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Theodore R. Laputka, Iii v. the Pennsylvania State University

April 30, 2013


The opinion of the court was delivered by: A. Richard Caputo United States District Judge



Presently before the Court is Defendant The Pennsylvania State University's ("Penn State") Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 30.) In his Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiff Theodore R. Laputka, III ("Laputka") alleges that he was terminated from his employment with Penn State in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-634. Because Laputka has not satisfied his burden of pointing to evidence from which a factfinder could reasonably infer that Penn State's nondiscriminatory justification for termination was merely pretext for age discrimination, Penn State's motion for summary judgment will be granted.

I. Background

Laputka was hired by Penn State as a Systems Administrator on January 4, 2010. (Def.'s Statement Material Facts, "Def.'s SMF", ¶ 8; Pl.'s Answer, ¶ 8.) Laputka was forty-one (41) years old when he was hired. (Def.'s SMF, ¶ 9; Pl.'s Answer, ¶ 9.)

On May 20, 2010, the members of the Penn State Hazleton Information Technology Department, including Laputka, attended a conference at the Penn State Mont Alto Campus. (Def.'s SMF, ¶ 10; Pl.'s Answer, ¶ 10.) While the Technology Department was at the conference, Penn State Hazleton experienced problems with an important campus server. The server crashed, according to Penn State, causing personnel to lose access to certain computer services. (Def.'s SMF, ¶ 11.) Christine Mencer ("Mencer"), the Director of Information Technology at the Penn State Hazleton Campus, learned from a Dell Computer representative that the cause of the crash appeared to be attributable to the servers being incorrectly set up. (Mencer Dep. Tr., 25:1-19.) Mencer claims the ESX server was set up by Laputka. (Id. at 31:10-22.)

Laputka disputes that the computer incident on May 20, 2010 was a crash. Rather, the incident was a server lock up that only required the server to be shut down and rebooted. (Pl.'s Answer, ¶ 11.) He also maintains that the primary server was installed by his predecessor. (Laputka Aff., ¶ 6.)

About a week after the May 20, 2010 incident, Mencer asked Laputka, as well as her other employees, to prepare reports detailing their daily activities. (Mencer Dep. Tr., 32:20-25, 35:16-17.)

In the weeks following the May 20, 2010 incident, the server crashed two additional times. (Id. at 61:20-22.) After the last crash, Mencer was informed by a Dell Computer representative that the crashes occurred because the systems administrator made changes to the system that were not correct and because the systems were improperly maintained. (Id. at 65:3-66:24.)

Laputka also disputes that the last two incidents involved a system crash. (Laputka Aff., ¶¶ 7-8.) The second incident involved a different server from the May 20, 2010 incident, and the server began working properly after it was reloaded and reconfigured. (Id. at ¶ 7.) The third incident required Laputka to reconfigure a storage array because he did not like its initial configuration. (Id. at ¶ 8.) The array never crashed, however, and the reconfiguration occurred before the array was connected to the live system. (Id.)

Prior to May 20, 2010, Mencer never counseled Laputka as to his performance being unacceptable. (Mencer Dep. Tr., 71:2-17.) But, following the first incident, Mencer discussed Laputka's substandard performance with him during meetings discussing his daily reports. (Id. at 71:10-14.)

Ultimately, on June 14, 2010, Laputka was discharged from his employment with Penn State. (Def.'s SMF, ¶ 20; Pl.'s Answer, ¶ 19.) The termination meeting was attended by Laputka, Mencer, and Thomas Butchko ("Butchko"), Director of Business Services at the Penn State Hazleton Campus. (Mencer Dep. Tr., 77:6-8.) At the meeting, Butchko informed Laputka that he was being terminated because he "didn't fit." (Id. at 77:11-20.) Butchko did not tell Laputka that his termination was related to an inability to perform his job. (Id. at 78:2-4.) Laputka was forty-one (41) years old when he was discharged from his employment with Penn State. (Def.'s SMF, ¶ 22; Pl.'s Answer, ¶ 22.) Laputka's termination occurred approximately two weeks before the completion of his six-month probationary period. (Mencer Dep. Tr., 70:21-71:1.)

After Laputka was discharged, Penn State formed a search committee to interview and evaluate individuals to fill the open Systems Administrator position. (Def.'s SMF, ¶ 24; Pl.'s Answer, ¶ 24.) Penn State interviewed three candidates for the position. (Def.'s SMF. ¶ 25; Pl.'s Answer, ¶ 25.) One of the candidates interviewed for the Systems Administrator position was Dean Williams ("Williams"). (Def.'s SMF, ¶ 25; Pl.'s Answer, 26.) Williams was eventually hired in December 2010 as Systems Administrator. (Def.'s SMF, ¶ 27; Pl.'s Answer, ¶ 27.) He was twenty-eight (28) years old at the time. (Def.'s SMF, ¶ 28; Pl.'s Answer, ¶ 28.) Prior to assuming the role of Systems Administrator, Williams was an IT Specialist at the Penn State Hazleton Campus. (Def.'s SMF; ¶ 30; Pl.'s Answer, ¶ 30.) Williams has a Bachelor's Degree in Information Technology Administration, which he obtained from Penn State in 2006. (Def.'s SMF, ¶ 29; Pl.'s Answer, ¶ 29.)

Based on the foregoing events, Laputka commenced this action on October 21, 2011. (Doc. 1.) On March 27, 2012, Laputka filed his Second Amended Complaint, alleging a single claim for age discrimination in violation of the ADEA. (Doc. 13.) Following the filing of Penn State's Answer and Affirmative Defenses to the Second Amended Complaint (Doc. 14), the action proceeded to discovery.

On January 31, 2013, Penn State filed its motion for summary judgment (Doc. 30), brief in support (Doc. 32), and statement of undisputed material facts. (Doc. 31.) Specifically, Penn State seeks summary judgment on the ADEA claim on the basis that Laputka cannot identify any evidence of record discrediting Penn State's legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for terminating his employment. Laputka argues in opposition that Penn State's motion must be denied because the articulated business justification for termination is based on inadmissible hearsay and relies on facts not properly disclosed during discovery. And, as a result of the allegedly defective discovery responses, Laputka moves to strike paragraphs 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, and 18 of Penn State's statement of undisputed material facts. (Doc. 39.) Now, as both motions are fully briefed, they are ripe for disposition.

II. Discussion

A. Laputka's Motion to Strike

Because Laputka seeks to limit the evidence available to Penn State in support of its summary judgment motion, Laputka's motion to strike will be addressed first. "[A]fter the 2010 amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 56, it is no longer appropriate to attack the admissibility of summary judgment evidence by way of a motion to strike." Ankney v. Wakefield, No. 10-1290, 2012 WL 1633803, at *1 (W.D. Pa. May 8, 2012) (citing Smith v. Interim Healthcare of Cincinnati, Inc., Civ. No. 10--582, 2011 WL 6012971, at *4 (S.D. Ohio Dec. 2, 2011); Cutting Underwater Techs. USA, Inc. v. ConDive, LLC, Civ. No. 09--387, 2011 WL 1103679, at *3 (E.D. La. Mar. 22, 2011)). Consistent with other courts that have dealt with improper motions to strike following the 2010 amendments, Laputka's motion to strike will be treated as objections under Rule 56(c)(2). See id. (citing Cutting Underwater Techs., 2011 WL 1103679, at *3).

Laputka objects to the following paragraphs in Penn State's statement of facts:

(11) During the May 2010 conference, an important server crashed, which caused campus personnel to lose access to certain computer services;

(12) After consulting with a Dell Computer representative, it was determined that the server crashed ...

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