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JONES v. AMERICAN TRAVELLERS CORP.

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA


August 16, 1995

ELMER DAVID JONES, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
AMERICAN TRAVELLERS CORPORATION, et al., Defendants.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. CURTIS JOYNER

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

 Joyner, J.

 August 16, 1995

 This Title VII discrimination case is before the Court today on motion of the defendants, which seek an order granting them summary judgment as to the claims set forth in the four related complaints Plaintiff has filed. In deciding this motion, we are asked to consider Plaintiff's allegation that he was terminated from his employment on account of his race, in violation of federal law. For the reasons that follow, the defendants' motion will be granted.

 I. BACKGROUND

 A. Procedural Summary

 The defendants in this case are American Travellers Corporation ("ATC") and three of its employees: Earlette Hinton, Jennifer LaLena and Angela Palo. The plaintiff is Elmer David Jones, Jr., an African-American man who was terminated after a twenty-one month term of employment. Following his discharge, Mr. Jones filed a pro se complaint in this Court, in which he set forth claims of defamation against the four defendants. Mr. Jones subsequently filed three additional complaints against ATC, alleging that he was discriminated against not only on the basis of his race, age and gender, but also in retaliation for his filing of complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. All four complaints have been consolidated into this single action.

 The defendants now bring the instant motion, in which they seek an award of summary judgment as to all of Mr. Jones's claims. In his response to the motion, Mr. Jones, through counsel, concedes that he cannot sustain the claims for defamation, retaliation, gender or age discrimination, and so proceeds on the theory that ATC discriminated against him on the basis of his race, in violation of Title VII. As a result, we must award summary judgment to the defendants as to the defamation, age discrimination, gender discrimination and retaliation claims. Of course, since the three individual defendants are parties to this action only by virtue of their status as defenders of the defamation claim, this action will be dismissed as to them. Accordingly, we now turn to the remaining claim set forth against ATC.

 B. Factual Summary

 ATC hired Mr. Jones in February of 1991 as Telecommunications Coordinator, a position in which he was responsible for programming and maintaining ATC's telephone system. In November of 1992, Ms. Hinton filed a charge of sexual harassment with ATC's human resources department manager, and alleged that she was the object of Mr. Jones's persistent and inappropriate attention. After conducting an investigation, ATC issued a warning to Mr. Jones, advising him to stay clear of Ms. Hinton and to avoid the appearance of impropriety with any female employee. The warning notwithstanding, Mr. Jones reinitiated conversations with Ms. Hinton. Furthermore, on December 16, 1992, management discovered that Mr. Jones had violated company policy when he unilaterally changed the password to ATC's telephone system on November 2, 1992. Thus, on December 17, Mr. Jones was summoned to the office of his supervisor, Ted Blecharczyk, who told Mr. Jones that he was being fired because he both failed to heed the warning regarding his inappropriate behavior and changed the telephone system password without authorization.

 C. Summary of Arguments

 The defendants have submitted the instant motion for summary judgment, and argue that Mr. Jones has failed to produce any evidence to support his claims. In his opposition to the defendants' motion, Mr. Jones contends that the purported reasons for his termination are fabrications and a mere pretext for discrimination. Specifically, Mr. Jones points to the findings of the Pennsylvania Board of Unemployment Compensation ("PBUC"), which concluded that (1) Mr. Jones did not know that he should have obtained his supervisor's permission prior to changing the telephone system password and (2) he did not sexually harass a co-worker. Mr. Jones asserts that issue preclusion attaches to these findings. *fn1" Further, the plaintiff points to the deposition of Gary Koontz, a former ATC vice-president, who testified that the president of the company harbored a general discriminatory animus toward those in the racial minority. Finally, Mr. Jones himself testified that he thought he heard Mr. Blecharczyk call him a "lazy, dumb n///--" some months prior to the discharge. Jones Depo. at p. 81. With this background in mind, we turn now to the merits of the parties' arguments.

 II. DISCUSSION

 A. The Summary Judgment Standard

 This Court is authorized to award summary judgment "if the pleadings, depositions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Thus, the Court's task is not to resolve disputed issues of fact, but to determine whether there exist any factual issues to be tried. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-49, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). The non-moving party must raise "more than a mere scintilla of evidence in its favor" in order to overcome a summary judgment motion. Williams v. Borough of W. Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460 (3d Cir. 1989) (citing Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 249). Further, the non-moving party cannot rely on unsupported assertions, conclusory allegations, or mere suspicions in attempting to survive a summary judgment motion. Id. (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986)). Boiled to its essence, the summary judgment standard requires the non-moving party to create a "sufficient disagreement to require submission [of the evidence] to a jury." Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 251-52.

 B. Title VII

 As noted above, Mr. Jones seeks relief under Title VII. Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer "to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race." 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000e-2(a)(1). Thus, a court's ultimate task in a race discrimination case is to determine whether the plaintiff has carried his burden of showing, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the employer intentionally discriminated against him. Josey v. John R. Hollingsworth Corp., 996 F.2d 632, 637 (3d Cir. 1993); see Bellissimo v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 764 F.2d 175, 179 (3d Cir. 1985)("[A] plaintiff must show that his status as a minority class was the but for reason for the treatment accorded."), cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1035, 106 S. Ct. 1244, 89 L. Ed. 2d 353 (1986).

 In evaluating claims brought under Title VII, we follow the procedure allocating burdens of proof as set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S. Ct. 1817, 36 L. Ed. 2d 668 (1973). Accordingly, the plaintiff bears the initial burden of presenting a prima facie case by demonstrating that (1) he is a member of a protected class; (2) he was qualified for the job from which he was terminated; (3) he was terminated; and (4) others not in the protected class were treated more favorably. Fuentes v. Perskie, 32 F.3d 759, 763 (3d Cir. 1994)(citing McDonnel Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802); Blanding v. Pennsylvania State Police, 811 F. Supp. 1084, 1093 (E.D. Pa. 1992), aff'd , 12 F.3d 1303 (3d Cir. 1993); Butler v. Elwyn Inst., 765 F. Supp. 243, 246 (E.D. Pa. 1991). Should the plaintiff make this showing, a presumption of discrimination is created and the burden shifts to the defendant to articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for discharging the plaintiff. Fuentes, 32 F.3d at 763; Weldon v. Kraft, Inc., 896 F.2d 793, 797 (3d Cir. 1990). The employer need only produce sufficient evidence to enable a factfinder to conclude that the action taken was motivated by a nondiscriminatory purpose. Fuentes, 32 F.3d at 763. If the defendant is able to clear this relatively low hurdle, the presumption evaporates and the onus is again on the plaintiff, who bears the ultimate burden of showing that a discriminatory purpose was a determinative factor in the decision to effect the discharge. Id. at 764; Bellissimo, 764 F.2d at 179-80. The plaintiff can either prove this directly, by showing that discriminatory considerations motivated the defendant's actions, or indirectly, by showing that the rationale provided by the defendant is unworthy of credence. Josey, 996 F.2d at 638; Weldon, 896 F.2d at 797.

 As we noted above, a Title VII plaintiff must prove at trial both that the employer's reason was false and that discrimination was the real reason for the discharge. Fuentes, 32 F.3d at 763. But as our Court of Appeals has recently held, the plaintiff's burden is not as onerous when attempting to survive a summary judgment motion. In such situations, the plaintiff need only demonstrate that there are disputed factual issues concerning either (1) whether the proffered reason for the discharge is false, or (2) whether an invidious discriminatory reason was more likely than not a motivating or determinative cause for the discharge. Torre v. Casio, Inc., 42 F.3d 825, 830 (3d Cir. 1994); Fuentes, 32 F.3d at 764; Brennan v. National Tel. Directory Corp., 881 F. Supp. 986, 994 (E.D. Pa. 1995).

 C. Plaintiff's Title VII Claim

 The present issue for the Court is therefore whether, assuming he can make out a prima facie case, Mr. Jones has adduced evidence sufficient to create a disputed issue of fact as to one of the two tests set forth above. Mr. Jones argues that he can survive the summary judgment motion under either test, and in support of his argument, he points to (1) the findings of the PBUC to the effect that Mr. Jones did not sexually harass Ms. Hinton; (2) the racist views harbored by ATC's president; and (3) the racist remark allegedly made by Mr. Blecharczyk. Moreover, Mr. Jones contends that the relatively minor nature of his transgression regarding the phone system password does not justify the severe sanction of dismissal.

 Upon review of the evidence, however, we find that an award of summary judgment is warranted. First, we note that while the PBUC concluded that Mr. Jones did not engage in sexual harassment, the reason for Mr. Jones's discharge was his violation of the order not to contact Ms. Hinton. Thus, the PBUC's findings do not cast doubt on the purported reason for the discharge, nor are they suggestive of a discriminatory animus. Moreover, the evidence suggesting that Mr. Blecharczyk and ATC's president hold racist attitudes does not aid Mr. Jones's case in the absence of evidence suggesting that discrimination was at the core of the termination of Mr. Jones's employment. Mr. Jones's presentation to this Court is utterly devoid of evidence probative of a discriminatory discharge. For example, there is no evidence that similarly situated white employees received more favorable treatment. Indeed, when Mr. Jones was asked during his deposition to support his contention that he was treated less favorably than others, he was completely unable to do so. From the deposition:

 

Q. What was racially discriminatory about the investigation?

 

A. I believe I was treated different than other people.

 

Q. How so?

 

A. I can't really pinpoint right now why, but I believe other people who were investigated for misconduct were treated differently.

 

Q. Can you tell us who? Who was treated differently?

 

A. I can't at this point, but I think I'll be able to provide some names. But I can't think right now.

 

Q. Do you have an inkling as to who it is we're talking about? Any proof whatsoever?

 

A. I do, but the names just don't come to me now.

 Jones Depo. at p. 61.

 Finally, whether we agree or disagree with Mr. Jones's contention that ATC's reaction to the news that he had changed the telephone system password was excessive is of no moment. Our task is not to second-guess employment decisions, but is instead to determine whether those decisions were animated by racial bias. Ezold v. Wolf, Block, Schorr & Solis-Cohen, 983 F.2d 509, 526-27 (3d Cir. 1992), cert. denied, 126 L. Ed. 2d 56, 114 S. Ct. 88 (1993). Here, Mr. Jones has simply failed to present any evidence to show that race was a factor in ATC's decision to terminate him, or that he was discharged for reasons other than those articulated by his employer. Accordingly, we must award summary judgment to the defendants.

 An appropriate order follows.

 ORDER

 AND NOW, this 16th day of August, 1995, upon consideration of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment as to all of Plaintiff's claims, and the response thereto, it is hereby ORDERED that said Motion is GRANTED.

 BY THE COURT:

 J. Curtis Joyner, J.


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