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Wilson v. Gerber

United States District Court, Third Circuit

July 26, 2013

MAURICE WILSON
v.
RAMON GERBER, et al.

MEMORANDUM

MARY A. McLAUGHLIN, J.

This action arises from the plaintiff’s employment with American Paper Tube & Core (“APTC”), a corporation owned by Ramon Gerber. Maurice Wilson alleges that APTC and Gerber retaliated against him for complaining about discriminatory treatment to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) and Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (“PHRC”). He brings claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”), and 42 U.S.C. § 1981.[1]

The defendants have moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on Wilson’s Title VII and PHRA claims. They argue that Wilson failed to exhaust his administrative remedies prior to bringing those claims. The defendants have also moved for summary judgment on the merits of Wilson’s § 1981 claim, pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. After holding oral argument on June 28, 2013, the Court will grant the defendants’ motion for judgment on the pleadings, but deny the motion for summary judgment.

I. Summary Judgment Record

The facts described below are undisputed unless noted otherwise. Inferences are drawn in the light most favorable to Wilson, the non-moving party. Am. Eagle Outfitters v. Lyle & Scott Ltd., 584 F.3d 575, 581 (3d Cir. 2009).

A. American Paper Tube & Core Hires Wilson

APTC was a paper core tube manufacturer located at 2113 East Rush Street, Philadelphia. Ramon Gerber was the vice president and secretary of APTC until July 14, 2010, when he purchased the company from its former President, David Perelman. On the same date, Gerber purchased American Paper Products of Philadelphia, Inc. (“APPP”) from Perelman, becoming the president and sole shareholder of both companies. APPP has a plant in Totowa, New Jersey and another plant in Framingham, Massachusetts, and also maintains a sales office in Kulpsville, Pennsylvania. APTC and APPP are separate corporations. DX A (Def. Resp. to Pl. 1st Set of Interrogs.), no.2; DX B (2/5/13 Gerber Dep.) at 13-4, 103-4.[2]

Perelman remained an employee of APTC until the company dissolved. He is currently employed at APPP’s Kulpsville office. DX D (2/15/13 Perelman Dep.) at 7-8.

Maurice Wilson, an African American, began working as a driver for APTC on October 2, 2009. Gerber told Wilson that he was being hired to replace a “company” driver, who was not a member of the Highway Truck Drivers and Helpers Local 107 Union (“the Union”) and did not receive union benefits. He explained that APTC had an agreement with the Union that allowed it to retain one non-union driver. DX C (2/4/13 Wilson Dep.) at 12; PCX 3 (2/5/13 Gerber Dep.) at 55-6.

APTC is a signatory to a National Master Freight Agreement with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Under the terms of this agreement, APTC drivers become members of the Union on their thirty-first day of employment. PX 11 (Nat’l Master Freight Agreement).

While Wilson was employed at APTC, the company hired a white driver named Mike Beaumont, who was a member of the Union and received union benefits. DX H (APTC Position Statement) at 3, 7.

B. Wilson Seeks Union Benefits

In March 2010, Wilson developed chest pains while driving, and stopped at a hospital in Maryland. Gerber drove to Maryland to bring Wilson back to Philadelphia. During the return trip, Wilson complained about his lack of union health insurance. Gerber told Wilson he could not afford to keep the APTC plant open if Wilson joined the Union. He offered to get Wilson a 401(k), or to try and get him into the Totowa local, which demanded a lower pension plan. Wilson raised the issue of union benefits on several other occasions during his tenure with APTC. DX C at 60-1, 64, 153-54.

In late September or early October 2010, Wilson contacted Michael Nugent, a Teamsters business agent. He asked Nugent how to join the Union. Nugent called APTC in early October and informed the plant manager, Pete Curran, of the Union’s intent to make Wilson a member. PCX 4 (Nugent Dep.) at 19-21.

On November 22, Nugent spoke to Gerber regarding Wilson’s union membership. Gerber tried to convince Nugent not to make Wilson a member. Gerber also told Nugent that he had fired Wilson, adding “you are going to put me out of business.” Nugent called Wilson to check whether he had been fired, and Wilson replied that he had not. PX 5 (Nugent Notes).

APTC discharged Wilson the next day. Curran sent Wilson a letter attributing this termination a November 11, 2010 incident where Wilson drove his tractor trailer into a manhole, and to “customer related issues.” DX L (11/23/10 Letter). The manhole collision cost over $10, 000 in repairs to Wilson’s truck. DX M (11/11/10 Insurance Claim Docs.). Wilson had been unable to see the hole because it was overgrown, and although Gerber did warn him to be careful, he did not “come down hard” on Wilson at the time. DX B at 171-73; DX C at 105. Customers complained about Wilson in August, September, and November 2010 for refusing to help unload his truck, making a late delivery, and refusing to help move a forklift trapped between his truck and a loading dock. Wilson did not receive disciplinary write-ups for any of these incidents. DX F (EEOC/PHRC Charge) at 5.

Nugent spoke to Perelman on November 23, and agreed to “see what [Nugent] could work out” with Wilson’s pension plan. PX 5. The Union also filed a Report of Grievance with APTC. DX P.

APTC rehired Wilson the following day. Curran gave Wilson a second chance letter and forwarded a copy to the Union.

The letter reiterated Curran’s dissatisfaction with Wilson’s customer service. It also listed two occasions on which Wilson’s truck required repairs, stating that further accidents would not be tolerated. In addition to the November 11 manhole collision, Curran blamed Wilson for causing $5524.45 worth of damage to the fender of his truck on September 2, 2010. DX N (11/24/10 Rehire Letter); DX O (9/24/10 Insurance Claim Docs.). Wilson’s culpability for the fender damage was “questionable, ” and Wilson denies causing it. DX B at 153; DX C at 129.

On December 1, Gerber and Perelman met with Nugent and Bill Hamilton, the president of the Union, to discuss Wilson’s union membership. Gerber and Perelman told the Union representatives that Wilson’s pension plan was “something [APTC] just can’t handle.” DX B at 190. Nevertheless, the defendants agreed to include Wilson in the Teamsters Local 107 bargaining unit, effective December 1, 2010. DX Q (12/1/10 Union and APTC Agreement).

On December 6, Curran gave Wilson a memo regarding Wilson’s failure to report a third accident: backing his trailer into the APTC plant’s gate. Curran wrote that, although he could suspend Wilson for a week under the collective bargaining agreement, Nugent’s intervention had convinced him to reduce Wilson’s suspension to one day. Curran added that a repeat incident would bring disciplinary action “up to and including discharge.” DX R (12/6/10 Memo). Wilson denies responsibility for this accident. DX C at 184-88.

Gerber sent the Union a letter on December 15, notifying them that APTC’s plant would close due to the “current economic conditions” they discussed at ...


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