Federal court rules Abbott Laboratories did not retaliate against former operations manager

By Nicholas Malfitano | Aug 10, 2018

PHILADELPHIA – A federal court has ruled that the ex-operations manager of a laboratory company was not retaliated against by his former employer, when it failed to reinstate him after he pursued claims of wrongful termination.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Jan E. DuBois ruled Aug. 1 to grant summary judgment to defendant Abbott Laboratories, in response to a lawsuit sounding in claims of retaliation, brought by plaintiff Clive Baron.

As detailed in the original District Court case (Baron v. Abbott Laboratories I), Baron was originally hired by the STARLIMS software firm in 2007 as its Chief Business Development Officer, and after Abbott acquired the firm in March 2010, Baron became the General Manager for Europe and Africa for Abbott’s STARLIMS division.

Baron excelled in the role and received excellent performance reviews for his establishment of new businesses in his coverage territory. After an internal reorganization, Baron was placed in charge of all STARLIMS operations as Manager of Global Operations.

A later shake-up of STARLIMS management led to the elimination of Baron’s position – and due to not being given a reason for his firing, Baron presumed it was due to his age at the time, which was 60 years old.

Baron also pointed to colleagues who were promoted or hired after his departure, all of whom were younger than he. One of these colleagues included Richard Lanchantin, then 59 years old, who was hired in a similar, but not identical, role to Baron’s.

In response, Abbott denied the charges and explained Baron’s role being eliminated was due to an internal company restructuring and not due to any kind of discrimination.

After filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Baron then filed suit in the District Court, alleging he was wrongfully terminated under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992 and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA). However, the District Court granted summary judgment to Abbott in March 2016, leading Baron to appeal in the Third Circuit Court, where he also lost.

In the instant case, Baron says Lanchantin ceased his employment with Abbott at the beginning of 2016, and the company retaliated against Baron when it failed to reinstate him to the position of Director of Global Sales & Services, for which Lanchantin was selected.

Baron adds the retaliation continued, when the company rejected him as a candidate after Lanchantin left Abbott and failing to consider him for other roles, including the position of General Manager of Europe, Middle East, and Africa.

In response, Abbott filed a motion for summary judgment against Baron.

DuBois said it was Baron’s duty to prove a prima facie case of retaliation.

“To establish a prima facie case of retaliation under the ADEA, plaintiff must prove that: (1) He engaged in a protected activity; (2) Subsequent to that protected activity he was subject to an adverse employment action; and (3) There was a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse employment consequence. Plaintiff bears the burden of showing that his protected activity was the determinative or motivating reason for the employer’s alleged retaliatory action,” DuBois said.

In this case, DuBois said Baron has not established a prima facie case of retaliation because he “fails to meet his burden of showing that there was a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse employment consequence.”

“The first purported retaliatory action taken by Abbott was its hiring of Lanchantin, which occurred in February 2015 – approximately nine months after plaintiff filed a complaint with the EEOC alleging age discrimination, and approximately six months after plaintiff filed the Baron I complaint. A time lapse of six or nine months is not ‘unusually suggestive’ of a retaliatory motive,” DuBois stated.

“Plaintiff’s other proffered evidence is insufficient to infer causation, because he relies on conclusory statements unsupported by the record. Plaintiff states, for example, that Abbott ‘concealed’ the fact that it was hiring from him because the positions were not posted on Abbott’s external employment website and were advertised only internally. However, Delores Sanan, the Human Resources director, testified that managers within Abbott are given wide discretion in determining how to advertise employment postings. There is simply no evidence that the decision to post the position internally was motivated by retaliatory animus.”

DuBois said the causal connection between Abbott’s subsequent decision to replace Lanchantin with Pedro Malha in March or April 2016, and then Steve Kils in November 2016, was “weak” due to the amount of time which had passed in the interim.

“As an initial matter, these hiring decisions were made more than two years after plaintiff first filed his EEOC complaint in March 2014. For the reasons stated above, such a significant lapse does not give rise to a suggestion of retaliatory motive,” DuBois said.

Furthermore, DuBois stated that the individual who hired Malha and Kils was Mark Spencer. Spencer testified that he did not learn of plaintiff’s EEOC complaint or the Baron I complaint until approximately August or September 2017, after Malha and Kils were hired – a fact not disputed by Baron.

And, although Sanan, as HR director, played a role in selecting candidates, Spencer served as the ultimate decision maker.

“Plaintiff also contends that Abbott’s failure to hire him to replace [Simon] Wood and [Tamir] Gottfried upon their departures in April 2016 and August 2016, respectively, constituted retaliation. The Court is not persuaded. For the same reasons the Court articulated in connection with Abbott’s hiring of Malha and Kils – that the passage of over two years is not unusually suggestive of retaliation and that Spencer, who had no knowledge of Baron or the lawsuit until August or September 2017, made those hiring decisions – it concludes that plaintiff has failed to meet his burden of establishing a prima facie case of retaliation,” DuBois concluded.

The plaintiff is represented by Edward S. Mazurek of The Mazurek Law Firm.

The defendant is represented by Jonathan F. Bloom and Elizabeth Ashley Kuschel of Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young in Philadelphia, plus Jon E. Klinghoffer, Julie F. Stewart and William Kyle Walther of Goldberg Kohn, in Chicago, Ill.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:16-cv-02736

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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