September 26th, 2022 by Rieders Travis in Civil Rights

Canada v. Samuel Grossi & Sons, Inc., 2022 U.S. App. LEXIS 25846 (3rd Cir. September 15, 2022) (McKee, C.J.)  Joseph Canada appeals the District Court’s dismissal of his retaliation claims against Samuel Grossi and Sons, Inc. (“Grossi”), his former employer. The claims were brought under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act42 U.S.C. § 1981, the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). Although Grossi argued that it fired Canada for misconduct that was discovered during a search of his cellphone, Canada claims Grossi’s true motive for firing him was retaliation for actions that were protected under the aforementioned statutes. For the reasons that follow, we will reverse the District Court’s grant of summary judgment to Grossi on Canada’s retaliation claims arising from his final termination and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. For Canada to survive summary judgment at the third McDonnell Douglas step, he must show that the evidence would allow a jury to reasonably “(1) disbelieve [Grossi’s] articulated legitimate reasons; or (2) believe that an invidious discriminatory reason was more likely than not a motivating or determinative cause of [Grossi’s] action.” The evidence here could allow a reasonable jury to conclude either or both. He met that burden by showing Grossi’s purported reasons for searching his cell phone are weak, implausible, contradictory, incoherent, and more likely motivated by retaliation. Moreover, he has shown that Grossi “treated other, similarly situated persons not of his protected class more favorably.” Accordingly, summary judgment is inappropriate. Despite the lack of a coherent rationale for searching the phone, Osorio searched through more than a year’s worth of personal text messages before discovering the messages for which Canada was allegedly fired. The breadth of this search alone undermines the plausibility that Grossi was trying to see if the phone belonged to the company. As we have explained, a jury could find that reading text messages from this far back in time is more suggestive of a search to find an excuse to fire Canada in retaliation for his activity protected under Title VII, § 1981, the ADA, and FMLA.  There is also evidence to support a finding that Grossi treated other employees more favorably. For example, Osorio testified that she was unaware of any other such searches of company lockers and had never searched any other employee’s cellphone or personal items. Moreover, an argument can be made that the lockers did not require emptying before being moved, as alleged by Grossi, since a forklift was used.

Attorney Cliff Rieders

Attorney Cliff RiedersCliff Rieders is a Nationally Board Certified Trial Lawyer practicing personal injury law. A large part of his practice involves multi-district litigation, including cases related to pharmaceuticals, vitamin supplements and medical devices. He is admitted in several state and federal courts, as well as the Supreme Court of the United States. Rieders is the past regional president of the Federal Bar Association and is a life member of the distinguished American Law Institute, which promulgates proposed rules adopted by many state courts. He is a past president of the Pennsylvania Association for Justice, formerly Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association. As a founder of the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority, he served on the Board for 15 years.

Not only has Rieders held many highly esteemed, leadership positions, he authored legislation related to the Patient Safety Authority and the Mcare Act, which governs medical and hospital liability actions in Pennsylvania. He authored texts upon which both practitioners and judges rely, including Pennsylvania Malpractice Laws and Forms, and Financial Responsibility Law Issues in Pennsylvania, the latter governing auto and truck collisions in Pennsylvania. In addition, he wrote several books on the practice of law in Pennsylvania regarding wrongful death and survivor actions, insurance bad faith, legal malpractice claims and worker rights, among others. Rieders also serves as a resource to practitioners as a regular speaker for Celesq, an arm of the world’s largest legal publisher, Thomson Reuters West Publishing.

As recognition of his wide range of contribution to his profession and of his dedication to protecting the rights of his clients, he received numerous awards, among them the George F. Douglas Amicus Curiae Award, the Milton D. Rosenberg Award, the B’nai B’rith Justice Award, and awards of recognition from the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers. [ Attorney Bio ]



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