United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
CALVIN R. WALKER and JOYCE FORMBY, h/w, Plaintiffs,
MONACACY VALLEY ELECTRIC, INC., Defendant.
H. RAMBO UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the court is the motion for summary judgment (Doc. 18) filed
by Defendant Monacacy Valley Electric, Inc.
(“Defendant” or “Monacacy”), seeking
dismissal of the wrongful termination claim (Doc. 1) brought
by Plaintiff Calvin Walker (“Mr. Walker” or
“Plaintiff”). For the reasons stated herein,
Defendant's motion will be granted in part and denied in
court begins by examining the record in the light most
favorable to the nonmovant, Plaintiff. Mr. Walker is a master
electrician and project superintendent by trade. He
previously worked for Monacacy in this capacity, with his
average daily work requiring him to climb ladders, work on
lifts and scaffolding, lift materials exceeding twenty
pounds, and perform work over his head.
November 23, 2015, Mr. Walker was performing work on a ladder
when he fell and suffered significant injuries. As a result, Mr.
Walker sought medical care and acquired an occupational
evaluation from his physician. On December 3, 2015, Mr.
Walker discussed his fall with Brian Smith (“Mr.
Smith”), one of Monacacy's co-owners, and stated
that he was in too much pain to work. Mr. Smith told Mr.
Walker he understood and to “take as much time as you
need.” Mr. Walker never reported back for work.
December 4, 2015, Mr. Walker participated in a meeting with
Monacacy's co-owners, Mr. Smith, Larry Smith
(“Larry”), and Mr. Wantz (collectively, the
“Co-owners”). During the meeting, the Co-owners
appeared to make conflicting statements. In response to Mr.
Walker telling the group he intended to file a workers'
compensation claim, Mr. Wantz “got kind of a little
irate and made some statements, ” including that Mr.
Walker “was more of a liability to the company than . .
. an asset.” (Doc. 22-1, 96:2-16.) Mr. Smith and Larry,
however, told Mr. Wantz “you need to watch your mouth
and not say what you're saying, ” and that they
needed to wait and see what Mr. Walker's doctor said
before making any such decision. (Id.)
previous discussion between Mr. Walker's wife and Mr.
Wantz provides context for how Mr. Walker interpreted the
statements at the meeting. Approximately two years before
this injury, Mr. Walker suffered a separate workplace injury
while employed by Monacacy. While driving to Chambersburg
Hospital, Mr. Walker had to pull over and call an ambulance
to aid him in reaching the facility. Mr. Walker then told his
wife to contact Mr. Wantz and inform him of what happened.
After informing Mr. Wantz of Mr. Walker's injuries, Mr.
right away was like what are you talking about, I can't
afford - - I can't afford this. He says another person
with workman's comp, he says, you know, I'm just
going to have to lay him off, I'm just going to have to
lay him off. I'm, like, begging with him. I'm like
you can't just lay - -you know, just lay him off. I mean
he needs a job. I mean like I told you we were just getting
out of a financial situation. And he's like, well, you
know, it's ridiculous, you know, these people. . . . It
was just like he - - if we did a workman's comp case that
day, that - - if we did that, then he was going to be - - he
was going to be fired.
(Doc. 22-2, 30:9-25.) In light of this history, Mr. Walker
believed Mr. Wantz's comments during the December 4,
2015, meeting meant the company intended to fire him if he
filed for workers' compensation.
December 14, 2015, Mr. Walker saw a physician by the name of
Dr. Adourian. Two days later, Dr. Adourian notified
Defendant's workers' compensation carrier, Federated
Insurance, that Mr. Walker was too physically impaired to
work. Eight days later, Mr. Walker filed a claim petition for
workers' compensation benefits with Federated Insurance.
The insurer denied his claim, resulting in the claim being
litigated through the Department of Labor and Industry Bureau
of Workers' Compensation. Mr. Walker has also applied for
and received short-term disability benefits.
the next few months, Mr. Walker began contacting The
Contractor's Plan, a third-party Monacacy had hired to
handle employee benefits. The Contractors Plan initially
informed Mr. Walker he was unable to request an early
withdrawal of any retirement benefits because his employment
with Defendant did not appear to have ended. In April of
2016, Mr. Walker contacted The Contractor's Plan again,
resulting in it sending him a “Distribution Request and
Election Form.” Mr. Walker filled the form out and
stated he had been “terminated from employment with the
employer named on this form and not been rehired.”
Contractor's Plan subsequently contacted Monacacy's
human resources (“HR”) department, requesting
that it verify the date of Mr. Walker's termination or
reply with “DENIED - STILL EMPLOYED.” (Doc. 18-5,
p. 19 of 29.) Monacacy replied: “Termination: last day
at [Monacacy] 12/05/15.” (Doc. 18-4, pp. 60-61 of 63.)
The Contractor's Plan then sent Mr. Walker a Retirement
Plan Account Statement that noted: “Date of Termination
12/5/2015.” (Doc. 22-5, p. 24/29.) Defendant then
notified its short-term disability insurer, Companion Life,
that Mr. Walker was no longer employed with it.
early 2016, Mr. Walker underwent surgery for his injuries. In
August of 2017, Mr. Walker's physician, Dr. Mark Knaub,
stated that Mr. Walker's level of recovery suggested he
was only able to perform “light work” that did
not require him to lift twenty pounds over his head or work
on a ladder. It is unclear if this accurately describes Mr.
Walker's capabilities today. On the one hand, Mr. Walker
testified at deposition that he did not feel that he could
work in any capacity. On the other hand, he stated he has the
ability to perform some administrative work if he was
permitted to stay at a desk and not perform any regular
physical labor. Either way, Mr. Walker admitted that he did
not request such light work from Monacacy, nor has he spoken
to any Monacacy personnel since the December 4, 2015, meeting
or applied for any new work.
November 21, 2017, Mr. Walker and his wife sued Defendant for
wrongful termination in violation of public policy, alleging
Defendant fired Walker in retaliation for him filing for
workers' compensation. (Doc. 1.) Defendant then filed a
12(b)(6) motion to dismiss both parties' claims for
punitive damages and Ms. Formby's claims in their
entirety. (Docs. 6-7.) The parties proceeded to fully brief
the motion to dismiss, conduct discovery, then fully brief
summary judgment as well. (Docs. 18, 23-24, 28 (summary
judgment briefing)). The court granted Defendant's motion
to dismiss in part, dismissing Ms. Formby's claims in
their entirety but denying the motion regarding punitive
damages. (Docs. 29-30.) This rendered moot part of
Defendant's motion for summary judgment concerning
Formby's claims. The remainder of Defendant's motion
for summary judgment is ripe for review.
Standard of Review
Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that “[t]he
court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of
law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). A factual dispute
is “material” if it might affect the outcome of
the suit under the applicable substantive law and is
“genuine” only if there is a sufficient
evidentiary basis for a reasonable fact finder to return a
verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). When evaluating a
motion for summary judgment, a court “must view ...