U.S. District Court Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter
PHILADELPHIA – The majority of age discrimination-related claims filed by a former member of the Bridgeport Police Department will proceed, according to a ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
On Jan. 5, Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter denied a motion to dismiss from both Bridgeport Borough and the Bridgeport Police Department, made in response a suit filed by King of Prussia resident Matthew Hansen. It had been the defense’s contention Hansen failed to state a claim.
Hansen, 44, was an employee of the Bridgeport Police Department for more than 11 years, from Sept. 11, 2001 to Jan. 14, 2013. On Jan. 14, 2013, Hansen claimed he was discharged from the department and refused to be given a reason for his dismissal. Hansen also claimed in the lead-up to his termination, the department hired a pair of part-time officers “significantly younger” than him.
Hansen believed his age was the department’s determining factor in firing him.
Hansen filed a timely charge of age discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and received a Notice of Right to Sue on April 20 before later filing suit in July. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the following month, stating Hansen “did not raise an inference of age discrimination” through his claims.
In his suit, Hansen argued the defendants violated both the Age Discrimination Employment Act (ADEA) and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA), through their alleged discriminatory conduct. Hansen sought compensatory damages and other relief.
Buckwalter admitted the decision was “close”, but in his legal opinion, Hansen did state a valid claim for age-related discrimination with respect to his counts under the ADEA and PHRA.
“Plaintiff was over forty years old at the time of his discharge; presumably was qualified for the position in which he had been employed; was discharged from employment; and has alleged that the two part-time police officers who were hired just prior to his discharge were sufficiently younger than him such that an inference of discrimination is permitted,” Buckwalter stated.
“Having considered the complaint and the parties’ briefs, the Court finds that plaintiff has sufficiently stated age discrimination claims against defendants pursuant to the ADEA and the PHRA, and denies defendants’ motion to dismiss with respect to those claims,” Buckwalter said.
Moreover, Buckwalter ruled that for now, the Bridgeport Police Department would in fact be kept as a defendant in the suit, since both sides had not submitted sufficient documentation to determine whether or not the police are a proper party to the case. Though, Buckwalter added the defendants may yet have another opportunity to dismiss that entity moving forward, and dismissed that claim without prejudice.
Finally, Buckwalter decided Hansen could not seek damages for emotional distress related to his ADEA claim.
“In light of plaintiff’s concession that he may not assert emotional distress damages in connection with his ADEA claim, that portion of defendants’ motion to dismiss is granted,” Buckwalter said.
“As to plaintiff’s state law age discrimination claim, his allegation that ‘defendants caused plaintiff damage’ does not specifically include or exclude emotional distress damages,” Buckwalter stated.
However, Buckwalter did not exclude the future possibility of damages being sought under Hansen's PHRA claim.
“Defendants did not move to dismiss any particular category of damages in connection with plaintiff’s PHRA claim in Count Two, and therefore the Court does not make any finding with respect to the types of damages plaintiff may seek pursuant to that claim,” Buckwalter said.
The plaintiff is represented by Charles W. Campbell in Norristown.
The defendants are represented by Michael Ronald Miller and Christopher A. Tinari of Margolis Edelstein, in Philadelphia.
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:15-cv-03987
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at firstname.lastname@example.org