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ALLEGHENY HOUSING REHABILITATION CORPORATION v. COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA (10/15/87)

decided: October 15, 1987.

ALLEGHENY HOUSING REHABILITATION CORPORATION, APPELLANT,
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, PENNSYLVANIA HUMAN RELATIONS COMMISSION, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Order of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania dated March 29, 1985 at No. 2234 C.D. 1983 Affirming the Order of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission dated July 5, 1983 at E-14987. Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Hutchinson, Zappala and Papadakos, JJ. Nix, C.j., and Larsen, J., filed a dissenting opinion in which Papadakos, J., joined.

Author: Zappala

[ 516 Pa. Page 126]

Opinion

This is an employment discrimination case brought under Section 5(a) of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 P.S. § 955(a). The Human Relations Commission found that Faith Hodge was discharged from her employment because of her sex. It awarded back pay and interest, entered a "cease and desist" order, imposed various notice requirements designed to apprise Hodge and other potential female applicants of positions, and instituted a reporting system to monitor hiring practices. Commonwealth Court held that the Commission's finding of discrimination was supported by substantial evidence and affirmed the order, 88 Pa. Commw. 443, 489 A.2d 1001. We allowed the employer's appeal to examine the lower tribunals' method of applying the law in examining the evidence to reach a conclusion on the ultimate issue of discrimination.

In July of 1978, Faith Hodge took up residence at Second East Hills Park, a housing development in Pittsburgh. She had lived at Second East Hills until May of that year, when she left her employment as a City of Pittsburgh police officer in order to move to California. After her return, Hodge inquired of the resident manager of Second East Hills about a job as a security officer at the development. Hodge had known the manager from work with several community organizations around Pittsburgh. The resident manager, an employee of the defendant/appellant Allegheny Housing Rehabilitation Corporation, hired Hodge as a security officer in mid-August of 1978. Within a month he had assigned her additional duties and told her she was being designated "security manager" at Second East Hills. By letter dated November 2, 1978, slightly more than two months after Hodge had been hired, Allegheny Housing's Director of Management, the resident manager's superior, advised Hodge that her "services as Security Manager [had] been terminated due to the realignment of our security force."

[ 516 Pa. Page 127]

Allegheny Housing Rehabilitation Corporation is a limited profit corporation that manages non-profit and low income housing developments. In August of 1977, Allegheny Housing was hired as management agent of Second East Hills by the owner, Action Housing, which was at the time attempting to arrange a sale of the development. In 1978, Action Housing defaulted on its mortgage, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development assumed operation of the development as mortgagee in possession. Allegheny Housing was retained as the management agent by HUD. Pursuant to regulations governing developments where HUD was mortgagee in possession, in the summer of 1978 Allegheny Housing undertook the task of providing security services for Second East Hills within a budget amount imposed by HUD. Bids from several security firms were rejected as too high. Eventually, Allegheny Housing hired individuals as independent contractors*fn1 to serve as security guards.

Hodge filed a complaint with the Human Relations Commission alleging that she was discharged from her job because of her sex. Section 5(a) of the Human Relations Act, 43 P.S. § 955(a) provides

It shall be an unlawful discriminatory practice, unless based upon a bona fide occupational qualification . . . [f]or any employer because of the . . . sex . . . of any individual to refuse to hire or employ, or to bar or to discharge from employment such individual, or to otherwise discriminate against such individual with respect to compensation, hire, tenure, terms, conditions or privileges of employment, if the individual is the best able and most competent to perform the services required.

The Human Relations Commission and the Commonwealth Court purported to follow the analytical model developed by the United States Supreme Court for Title VII cases in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792,

[ 516 Pa. Page 12893]

S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973), first approved by this Court for employment discrimination cases under the Human Relations Act in General Electric Corp. v. Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, 469 Pa. 292, 365 A.2d 649 (1976). That model sets out the nature of the evidence needed for the plaintiff to establish a prima facie case, for the defendant to respond, and for the plaintiff to counter the defendant's response. In Texas Department of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 101 S.Ct. 1089, 67 L.Ed.2d 207 (1981), and again in U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors v. Aikens, 460 U.S. 711, 103 S.Ct. 1478, 75 L.Ed.2d 403 (1983), the Supreme Court addressed itself to the proper application of this analytical model. In particular, the Court clarified the nature and the extent of the defendant's burden of production. This case presents us with an opportunity to give similar guidance to the lower tribunals in our state system.*fn2

[ 516 Pa. Page 129]

In McDonnell Douglas, the Court stated that the burden of establishing a prima facie case could be met by showing "(i) that [the plaintiff] belongs to a racial minority; (ii) that he applied and was qualified for a job for which the employer was seeking applicants; (iii) that, despite his qualifications, he was rejected; and (iv) that, after his rejection, the position remained open and the employer continued to seek applicants from persons of [the plaintiff's] qualifications." 411 U.S. at 802, 93 S.Ct. at 1824. This standard is, to be sure, adaptable to accommodate differences in the nature of the discrimination alleged (e.g., sex rather than race) and in the action alleged to be improper (e.g., discharge rather than refusal to hire). The form it takes, however, must be appropriate to its function, which is to "eliminate[] the most common nondiscriminatory reasons" for the employer's action. Burdine, 450 U.S. at 254, 101 S.Ct. at 1094.

In the Opinion accompanying its order, the Commission expressed the view that Hodge could meet her burden of establishing a prima facie case "by proving that she was discharged for reasons not having to do with her performance, and that males were subsequently hired to perform essentially the same duties as she performed prior to her discharge." The Commonwealth Court offered a more specific statement of the elements: "(1) she is a member of a protected class (female), (2) that she was hired for a job for which she was qualified, (3) that she was discharged, and (4) that she was replaced with one or more males with equal or lesser qualifications." 88 Pa. Commw. at 448-49, 489 A.2d at 1004.

Each of these formulations in isolation might be considered flawed for failing to eliminate several common, non-discriminatory reasons for discharge, the Commission's moreso than the court's. This "flaw" would become harmless, however, if the remainder of the analysis were properly applied to the entire case. This is because the nature of the burden that "shifts" to the defendant when a prima facie case is established is simply to produce evidence of a "legitimate, non-discriminatory reason" for the discharge.

[ 516 Pa. Page 130]

It was never intended, however, that the previously described analytical method would immunize members of "protected classes" from adverse employment decisions simply by dint of their class membership. Nothing about the Human Relations Act removes its operation from the bedrock concept of our jurisprudence that one who alleges wrongdoing must supply the proof. The stated analysis is no more than an aid to evaluating the proof. If the plaintiff produces sufficient evidence that, if believed and otherwise unexplained, indicates that more likely than not discrimination has occurred, the defendant must be heard in response. Absent a response, the "presumption" of discrimination arising from the plaintiff's prima facie case stands determinative of the factual issue of the case. In other words, if the employer rests without producing evidence, the plaintiff must prevail if he or she has produced sufficient evidence to make out a prima facie case. If, however, the defendant offers a non-discriminatory explanation for the dismissal, the presumption drops from the case. As in any other civil litigation, the issue is joined, and the entire body of evidence produced by each side stands before the tribunal to be evaluated according to the preponderance standard: Has the plaintiff proven discrimination by a preponderance of the evidence? Stated otherwise, once the defendant offers evidence from which the trier of fact could rationally conclude that the decision was not discriminatorily motivated, the trier of fact must then "decide which party's explanation of the employer's motivation it believes." Aikens, 460 U.S. at 716, 103 S.Ct. at 1482. The plaintiff is, of course, free to present evidence and argument that the explanation offered by the employer is not worthy of belief or is otherwise inadequate in order to persuade the tribunal that her evidence does preponderate to prove discrimination. She is not, however, entitled to be aided by a presumption of discrimination against which the employer's proof must "measure up".

It is obvious that Hodge, female, was hired and discharged. She testified to her educational background

[ 516 Pa. Page 132]

    and the training she had received in becoming a member of the Pittsburgh police force. Payroll records of Allegheny Housing security personnel were also admitted into evidence to show the number of people working and the number of hours worked during the relevant periods before and after Hodge's dismissal. This evidence was, we believe, ...


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