Anderson v. Consolidated Rail Corp., 01-1518.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
Citation297 F.3d 242
Docket NumberNo. 01-1518.,01-1518.
PartiesWayne S. ANDERSON; William R. Bellamy; Linda A. Bonner; Robert R. Carter; Robert J. Deangelis; Patricia Foster; **Charles F. Fote; Alverta T. Gilmore; James J. Goslin; William J. Guiteras; *Jane L. Hamilton; *Donald A. Hepp; John Jeffery; Frank S. Johnson; William A. Kennedy; Theresa R. Kenny; Thomas H. Kerwin; *Lee A. Manfre; *Irene W. Mayer; *Eileen F. McGovern; Janet E. McMullan; Carl F. Michini; Thomas J. Quinn; * Paul C. Rahn; *Frederick G. Schmidt; *Gary A. Smelcer; *Bernard B. Sobjak; *David I. Spritzler; Vera M. Stevens; *George D. Wood, Appellants, ** (Dismissed per Court's Order dated 2/14/02) * (Dismissed per Court's Order dated 4/11/01) v. CONSOLIDATED RAIL CORPORATION ("CONRAIL"); Conrail Supplemental Pension Plan; Frank H. Nichols; Debbie Melnyk; Rick Huffman; Marianne S. Gregory; Dale Schaub; Joseph Arsenault; Peter F. Barr; Brian Deam; James F. Dietz; Tom Dwyer; M. Kevans; Jack Farrell; Gerald T. Gates; Mary Ann Gregroy; Tom Hieber; Chris Hill; Libby Hudson; Dave Kalapos; Bill Lynch; Don Mattson; Michael McGilloway; Tom Newhart; Michele Nowlan; Joseph Osborne; Dennis Paranzino; Les Passa; Al Polinsky; Robert Reid; Mickey Sapperstone; Bob Schreyer; Carl Simcox; James Snee; Jerry Staneck; John Tilley; Ralph Von Dem Hagen.
Decision Date23 July 2002
297 F.3d 242
Wayne S. ANDERSON; William R. Bellamy; Linda A. Bonner; Robert R. Carter; Robert J. Deangelis; Patricia Foster; **Charles F. Fote; Alverta T. Gilmore; James J. Goslin; William J. Guiteras; *Jane L. Hamilton; *Donald A. Hepp; John Jeffery; Frank S. Johnson; William A. Kennedy; Theresa R. Kenny; Thomas H. Kerwin; *Lee A. Manfre; *Irene W. Mayer; *Eileen F. McGovern; Janet E. McMullan; Carl F. Michini; Thomas J. Quinn; * Paul C. Rahn; *Frederick G. Schmidt; *Gary A. Smelcer; *Bernard B. Sobjak; *David I. Spritzler; Vera M. Stevens; *George D. Wood, Appellants,
** (Dismissed per Court's Order dated 2/14/02)
* (Dismissed per Court's Order dated 4/11/01)
v.
CONSOLIDATED RAIL CORPORATION ("CONRAIL"); Conrail Supplemental Pension Plan; Frank H. Nichols; Debbie Melnyk; Rick Huffman; Marianne S. Gregory; Dale Schaub; Joseph Arsenault; Peter F. Barr; Brian Deam; James F. Dietz; Tom Dwyer; M. Kevans; Jack Farrell; Gerald T. Gates; Mary Ann Gregroy; Tom Hieber; Chris Hill; Libby Hudson; Dave Kalapos; Bill Lynch; Don Mattson; Michael McGilloway; Tom Newhart; Michele Nowlan; Joseph Osborne; Dennis Paranzino; Les Passa; Al Polinsky; Robert Reid; Mickey Sapperstone; Bob Schreyer; Carl Simcox; James Snee; Jerry Staneck; John Tilley; Ralph Von Dem Hagen.
No. 01-1518.
United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit.
Argued: March 4, 2002.
Filed: July 23, 2002.

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Alice W. Ballard (Argued), Law Office of Alice W. Ballard, PC, Philadelphia, PA, for appellants.

Laurence Z. Shiekman (Argued), Brian T. Ortelere, Joann Hyle, Larry R. Wood, Jr., Hope A. Comisky, Pepper Hamilton, LLP, Philadelphia, PA, for appellees.

Before: SCIRICA, ROSENN, Circuit Judges, and WARD,* District Judge.

OPINION OF THE COURT

ROSENN, Circuit Judge.


This age discrimination in employment case has its genesis in the lengthy struggle of our nation's railroads for survival. Consolidated Railroad Corporation (Conrail), now defunct, engaged in a reduction-in-force (RIF) in July 1995 when it involuntarily terminated thirty employees in its Central Office. In November 1998, these employees, all but one in the forty to fifty-five year age range, sued Conrail in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. They claimed that Conrail's decision to terminate them violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-634 (ADEA). Examining each individual plaintiff's prima facie case, the District Court found that certain plaintiffs had not satisfied the fourth element of the framework established by the Supreme Court in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973) because they could not show that Conrail retained a sufficiently younger and similarly situated employee for each employee terminated. The plaintiffs also claim that the District Court erred in rejecting their claims for pension benefits under ERISA § 510, 29 U.S.C. § 1140, and their claims for benefits under the Company's Voluntary Separation Program (VSP) of 1996. Seventeen of the plaintiffs timely appealed.1 We affirm.

I.

As part of its RIF decision, Conrail provided the terminated employees with severance pay amounting to approximately a year's salary per employee. In February 1996, Conrail announced a voluntary separation

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program or a buy-out which provided separation incentives to qualified employees that were more generous than the severance package offered to the involuntarily terminated plaintiffs. The 1996 benefits included payment of two years salary and an additional $5,000 expense allowance. As initially announced, the VSP benefits were available to those individuals who were employees as of February 21, 1996. Later, Conrail expanded the program to individuals who were employees as of January 2, 1996. In addition to the eligibility cut-off date, an employee had to have fifteen or more years of continuous work service to be eligible. In December 1996, Conrail amended its Supplemental Pension Plan to include the VSP. Conrail denied the involuntary terminated employees the VSP benefits at each level of the administrative claims procedure.

In November 1998, the thirty plaintiffs who had been involuntarily terminated in July 1995 filed this action.2 They claimed that the decision by Conrail to reduce its aging work force "was motivated by a desire to thin its middle-aged ranks" to make room for younger new hires in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. They also claimed that Conrail terminated the plaintiffs in violation of ERISA § 510, 29 U.S.C. § 1140, to preclude them from participating in an anticipated voluntary buy-out program that Conrail subsequently announced in 1996.

The District Court dismissed plaintiffs' ERISA claims on Conrail's Rule 12(b)(6) motion. The Court applied Pennsylvania's two-year statute of limitations for tort cases to the ERISA § 510 claim, concluding that the claims were time barred. The District Court granted Conrail's summary judgment motion on the ADEA claims in part and denied them in part. The District Court found that the plaintiffs' reliance on Anjelino v. New York Times Co., 200 F.3d 73 (3d Cir.1999) was not relevant to their ADEA claim. The District Court found that certain plaintiffs had not satisfied the fourth element required to make out a prima facie case, namely, proof that a similarly situated younger person was retained or hired to fill the position of the employee terminated. Of the fourteen plaintiffs that survived summary judgment, eleven settled. Gilmore, Fote and DeAngelis proceeded to trial separately pursuant to the District Court's order.3 The jury returned a verdict in favor of Gilmore and against Fote and DeAngelis. The District Court denied both parties' post-trial motions in January 2001.4

II.
A.

Our review of the District Court's grant of summary judgment is plenary, and we apply the same test as the District Court should have applied initially. Olson v. General Elec. Astrospace, 101 F.3d 947,

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951 (3d Cir.1996). Summary judgment is proper if after considering "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavit, if any, ... there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and ... the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). An issue 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, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). In conducting that review, the non-moving party is entitled to all reasonable inferences and the record is construed in the light most favorable to that party. Pollock v. American Tel. & Tel. Long Lines, 794 F.2d 860, 864 (3d Cir.1986). However, in deciding a summary judgment motion, we are obligated to "view the evidence ... through the prism of the substantive evidentiary burden" and determine "whether a jury could reasonably find either that the plaintiff proved his case by the quality and quantity of the evidence required by the governing law or that he did not." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 254.

Summary judgment against a party who bears the burden of proof at trial, as do the plaintiffs here, is proper if after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, a party fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Under such circumstances, "there can be no genuine issue as to any material fact, since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Id. at 323 (internal quotations omitted). Further, "[t]he moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law because the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof." Id.

B.

Under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, an employer is prohibited from discharging any individual or otherwise discriminating against an individual with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's age. 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1). A plaintiff may establish an age discrimination claim using direct or indirect evidence. The plaintiffs claim that they established a prima facie case sufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment by asserting that Conrail's terminations were to make room for younger new employees and by showing that its proffered reason of the need for immediate cost savings was pretextual. They argue that under their Anjelino theory they need to produce evidence "only that they lost their jobs as a result of age discrimination, regardless of their individual circumstances," to bar summary judgment. The plaintiffs argue that each of them need not individually establish a prima facie case under the McDonnell Douglas framework. Relying on Anjelino, 200 F.3d at 92, they claim entitlement to relief because each of them suffered as a result of Conrail's impermissible decision to apply the 1995 RIF on the basis of age.

In Anjelino, this Court addressed whether certain male workers had standing under Article III to sue under the sex discrimination laws, where the employer aimed the alleged discrimination at female co-workers. We held:

Because the male appellants here have pled specific facts to demonstrate a concrete injury as well as a nexus between

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the alleged injury and the sex-based discrimination, even though that discrimination was aimed in the first instance at others, we conclude that they have established standing. Their allegations that sex discrimination adversely affected their being hired as extras,...

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