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Matthews v. Insinger Performance, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 11, 2017

TIMOTHY MATTHEWS, Plaintiff,
v.
INSINGER PERFORMANCE, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Matthew W. Brann, United States District Judge

         Defendant Insinger Performance, Inc., filed a motion for summary judgment on Count I of Plaintiff Timothy Matthews's complaint. For the reasons discussed below, the motion is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Insinger Performance, Inc. and Its Employees

         Insinger Performance, Inc. (“the Company”) is a racing fuel distribution service based in Dushore, Pennsylvania, that operates in several states including Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, New Jersey, and Maryland.[1] Bruce Insinger owns the Company and has been its president since 1992.[2] Brenda Insinger - Bruce Insinger's wife - occasionally assists at the Company, although she is neither an employee, owner, or officer of it.[3] In 2014, around the time of the underlying events of this case, the Company employed five full-time employees.[4]

         Timothy Matthews has had his Commercial Driver's License (“CDL”) since 1999 and has 7 years' experience hauling fuel.[5] He was hired by the Company as a driver in August 2013 and was immediately assigned to its facility in Newark, Delaware.[6] There, he delivered bulk racing fuel, occasionally repackaged that fuel, and managed inventory.[7] He was also responsible for answering the facility's phone, both to receive instructions from the Company and also to respond to customer inquiries.[8] His starting wage was $18.75 per hour, and in early 2014, he began earning $19.75 per hour.[9] He did not, however, receive health insurance through the company's health insurance policy.[10] At all relevant times, Mr. Matthews was the Company's only African-American employee.[11]

         While employed at the Company, Mr. Matthews became acquainted with Stephen Rochacewicz, a fellow employee with more than 35 years' experience in racing fuels, lubes, and oils.[12] Mr. Rochacewicz began working for the Company as a driver at its New Jersey facility in 2009, when Mr. Insinger bought out Mr. Rochacewicz's previous employer of 21 years.[13] As part of this buyout, Mr. Insinger signed a sales agreement stipulating that he would match the wage - $25 per hour - that Mr. Rochacewicz had been receiving from his previous employer.[14]Until approximately 2011, Mr. Rochacewicz received health insurance through the Company's health insurance policy, but then, because that policy no longer covered out-of-state employees, he had to individually procure his own health insurance, for which the Company reimbursed him.[15] In early 2014, Mr. Rochacewicz negotiated a raise with the Company and began earning $26 per hour.[16]

         B. Mr. Matthews's Complaint and Termination

         Sometime in June or July of 2014, Mr. Matthews complained, or began complaining, to Mr. Insinger about his workload - which he believed was too high - and his pay - which he felt was too low.[17] At this time, he may also have asked Mr. Insinger whether the alleged high workload and low pay were due to racial discrimination - i.e., due to the fact that Mr. Matthews was African-American. Evidence on this issue is disputed: Mr. Matthews claims that he questioned Mr. Insinger about racial discrimination, but Mr. Insinger claims otherwise.[18] The timing of these complaints is also unclear from the record: Mr. Matthews claims that he first spoke to Mr. Insinger on these issues approximately “a month or so before [he] was terminated” and also insinuates that there may have been more than one conversation with Mr. Insinger on this topic after that initial discussion, [19]whereas Mr. Insinger seems to suggest that there was only one conversation, and that it took place in either June or July of 2014.[20]

         For purposes of this motion, the Court will assume that Mr. Matthews questioned Mr. Insinger about racial discrimination, and that that conversation took place in July 2014, approximately one month before Mr. Matthews was terminated in August 2014. In any event, Mr. Insinger claims that he investigated Mr. Matthews's claims about his workload and pay, decided the claims were baseless, and did not respond to them.[21]

         In August 2014, Mr. Insinger drove to the Newark facility, gathered Mr. Matthews's belongings, and placed them outside the facility in a box.[22] When Mr. Matthews arrived, Mr. Insinger informed him that he was being terminated immediately.[23] Mr. Matthews had not received any advance warning that Mr. Insinger was going to terminate him, and, at the time it happened, Mr. Insinger did not specify his reasons for doing so.[24]

         C. Procedural History

         On September 30, 2015, Mr. Matthews instituted the instant action.[25] His complaint alleged that he suffered various adverse employment consequences as a result of his race, including an increased workload, a failure to receive health insurance, lower pay, and his termination.[26] It also alleged that his termination was in retaliation for his complaints about this racial discrimination, and that all of these actions constituted a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981.[27] He requested injunctive relief, damages, and costs and expenses.[28]

         On September 9, 2016, after the completion of discovery, the Company filed the instant motion for summary judgment.[29] Several exhibits were attached to this motion, including transcripts of the depositions of Mr. and Mrs. Insinger, Mr. Matthews, David O'Donnell (one of the Company's employees), and Timothy Jessilonis (one of the Company's customers).

         D. Deposition Testimony

         Mr. Insinger, in his deposition, testified that he alone determines drivers' pay rates and that he bases them on “experience, ” which includes “[y]ears of CDL driving, driving time, knowledge of the . . . race fuels or fuels that [the Company] would use, [and] safety.”[30] He stated that new drivers start between $15 and $19 per hour, and that he did not pay Mr. Matthews's replacement - Mr. O'Donnell - more than $18.75 per hour when he was first hired.[31]

         Mr. Insinger also testified that his decision to terminate Mr. Matthews was based on a “series of things that took place . . . in the last two months of [Mr. Matthews's] employment, ” including “continued tardiness, ” “customer complaints, ” unauthorized use of the Company's vehicle on personal time, and failure to restock the inventory at the Newark facility.[32] He admitted, however, that he kept no records about the issues he had with Mr. Matthews's performance.[33]

         Mrs. Insinger, in her deposition, testified that the Company's health insurance policy did not cover out-of-state employees like Mr. Matthews.[34] She noted, however, that such employees would be reimbursed for the cost of purchasing their own health insurance, and that she had a conversation with Mr. Matthews about this at a trade expo in January 2014, at which time she gave him the phone number of an insurance broker who could assist him.[35]

         Mr. O'Donnell, in his deposition, testified that he was hired by the Company as a driver in March 2015 to replace Mr. Matthews, several months after Mr. Matthews's termination.[36] He stated that he has his CDL, that he has owned and worked for “automotive performance” shops “all [his] life” and that, at the time he was hired by the Company, was employed by one of the Company's customers, a drag racing facility in Maryland.[37] He also noted that he started as a part-time employee at the Company making $20 per hour, but in February 2016, he was made full-time and began making $21 per hour.[38]

         Mr. Matthews, in his deposition, claimed that Mr. Insinger gave him permission to use the Company's vehicle on personal time.[39] He also remembered having a conversation with Mrs. Insinger about health insurance at the January 2014 trade expo, but stated that he did not understand why he did not receive health insurance and that he did not call the number provided to him by Mrs. Insinger.[40]

         Finally, Mr. Jessilonis, in his deposition, stated that he was a regular customer of the Company, had dealt with Mr. Matthews on numerous occasions, and that he “never had any problems” with Mr. Matthews's performance.[41]

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is granted when “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.”[42] A dispute is “genuine if a reasonable trier-of-fact could find in favor of the non-movant, ” and “material if it could affect the outcome of the case.”[43] To defeat a motion for summary judgment, then, the nonmoving party must point to evidence in the record that would allow jury to rule in that party's favor.[44] When deciding whether to grant summary judgment, a court should draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party.[45]

         B. Discrimination Claims Under 42 U.S.C. § 1981

         Section 1981 of Title 42 of the United States Code gives “[a]ll persons within the jurisdiction of the United States . . . the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts . . . and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings . . . as is enjoyed by white citizens.” Among its other functions, the statute “affords a federal remedy against discrimination in private employment on the basis of race.”[46]

         The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has recently outlined the three-step procedure for analyzing these claims:

[Employment discrimination claims under § 1981] are subject to the same analysis as discrimination claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Accordingly, a court reviews them under the burden-shifting framework outlined in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). Under that framework, a plaintiff first must establish the requisite elements of his claim (called the prima facie elements); if [he does] so, the burden then must shift to the employer to articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action, and then the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that the employer's stated reason for the adverse action was an excuse, or pretext, for why the action was actually taken.[47]

         The first step, then, is to consider whether a plaintiff has established a prima facie case of racial discrimination, the elements of which “depend on the facts of the particular case.”[48] At the very least, however, a plaintiff must show that he was a member of a protected class and that he suffered an “adverse employment action . . . under circumstances that could give rise to an inference of intentional discrimination.”[49]

         At the second step, the defendant-employer must “articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for” the adverse employment action.[50] The employer does this by

introducing evidence which, taken as true, would permit the conclusion that there was a nondiscriminatory reason for the unfavorable employment decision. The employer need not prove that the tendered reason actually motivated [his] behavior, as throughout this burden-shifting paradigm the ultimate burden of proving intentional discrimination always rests with the plaintiff.[51]

         Finally, at the third step, the plaintiff must “show by a preponderance of the evidence that the employer's explanation is pretextual.”[52] When a court is considering the matter at the summary judgment stage,

the plaintiff must point to some evidence, direct or circumstantial, from which a factfinder could reasonably either (1) disbelieve the employer's articulated legitimate reasons; or (2) believe that an invidious discriminatory reason was more likely than not a motivating or determinative cause of the employer's action.[53]

         Because the plaintiff, at this step, has already established the elements of his prima facie case, he can defeat a motion for summary judgment

by either (i) discrediting the [defendant's] proffered reasons, either circumstantially or directly, or (ii) adducing evidence, whether circumstantial or direct, that discrimination was more likely than not a motivating or determinative cause of the adverse employment action. Thus, if the plaintiff has pointed to evidence sufficiently to discredit the defendant's proffered reasons, to survive summary judgment the plaintiff need not also come forward with additional evidence of discrimination beyond his or her prima facie case.[54]

         This evidence, however, “must allow a factfinder reasonably to infer that each of the employer's proffered non-discriminatory reasons was either a post hoc fabrication or otherwise did not actually motivate the employment action.”[55] It is not enough for the plaintiff to “simply show that the employer's decision was wrong or mistaken, since the factual dispute at issue is whether discriminatory animus motivated the employer, not whether the employer is wise, shrewd, prudent, or competent.”[56] Instead, the plaintiff “must demonstrate such weaknesses, implausibilities, inconsistencies, incoherencies, or contradictions in the employer's proffered legitimate reasons for its action that a reasonable factfinder could rationally find them unworthy of credence, and hence infer that the employer did not act for the asserted non-discriminatory reasons.”[57]

         Under this framework, the plaintiff bears an admittedly “difficult burden, ”[58]as he “must show not merely that the employer's proffered reason was wrong, but that it was so plainly wrong that it cannot have been the employer's real reason.”[59]This difficulty, however, is directly attributable to the “inherent tension between the goal of all discrimination law and our society's commitment to free decisionmaking by the private sector in economic affairs.”[60]

         1. Unequal Pay

         Mr. Matthews claims that he was paid less than white workers because he is African-American. Because the Company has offered “legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons” for any pay differential that may exist, and because Mr. Matthews has failed to show that the Company's ...


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