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Sweeney v. Roche Diagnostics Corp.

United States District Court, Third Circuit

December 19, 2013



MATTHEW W. BRANN, District Judge.

The case before the Court concerns a quarrel between Benjamin Sweeney ("Plaintiff" or "Sweeney") and his former employer, Roche Diagnostics Corporation ("Defendant" or "Roche").[1] In a classic conflict between a controversial supervisor and his dejected salesman, Sweeney contends that Roche terminated his employment not for the legitimate reasons they allege, but due to age and sex discrimination by his manager, Michael DeFeo. Consequently, Sweeney brought this action against Roche under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII), 42 U.S.C. § 2000 et seq., the Age Discrimination and Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., and the Pennsylvania Human Rights Act ("PHRA"), 43 Pa. C.S.A. § 955 et seq.

This Court has jurisdiction over the federal claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, 42 U.S.C. § 2000 et seq., and 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. The Court has jurisdiction over the Plaintiff's state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

Both Sweeney and Roche filed motions for summary judgment (ECF Nos. 30, 32) that are fully briefed and ripe for disposition. For the reasons hereinafter discussed, both parties's motions for summary judgment are denied.


Benjamin Sweeney worked as an employee for Roche Diagnostics Corporation from 2001 until he was terminated in 2009. Pl.'s Statement Material Facts ¶¶ 4, 22, Sept. 13, 2012, ECF No. 30-1 [hereinafter Pl.'s SOF]. Sweeney is a white male born in 1952. Pl.'s SOF ¶ 1. He obtained a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Administration from Pennsylvania State University in 1980. Id . ¶ 2. From 1984 to 1996, and again from 1997 to 2001, Sweeney worked as a sales representative for several companies selling equipment and products to hospitals, and gained experience pertinent to his subsequent employment at Roche. Id . ¶ 3.

As a Roche employee, Sweeney worked as an Account Manager from 2001 until he was awarded the title Account Executive in 2008. Pl.'s SOF ¶ 4; Def.'s Statement Facts ¶ 24, Sept. 18, 2012, ECF No. 34 [hereinafter Def.'s SOF]. As an Account Manager, Sweeney was expected to, inter alia, manage Roche's relationship with its existing customers in his territory, sell Roche's products to these customers (characterized by Roche as "left-side" business), and grow Roche's business by developing customer prospects with the hope of acquiring new clients (characterized as "right-side" business). Def.'s SOF ¶ 3; Pl.'s Resp. Def.'s Statment Facts ¶ 3, Oct. 9, 2012, ECF No. 46-1 [hereinafter Pl.'s Resp.].

During his tenure as Account Manager, Sweeney generally received positive performance reviews. Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 8-23. He was, however, criticized for failing to develop right-side business on several occasions. Id . Sweeney was primarily focused on his predominant client, Geisinger Medical Center ("Geisinger"). Although he was often praised for doing "an excellent job keeping high volume customers [ i.e. Geisinger] from competitive conversion, " he did not demonstrate a "balanced performance" and was consistently admonished for failing to pursue new accounts. Id . ¶¶ 13, 16.

Michael DeFeo, Sweeney's supervisor from 2007 onward who is the predominant focus of this lawsuit, gave Sweeney a rating stating he only "Partially Achieved"[2] his performance objectives in 2007, based on his right-side business failures. Id . ¶ 21. DeFeo observed that Sweeney tended to be conservative in his approach to selling, but hoped that he could become more aggressive and "develop a stronger right side strategy." Id . ¶ 22. DeFeo's supervisor reviewed and approved that Performance Appraisal before it was delivered to Sweeney. Id . During the same performance review cycle, DeFeo gave another Roche employee, Carmen Brown-Marshall, an overall score of "Exceeds Most." Id . ¶ 23. DeFeo gave Jennifer Smith, an Account Manager in her 30s, a satisfactory score of "Fully Achieved." Id . ¶ 23.

Despite his previous right-side failures, Roche saw fit to award Sweeney the title of Account Executive during a reorganization in 2008. This transition took place under DeFeo's supervision. Def.'s SOF ¶ 24. Also during that 2008 reorganization, Roche discharged employees who were thirty-nine (39) and forty-eight (48) years old, while retaining Sweeney (fifty-six (56) years old at the time), a fifty (50) year old employee and a thirty-four (34) year old employee. Id . ¶¶ 26, 27. Comparably, DeFeo hired two employees as Account Executives in 2008: Lynne Ciccarelli, a fifty-one (51) year old woman, and Scott Magowan, a fiftythree (53) year old man. Id . ¶ 27. DeFeo subsequently gave Ciccarelli an "Exceeds Most" rating on her 2008 and 2009 Performance Appraisals, and "Outstanding" on her 2010 Performance Appraisal. Id . ¶¶ 27. Magowan received a "Fully Achieved" on his 2008 Performance Appraisal, but subsequently left the company alleging that DeFeo created a hostile work environment and discriminated against him because of his age and sex. Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 27; Pl.'s Br. Opp'n Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. 2, Oct. 9, 2012, ECF No. 45 [hereinafter Pl.'s Br. Opp'n].

By contrast, Sweeney continued his disappointing performance regarding right-side business development during his tenure as Account Executive and achieved poor performance ratings as a result. See, e.g., Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 31, 33 Indeed, Sweeney appeared to rely on his primary account, Geisinger Medical Center, for the vast majority of his sales. When he began work at Roche, Geisinger comprised approximately seventy-five percent (75%) of the business in his territory. Id . ¶ 4. At the time of his discharge, Geisinger constituted approximately ninety-seven percent (97%) of his territory's revenue and ninety-eight percent (98%) of the territory growth, while only one other account contributed the remaining three percent (3%) of his revenue. Id . ¶ 30.

Because Roche viewed this undiversified territory as an unacceptable risk, DeFeo prepared a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) with specified objectives for Sweeney to complete and offered his help and support in an effort to change Sweeney's disturbing status quo. Id . ¶ 44. DeFeo's supervisor and Roche's Human Resources (HR) department approved the plan, which he then delivered to Sweeney on July 16, 2009. Id . ¶¶ 44-45. The PIP stated that Sweeney's performance would be reviewed over the following ninety (90) days, and that if he failed to meet and consistently maintain the Plan's specified objectives, he risked termination from employment. Id . ¶ 47. Sweeney failed to materially statisfy the terms of the Plan and was subsequently discharged on November 4, 2009 with the approval of DeFeo's supervisor and Roche's HR department. Id . ¶¶ 45-55.

DeFeo hired Erica Holloway, a woman in her 30s, to replace Sweeney. Pl.'s Br. Opp'n, at 1. In slightly over one year in the position, Holloway made two sales of equipment to a new customer but otherwise generated little right-side business. Def.'s SOF ¶ 58; Pl.'s Resp. ¶ 58. She received satisfactory performance appraisals from DeFeo and was not put on a Performance Improvement Plan. Pl.'s Br. Opp'n at 1. Based on this and numerous other allegations, Sweeney exhausted his administrative remedies under the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and then filed the present suit alleging discrimination based on his age and sex in violation of Title VII, ADEA, and the PHRA. See generally Pl.'s Compl., Sept. 8, 2011, ECF No. 1 [hereinafter Pl.'s Compl.].


A. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate when "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists only if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). When the court weighs the evidence presented, "[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Id. at 255.

The burden of establishing the nonexistence of a "genuine issue" is on the party moving for summary judgment. In re Bressman , 327 F.3d 229, 237 (3d Cir. 2003) (internal citations omitted). The moving party may meet this burden by either (1) submitting positive evidence that negates an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim; or (2) demonstrating that the nonmoving party's evidence is insufficient to establish an essential element of the nonmoving party's case. Id. at 331.

Regardless of who bears the burden of persuasion at trial, the party moving for summary judgment has the burden to show an absence of genuine issues of material fact. Aman v. Cort Furniture Rental Corp. , 85 F.3d 1074, 1080 (3d Cir. 1996) (citations omitted). To meet this burden when the moving party does not bear the burden of persuasion at trial, the moving party must show that the evidentiary materials of record, if reduced to admissible evidence, would be insufficient to carry the nonmovant's burden of proof at trial.'" Jalil v. Avdel Corp. , 873 F.2d 701, 706 (3d Cir. 1989) (quoting Chippolini v. Spencer Gifts, Inc. , 814 F.2d 893, 896 (3d. Cir. 1987)); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). More simply put, a party moving for summary judgment who does not bear the burden of persuasion at trial is not required to negate the nonmovant's claim, but only point out a lack of evidence sufficient to support the nonmovant's claim. Country Floors, Inc. v. P'ship Composed of Gepner and Ford , 930 F.2d 1056, 1061 (3d Cir. 1991).

To the contrary, when the moving party bears the burden of persuasion at trial, it must point to evidence in the record that supports its version of all material facts and demonstrate an absence of material facts. Nat'l State Bank v. Federal Reserve Bank , 979 F.2d 1579, 1582 (3d Cir. 1992). If the moving party does not meet this burden, the court must deny summary judgment. Id.

Once the moving party satisfies this initial burden, the nonmoving party "must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e). To do so, the nonmoving party must "do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. v. Zenith Radio Corp. , 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Rather, to survive summary judgment, the nonmoving party must "make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of [every] element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex , 477 U.S. at 322. Moreover, when opposing summary judgment, the nonmovant "may not rest upon mere allegations, general denials, or... vague statements, " but rather must "identify those facts of record which would contradict the facts identified by the movant." Port Auth. of N.Y. and N.J. v. Affiliated FM Ins. Co. , 311 F.3d 226, 233 (3d Cir. 2003) (internal quotations and citation omitted).

In deciding the merits of a party's motion for summary judgment, the court's role is not to evaluate the evidence and decide the truth of the matter, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson , 477 U.S. at 249. Affidavits and declarations may be used to support a motion, but the court may grant summary judgment only "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. 54(a). The factfinder is responsible for credibility determinations, not the district court. BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N. Am., Inc. , 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir. 1992).

The standard by which the court decides a summary judgment motion does not change when the parties file cross-motions. Weissman v. United States Postal Serv. , 19 F.Supp.2d 254, 259 (D.N.J. 1998). When ruling on cross motions for summary judgment, the court must consider the motions independently, Williams v. Philadelphia Housing Authority , 834 F.Supp. 794, 797 (E.D. Pa. 1993), aff'd, 27 F.3d 560 (3d Cir. 1994), and view the evidence presented for each motion in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp. , 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

B. McDonnell Douglas Test

Sweeney alleges that Roche discriminated against him because of his age and sex in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., Title VII of the 42 U.S.C. § 2000 et seq., and the Pennsylvania Human Rights Act ("PHRA"), 43 Pa. C.S.A. § 955 et seq. Both the federal and state claims are considered under the same analytical framework. See, e.g., Greenawalt v. Clarion Cnty., 459 Fed.App'x 165, 168 n. 1 (3d Cir. 2012); Vernon v. A&L Motors , 381 Fed.App'x 164, 166 n. 5 (3d Cir. 2010). Because Sweeney offers no direct evidence of discrimination, this case is scrutinized under ...

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