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Juan Ramos, Pete L. Brooks, Brad Lambert, and Stephen Jones v. Air Liquide

March 28, 2011

JUAN RAMOS, PETE L. BROOKS, BRAD LAMBERT, AND STEPHEN JONES, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
AIR LIQUIDE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hillman, District Judge

OPINION

Plaintiffs, Juan Ramos, Jr., Pete L. Brooks, Brad Lambert, and Stephen Jones allege that they were terminated from their employment with Defendant, Air Liquide Advanced Technologies U.S. L.L.C. ("Air Liquide"), or otherwise subject to discriminatory treatment, by virtue of their race, color, or national origin. Air Liquide moves to dismiss Plaintiffs' suit, arguing that an arbitration agreement governs this matter. Plaintiffs dispute Air Liquide's assertion and move to continue the case and compel discovery.

For the reasons expressed below, Air Liquide's Motion to Dismiss is granted in part and stayed in part. Further, Plaintiffs' Motion for Continuance is granted in part and denied in part. Plaintiffs shall have thirty (30) days to conduct limited discovery and to submit a supplemental brief in this matter. Air Liquide, thereafter, shall have ten (10) days to respond.

I. JURISDICTION

Plaintiffs have brought their federal claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1981. The Court may exercise jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' federal claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

II. BACKGROUND

Juan Ramos, Jr. is Hispanic. Pete L. Brooks, Brad Lambert, and Stephen Jones are all African-Americans. The four men were employed by Air Liquide. All four men allege that they were subjected to racial discrimination and unfair treatment while with Air Liquide.*fn1

Central to this matter, each plaintiff signed an employment application with Air Liquide.*fn2 The application specified that one of the conditions to employment at Air Liquide was the applicant's acknowledgment and acceptance of Air Liquide's alternative dispute resolution policy, including mandatory arbitration and a waiver of the right to pursue remedies in civil court.

During his employment with Air Liquide, which commenced in 2003, Ramos was subjected to several derogatory or unflattering comments concerning Hispanic people. Among the comments, a co-worker referred to Ramos as "Chico." (Compl. at 3, ¶ 16). Another co-worker opined as to the number of Hispanic people in Pennsylvania and suggested that they should move to Miami to join with other Hispanic people. When Ramos confronted this co-worker about his statement, the co-worker responded, "'what's wrong, you're not Puerto Rican, are you?'" (Id. at 4, ¶ 19). The following week, the same co-worker made another derogatory statement directed at Ramos's Hispanic background. Ramos complained to a supervisor who refused to take action because he did not believe the comment was offensive.

On another occasion, Ramos was working in an operator's room with three black employees, including Pete Brooks, when a co-worker entered the room and, before exiting, stated, "'it's too dark in here for me.'" (Id. at 4, ¶ 23). Again, Ramos complained to a supervisor, but no action was taken. Further, Ramos continued to perform all of his duties, but was denied any pay increases or promotions. Finally, in or around April 2009, Ramos learned of an e-mail circulated by a co-worker that featured approximately ten derogatory jokes about Mexicans in it. Ramos showed the e-mail to a co-worker. On May 11, 2009, Ramos was terminated from Air Liquide.

Pete Brooks avers that, in April 2005, he and another African-American were hired by Air Liquide along with a Caucasian. The Caucasian employee received extensive training while Brooks and the other African-American received none. Similarly, Brooks had worked on a dangerous machine, and despite Ramos's requests that the machine be fixed, no safety precautions were taken. However, when a white co-worker began to use the machine and complained of its danger, the machine was immediately repaired. Lastly, Brooks cites to a couple of incidents when an African-American employee, including himself on one occasion, went to lunch with white co-workers, and upon their return to work, only the black employees were reprimanded for their lateness or failure to sign out of work. In March 2009, Brooks was terminated from Air Liquide.

Brad Lambert avers that, in 2006, he received the highest evaluation in the company but earned the lowest pay raise. To combat discrimination at the workplace, Lambert attempted to organize a union. As a result, he was subjected to disciplinary actions and intimidation, and denied access to the facility.

Finally, during his tenure with Air Liquide, Stephen Jones was repeatedly transferred to different jobs within the company, each time being denied any training for his position. A Caucasian co-worker who was responsible for his training refused to provide it, telling other employees that Jones was not intelligent enough to be trained. In April 2008, Jones and two other African-American employees worked a morning shift with a Caucasian co-worker. Though the white co-worker was the only one of the four men who did not perform any overtime work, he was the only one promoted. Moreover, as part of his 2008-2009 yearly review, Jones did not receive any credit or acknowledgment for several training programs in which he had participated and other experience he had had. Jones was terminated from Air Liquide in March 2009.

Collectively, Plaintiffs allege that, despite the similar experiences and productivity that they shared with their Caucasian co-workers, they were paid less and denied pay increases and promotions for invalid or arbitrary reasons. Plaintiffs point to a number of circumstances that they believe perpetuated unfair treatment toward minorities at Air Liquide.

Consequently, on or around February 24, 2010, Plaintiffs filed suit in this Court, alleging that Air Liquide committed racial discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. On three different occasions, Air Liquide requested that Plaintiffs dismiss this action in favor of arbitration. Plaintiffs persisted with the current suit. Thus, on or around August 17, 2010, Air Liquide moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' suit for lack of jurisdiction. It predicated its motion, in part, on the fact that each plaintiff had signed an employment application in which he agreed to abide by the company's alternative dispute resolution policy and arbitrate any claims he had against Air Liquide or any of its supervisors or managers. Plaintiffs opposed Air Liquide's motion and moved to continue with their case.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Standard for Motion to ...


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