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Gonzalez v. Purolite Corp.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

September 10, 2019



         Tucker, J.

          Before the Court is Defendant Purolite Corporation's Motion for Summary Judgment (“Motion”) (ECF No. 15), Plaintiff Carlos Gonzalez's Response in Opposition (ECF No. 16), and Defendant's Reply (ECF No. 18). Upon careful consideration of the Parties' submissions and exhibits, and for the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion is DENIED.


         Purolite Corporation (“Defendant”) is a Pennsylvania chemical manufacturing company with a domestic manufacturing site in Philadelphia (“Plant”). Concise Statement of Material Facts (“SOF”) ¶ 1. ECF No. 15-1. Defendant manufactures ion exchange resin, a specialty product, used for water treatment and treatment of other liquids. SOF ¶ 2. The Plant has three production departments and each department employs First Operators and Second Operators. SOF ¶¶ 4-5. First Operators are higher-level positions. First Operators operate machinery and follow detailed operating and production procedures. SOF ¶¶ 6-7. Second Operator positions require more physical activity. Both positions are physically demanding. SOF ¶ 8.

         Defendant hired Plaintiff Carlos Gonzalez (“Plaintiff”) on June 6, 2010 as an entry-level warehouse operator. SOF ¶ 24. Defendant promoted Plaintiff to a Second Operator position on April 3, 2011. SOF ¶ 25. On October 29, 2014, Defendant announced an opening for a First Operator position. SOF ¶ 25. Employees apply for open positions by bidding or signing their name on the position posting. SOF ¶ 32. Plaintiff and five other employees bid on the First Operator position; an African American male was awarded the position. SOF ¶ 33. On May 22, 2015, Defendant announced another opening for a First Operator position. SOF ¶ 46. Six employees, including Plaintiff, bid on the position. SOF ¶ 47. Plaintiff was interviewed, however, Defendant chose another Second Operator, a Caucasian male, for the position. SOF ¶¶ 46-49.

         A. Plaintiff's Communications with Human Resources and His Supervisors; Plaintiff's Complaints to Government Agencies

         Over the course of his employment with Defendant, Plaintiff met with human resources and his supervisors to voice complaints regarding various workplace issues. Plaintiff also made formal complaints to several government agencies. On November 4, 2014, Plaintiff met human resources manager Kelly Elmer (“Elmer”) to discuss his concerns about discrimination toward African American employees. SOF ¶ 37. Elmer does not recall Plaintiff mentioning discrimination and did not interpret Plaintiff's concerns regarding promotions to be related to discrimination. SOF ¶ 40. On June 11, 2015, Plaintiff emailed Elmer to give her a “heads up” that he filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission about a “topic [they] personally covered last year.” SOF ¶ 52. Plaintiff also made complaints to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Philadelphia Department of Health, Air and Management Services, the Philadelphia Water Department, and the Environmental Protection Agency.[1] SOF ¶ 56. On July 3, 2015, Plaintiff met with Operations Manager Sal Briscella (“Briscella”). SOF ¶ 62. Plaintiff discussed the following: (1) an incident between two employees that he believed Defendant mishandled-one of the employees used the n-word; (2) the complaints he filed with multiple government agencies; (3) employees showing up to work under the influence of alcohol; and (4) lack of consistency regarding promotions. SOF ¶¶ 63-65; Sal Briscella email to Kelly Elmer (July 6, 2015 12:42 P.M.), ECF No. 15-15.

         B. Plaintiff's Injury

         On July 3, 2015, Plaintiff informed Defendant that he injured his back while operating a resin mixer.[2] Defendant sent Plaintiff to be evaluated by a medical provider. SOF ¶ 70. The provider released Plaintiff to work with the following restrictions: no repetitive bending, no lifting over twenty pounds, and no working with the resin mixer. SOF ¶ 71. The restrictions prohibited Plaintiff from fully performing the Second Operator position. SOF ¶ 72. Plaintiff returned to work on July 8, 2015. SOF ¶ 73. That day, he met with the Environmental Health and Safety Manager Ken Shaner (“Shaner”) and Tony Starkus (“Starkus”), the Production Manager. SOF ¶ 73. Shaner and Starkus instructed Plaintiff to submit Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) paperwork because they believed Plaintiff should follow the work restrictions and go home to rest. SOF ¶ 73. Elmer later emailed Plaintiff explaining that Defendant does not have work that is safe for Plaintiff to perform in accordance with his restrictions. SOF ¶ 74. Elmer advised Plaintiff that Defendant would file a claim with its workers' compensation carrier and send FMLA paperwork to Plaintiff. SOF ¶ 74.

         C. Plaintiff's Termination on July 16, 2015

         On July 9, 2015, Plaintiff emailed Elmer stating that Production Manager Ernie Detweiler (“Ernie”) expressed to other employees that Plaintiff was causing too many problems. SOF ¶ 77. Elmer and Plaintiff met the following day at Defendant's headquarters. SOF ¶ 81. Elmer asked Plaintiff what he wanted out of the meeting, to which Plaintiff responded, “at this point everybody can just go fuck themselves, ” “I am taking this to a neutral environment, and I am letting you know, somebody else [will] make a call on what this is.” SOF ¶ 82. After meeting with Plaintiff, Elmer met with Vice President Jacob Brodie (“Brodie”). SOF ¶ 85. Elmer shared her notes with Brodie and expressed to him that Plaintiff was very angry and erratic. SOF ¶ 86. Brodie interpreted Plaintiff's “go fuck themselves” comment to be a threat and decided to terminate Plaintiff's employment. SOF ¶ 87. On July 16, 2015, Elmer and Plant Manager Warner Jarnagin spoke with Plaintiff over the phone and terminated Plaintiff's employment. SOF ¶ 89.

         Following his termination, Plaintiff filed a retaliation complaint with OSHA; the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, alleging ancestry discrimination, disability discrimination, and retaliation; and a complaint with the Department of Labor and Compliance Industry.[3] SOF ¶¶ 96-97, 99.

         On July 3, 2017, Plaintiff initiated this suit against Defendant for alleged violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), the FMLA, the Pennsylvania Human Rights Act (“PHRA”), and the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act. On June 22, 2018, Defendant filed this Motion, to which Plaintiff filed a response in opposition. Defendant's Motion is ripe for disposition.


         A court may grant a motion for summary judgment when the moving party shows “there is no genuine issue of material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Jones v. School Dist., 198 F.3d 403, 409 (3d Cir. 1999) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). An issue of material fact is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The nonmoving party can defeat the motion by “going beyond the pleadings . . . and showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986) (internal citation omitted). The court must review the motion in the “light most favorable to [the nonmoving party] and resolve all reasonable inferences in his favor.” Jones, 198 F.3d at 409.


         Plaintiff filed the following claims against Defendant:

Count I: ADA violations based on discrimination, failure to accommodate and retaliation;
Count II: FMLA violations;
Count III: Title VII violations based on retaliation;
Count IV: Workers' compensation retaliation;
Count V: PHRA disability-based violations of discrimination, failure to accommodate and ...

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