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Acosta v. Lloyd Industries, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

December 5, 2017

R. ALEXANDER ACOSTA, SECRETARY OF LABOR, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, [1]Plaintiff,
v.
LLOYD INDUSTRIES, INC., ET AL., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Goldberg, J.

         The Secretary of the Department of Labor, R. Alexander Acosta, brings this action on behalf of two discharged employees against their employer, Defendants Lloyd Industries Inc. (“Lloyd Industries”) and William P. Lloyd (“Mr. Lloyd”), alleging violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Act (the “OSH Act”), 29 U.S.C. § 660(c).

         According to the Secretary, Matthew Spillane and Santa “Dino” Sanna were wrongfully terminated in retaliation for assisting the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) in identifying safety hazards at Lloyd Industries. The Secretary relies upon Section 11(c) of the OSH Act, which prohibits the discharge of employees because they file complaints or otherwise exercise rights afforded by the Act, including informing OSHA about unsafe conditions.

         The Secretary brings one claim of retaliation in violation of the OSH Act. Defendants have moved for summary judgment. As genuine issues of material fact exist, Defendants' motion will be denied.

         I. FACTUAL RECORD

         The issue before me is whether material undisputed facts exist to establish that Defendants' termination of Mr. Spillane and Mr. Sanna was non-retaliatory. The Secretary asserts that Mr. Spillane was fired because he took and shared photographs of a machine that caused an injury to a co-worker, leading to an OSHA complaint. The Secretary further posits that Mr. Sanna was fired because of his relationship to an employee who filed a complaint with OSHA and for testifying at an OSHA hearing. Defendants counter that the material undisputed facts establish that Mr. Spillane was terminated because he was sleeping on the job, and Mr. Sanna was terminated because his disregard for his duties to oversee OSHA compliance resulted in OSHA citations. Not surprisingly, these vastly divergent versions of events are supported by differing and disputed facts.

         The parties agree on only the following facts:

- Lloyd Industries is a small business manufacturing a variety of fire and smoke dampers, a product designed to stop the spread of fires. Founded by its owner and president, Mr. Lloyd, the company employs almost 100 individuals in two plant locations-one in Florida and one in Montgomeryville, Pennsylvania, which is the focus of the lawsuit before me. (Defs.' Statement of Material Facts (“SOF”) ¶¶ 1-3; Pl.'s Statement of Material Facts (“SOF”) ¶¶ 1-3.)
- On July 11, 2014, Joshua Elbode (“Mr. Elbode”), an employee of Lloyd Industries, suffered a partial amputation of three fingers on his right hand while using a press brake machine. In late October 2014, three months after the injury, Mr. Elbode filed a complaint with OSHA. As a result, OSHA initiated an inspection of the plant, and Compliance Safety and Health Officers arrived on November 13, 2014. (Defs.' SOF ¶¶ 28-29, 31, 33-34; Defs.' Mot, Ex. 1, 27:19-28:6, 30:7-8, 34:8-24, 139:3-7, 143:6-14, 2003:17-2007:23; Id, Ex. 6; Pl.'s SOF ¶¶ 28-29, 31, 33-34.)
- Mr. Spillane, one of the fired employees, joined Lloyd Industries in May 2014. He worked with Mr. Elbode in the Access Door Department as a laborer. Following Mr. Elbode's accident, Mr. Spillane took photographs of the worksite from July 2014 through August 2014 and, at the request of Mr. Elbode's attorney, provided them to Mr. Elbode to assist with his worker's compensation matter. Rene Santos, another employee at Lloyd Industries, informed Mr. Lloyd that he saw Mr. Spillane taking these photographs. The parties also agree that Mr. Lloyd gave Mr. Spillane Phillies tickets despite learning about the photographs. (Defs.' SOF ¶¶ 35-40; Compl. ¶¶ 12, 16; Ans. ¶ 12; Defs.' Mot., Ex. 1, 1072:3-1073:19; Id, Ex. 7, 11:21-12:5; Id, Ex. 9; Id, Ex. 10, 65:23-68:11; Pl.'s SOF ¶¶ 35-40.)
- Mr. Lloyd terminated Mr. Spillane on November 18, 2014. (Defs.' SOF ¶ 52; Compl. ¶ 23; Ans. ¶ 23; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 52.)
- Mr. Sanna, another terminated employee of Lloyd Industries, is Mr. Elbode's grandfather and was hired in 2008 to work as the Montgomeryville plant manager. Mr. Sanna provided testimony to OSHA in February 2015.[2] (Defs.' SOF ¶¶ 23, 28; Compl. ¶ 30; Ans. ¶ 30; Pl.'s SOF ¶¶ 23, 28.)
- On May 11, 2015, OSHA issued numerous citations against Lloyd Industries and proposed penalties in the amount of $822, 000. OSHA issued six alleged violations of 29 C.F.R. § 1910.212(a)(3)(ii), which requires the point of operation machinery to be guarded, and three alleged violations of 29 C.F.R. § 1910.95(g)(6), which requires that employees exposed to noise over 85 dBA for an eight-hour time weighted average receive annual audiometric tests. (Defs.' SOF ¶¶ 59, 61-62; Defs.' Mot., Exs. 18-19; Pl.'s SOF ¶¶ 59, 61-62.)
- On May 11, 2015, after screaming in frustration because of the OSHA citations, Mr. Lloyd fired Mr. Sanna. Mr. Lloyd testified that if the company received an $822, 000 fine, “somebody gets fired.” (Defs.' SOF ¶¶ 68-69; Defs.' Mot., Ex. 11, 146:18-147:4; Id, Ex. 20, 298:14-301:13; Pl.'s SOF ¶¶ 68-69.)
- Following their terminations, Mr. Spillane and Mr. Sanna both filed complaints alleging that Lloyd Industries retaliated against them in violation of the OSH Act. Upon receiving notification of Mr. Spillane's complaint, Lloyd Industries informed OSHA that it terminated Mr. Spillane because “[s]everal employees notified [Mr. Lloyd] that Mr. Spillane was punching in at 6:00 am on Saturday and Sunday's going back to his car to sleep until 8:30-9:00 am.” (Defs.' SOF ¶¶ 72-73; Defs.' Mot., Exs. 21-23; Pl.'s SOF ¶¶ 72-73.) The parties have not provided any citations to the record regarding whether Mr. Lloyd provided any explanation to OSHA regarding Mr. Sanna's termination.

         The majority of the factual record is contested as follows:

- Regarding Mr. Spillane's termination, Defendants contend that Mr. Lloyd received multiple reports that Mr. Spillane slept while on the job. Mr. Lloyd was informed that Mr. Spillane would clock into work on a Saturday at 6:00 a.m., go to his car for a period of time, and then return to work before Mr. Lloyd arrived. Defendants assert that Rene Santos, another Lloyd Industries employee, told Mr. Lloyd that Mr. Spillane was sleeping in his car, as did the union shop steward Russell Murphy. (Defs.' SOF ¶¶ 43-46; Defs.' Mot., Ex. 10, 39:2-13; Id., Ex. 11, 64:6-11, 75:17-79:25.) According to Defendants, having received multiple reports of Mr. Spillane sleeping on the job, he was legitimately fired.
The Secretary contradicts these facts by pointing to Murphy's deposition, wherein Murphy states that he did not tell Mr. Lloyd about Mr. Spillane sleeping in his car prior to termination. (Pl.'s Resp., Ex. J, 51:18-52:3.)[3]
- Defendants note that Mr. Lloyd does not have a set procedure for terminating employees, but rather usually “lets an issue fester” until he reaches a “boiling point, ” and then “just fire[s] them.” According to Defendants, Mr. Lloyd waited to fire Mr. Spillane until more than one employee reported they had seen Mr. Spillane clock in and return to his car. (Defs.' SOF ¶¶ 53-54, 57; Defs.' Mot., Ex. 11, 35:14-21, 71:20-72:1, 86:7-87:19.)
In response, the Secretary points to Mr. Sanna's declaration, where he states that Mr. Lloyd has a short temper and often fired employees when he became angry with them. The Secretary again flags that Russell Murphy testified he did not tell Mr. Lloyd about Mr. Spillane sleeping in his car prior to termination. (Pl.'s Resp., Ex. D ¶ 7; Id., Ex. E, 35:3-15; Id., Ex. J, 51:18-52:3.)
- As to Mr. Sanna, Defendants contend that he directed and managed all plant operations in his role as plant manager, and had additional broad responsibilities for production, maintenance, safety, quality, and other production-related activities. (Defs.' SOF ¶¶ 24, 26; Defs.' Mot., Ex. 3, 29:14-24, 39:13-21, 41:3-45:19, 49:7-16, 75:6-76:17, 93:15-94:16, 194:20-197:3, 268:24-271:24; Id., Ex. 4, 102:16-24; Id., Ex. 5, 28:8-23.) Defendants raise these facts to justify Mr. Sanna's termination.
In response, the Secretary points to the declaration of Mr. Sanna, in which he avers that he was not responsible for safety at the plant. (Pl.'s Resp., Ex. D ¶ 10.)
- Defendants also point out that Mr. Lloyd became “incensed” when he received the OSHA citations because he believed the Montgomeryville plant was “clean as a whistle” in light of the fact that his Florida plant, which was a “clone” of the Montgomeryville plant, was also inspected by OSHA and received no citations. (Defs.' SOF ¶¶ 64-68; Defs.' Mot., Ex. 11, 142:8-143:10-25, 146:18-147:4, 148:18-149:7; Id., Ex. 20, 298:14-301:13.)
The Secretary contests this point, citing to the transcript from the OSHA hearing where Mr. Lloyd testified that he did not “pay much attention” to OSHA rules and “delegate[s] that to other people so [he] can stay away from it.” (Pl.'s Resp., Ex. C, 1668:7-14.)
- Finally, Defendants aver that Mr. Lloyd fired Mr. Sanna because he believed Mr. Sanna was responsible for ensuring the company complied with OSHA regulations. (Defs.' SOF ¶¶ 69-71; Defs.' Mot., Ex. 20, 298:14-301:13.)
The Secretary responds that Mr. Lloyd did not assign responsibility for safety and health to Mr. Sanna. (Pl.'s ...

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