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Catherine Eno v. Lumbermens Merchandising Corp

April 17, 2012

CATHERINE ENO,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
LUMBERMENS MERCHANDISING CORP., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Eduardo C. Robreno, J.

MEMORANDUM

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Catherine Eno ("Plaintiff") brings this age discrimination action against her former employer, Lumbermens Merchandising Corporation ("Defendant"). Plaintiff alleges that she was laid off under pretextual reasons due to her age. To that end, Plaintiff pleads two counts: (1) Count One - violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"); and (2) Count Two - violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"). Currently before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims.

For the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny Defendant's Motion.

II. BACKGROUND*fn1

Defendant is the largest forest products and building material buying group in the United States. Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ¶ 1, ECF No. 15-1 [hereinafter Def.'s SF]. Defendant's headquarters are in Wayne, Pennsylvania. Id.

¶ 2. Plaintiff began her employment with Defendant on April 19, 1997. Id. ¶ 3. Plaintiff, age sixty-one at the time of her termination, worked as an Assistant Buyer for Defendant. Pl.'s Br. in Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. 2, ECF No. 18 [hereinafter Pl.'s Opening Br.]; Pl.'s Counterstatement of Disputed and Undisputed Material Facts ¶ 1, ECF No. 18-1 [hereinafter Pl.'s SF]. In that role, she assisted lumber buyers in various administrative tasks, taking lumber orders, pricing administration, and communicating with customers and suppliers. See Eno Dep. 34:9-21, June 27, 2011, Pl.'s Opening Br. Ex. A. Plaintiff originally began her employment within the Western Commodities Department, joining Assistant Buyers Mark Thornton and Buyer's Assistant Debbie Wilkinson. Def.'s SF ¶ 10. Then, in 2005, Defendant transferred Plaintiff to the Eastern Spruce Department. Id. ¶ 17. Also in Eastern Spruce was Assistant Buyer Donna Golden, age fifty-six at the time of Plaintiff's termination. Golden was transferred to Western sometime before 2008. Eno Dep. 70:18-24. While at Eastern, Plaintiff's direct manager was Jim Lefever, Department Manager for the Eastern Spruce Department, and his manager, from 2004 onward, was John Raffetto, Purchasing Manager. Def.'s SF ¶ 11.

During Plaintiff's tenure with Defendant, there is conflicting evidence of her performance. On the one hand, Plaintiff's written reviews are generally positive. See, e.g., Raffetto Dep. 156:22-25, June 28, 2010, Pl.'s Opening Br. Ex. B (stating in Plaintiff's 2004 review that Plaintiff is "a pleasure to work with and handles herself in a professional manner"); id. at 167:2-5 (confirming that Plaintiff's 2005 review stated that Plaintiff "hit the ground running in eastern and is doing an excellent job for that department. The staff in eastern is enjoying her presence"). In contrast, Lefever testified and described Plaintiff's performance as "marginal." Lefever Dep. 26:8-10, July 26, 2011, Def.'s Br. in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. 7 [hereinafter Def.'s Opening Br.]. Moreover, Lefever also testified that Plaintiff "could be explosive." Id. at 37:20-21. Raffetto testified that, despite written evidence to the contrary, Plaintiff had an "embittered and embattled mentality." Raffetto Dep. 167:11-12.

Moreover, the parties also provided different recollections of a disagreement between Raffetto and Plaintiff in January 2008. At that time, Raffetto called a meeting of approximately ten to twenty members of his department to discuss a computer coding procedure to keep track of unallocated receipts, referred to as the "998 file." Def.'s SF ¶ 23. Raffetto explained that the 998 file was not being done correctly, and that he had to work on the weekend to complete the task himself. Id. Plaintiff testified that she stated, "John, you don't have to spend the whole weekend doing the 998, it only takes 20 minutes." Eno Dep. 47:9-11. Lefever testified that both Raffetto and Plaintiff became upset and got into a heated argument. Lefever Dep. 7:16-23; 10:10-15. Plaintiff testified that Raffetto apologized to her after the meeting and that Plaintiff then showed Raffetto how to perform the 998 task quicker. Eno Dep. 155:20-156:9. Plaintiff's testimony does not indicate that she became upset or otherwise yelled at Raffetto. See id. at 49:24-50:7.

During late 2006 and through 2007 Defendant contends that it experienced a significant decline in business because of the overall downturn in the housing market. Plaintiff testified that she observed that "housing starts were down" during this timeframe. Id. at 55:19-20. Due to this downturn, the senior management of Defendant met in January 2008 to discuss Defendant's finances and expenses. Def.'s SF ¶ 42. At this meeting was Anthony DeCarlo, then CEO, David Gonze, then CFO and Senior Vice President of Technology, John Broomell, Senior Vice President of Purchasing, Andrew Toombs, Vice President of Commodity Lumber Division (and Raffetto's manager), and other officers. Id. DeCarlo testified that the company had to "take actions to reduce expenses" including a reduction in force ("RIF"). DeCarlo Dep. 52:18-23, July 15, 2011, Def.'s Opening Br. Ex. 6. Pertinent here, DeCarlo asked Toombs, and the other Vice Presidents, to "assess the workload in his or her division and make appropriate recommendations" for the RIF. Id. at 56:18-20. Toombs, in turn, went and discussed the RIF with Raffetto.

There is conflicting testimony between Raffetto and Toombs about whether Toombs provided Raffetto with criteria to assess which employees would be subject to the RIF. In the end, Raffetto testified that he recommended Plaintiff be terminated in the first RIF because she had less tenure than others in her department and was viewed as a contentious employee. See Raffetto Dep. 43:6-8, 48:24-50:15. Specifically, Wilkinson, though forty-one years old in 2008, had eighteen years of service with Defendant compared to Plaintiff's ten years of service. Raffetto recommended Plaintiff to Toombs for termination during the first RIF, and Toombs recommended Plaintiff to DeCarlo. DeCarlo approved the recommendation to terminate Plaintiff because the reasons proffered by Toombs "seemed plausible." DeCarlo Dep. 49:22.

On February 8, 2008, Plaintiff was notified of her termination. According to Defendant, following this termination it distributed Plaintiff's duties to Wilkinson, John DiPietro (age forty-one), William Moran (age fifty-six), Don Wineland (age fifty-seven), Lefever (age fifty-nine), and Raffetto (age sixty). Def.'s Opening Br. 23. In total, Defendant terminated eight employees in this RIF, with ages ranging from forty-nine to eighty-two years old. Def.'s SF ¶ 67. Despite this first RIF, Defendant contends that its business did not improve and it conducted a second RIF in October 2008. During this RIF, Defendant terminated twelve employees, with ages ranging from twenty-seven to sixty-three years old. Id. ¶ 76. This second RIF occurred after Plaintiff filed her charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on May 22, 2008, see Pl.'s Opening Br. Ex. A, and after Defendant received that charge. See Toombs Dep. 6:25-7:3, Aug. 9, 2011, Def.'s Opening Br. Ex. 8 (stating that Defendant had notice of EEOC charge in May 2008).

Following her termination, and after filing her charge with the EEOC and receiving a right-to-sue letter, Plaintiff filed suit on December 23, 2010, alleging violations of the ADEA, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. and the PHRA, 43 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 951 et seq. Defendant answered, denying all averments and asserting a variety of affirmative defenses. ECF No. 3. After the close of discovery, Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on all counts. ECF No. 15. Plaintiff responded in opposition, ECF No. 18, and the matter is now ripe for disposition.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate if 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 motion for summary judgment will not be defeated by 'the mere existence' of some disputed facts, but will be denied when there is a genuine issue of material fact." Am. Eagle Outfitters v. Lyle & Scott Ltd., 584 F.3d 575, 581 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986)). A fact is "material" if proof of its existence or non-existence might affect the outcome of the litigation, ...


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