Third Circuit Court affirms dismissal of employment termination action against Thomas Jefferson University

By Nicholas Malfitano | Jul 28, 2016

PHILADELPHIA – Espousing a belief that the appellant in an employment discrimination case against Thomas Jefferson University was trying to re-litigate issues already dismissed, a federal appellate court upheld a ruling on the matter.

A per curiam ruling from judges Julio M. Fuentes, Thomas I. Vanaskie and Anthony J. Scirica upheld a dismissal ruling directed towards Diane Gochin’s lawsuit against the university and fellow defendants James Ortlieb, Patricia Vercio, Joy Soleimanzadeh and Randy McLaughlin.

In December 2013, Gochin initiated an employment discrimination action against her former employer and supervisors at Thomas Jefferson University (the Jefferson defendants).

“In the complaint, she claimed that she had been denied fifty-three promotions on account of her age and gender, and was ‘constructively demoted’ in retaliation for having filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC),” the Third Circuit said.

“Gochin sought relief under Title VII, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, the Older Workers’ Benefits Protections Act, the Pennsylvania Wage Payment and Collection Law, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and the Equal Pay Act,” the appellate court added.

In response, the Jefferson defendants moved for a ruling of summary judgment on a number of fronts, including: “(1) Most of Gochin’s claims were time-barred; (2) She failed to establish a prima facie case of either discrimination or retaliation; (3) She did not have a viable Equal Pay Act claim; (4) She did not have a viable claim against the individual defendants; (5) She could not bring a pattern or practice claim outside of a class action; and (6) She failed to create any genuine issues of fact with respect to her hostile-work-environment and wage-law claims.”

At that point, instead of replying directly to the summary judgment motion, Gochin filed a “Motion for Default Judgment and Sanctions”, claiming the Jefferson Defendants had “repeatedly failed to produce requested documents and had intentionally concealed evidence concerning three of the fifty-three positions she had been denied.”

“According to Gochin, the defendants had falsely stated that the ‘Manager of Education and Outreach in the Office of Research Administration’ position had been cancelled, but she had learned through her own investigation that this position had in fact been filled— and awarded to a ‘young woman.’ Gochin also alleged that the defendants had ‘merged’ two of the allegedly cancelled positions into a ‘renamed’ position of ‘Compliance Liaison,’ and awarded it to a man,” the Third Circuit said.

On Nov. 3, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted the summary judgment motion from the Jefferson defendants and further denied her Motion for Default Judgment and Sanctions - feeling Gochin’s accusations were “baseless” and that she had “abused the discovery process” on the latter.

Gochin appealed the District Court’s order on Dec. 7, which was rejected for its lack of timeliness in March.

Further, Gochin filed the motion at issue in this appeal, a motion pursuant to Rule 60(b)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

“Gochin again claimed that the four Jefferson defendants had ‘machinated their entire defense’ by concealing evidence that the two allegedly cancelled positions had in fact been filled,” the Third Circuit said of Gochin’s latest appeal.

“Gochin further alleged that the District Judge had conspired with the defendants to falsely accuse her of discovery misconduct. The District Court denied the motion by order entered Dec. 7, 2015. Gochin now appeals from the District Court’s order,” the Third Circuit added.

The federal appellate court stipulated the movant in a Rule 60(b) motion “carries a heavy burden”, as Rule 60(b) motions are viewed as “extraordinary relief which should be granted only where extraordinary justifying circumstances are present.” In that respect, the Court saw no reason whatsoever to diverge from the decision of the District Court.

“We see no abuse of discretion in the District Court’s decision to deny relief. In her Rule 60(b)(3) motion, Gochin merely sought to re-litigate the issues she already raised, and which the District Court already rejected, in her Motion for Default Judgment and Sanctions,” the Third Circuit stated. “Gochin failed to timely appeal from the order denying that motion, and a “Rule 60(b) motion may not be used as a substitute for appeal.”

“Furthermore, Rule 60(b)(3) is not the proper vehicle for Gochin to challenge the District Judge’s alleged misconduct. Accordingly, the District Court properly denied relief. For the foregoing reasons, we will affirm the District Court’s judgment,” the Third Circuit concluded.

The appellee is represented by Carianne P. Torrissi of Klehr Harrison Harvey Branzburg, in Philadelphia.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit case 15-4059

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:13-cv-07559

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at

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