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Brown v. Dairy Farmers of America, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

March 24, 2014

FREDERICK BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
DAIRY FARMERS OF AMERICA, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

DAVID STEWART CERCONE, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff, Frederick Brown ("Brown" or "Plaintiff") filed a three (3) count Complaint alleging: (1) racial discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"); (2) gender discrimination also in violation of Title VII; and (3) wrongful termination, against Defendant Dairy Farmers of America, Inc. ("DFA"). DFA has filed a motion for summary judgment, Brown has responded and the motion is now before the Court.

II. STATEMENT OF THE CASE

DFA is a milk marketing cooperative dairy food processor and serves nearly 17, 000 members. DFA's Concise Statement of Material Facts ("DFA CSMF") ¶ 1. DFA requires its employees to adhere to its established policies and procedures and to act consistently with applicable laws and regulations. DFA CSMF ¶ 3. One of the policies DFA maintains and trains its employees on is related to inappropriate physical contact and fighting. DFA CSMF ¶ 4.

Brown, a black male, began employment at DFA's Wilmington, Pennsylvania, facility in May of 2008 in the Molding Department. Complaint ¶ 9; DFA CSMF ¶ 5. On March 23, 2010, Brown reported to DFA that he had injured his shoulder while on duty. DFA CSMF ¶ 7. He was treated at the Sharon Regional Health and was permitted to return to work that same day, but was restricted to light duty. DFA CSMF ¶ 8. Brown did not miss any work due to his injury, and his medical bills were covered by workers' compensation insurance. DFA CSMF ¶ 9.

In response to two (2) separate incidents involving inappropriate physical contact by employees[1], DFA Plant Manager, Tim Sallmen ("Sallmen"), reminded all employees that DFA would not tolerate any inappropriate conduct, specifically including unwanted touching or hitting of another employee. DFA CSMF ¶ 16. Any employee found to have engaged in such conduct would face severe consequences, up to and including termination. Id. The reminder was made at the April 2010 employee meeting which was part of a series of meetings that DFA requires all employees to attend. Id. At these meetings, "Improper Touching" was a listed agenda subject and the specific message from Sallmen was for the employees to keep their hands to themselves. DFA CSMF ¶ 17. Brown signed a roster certifying his attendance at one of the meetings addressing the subject regarding inappropriate physical contact. DFA CSMF ¶ 18.

On April 28, 2010, an Employee Incident Report was submitted by Matt Cameron ("Cameron"), a temporary employee, in which Cameron alleged that as he was walking to his locker, Brown punched him "right between the legs" causing Cameron to fall to the ground. Declaration of Charles Erney[2] ("Erney Decl.") ¶ 18; DFA CSMF ¶ 19. Brown was interviewed by Sallmen and Human Resource Manager Bob Christoff ("Christoff"), who were investigating the incident, and Brown alleged that Cameron made a sudden movement towards Brown's genital area as if he was going to punch him, and Brown struck Cameron in the groin area. DFA CSMF ¶¶ 22, 23 & 24; Brown's Responsive Concise Statement of Material Fact ("Brown RCSMF") ¶ 23. Another DFA employee, Ron Smith ("Smith") witnessed the incident and submitted an incident report that corroborated Cameron's version of the incident. DFA CSMF ¶¶ 21 & 25.

Sallmen and Christoff determined that Brown's conduct was in violation of DFA's policy against inappropriate physical conduct and decided that Brown's employment with DFA would be terminated.[3] DFA CSMF ¶ 27. On May 14, 2010, DFA sent Brown a letter[4] informing him that his employment was terminated effective immediately. DFA CSMF ¶ 29. The letter also indicated that Brown's conduct violated a Group I rule outlined in the employee handbook which prohibits "[f]ighting on company premises or any other act during production time or on Company property intended to inflict bodily harm or threaten bodily harm." Erney Decl. Exhibit 2. DFA also terminated Cameron's assignment through the temporary agency on May 14, 2010. DFA CSMF ¶ 28.

Similarly on May 14, 2010, Sarah Sydlowski ("Sydlowski") and Stephanie Benincase ("Benincase"), both white female employees, were terminated from employment with DFA for violation of DFA policy after they engaged in a physical altercation on May 9, 2010. DFA CSMF ¶ 32.

III. LEGAL STANDARD FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Pursuant to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment shall be granted when there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. To support denial of summary judgment, an issue of fact in dispute must be both genuine and material, i.e., one upon which a reasonable fact finder could base a verdict for the non-moving party and one which is essential to establishing the claim. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). When considering a motion for summary judgment, the court is not permitted to weigh the evidence or to make credibility determinations, but is limited to deciding whether there are any disputed issues and, if there are, whether they are both genuine and material. Id. The court's consideration of the facts must be in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment and all reasonable inferences from the facts must be drawn in favor of that party as well. Whiteland Woods, L.P. v. Township of West Whiteland, 193 F.3d 177, 180 (3d Cir. 1999), Tigg Corp. v. Dow Corning Corp., 822 F.2d 358, 361 (3d Cir. 1987).

When the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56(c), its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts . See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). In the language of the Rule, the nonmoving party must come forward with "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." FED. R. CIV. P 56(e). Further, the nonmoving party cannot rely on unsupported assertions, conclusory allegations, or mere suspicions in attempting to survive a summary judgment motion. Williams v. Borough of W. Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460 (3d Cir.1989) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986)). The non-moving party must respond "by pointing to sufficient cognizable evidence to create material issues of fact concerning every element as to which the ...


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