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Valerie Bainbridge v. Acme Markets

March 15, 2012

VALERIE BAINBRIDGE
v.
ACME MARKETS, INC.



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

MEMORANDUM

In this action, plaintiff Valerie Bainbridge sues her former employer, defendant Acme Markets, Inc., for age discrimination and retaliation under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-634 and Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA), 43 P.S. §§ 951-963. The lawsuit also claims compensation for unrecorded overtime work under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-219. Acme moves for summary judgment (doc. no. 35), and Bainbridge moves for partial summary judgment on the FLSA allegations (doc. no. 36). Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. Jurisdiction is federal question; and supplemental jurisdiction as to the PHRA claims. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1367(a). These motions, together with plaintiff's motion for sanctions, will be denied.

1. History

On September 6, 2008, Bainbridge filed charges of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC). On October 3, 3008, Acme received the EEOC's notice of the charge. By notice dated July 14, 2009, the EEOC dismissed the charge because it was unable to conclude that sufficient information was submitted to establish violations of the pertinent statutes and also informed plaintiff of her right to sue.

On October 13, 2009, plaintiff filed the complaint, and on March 11, 2011, discovery was closed. (Dec. 21, 2010 Order, doc. no. 32.) On April 1, 2011, the parties filed the pending summary judgment motions. On July 7, 2011, Bainbridge moved to sanction Acme for destruction of her personnel file, electronic mail, and documents related to five disciplinary memoranda that Acme had issued in 2007 (doc. nos. 48). By letters dated July 8 and 11, 2012, Acme requested the motion be stricken (doc. nos. 50, 52). This issue was referred to Magistrate Judge Linda K. Caracappa (July 12, 2011 Order, doc. no. 49), who on July 15, 2011, granted the motion in part and denied it in part (Order, doc. no. 53).

On August 4, 2011, Bainbridge objected to the July 15, 2011 rulings, asserting that the sanctions imposed did not "go far enough" as to Acme's intentional conduct and that no explanation was given for denial of plaintiff's request for attorney's fees and costs, as well as other putative errors (doc. no. 54 at 1-2, 5, 9). On August 22, 2011, Acme responded that "sanctions were not even appropriate in the first place" because the personnel file was not intentionally destroyed and the "lost" documents occasioned no prejudice (doc. no. 55 at 3-5). A district court may reconsider, modify, or set aside a magistrate judge's ruling on a nondispositive pretrial matter, such as plaintiff's motion for sanctions here, if the ruling is "clearly erroneous or contrary to law." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A); Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(a). Upon review, Bainbridge's and Acme's objections will be overruled.

2. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate "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). The evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-movant. Galena v. Leone, 638 F.3d 186, 196 (3d Cir. 2011). In accordance with the July 15, 2011 rulings, Bainbridge is entitled to an inference that the contents of the personnel file were favorable to her. See Order, doc. no. 53 at 2. Adverse evidence regarding her "performance for the time period prior to June 2007" and any "performance-related issues not in connection with the disciplinary memos issued in 2007 or the loss prevention investigation" may not be offered or considered. Id.

3. Facts

Acme employed Valerie Bainbridge for 37 years from October 16, 1971 until July 18, 2008, when she resigned at age 62. From December 17, 2006 through September 6, 2007, Acme had employed her as the office coordinator at its store in West Chester, Pennsylvania. The incidents at issue here happened after April 2007. At that time, she was "probably the oldest person in the store." Bainbridge dep., 109:8-10, Def. Exs. A-1 & A-2, doc. nos. 35-3 & 35-4; Pl. Exs. J-1 & J-2, doc. nos. 42-1 & 42-2.

In 2006-2007, Bainbridge was a full-time office coordinator for Acme -- a non-management position subject to a collective bargaining agreement with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local Union 27. She was paid on an hourly basis. Among other duties, she assisted the store director in the preparation of cash, sales, and other reports; handled cash, checks, and discount coupons; maintained records and files; and processed employee time clock punches and payroll. The store director, Martha Thornley, and assistant store director, Kim Walsh were Bainbridge's day-to-day supervisors.*fn1

Bainbridge had been given copies of Acme's work rules and company policies, which included: "violations of company rules will be cause for termination." Def. Ex. J-1, doc. no. 35-11 at 4. Acme's "Honesty and Accuracy" rule stated:

Associates involved in any acts of dishonesty, including those described below, will subject themselves to termination, no matter what is later claimed to have been the intent. . . .

5. Engaging in coupon fraud . . .

Id. at 5. Customers at times left coupons issued at the self-checkout machines. Acme did not permit employees to retrieve and use the coupons for their own purchases. David Christmas ...


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