Legal Updates /

Judge Carey Sustains Reorganized Debtors’ Objection to Claim of Keith Younge

By Gregory J. Flasser

On March, 18 2016, Judge Kevin Carey of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware (the “Court”) issued a memorandum opinion and order in In re Tribune Media Company, et al. Case No. 08-13141 (KJC) sustaining an objection (the “Claim Objection”) to the claim of Keith Younge (“Younge”).  The Court concluded that Younge failed to provide admissible evidence to support his claim for hostile work environment or discriminatory termination of employment.

On December 8, 2008, Tribune Media Company and certain of its affiliates, including Tribune Television Company (collectively, the “Reorganized Debtors”), filed voluntary chapter 11 bankruptcy petitions.  On July 23, 2012, the Court confirmed a Plan of Reorganization (the “Plan”), which became effective on December 31, 2012.

Prior to the Plan confirmation, Younge timely filed a proof of claim against Tribune Television Company asserting employment discrimination claims based upon Title VII of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Pennsylvania statutory common law.  Specifically, Younge referenced a complaint he filed on June 9, 2008 with the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations alleging that he was: (1) subjected to a hostile work environment; and (2) discriminated against and terminated because of his race.  In the complaint, Younge reported an incident where Rick Schultz (“Schultz”), a co-worker, harassed him with racial slurs.  Younge also reported that the incident escalated to a yelling match and use of profanity between the parties.  Following the altercation, Younge and Schultz were both terminated for violating the Station’s Anti-Harassment Policy and Standards of Conduct.

The Reorganized Debtors filed the Claim Objection on September 6, 2013, arguing that Younge’s claim fails as a matter of law.  The Court reviewed the Claim Objection as a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, made applicable by Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure 7056 and 9014(c).

In sustaining the portion of the Claim Objection pertaining to hostile work environment, the Court applied the Third Circuit’s five-part test to determine whether a plaintiff may prevail on a hostile work environment claim.  Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Younge, the Court held that the fifth element (determining employer liability) was not satisfied.  Specifically, the Reorganized Debtors were not liable for the unlawful harassment because there were no facts to show that the Reorganized Debtors knew or should have known that Schultz would harass Younge, and  because Schultz was not Younge’s supervisor.

Turning to Younge’s claim for discriminatory termination of employment, the Court sustained the Claim Objection finding that Younge failed to demonstrate a prima facie case of discrimination.  The Court pointed out that, even if Younge established a prima facie case, the Reorganized Debtors satisfied their burden by providing a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for Younge’s termination.

A copy of the Court’s opinion is available here.

Scroll to top