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Roth v. Koppers Industries Inc.

argued: February 23, 1993.


On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. (D.C. Civil No. 90-02097).

Before: Sloviter, Chief Judge, Mansmann and Scirica, Circuit Judges.

Author: Sloviter


SLOVITER, Chief Judge.

In this case, we must determine whether the findings of the Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation Board of Review (the Board), when unreviewed by a Pennsylvania court, may be afforded collateral estoppel effect in a subsequent action brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et. seq. (1988 & Supp. III 1992). Following the clear teachings of University of Tennessee v. Elliott, 478 U.S. 788, 92 L. Ed. 2d 635, 106 S. Ct. 3220 (1986), we hold that such findings may not be given issue preclusive effect in a subsequent Title VII action. We will therefore affirm the order of the district court.



Plaintiff Carol V. Roth was employed from 1951 to 1954 and thereafter from 1974 to 1989 as a secretary, a stenographer, a roof bond coordinator, and a roof guarantee administrator by defendant Koppers Industries, Inc., and/or its predecessor companies.

Both before and after the Koppers acquisition, Roth alleged that her coworkers subjected her to harassment and discriminatory treatment on the basis of her sex. After several such alleged incidents, Roth chose not to return to work after March 28, 1989. On April 5, 1989 Roth met with Koppers' Vice President, Earl Clendaniel, regarding her allegations. Clendaniel urged Roth to return to work, informing her that although he could not control the personal feelings of the other workers, harassment and discrimination would not be tolerated. He also stated that he would investigate Roth's complaints. Roth did not return to work, however, and Koppers treated her decision as a voluntary resignation. April 5, 1989 was Roth's last day as a Koppers employee.

On April 23, 1989, Roth applied for unemployment compensation benefits from the Pennsylvania Office of Employment Security. A representative of that office denied Roth's claim for benefits and she appealed. On June 2, 1989, a referee from the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review held a hearing to determine whether Roth was entitled to benefits. Only Roth appeared; Koppers did not send a representative to the hearing. The referee concluded that Roth had voluntarily resigned her employment and was ineligible for benefits.

Roth appealed to the Board, which on August 16, 1989 reversed the referee's decision without receiving additional evidence. The Board found that "during her employment [Roth] was subjected to discrimination and harassment," App. at 431, although it did not indicate whether the discrimination and harassment were based on Roth's sex or on some other ground. The Board also concluded that because Koppers "gave claimant the option of resigning or to continue under the current conditions[, Roth] resigned for necessitous and compelling reasons and is eligible for benefits under Section 402(b) of the [Unemployment Compensation] Law."*fn1 App. at 431. Although Koppers could have appealed the Board's decision to the Commonwealth Court, see LeGare v. Unemployment Compensation Bd. of Review, 498 Pa. 72, 444 A.2d 1151, 1152-53 (Pa. 1982); Taylor v. Unemployment Compensation Bd. of Review, 474 Pa. 351, 378 A.2d 829, 831-32 (Pa. 1977), it failed to do so.

Roth then filed a complaint in federal district court alleging violations of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a) (1988), and the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d)(1) (1988). Roth's Title VII claim was based on a hostile work environment theory, see Andrews v. City of Philadelphia, 895 F.2d 1469 (3d Cir. 1990), and a constructive discharge theory, see Goss v. Exxon Office Sys. Co., 747 F.2d 885 (3d Cir. 1984).*fn2 The district court, after a three-day bench trial, concluded that Roth had failed to establish a prima facie case under either statute, and entered judgment for Koppers.

With respect to Roth's claim of gender discrimination, the court made extensive findings of fact and Conclusions of law. In particular, the court concluded that "most of plaintiff's examples of discriminatory acts appear to the court to be unrelated to sex. Instead, they appear to be the result of

frustrations and difficulties to be expected when a company undergoes the type of adjustments [Koppers] experienced following its transition from [its predecessor companies] in December, 1988." Dist. Ct. Op. at 15. With regard to the Equal Pay Act claim, the court concluded that Roth had failed to meet her burden of proving that "anyone of the ...

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