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PETROSKY v. WASHINGTON-GREEN CTY. BRANCH PENNSYLVA

June 26, 1987

Alexandria Sandra Ann Petrosky, Plaintiff
v.
Washington-Greene County Branch Pennsylvania Association for the Blind, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: WEBER

 WEBER, D. J.

 Plaintiff, Alexandria Sandra Ann Petrosky, was hired by Defendant, Washington-Greene County Branch Pennsylvania Association for the Blind, in September 1978 as Executive Director. Defendant is an "employer" within the meaning of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.A. ยง 2000e et seq. Plaintiff was responsible for overseeing the day to day operations of the Association under the direct supervision of the Defendant's Board of Directors. Plaintiff was discharged from her position on February 7, 1983. At all times relevant to these proceedings plaintiff was an at-will employee who had no written or oral contract specifying length of employment. Plaintiff's successor was a male.

 In April of 1982, plaintiff notified certain Board Members and Solicitor Larry Zewe, of a complaint that she had against Board Chairman Armand DiVincenzo, stemming from an alleged kissing incident in the fall of 1981. Board Members Thomas Wright and Carl Stark investigated the charge by discussing it with Mr. DiVincenzo in the presence of his wife. Mr. DiVincenzo denied the charge.

 According to plaintiff's testimony, the incident occurred in the office parking lot after a late evening Board meeting in September of 1981. Plaintiff indicated that Mr. DiVincenzo opened her car door for her, then grabbed her shoulders and kissed her on the lips. Plaintiff rebuffed Mr. DiVincenzo verbally. He left and did not again make any sexual overtures towards her. There were no witnesses to the incident. Board Members Wright and Stark, after talking with Mr. DiVincenzo, felt that plaintiff's charge was groundless and should be dropped. This was the recommendation which they made to the Board.

 Plaintiff was put on probation on May 25, 1982 by Mr. DiVincenzo. Conflicting testimony was received about the sequence of events during that meeting. Plaintiff claims that Mr. DiVincenzo said "this woman has made a sexual harassment charge against me and I am placing her on probation." Mr. DiVincenzo and various other Board members recall that Board Member Bartley Osborne moved to terminate plaintiff and in lieu of that action Mr. DiVincenzo put plaintiff on probation. The meeting of May 25th was a heated one, board minutes of it were later edited, and there appear to be as many versions of what took place as there were people present. Plaintiff's version of the events is not corroborated by any witness, but does appear to be corroborated by the unedited Board minutes. In any event, plaintiff was taken off probation by the Executive Committee at its meeting of July 12, 1982. Tony Marra was the Board member who headed the committee which looked into plaintiff's probation and recommended that it be lifted. Marra indicated that plaintiff still had problems but he hoped they could be worked out.

 Credible testimony of various Board members established that plaintiff had difficulty in dealing with the Board members individually. Mr. Wright testified that he felt plaintiff did not display this difficulty during the first years of her employment. From what the court can determine, it appears that plaintiff's major conflicts with the Board arose following plaintiff's firing of Keith Dreyer early in 1982. The Board evidently met privately with Dreyer on two occasions following Dreyer's termination, and plaintiff vehemently disagreed with the manner in which the Board handled the matter and voiced this disagreement.

 Mr. Wright testified that he became more aware of plaintiff's difficulties with the Board when he became Chairman of a committee and had to work more closely with plaintiff, about a year before plaintiff's discharge *fn1" and prior to her sexual harassment complaint. Wright felt that plaintiff tried to set up dissatisfaction between Board members, and was aware that one Board member, Ralph Stett, resigned from the Board because of continuous turmoil with the Executive Director. Wright indicated that he spoke to plaintiff about these concerns and suggested that she take a Dale Carnegie course and change her manner of dealing with the Board. Board member, Margaret Adams, also indicated that Mr. Young left the Board early in 1982 because of difficulties with plaintiff. Adams said other Board members were aware of Young's reason for leaving the Board.

 Various other Board members testified to their perception that plaintiff acted abrasively towards them or toward other individuals on the Board, and on occasion towards staff as well. Board members were upset with plaintiff's directive at one point that staff were not to talk to Board members or they would be fired. There was one complaint during a Board meeting in 1979 about plaintiff's treatment of blind persons whom the agency served. However, this appeared to be an isolated complaint. Other testimony indicated that the Board found plaintiff resistant to and uncooperative with their efforts to conduct an audit which was decided on in May 1982 and initiated thereafter. There were various other matters which concerned the Board following the May 1982 charge, such as failure to pay certain taxes, a $ 12,000 payment which was made incorrectly, and some problems with the quality of certain products that the Association made or shipped to customers, as well as other minor incidents. These incidents, however, plaintiff apparently tried to rectify when they were brought to her attention.

 Plaintiff indicates as evidence of her competence and good performance that defendant's gross receipts grew during her employment from gross yearly receipts of approximately fourteen thousand dollars to almost one million dollars annually. This fact is not disputed by defendant, but Board members did not believe that this fact alone established plaintiff's competence. In fact, Board members felt that plaintiff's abrasiveness was of such a degree that despite her other strengths she incompetently performed her job.

 Credible testimony of Board members indicated that they perceived plaintiff's sexual charge to be a smoke screen by which plaintiff attempted to divert attention from her poor performance and the Board's growing dissatisfaction with her. This perception by Board members was based on the following:

 
1. The delayed timing of the complaint in relation to actual occurrence of the incident and growing Board dissatisfaction with her performance; *fn2"
 
2. the Executive Committee investigation of plaintiff's sexual harassment charge and report to the Board that it was without merit;
 
3. plaintiff's own comments in October of 1982 to one of the female Board members, Margaret Adams, that she had gotten an N.I.B. Executive Director, Jack Jones, fired on a sexual harassment charge. *fn3" ...

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