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Sadowski v. Allegheny Ludlum, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

June 11, 2018



          Cathy Bissoon United States District Judge

         For the reasons that follow, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 29) will be granted.


         Plaintiff has filed this lawsuit against his former employer, alleging that he was terminated because of his age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq. (Am. Compl. (Doc. 5) at ¶ 56). Plaintiff began his employment with Defendant in 1974, holding various positions within the company before being promoted to Director of Supply Chain and Planning in 2010, the position he held until his termination in October 2014. (Def.'s Concise Stmt. of Undisputed Material Facts (Doc. 31) at ¶¶ 9-10, 15, 17; Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Concise Stmt. of Undisputed Material Facts (Doc. 39) at ¶¶ 9-10, 15, 17). As a director, Plaintiff was a highly-placed leader, and Defendant had expectations regarding his behavior. (Doc. 31 at ¶ 21; Doc. 39 at ¶ 21). In addition, Defendant's corporate guidelines specified that “all [e]mployees are expected to act in a responsible and professional manner[, and] . . . [n]o one should be subject[ed] to bullying or abusive or harassing behavior at work.” (Doc. 31 at ¶ 5; Doc. 39 at ¶ 5).

         Defendant's human resources department (“HR”) received three reports of inappropriate conduct by Plaintiff, in a roughly 20-month period. First, in February 2013, Tracy McFarland reported that Plaintiff had stated he would “knock [her subordinate's] ass out” if he ever told Plaintiff's subordinates what to do. (Doc. 31 at ¶ 29; Doc 39 at ¶ 29). HR counseled Plaintiff against making threatening remarks, and it suggested that he consider entering Defendant's Employee Assistance Plan (“EAP”). (Doc. 31 at ¶ 32; Doc. 39 at ¶ 32).

         HR received a second report, in June 2014, from Jim Borgan. Borgan reported that Plaintiff, in response to Borgan's comment that making coffee was a “management job, ” yelled and pointed at Borgan in front of three other employees. (Doc. 31 at ¶¶ 33, 35; Doc. 39 at ¶¶ 33, 35). HR again counseled Plaintiff; it ordered him to participate in the EAP; it placed a formal note of discipline in Plaintiff's personnel file; and it warned that further violations of Defendant's corporate guidelines would result in more serious consequences. (Doc. 31 at ¶¶ 39, 41; Doc. 39 at ¶¶ 40, 42). Plaintiff's supervisor, Terry Hartford, also directed him to “[c]ontinue focus[ing] on treating co-workers with dignity and respect.” (Doc. 31 at ¶ 42; Doc. 39 at ¶ 43).

         HR received a third report, in October 2014, when employee John Trafan indicated that Plaintiff had “snapped” during a disagreement they had had a few weeks earlier; and Plaintiff subsequently had made threatening-comments about him to various co-workers. (Doc. 31 at ¶ 45; Doc. 39 at ¶ 46). According to co-workers, Plaintiff said that, if he saw Trafan in public, he would kick his ass, punch him in the throat and crush his Adam's apple, and he would post personal information about Trafan on the internet so that his military friends could find Trafan and take care of him.[2] (Doc. 31 at ¶ 46; Fahr Confidential Mem. (Doc. 32-2) at Tab 16, ATI-000001). When Plaintiff met with HR, he admitted to having threatened to “[R]anger throat punching” Trafan. (Doc. 31 at ¶ 51; Doc. 39 at ¶ 51). HR advised Plaintiff that his behavior was unacceptable, and directed him to stay home until an investigation of the incident was completed. (Doc. 31 at ¶¶ 57-58; Doc. 39 at ¶¶ 57-58).

         Following the investigation, Danielle Fahr, HR Director, recommended that Plaintiff's employment be terminated based on the reports of misconduct and Plaintiff's failure to improve despite counseling and attending the EAP. (Doc. 31 at ¶ 61; Doc. 32-2 at Tab 16, ATI-000007; Fahr Dep. (Doc. 37-8) at 72:2-13, 75:14-18). Fahr's recommendation was accepted by Hartford, HR Vice President Dan Mochnaly, and company President Bob Wetherbee. (Doc. 31 at ¶ 61; Doc. 37-8 at 75:18-19). On October 21, 2014, Fahr notified Plaintiff that his employment had been terminated. (Doc. 31 at ¶ 63). Plaintiff was 60 years old. (Doc. 31 at ¶ 12; Doc. 39 at ¶ 12).

         According to Fahr, Defendant scrambled to fill Plaintiff's position, no one “per se” replaced him and his work was redistributed so that no one-person was overburdened. (Doc. 31 at ¶ 65). In response, Plaintiff initially claimed that his position was filled by an unspecified “significantly younger individual”; and, after the record on summary judgment closed, he attempted to identify two younger replacements, James Houser and then Robert Wellman, both of whom allegedly were in their early 40s. (Doc. 5 at ¶ 31; Pl.'s Aff. (Doc. 44) at ¶¶ 1-2); but see discussion infra (rejecting Plaintiff's reliance on such evidence, which was in contravention of a prior Court-Order).

         Plaintiff believes that comments by other co-workers show Defendant's preference for younger employees, (Doc. 5 at ¶¶ 18-20, 23-25), [3] and he claims to have been terminated because Defendant wanted to “lower the overall age of its workforce.” (Id. at ¶¶ 53-54). Plaintiff alleges that he received more work than similarly-situated younger employees, and that he occasionally was prohibited from taking half-days of vacation so that he would be pressured to quit his job. (Id. at ¶¶ 12-15). Plaintiff admits, however, that he did not know what assignments were given to younger employees, or whether they too were prevented from taking half-day vacations. (Doc. 31 at ¶¶ 68, 74; Doc. 39 at ¶ 68; Sadowski Dep. (Doc. 32-1) at 37:16-21, 160:13-21).

         Plaintiff also asserts that other employees engaged in unprofessional conduct, not resulting in termination. (Doc. 5 at ¶ 51). However, Plaintiff admits that he does not know the details of other employees' purported misconduct, or whether or how they were disciplined. (Doc. 31 at ¶¶ 97-100; Doc. 39 at ¶¶ 97-100). Further, Plaintiff does not allege that other employees who supposedly engaged in misconduct were treated better because they were younger. (Doc. 31 at ¶¶ 95-96; Doc. 39 at ¶¶ 95-96).

         Plaintiff contends that Defendant never criticized his behavior until it tried to “lower the overall age of its workforce, ” and then he was terminated because of his age. (Doc. 5 at ¶¶ 53-54, 56). Defendant moves for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff has failed to establish a prima facie case of age discrimination; and that, even if he could, Defendant had a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for terminating Plaintiff, which he has not shown to be pretext. (Def.'s Mem. of Law in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. (Doc. 30) at 7-22).


         The ADEA makes it unlawful for an employer to terminate an individual because of his age. See 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1). To succeed on an ADEA claim, a plaintiff must establish by a preponderance of the evidence that age was the “but-for” cause of the adverse employment action. Gross v. FBL Fin. Servs., Inc., 557 U.S. 167, 177-78 (2009). Absent direct evidence of discrimination, as here, a plaintiff may prove an ADEA claim according to the burden-shifting framework in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802, 804 (1973): (1) first, the plaintiff must state a prima facie case of discrimination; (2) then, the burden shifts to the employer to advance a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment action; (3) and, finally, ...

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