Dibiase v. SmithKline Beecham Corp.

Decision Date15 March 1994
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 93-3171.
Citation847 F. Supp. 341
PartiesJohn DIBIASE v. SMITHKLINE BEECHAM CORP.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Pennsylvania

Richard A. Ash, Lyman and Ash, Philadelphia, PA, for John Dibiase.

Alan D. Berkowitz, Dechert, Price & Rhoads, Susannah R. Goodman, Philadelphia, PA, for Smithkline Beecham Corp.

Francis M. Milone, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, Philadelphia, PA, Ann Elizabeth Reesman, Douglas S. McDowell, McGuiness and Williams, Washington, DC, for Equal Employment Advisory Council.

Alice W. Ballard, Samuel & Ballard, P.C., Philadelphia, PA, Cathy Ventrell-Monsees, American Ass'n of Retired Persons, Washington, DC, for American Ass'n of Retired Persons.

Jonathan M. Stein, Community Legal Services, Inc., Philadelphia, PA, for Action Alliance of Senior Citizens of Greater Philadelphia.

Jonathan A. Weiss, Legal Services for the Elderly, New York City, for Elderly of New York City.

OPINION

PADOVA, District Judge.

This case involves allegations of age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C.A. § 621-634 (West 1985 & Supp. 1993). Plaintiff's amended complaint asserts two claims: Count I avers that defendant, SmithKline Beecham Corporation ("SmithKline"), discriminated based on age when it terminated Plaintiff's employment; Count II asserts that a waiver provision in SmithKline's separation benefit package violates ADEA. SmithKline filed this motion for summary judgment on both Counts of Plaintiff's amended complaint.1 For the reasons set forth below, I shall grant SmithKline's motion with respect to Count I, but I shall deny summary judgment with respect to Count II.

I. BACKGROUND

SmithKline is a corporation that manufactures and markets pharmaceutical and consumer products, and was formed in 1989 as a result of a merger between SmithKline Beckman Corporation and Beecham Pharmaceuticals. Following the merger, SmithKline operated computer data centers at King of Prussia, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and at Bristol, Tennessee.

During 1990, SmithKline consolidated the four separate data centers into a single center located at King of Prussia. Before consolidation, Plaintiff was employed as the first shift supervisor at the Philadelphia data center.2 After consolidation, six shift supervisors worked at the King of Prussia data center, two supervisors per shift, with each pair of supervisors overseeing the work of only 3-5 computer operators. Michael Oleksiuk, who had been manager of the Philadelphia data center, was transferred to the consolidated facility and became Manager of Data Center Operations, and the immediate superior of the six shift supervisors. In August 1991, after Geraghty transferred to an operations analyst position, five shift supervisors remained at the King of Prussia facility.

In December 1991, Katherine Holland, formerly the Director of Business Systems and Operations, assumed overall responsibility for the consolidated data center. Holland determined that only one shift supervisor was needed per shift, and decided in January 1992 to terminate two of the five remaining shift supervisors. Holland met with Oleksiuk and Tyrone Barber, the data center's personnel manager, to determine who should be laid off. Barber prepared an "adverse impact analysis" examining the gender, race, and age of the shift supervisors to determine if any adverse impact would result from the planned reduction in staff. On February 1, 1992, Holland met with Oleksiuk, Barber, and William Mossett, SmithKline's Vice President and Director of Corporate Personnel, and determined that Plaintiff and Fleming should be laid off. On February 2, 1992, Oleksiuk informed Plaintiff that his employment was terminated. At that time, Plaintiff was fifty-one years old.

As a terminated employee, Plaintiff was eligible for SmithKline's separation benefit plan ("the Plan"). The Plan included a lump sum payment based on length of service and three months continued health and dental benefits. The Plan also offered enhanced benefits to terminated employees who signed a general release of all claims against SmithKline. The enhanced benefits included a larger lump sum payment and six months continued health and dental coverage. Under the Plan, Plaintiff was entitled to a lump sum payment equal to fifteen months salary if he signed the release, or twelve months salary if he declined to sign the release. Plaintiff did not sign the general release.

Count I of Plaintiff's amended complaint asserts that SmithKline's decision to terminate Plaintiff's employment was part of a corporate plan to eliminate older workers from the corporation's payroll. Count II asserts that SmithKline's separation benefit plan violates ADEA because older workers must release more claims than younger workers to receive the same enhanced benefits.3

II. STANDARD FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary judgment "shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c).

An issue is "genuine" only if there is sufficient evidence with which a reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2511, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Furthermore, bearing in mind that all uncertainties are to be resolved in favor of the nonmoving party, a factual dispute is only "material" if it might affect the outcome of the case. See id. at 248, 106 S.Ct. at 2510.

A party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record that it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2553, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Where the non-moving party bears the burden of proof on a particular issue at trial, the movant's initial Celotex burden can be met simply by "pointing out to the district court that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Id. at 325, 106 S.Ct. at 2554. After the moving party has met its initial burden, summary judgment is appropriate if the non-moving party fails to rebut by making a factual showing "sufficient to establish an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Id. at 322, 106 S.Ct. at 2552.

III. DISCUSSION

SmithKline seeks summary judgment on both counts of Plaintiff's amended complaint. I shall address each count separately.

A. Plaintiff's Termination

ADEA makes it unlawful for an employer "to discharge any individual ... because of such individual's age." 29 U.S.C.A. § 623(a)(1). In the absence of direct evidence, the plaintiff must first prove a prima facie case of age discrimination. See Billet v. CIGNA Corp., 940 F.2d 812, 816 (3d Cir.1991); cf. Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Thurston, 469 U.S. 111, 121, 105 S.Ct. 613, 621-22, 83 L.Ed.2d 523 (1985). If the plaintiff establishes her prima facie case, a presumption of unlawful discrimination arises. Texas Dept. of Commun. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 254, 101 S.Ct. 1089, 1094, 67 L.Ed.2d 207 (1981). The burden of production then shifts to the defendant to rebut the presumption of discrimination by articulating legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for the plaintiff's discharge. Id. If the defendant meets this burden of production, the presumption of unlawful discrimination "simply drops out of the picture." St. Mary's Honor Center v. Hicks, ___ U.S. ___, ___, 113 S.Ct. 2742, 2749, 125 L.Ed.2d 407 (1993); see also Reiff v. Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, 827 F.Supp. 319 (E.D.Pa. 1993) (applying Hicks to summary judgment analysis of age discrimination claim under ADEA). At that stage, the plaintiff, who always bears the burden of persuasion on the ultimate question of whether there has been discrimination, is not required to offer any additional proof of discrimination, but must present evidence refuting the defendant's articulated non-discriminatory reasons. Hicks, ___ U.S. at ___, 113 S.Ct. at 2749, 2756.4 Summary judgment for the employer is appropriate, therefore, if the plaintiff fails to make a factual showing sufficient to 1) establish her prima facie case; or 2) refute the defendant's articulated non-discriminatory reasons. SmithKline asserts that Plaintiff cannot establish his prima facie case, and that even if he could establish a prima facie case, Plaintiff has not offered evidence refuting SmithKline's proffered nondiscriminatory reasons.

A plaintiff may establish her prima facie case of age discrimination by proving that she "(1) belongs to a protected class; (2) was qualified for the position; (3) was dismissed despite being qualified; and (4) ultimately was replaced by a person sufficiently younger to permit an inference of age discrimination." Billet, 940 F.2d at 816 n. 3.5 SmithKline does not dispute that Plaintiff belongs to the protected class, that he was qualified for the position, or that he was dismissed despite being qualified. SmithKline argues, however, that Plaintiff was not replaced. Plaintiff replies that he was replaced by Geraghty, an individual almost twenty years his junior. Plaintiff faces an arduous task, however, because he was not directly replaced by Geraghty. Instead, Plaintiff avers that SmithKline indirectly replaced him with Geraghty to conceal any hint of age discrimination.

To support his replacement "theory," Plaintiff offers details of five separate events occurring over approximately thirteen months. First, in December 1991, Oleksiuk and Holland discussed whether Geraghty might return as a shift supervisor. Oleksiu...

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    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit
    • 21 d2 Março d2 1995
    ...race, and age of the shift supervisors to determine if any adverse impact would result from the planned reduction in staff." DiBiase, 847 F.Supp. at 343. On February 1, 1992, SmithKline decided to lay off DiBiase and one other shift supervisor and it informed DiBiase of this decision the ne......
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