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Musser v. Conagra Foods, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 15, 2015

ROBERT L. MUSSER, Plaintiff,


MATTHEW W. BRANN, District Judge.


On February 28, 2014, Plaintiff, Robert L. Musser, filed a complaint against his former employer, Defendant, Conagra Foods, Inc., alleging disability discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 122112 et. seq. After engaging in discovery, Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. The matter was fully briefed and oral argument held on February 17, 2015. The matter is now ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, Defendant's motion for summary judgment will be granted.


A. Undisputed Facts

On July 15, 2013, Plaintiff Musser submitted an intake questionnaire to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (hereinafter "EEOC"), alleging that Conagra discriminated against him. That intake questionnaire was not signed under oath, affirmation or verification. See Pl.'s Response to Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, ECF No. 28 at 1 ¶ 2. The EEOC sent Plaintiff a letter dated August 29, 2013, which requested further information from Plaintiff in order for the EEOC to investigate the charge and notify Conagra of the charges against it. Plaintiff disputes receiving this letter. Plaintiff never contacted the EEOC again. Plaintiff does not dispute receiving the subsequent Right to Sue Letter sent by the EEOC to Plaintiff on December 4, 2013.

B. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate if the record establishes "that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Initially, the moving party bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). The movant meets this burden by pointing to an absence of evidence supporting an essential element as to which the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Id. at 325. Once the moving party meets its burden, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party to show that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). An issue is "genuine" only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for the non-moving party, and a factual dispute is "material" only if it might affect the outcome of the action under the governing law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

In opposing summary judgment, the non-moving party "may not rely merely on allegations or denials in its own pleading; rather its response must... set out specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2). The non-moving party "cannot rely on unsupported allegations, but must go beyond pleadings and provide some evidence that would show that there exists a genuine issue for trial." Jones v. United Parcel Service, 214 F.3d 402, 407 (3d Cir. 2000). Arguments made in briefs "are not evidence and cannot by themselves create a factual dispute sufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion." Jersey Cent. Power & Light Co. v. Twp. of Lacey, 772 F.2d 1103, 1109-10 (3d Cir. 1985). However, the facts and all reasonable inferences therefrom must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. P.N. v. Clementon Bd. of Educ., 442 F.3d 848, 852 (3d Cir. 2006).

Summary judgment should not be granted when there is a disagreement about the facts or the proper inferences that a factfinder could draw from them. Peterson v. Lehigh Valley Dist. Council, 676 F.2d 81, 84 (3d Cir. 1982). Still, "the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; there must be a genuine issue of material fact to preclude summary judgment." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48.

C. Analysis:

The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission is the administrative body which has been "empowered" by Congress to, inter alia, investigate a charge of discrimination filed by an aggrieved employee who has alleged discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5. This statutory provision also requires that a charge "be in writing under oath or affirmation and shall contain such information and be in such form as the Commission requires." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(b).

The statutory "oath or affirmation" requirement is colloquially referred to as as "verification, " as verification is the term used by the EEOC in its administrative regulations. Specifically, the regulations require that a charge of discrimination "be in writing and shall be verified, " with "verified" defined as "sworn to or affirmed before a notary public, designated representative of the Commission, or other person duly authorized by law to administer oaths and take acknowledgments, or supported by an unsworn declaration in writing under penalty of perjury." 29 C.F.R. §§ 1601.9, 1601.3(a).

Defendant argues that this action was procedurally defaulted by Plaintiff because Plaintiff did not verify his claim with the EEOC. Plaintiff filed his initial charge with the EEOC by filling out an Intake Questionnaire, see ECF No. 20-2, then seemingly abandoned his claim. After completing the Intake Questionnaire, Plaintiff neither responded ...

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