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Gucker v. U.S. Steel Corporation

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

June 12, 2015

ALBERT E. GUCKER, Plaintiff,
v.
U.S. STEEL CORPORATION, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

NORA BARRY FISCHER, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This is an age discrimination case wherein Plaintiff Albert E. Gucker ("Gucker" or "Plaintiff") contends that Defendant U.S. Steel Corporation ("U.S. Steel" or "Defendant') unlawfully terminated him on the bases of his age[1] and disability[2] in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act[3] ("ADEA"), the Americans with Disabilities Act[4] ("ADA") and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act[5] ("PHRA"). (Docket No. 1). Gucker acknowledges that from 2003 until December 28, 2011, his last day of work, he was subject to certain physical limitations and restrictions; however, he maintains that he was terminated that day for unlawful discriminatory reasons, without reason or cause, and based solely on his age, seniority, and/or his disability. ( Id. at ¶¶ 24, 27, 37).

Defendant's motion for summary judgment has been exhaustively briefed in accordance with Local Rule 56.1, argued to the Court at a motion hearing held on February 25, 2015, (Docket No. 50), and supplemented through additional filings subsequent to the hearing through March 11, 2015, (Docket Nos. 35-38, 43-46, 48-49, 52, 55). After careful consideration of the parties' positions and having evaluated all of the evidence of record in light of the appropriate standard governing motions for summary judgment, and for the following reasons, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, (Docket No. [35]), is DENIED.[6]

II. BACKGROUND

Because the Court writes primarily for the parties, who are familiar with the facts, the Court will not exhaustively discuss same herein. At all relevant times, Gucker was employed by U.S. Steel as a Maintenance Technician (Mechanical) ("MTM") in its Irvin Works Tractor Shop, where he worked for fifteen years performing repairs to mobile equipment. (Docket No. 55 at ¶¶ 7-8). From approximately November 30, 2011 through December 27, 2011, Gucker was on Sickness & Accident leave for a gallbladder surgery. ( Id. at ¶ 56). He returned to work on December 28, 2011, consistent with his physician's orders. ( Id. at ¶ 57). On that date, Gucker underwent a return to work exam by Dr. Richard Katz ("Dr. Katz") of the U.S. Steel medical department, who then released him for work with the same 30 pound restriction he had prior to the gallbladder surgery. (Docket No. 44-19 at 2); (Docket No. 55 at ¶¶ 72-73). In fact, Gucker has produced evidence that, from 2008 through 2011, various U.S. Steel physicians examined him and cleared him to work with the same restriction: no lifting over 30 pounds. (Docket No. 49-2 at 2-6).

Dr. Katz then called Ashley Ligman (nee Ashby) ("Ligman"), Gucker's direct supervisor in December 2011, to advise her that Gucker would be returning to work said restriction. (Docket No. 55 at ¶¶ 16, 74). Ligman responded that the restriction could be accommodated. ( Id. at ¶ 74). When Gucker arrived at the Tractor Shop following the return to work examination, he gave Ligman his paperwork before changing into his work clothes and beginning to work. ( Id. at ¶ 75). With that restriction in place on December 28, 2011, Gucker worked for approximately five hours, without incident. ( Id. at 72, ¶ 13). As he worked, Ligman left Gucker's paperwork on Don Hubert's ("Hubert") desk, given Hubert's instructions to her to do so. ( Id. at ¶ 77). Hubert was the area manager in charge of, among other things, the Irvin Works Tractor Shop. ( Id. at ¶¶ 13, 14).

After he had begun working, Gucker was advised that Hubert wanted to see him in his office. ( Id. at ¶ 80). Gucker testified that when he went into Hubert's office, Hubert said, "I see you have limitations since 2003, " to which Gucker responded, "Yes, I have." (Docket No. 36-5 at 28:15-17, 29:1-3). Hubert responded, "Nobody in my department works with limitations, get the limitations removed from 2003." ( Id. at 29:3-5).

Hence, Hubert, believing that Gucker's restriction precluded his ability to work in the shop, rejected Gucker's attempt to return to further work that day. ( Id. at 78, ¶ 51); (Docket No. 36-7 at 135:11-14). Unable to work, Gucker then left the plant without stopping at the medical department.[7] (Docket No. 55 at ¶ 87). Gucker applied for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits the next day. ( Id. at ¶ 156). The Social Security Administration ("SSA") determined that Gucker was disabled as of December 28, 2011. ( Id. at ¶ 158).

In support of his claim, Gucker has also presented the testimony of Brian Buzby ("Buzby"), a laborer and fellow U.S. Steel Tractor Shop employee, about the change in tractor shop policy regarding restrictions when Hubert took charge:

[Gucker] was in our shop working with the restrictions for a good many years until Hubert came on as the area manager, and then there was all of a sudden no restrictions allowed on no entities. I mentioned about the other individuals [Dan Matese ("Matese") and Timothy Hopes ("Hopes")] that were pushed out basically because they had restrictions.

(Docket No. 36-11 at 7:16-8:2, 56:18-57:2). Based on his testimony, Buzby implied that is that, in addition to disability, age also had a role in the "pushing out" of Matese, who was in his 50s, and Hopes, who was in his 60s. ( Id. at 58:13-14).

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

It is well-established that summary judgment is appropriately entered "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. 56(a). "A fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Burton v. Teleflex Inc., 707 F.3d 417, 425 (3d Cir. 2013) (citation omitted). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court's function is not to weigh the evidence, to determine the truth of the matter, or to evaluate credibility. See Montone v. City of Jersey City, 709 F.3d 181 (3d Cir. 2013). Rather, the Court is only to determine whether the evidence of record is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Id. In evaluating ...


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