Bonkowski v. Oberg Indus., Inc., Civil Action No. 12–00812.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. Western District of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtCONTI
Citation992 F.Supp.2d 501
PartiesJeffrey BONKOWSKI, Plaintiff, v. OBERG INDUSTRIES, INC., Defendant.
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 12–00812.
Decision Date17 January 2014

992 F.Supp.2d 501

Jeffrey BONKOWSKI, Plaintiff,

Civil Action No. 12–00812.

United States District Court,
W.D. Pennsylvania.

Jan. 17, 2014.

[992 F.Supp.2d 502]

Tiffany R. Waskowicz, Joshua M. Bloom & Associates, Pittsburgh, PA, for Plaintiff.

Paul S. Mazeski, Erin J. McLaughlin, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC, Pittsburgh, PA, for Defendant.


CONTI, Chief Judge.
I. Introduction

Pending before the court is a motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 18) filed by defendant Oberg Industries, Inc. (“Oberg” or “Defendant”). Plaintiff Jeffrey Bonkowski (“Bonkowski” or “Plaintiff”) initiated this action on June 14, 2012, by filing a two-count complaint against Oberg alleging: (1) Oberg retaliated against him for exercising his rights, in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a), (count one); and (2) Oberg interfered with his rights, in violation of the FMLA, 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a), (count two). On August 27, 2012, Oberg filed an answer to the complaint. (ECF No. 7.)

On May 20, 2013, after completing discovery, Oberg filed a motion for summary judgment and a brief in support of that motion. (ECF Nos. 18, 19.) That same day, Oberg filed a concise statement of material facts and an appendix thereto. (ECF Nos. 22, 23.) On June 20, 2013, Plaintiff filed a response and brief in opposition to defendant's motion for summary judgment and a response to defendant's concise statements of material facts, (ECF Nos. 24, 25, 26.) On July 8, 2013, Oberg filed a reply brief in support of its motion for summary judgment, a response to Plaintiff's concise statement of material facts, and a supplemental appendix in support of its motion for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 28, 29, 30.) On July 18, 2013, the parties filed their combined statement of material facts. (C.S.F. (ECF No. 31).)

II. Factual Background

The factual background is derived from the undisputed evidence of record and the disputed evidence of record viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, i.e., Plaintiff. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986) (“The evidence of the nonmovant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.”).

A. History of Employment Relationship

Defendant is a manufacturer of precision components and tooling for a variety of industries including the medical, metal packaging, aerospace defense, automotive, consumer products and oil and gas industries. (C.S.F. ¶ 1 (ECF No. 31 at 1).) Defendant actively recruited Plaintiff and eventually hired him as a wire EDM operator on August 18, 2008. (C.S.F. ¶ 2 (ECF No. 31 at 2).) Plaintiff worked for Defendant as an “at will” employee during the

[992 F.Supp.2d 503]

“second shift” of its operations.1 (C.S.F. ¶ 4 (ECF No. 31 at 2).) Plaintiff also regularly worked overtime on the weekends. (Jeffrey Bonkowski's Deposition (“Bonkowski Dep.”) at 65 (ECF No. 21–2 at 65).)

Defendant regularly conducts performance appraisals of its employees and throughout the course of Plaintiff's employment, he received ratings as having achieved or exceeded expectations. (C.S.F. ¶ 3 (ECF No. 31 at 15).) Prior to the events which led to the current litigation, Plaintiff had never been disciplined under Defendant's disciplinary policy. (C.S.F. ¶ 4 (ECF No. 31 at 15).)

1. Disclosure of Plaintiff's Health Conditions to Oberg

Plaintiff has a number of health conditions including a heart condition known as aortic bicuspid, which means that he has two heart valves as opposed to three. (C.S.F. ¶ 5 (ECF No. 31 at 15); Bonkowski Dep. at 89 (ECF 23–1 at 7).) He has also been diagnosed with diabetes and has had his colon removed. (Bonkowski Dep. at 89 (ECF No. 23–1 at 7).) In addition to these conditions, Bonkowski was diagnosed with a possible aortic aneurysm after fainting in the woods in May 2010. (C.S.F. ¶ 5 (ECF No. 31 at 15); Bonkowski Dep. at 89 (ECF No. 23–1 at 7).) Following this incident, Bonkowski informed his immediate supervisor, Jeffrey Ambrose (“Ambrose”), about his heart condition (aortic bicuspid) and the incident in the woods.2 (C.S.F. ¶ 6 (ECF No. 31 at 16); Bonkowski Dep. at 89 (ECF No. 23–1 at 7).) The incident in the woods did not result in Plaintiff requesting leave under the FMLA, or require him to miss any work. (Bonkowski Dep. at 89–90 (ECF No. 23–1 at 7–8).)

2. Past FMLA Leave

On November 30, 2010, Plaintiff requested and received leave under the FMLA from Defendant. (C.S.F. ¶ 27 (ECF No. 31 at 12); Bonkowski Dep. at 48–50 (ECF No. 21–2 at 7).) Plaintiff requested leave in order to have a scheduled surgical procedure performed on his hand due to carpal tunnel syndrome. ( Id.) Plaintiff made this request to Ambrose. (C.S.F. ¶ 28 (ECF No. 31 at 12); Bonkowski Dep. at 50 (ECF No. 21–2 at 8).) Plaintiff's leave began on December 1, 2010, and ended on January 17, 2011. (Bonkowski Dep. at 50–54 (ECF No. 21 at 8).) During this time, Plaintiff was granted all the leave that he requested. (C.S.F. ¶ 30 (ECF No. 31 at 12).) 3

B. November 6, 2011: Plaintiff's Alleged Misbehavior

On Sunday, November 6, 2011, Plaintiff clocked in at 7:26 a.m. to begin his shift at Oberg. (Bonkowski Dep. at 67 (ECF No. 23–1 at 5).) According to Plaintiff's coworker Jim Berger, Plaintiff went on his lunch break at approximately 11:30 a.m. (Jim Berger's Deposition (“Berger Dep.”) at 20 (ECF No. 23–22 at 3).) Plaintiff took his lunch break in his truck so that he could call his son. (C.S.F. ¶ 9 (ECF No. 31 at

[992 F.Supp.2d 504]

17).) Plaintiff moved his truck away from the building and toward the end of the parking lot in order to obtain better reception on his mobile telephone. (Dep. Bonkowski at 69 (ECF 23–1 at 5).) Plaintiff called his son who was stationed in Kuwait as part of his military deployment. (C.S.F. ¶ 9 (ECF No. 31 at 17); Bonkowski Dep. at 92 (ECF No. 23–1 at 8).) The telephone call lasted approximately one minute because Plaintiff's son did not answer the call. (Bonkowski Dep. at 69, 73 (ECF No. 23–1 at 5–6).) Plaintiff remained in his truck for the duration of his twenty-minute lunch break listening to the radio and awaiting a response from his son. (Bonkowski Dep. at 69 (ECF No 23–1 at 5).) At the expiration of his lunch break, Plaintiff returned to work and finished his shift at 3:32 p.m. 4 (Bonkowski Dep. at 67 (ECF No. 23–1 at 5).)

During Plaintiff's lunch break, Sheldon Hankey (“Hankey”), lead man of the EDM department at Oberg, noticed that Plaintiff had moved his car from the parking space closest to the door to a space near the end of the lot. (Sheldon Hankey's Deposition (“Hankey Dep.”) at 14 (ECF No. 23–10 at 5).) Hankey observed Plaintiff through a small window on the back door of Oberg's facility from a distance of approximately ninety to one hundred feet. (C.S.F. ¶ 11 (ECF No. 31 at 17); Hankey Dep. at 14–15 (ECF No. 23–10 at 5).) Hankey formed the belief that Plaintiff was sleeping after observing him sitting motionless in his truck for a period of three to four minutes. (Dep. Hankey at 16 (ECF No. 23–10 at 5).) Hankey took two photographs within fifteen minutes of what he believed to be Bonkowski sleeping in his car. (Dep. Hankey at 15 (ECF No. 23–10 at 5).) Hankey forwarded these photographs to Oberg's Director of Manufacturing Operations, Nick Dilick (“Dilick”). (Hankey Dep. at 25 (ECF No. 23–10 at 6).)

The following day, Hankey met individually with grinding room supervisor Dave Santi (“Santi”) and his production supervisor, Ambrose, in two separate conversations to inform them about what he observed on November 6, 2011. (Proviano Timeline at 11/7/2011 (ECF No. 23–18 at 2).) Hankey's account of Plaintiff's alleged sleeping in his truck spread throughout management, eventually reaching Dilick, Lynn Kirkland (“Kirkland”) and the head of Human Resources, Lou Proviano (“Proviano”). ( Id.) On November 9, 2011, after discussing the matter during two separate conversations, Proviano and Kirkland collectively decided to suspend Plaintiff for three days in response to this perceived misconduct. (C.S.F. ¶ 15 (ECF No. 31 at 19); Proviano Timeline at 11/09/2011 (ECF No. 23–18 at 2).)

C. Oberg's Lunch Break Policy

Defendant permits its employees to take a twenty-minute paid lunch break. (Ambrose's Deposition (Ambrose Dep.) at 10 (ECF No. 23–5 at 4).) On weekdays, Defendant requires daylight employees to take their lunch breaks in accordance with a posted schedule. (Ambrose Dep. at 10–11 (ECF No. 23–5 at 4).) Employees working daylight shifts on the weekends—like Plaintiff in this instance—are permitted to take their lunch breaks at their discretion. (C.S.F. ¶ 7 (ECF No. 31 at 16); Ambrose Dep. at 11–12 (ECF 23–5 at 4).) Oberg's lunch break policies do not specifically prohibit employees from taking their lunch breaks in their vehicles. (C.S.F. ¶ 8(ECF No. 31 at 16).) According to Dilick and Ambrose, however, this practice is at least discouraged and at most prohibited. ( Id.) The unwritten rules expressed

[992 F.Supp.2d 505]

by Dilick and Ambrose are not contained in Oberg's employee manual. (Bonkowski Dep. Ex. 4 (ECF No. 30–1 at 4–81).)

Bonkowski admitted to sleeping on his lunch break on one prior occasion due to adverse effects from his heart condition. (Bonkowski Dep. at 91 (ECF No. 21–2 at 14).) Plaintiff was not disciplined as a result of this incident because management was unaware that it had occurred. ( Id.)

D. Meetings of November 14, 2011

On November 14, 2011, plaintiff returned to work after serving his three-day suspension. (C.S.F. ¶ 5 (ECF No. 31 at 3).) Upon his arrival at Oberg, Plaintiff was asked to meet with Proviano to discuss the circumstances surrounding the suspension. (C.S.F. ¶ 6 (ECF No. 31 at 3).) During this meeting, Proviano informed Bonkowski that he was suspended for sleeping on the job, an allegation, which Plaintiff denied. (C.S.F. ¶ 16, 17 (ECF No. 31 at 19); Proviano Dep. at 64 (ECF No. 23–2 at 8).) Proviano informed Plaintiff that he...

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