United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 25 - Granted
F. LEESON, JR. United States District Judge.
Frymoyer claims that his former employer, East Penn
Manufacturing Company, Inc., terminated him to avoid
incurring further workers' compensation expenses for a
knee injury that he suffered at work. He claims that East
Penn violated the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Pennsylvania
common law by discriminating against him on the basis of a
disability and retaliating against him for seeking
workers' compensation. East Penn has moved for summary
judgment. Because no reasonable jury could find a causal link
between Frymoyer's termination and either his knee injury
or his claims for workers' compensation, summary judgment
is warranted in East Penn's favor.
Penn manufactures batteries. It employs approximately 8, 000
employees at a facility in Lyons Station, Pennsylvania.
Frymoyer was one of those employees. He was a maintenance
technician, and in May 2012, while at work, he suffered an
injury to his left knee. The injury required surgery, and
East Penn covered the cost as a workers' compensation
expense. After the surgery, Frymoyer missed about two months
of work. Upon his return, he resumed his same duties at his
same rate of pay.
year later, Frymoyer began experiencing pain in the same
knee. He received occupational therapy from East Penn's
medical department, but East Penn denied his request to pay
for a second surgical procedure. He went ahead with the
procedure anyway and missed approximately three months of
work-from May 6, 2014, until August 18, 2014-while he
recovered. In their briefs, both sides allude to the fact
that he filed a petition with the Pennsylvania Department of
Labor and Industry to challenge East Penn's decision to
deny coverage, which was ultimately successful, but neither
side discusses that proceeding in much detail.
Frymoyer returned to work on August 18, 2014, he again
resumed his same duties at his same rate of pay. At his
deposition, he testified that his knee injury fully healed as
a result of this second procedure and has not given him any
further trouble. Frymoyer Dep. 30:14-21, ECF No. 25-5.
early September 2014, a few weeks after he returned to work,
he was called to the office of Anthony DiBenedetto, East
Penn's personnel coordinator. After asking how Frymoyer
was feeling following the surgery, DiBenedetto informed him
that he had exceeded the number of absences he was permitted
to take under the company's leave policy. He provided
Frymoyer with a copy of the policy and asked Frymoyer to
acknowledge in writing that he received it, but Frymoyer
refused. DiBenedetto made a note of the meeting and placed a
copy of the note in Frymoyer's personnel file.
five months later, an incident occurred in the maintenance
department where Frymoyer worked. Someone had thrown an
object-apparently a fuse or a metal nut-at a computer screen
and damaged it. Frymoyer was summoned to a meeting with
DiBenedetto and two other East Penn personnel
representatives, who informed him that another employee had
identified him as the one who threw the object. Frymoyer Dep.
35:8-38:2; Frymoyer Dep. Ex. D-2, ECF No. 25-5. Frymoyer
denied responsibility, but the group told him that he would
be suspended while the incident was investigated further.
Id. He was sent home immediately after the meeting.
that day, DiBenedetto reported the incident to East
Penn's personnel director, Alison Snyder. After reviewing
a few written reports of the incident that had been prepared,
she decided that a further investigation was warranted. She
and DiBenedetto proceeded to interview a number of employees
who were present at the time of the incident. Snyder Dep.
20:3-21:25, ECF No. 25-4. As Frymoyer had been told, one of
those employees, who said that he had witnessed the incident
first-hand, identified Frymoyer as the one who threw the
object. He also signed a written declaration, under penalty
of perjury, attesting to his account. See Eshbach
Decl., ECF No. 25-6.
counsel claims that he sent Snyder an email the evening after
Frymoyer was suspended, warning her that taking any action
against Frymoyer would be viewed as retaliation for
Frymoyer's exercise of his workers' compensation
Ms. Snyder: given that you consider yourself a human
resources professional, I will presume you are aware that
it's illegal to retaliate against someone because he has
filed a workers' compensation claim. If you fire Mr.
Frymoyer based on an incident in which he wasn't involved
(and had witnesses to attest that he was not involved), your
company will be liable for a Wrongful Termination claim under
Pennsylvania [law]. He's been an excellent employee for
eight years. Leave him alone. . . . The last retaliation case
I had to try led to a $750, 000 verdict for emotional
distress, plus reinstatement to the job and lost pay. I'm
sure you don't want something like that on your record.
Pl.'s Br. Ex. 7, ECF No. 31-7. Snyder denies that she
ever received the email.
days after his suspension, DiBenedetto and Snyder spoke to
Frymoyer by telephone about the incident, and he maintained
his innocence. Two days later, an in-person meeting was
convened with Frymoyer at East Penn. DiBenedetto, Snyder, and
another East Penn personnel representative attended, and at
the end of the meeting, they informed Frymoyer that he was
being terminated. Frymoyer Dep. 43:10-25; Frymoyer Dep. Ex.
D-4. According to Snyder, they ultimately credited
Frymoyer's coworker-who claimed that he saw Frymoyer
throw the object-over Frymoyer, in part because they had been
told that the two of them were friends, which, in their
minds, made it unlikely that Frymoyer's co-worker had any
motive to fabricate his story. Snyder was the only employee
present at the meeting with termination authority, but both
Snyder and DiBenedetto signed Frymoyer's termination
maintains that he was not responsible for damaging the
computer screen. He believes that he was blamed for the
incident as a pretext to terminate him for seeking
workers' compensation for the two surgical procedures he
underwent to treat his knee injury. On that basis, he claims
that the decision to terminate him constituted discrimination
on the basis of a disability in violation of the
Rehabilitation Act of 1973, see 29 U.S.C. §
794(a),  and a wrongful discharge under
Pennsylvania common law, see Shick v. Shirey, 716
A.2d 1231, 1232 (Pa. 1998) (holding that an “employee
who alleges retaliatory discharge for the filing of a
workers' compensation claim has stated a cause of
action” under Pennsylvania common law).
Standard of Review ...