties' compromise and release agreement, including a general release. (Id. ¶ 27.) Plaintiff initially refused to sign the general release; however, after Plaintiff's attorney and Tyco's attorney negotiated a handwritten amendment, Plaintiff signed the release before the hearing. (Id. ¶¶ 27-28.)

The general release provides that Plaintiff, "for good and valuable consideration," releases Tyco from "all claims, demands or actions which [she] now ha[s] or may ever have concerning [her] employment up to the date of the signing of [the] Settlement Agreement and General Release." (Doc. No. 18-6 at 2.) The general release more specifically provides that Plaintiff: remise[s], release[s], and forever discharge[s] [Tyco] . . . of and from all waivable actions and causes of actions, suits, debts, claims and demands whatsoever based on tort or contract, in law or equity, from the beginning of [her] employment to the date of [the] Release, as well as any waivable claims arising from any constitutional or statutory provisions of federal, state or local governments, including the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, the Americans With Disabilities Act, and the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1991. (Id.) A handwritten addendum, initialed by Plaintiff, provides: "This waiver and release shall not apply to the currently active Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission docketed at PHRC Case #200804540." (Id.) Plaintiff claims that the handwritten note was drafted by Tyco's attorney. (Doc. No. 25 ¶ 28.) On November 6, 2009, the workers' compensation judge approved the settlement. (Doc. No. 20 ¶ 12; Doc No. 25 ¶ 12.)

On January 13, 2011, the PHRC sent Tyco a letter indicating that the PHRC investigated Plaintiff's complaint of discrimination and "determined that the complaint should be dismissed because the facts of the case do not establish that probable cause exists to credit the allegations of unlawful discrimination." (Doc. No. 18-7 at 2.)

Plaintiff initiated the instant employment discrimination action by filing a complaint on December 3, 2010, bringing claims under Title VII, the Equal Pay Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). (Doc. No. 1.) On January 17, 2011, Plaintiff amended her complaint to add a claim under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA). (Doc. No. 4.) On August 15, 2011, Tyco filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff waived her right to file the instant suit by agreeing to the terms of the general release. (Doc. No. 18.)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary judgment is warranted "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 if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable law, and it is genuine only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis that would allow a reasonable fact finder to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986). At summary judgment, the inquiry is whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law. Id. at 251-52. In making this determination, the Court must "consider all evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." A.W. v. Jersey City Pub. Sch., 486 F.3d 791, 794 (3d Cir. 2007).

The moving party has the initial burden of identifying evidence that it believes shows an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Conoshenti v. Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 364 F.3d 135, 145-46 (3d Cir. 2004). Once the moving party has shown that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's claims, "the non-moving party must rebut the motion with facts in the record and cannot rest solely on assertions made in the pleadings, legal memoranda, or oral argument." Berckeley Inv. Grp.. Ltd. v. Colkitt, 455 F.3d 195, 201 (3d Cir. 2006); accord Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). If the non-moving party "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden at trial," summary judgment is warranted. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. With respect to the sufficiency of the evidence that the non-moving party must provide, a court should grant summary judgment where the non-movant's evidence is merely colorable, conclusory, or speculative. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50. There must be more than a scintilla of evidence supporting the non-moving party and more than some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. Id. at 252; see also Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Further, a party may not defeat a motion for summary judgment with evidence that would not be admissible at trial. Pamintuan v. Nanticoke Mem'l Hosp., 192 F.3d 378, 387 (3d Cir. 1999).

III. DISCUSSION

Tyco moves for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff's claims are barred pursuant to the general release that she signed. (Doc. No. 18.) In response, Plaintiff argues that the general release is not valid, as she did ...


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