Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

KEPPLE v. GPU INC.

April 17, 1998

WILSON E. KEPPLE, Plaintiff,
v.
GPU INCORPORATED, a Pennsylvania corporation, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SMITH

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

 D. BROOKS SMITH, District Judge.

 Defendant GPU, Inc. moves for summary judgment on all counts of plaintiff Wilson Kepple's action for employment discrimination based on his religion, age and gender. See dkt. no. 10. For the following reasons, I will grant summary judgment for defendant on plaintiff's federal religion claim, in addition to his state law discrimination claim under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"). I will deny summary judgment on plaintiff's federal claims of age and gender discrimination.

 I. FACTS

 A. Introduction

 This action arises out of two discrete events in Kepple's employment history with defendant. Prior to its reorganization in 1995, defendant GPU was a non-operating holding company with three wholly-owned subsidiaries: Penelec, Met-Ed Corp. and Jersey Central Power & Light Co. Dkt. no. 12, Exh. 1, at 1. Each of these subsidiaries operated independently, with separate management and areas of operation. Id. at 1-2. Plaintiff was employed initially by Penelec in April 1974 as a production performance engineer. Dkt. no 13, Exh. 28. Between 1974 and 1995, he held various engineering and management positions at Penelec's Seward, Homer City and Conemaugh generating stations. Id. Plaintiff professes to be a Fundamentalist Christian. Dkt. no. 13, Exh. 15, at 59.

 During defendants' reorganization, the energy production function of these companies, including Penelec, was combined into one company, which was named Genco and based in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Dkt. no. 12, Exh. 3, at 2. Other key functions were likewise consolidated into several different entities. *fn1" Id. Each new entity is individually managed, has a separate labor relations policy and was staffed during reorganization primarily with incumbent employees selected through an elaborate drafting process. GPU, Inc. remains as the holding company. Id.

 Plaintiff's discrimination claims, although premised on the reorganization which left him without an engineering position at Genco, depend partly on much earlier events at Penelec. He alleges that religious discrimination motivated his demotion in 1987 and subsequently soured his career opportunities at Genco. Dkt. no. 19, at 8-13. He also alleges that gender and age discrimination worked against him in the 1995 Genco staffing drafts. Id. at 14-22. The factual record of these events will be set forth seriatim.

 B. The 1987 Demotion

 After holding various engineering positions with Penelec, plaintiff became Station Engineer at the Seward Generating Station in 1979. Dkt. no. 13, Exh. 14, at 33. He was promoted to Maintenance Superintendent at Seward in February 1981, id. at 38, and later, to Manager of Maintenance at Homer City in February 1985. Id. at 40. Homer City was a larger, more complex station which was partially owned by New York State Electric and Gas Company; there, plaintiff supervised more employees and assumed greater responsibilities. Id. at 40-41; Dkt. no. 13, Exh. 18, at 41.

 Ron Lantzy, plaintiff's direct supervisor at Homer City, annually assessed plaintiff's performance. These reviews were also signed by John Herbein, then Penelec's Vice President of Station Operations. Dkt. no. 13, Exh. 24. Cognizant that plaintiff was new to the position and station, Lantzy testified that he gave plaintiff the benefit of the doubt. Dkt. no. 13, Exh. 18, at 22. Accordingly, plaintiff's 1985 review contained average to high ratings (a rounded 4 out of 5) plus specific suggestions for improvement. Lantzy thought Plaintiff a satisfactory performer, id. at 19, although, in the "Performance Factors" section of the review form, he noted:

 
1. Job Skills - "additional focus on the 'managing of people' aspect will improve this category."
 
2. Decision-Making - "Makes effective decisions, normally. More exposure and experience will improve decision-making."
 
3. Delegation - "Delegation needs to incorporate a feel for assignments, necessary instruction, authority and the need for follow-up progress reports to assure respected results are achieved. Responsibility does not fully transfer (if at all) when items are delegated."
 
4. Communications - " . . . additional first hand communication with employees is needed in future."
 
5. Leadership - "Ted can improve in this area after he gains experience and becomes more confident and assertive."

 Dkt. no. 13, Exh. 24, at 00149 (excerpted). In addition, the "Accountabilities/Significant Projects" section encouraged plaintiff to improve maintenance expenditures, supply availability, daily maintenance programs and personnel relations. Id. at 00150. Finally, the "Supervisor's Comments" section noted that "Ted has been faced with numerous challenges . . . and he has handled them well. [He] needs to focus efforts on his 'people managing' role and to assume greater ownership of maintenance activities and deficiencies . . ." Id. at 00151. Overall, there was only one unsatisfactory mark, a "2" rating for delegation. Despite these suggestions, the overall tenor of the review was favorable. Dkt. no. 13, Exh. 18, at 22.

 In his 1986 Review, Dkt. no. 13, Exh. 25, plaintiff's rounded rating dropped to a 3 as a result of what Lantzy saw as "down sliding." The unrounded decline, however, was only fifteen-hundredths of a point, from 3.45 to 3.30. In the "Performance Factors" section, plaintiff lost one point each in four categories (knowledge of procedures, decisionmaking, teamwork and quality); maintained eight others at average to above-average and gained a point in delegation, a previously flagged problem area. Lantzy specifically commented:

 
1. Job Skills - "Satisfactory. Needs to improve skills of managing people."
 
2. Decision-Making - "Sometimes gets hung up on issues and misses the broader picture of what needs to be accomplished."
 
3. Delegation - "Sometimes delegation is made without sufficient follow-up . . ."
 
4. Communication - "Ted communicates well... needs to practice more 'emotions' at appropriate times to better communicate approval/disapproval."
 
5. Quality - "Quality of work suffers due to the effort to push out the quantity - better balance is needed."

 Id. at 00145. In the "Accountabilities/Significant Projects" section, Plaintiff lost a point in each of three areas: monitor/control expenditures, improve efficiency of maintenance personnel, provide guidance in improving quality; gained one point in two areas: assure supplies, member of big stack group; and held steady in four others. Id. at 00145-46. Lantzy's only true cautionary comment was to "focus efforts on improving relations with supervisors." Id. at 00146. The "Supervisor Comments" section of the review recommended that plaintiff improve his "cooperative skills to obtain needed support" in outage planning, stores, and supervisor/bargaining unit attitude and performance. Id. In the "Employee Comments" section, Plaintiff listed his achievements and future career goals without either questioning the review or discussing his plans for improvement. Id.

 In August 1987, a month before his next review, plaintiff attended an outside seminar entitled "Value of the Person" with three other people. Dkt. no. 13, Exh. 14, at 95-96. This program had a religious theme, and was taught by a Christian instructor who made references to God. Id. at 113-114. Its message was essentially to treat others with respect, id. at 97; Dkt. no. 13, Exh. 18, at 90, or, as plaintiff put it, to "stop doing things mans' way and to start doing things God's way." Dkt. no. 13, Exh. 14, at 114. Plaintiff told his management, specifically Lantzy, about this program. Id. at 91.

 In November 1987, John Skelly of Penelec's Human Resources Department assessed the seminar for possible inclusion in Penelec's training programs. Dkt. no. 13, Exh. 22, at 26-27. Skelly ultimately rejected it, however, as incompatible with Penelec's goals because it portrayed "top management as inherently dangerous and unappreciative of their people[,]" and organized labor as "anarchists who pushed against the wall." Id. at 19-20. Although the speaker mentioned the Bible, Skelly could not recall any explicit religious focus. Id. at 25, 29. Lantzy, for his part, recalled mention of Christian-based principles but did not think they were a significant component. Penelec never adopted the program.

 On September 4, 1987, one month after the seminar and two months prior to Skelly's rejection of it, Lantzy reviewed plaintiff's job performance a few weeks earlier than normal. Compare dkt. no. 13, Exh's 24, 25 (reviews held in October 1986, 1986) with id., Exh. 26 (documenting September 4, 1997 meeting regarding plaintiff's performance). Lantzy later documented the meeting in a September 11 letter which he sent, with a copy of the review, to plaintiff. Id., Exh. 26. On September 18, Lantzy prepared a second review containing more detailed criticism. Dkt. no. 13, Exh. 27. Plaintiff, at that point, understood that his job was in danger. Dkt. no 13, Exh. 14, at 89.

 Lantzy's letter requested "significant positive improvement" to maintain his position and flagged several key deficiencies, including "Decision-making, Communications, Leadership, Teamwork, and Quality" plus "five of [Plaintiff's] principal Accountabilities." Dkt. no. 13, Exh. 26. The letter also stated:

 
Perhaps your overall lack of experience and managerial effectiveness have been responsible for the sub-standard level of your performance over the past two and one-half years in the position. Regardless, the managerial needs of Homer City Station have not been met to the extent that management changes will have to be made within the next six months if the situation warrants such change . . . The seriousness of this situation cannot be stressed enough."

 Id.

 The accompanying review contained an average rating of 2.7. Id. In the Performance Factors section, plaintiff lost a point each in five categories (Planning, Leadership, Teamwork, Employee Development and Timeliness) and two in Communication. Specific comments included:

 
1. Decision-making - "Needs improvement in making appropriate decisions."
 
2. Communications - "Ted needs improvement in how he transmits his ideas, concerns, etc. to others to maintain support to achieve goals. Needs to be firm in communication."
 
3. Leadership - "Needs to demonstrate leadership, firmly lead subordinates."
 
4. Teamwork - "Ted must improve his and his department's interaction with others to build the necessary teamwork."
 
5. Quality - "Quality of work is short of expectation and must improve."

 Id. In the Accountabilities/Significant Projects section, plaintiff lost points in six categories. Specific criticism included: "budget understanding and control not taken seriously;" "shortcomings in Station Maintenance . . . and teamwork has been a problem;" "communication and teamwork falls short of target" and "assertiveness and determination to enforce Accountabilities falls short of needs." Id. Plaintiff's efforts to assure that adequate tools and supplies were kept in inventory, however, were specifically praised. Id.

 The September 18th review contained identical ratings and comments but also included an extended Supervisor and Employee Comments section. Lantzy wrote:

 
Ted must assess his approach to managing . . . and establish himself as a capable leader. He must also establish support of other departments as needed . . . Performance deficiencies in Decision-Making, Communication, Leadership, Teamwork, Quality and five other principal Accountabilities must be corrected if Ted is to remain in his present position . . . I have stressed the seriousness of the situation over and over again."

 Id. Although plaintiffs final average rating was 2.7, down from 3.30 the previous year, his rounded rating remained at 3.

 In the section of the review form designated for the employee to relate his comments, goals and aspirations, plaintiff responded that he had already begun to rectify the problems noted by Lantzy and noted specific "measurable and noticeable improvements." He also stated that he wanted a higher level management position and listed his accomplishments.

 Other members of Penelec management, some of whom would later be involved in the reorganization, knew about plaintiff's performance difficulties. Lantzy had asked Larry Gebhardt, a Penelec personnel representative, for advice on how to handle this type of problem. Dkt. no. 13, Exh. 18, at 35-36. Herbein, although unfamiliar with Plaintiff's actual performance, signed his reviews and understood that Lantzy had specific criticisms of plaintiff's work. Dkt. no. 12, Exh. 12, at 50-51.

 Lantzy ultimately recommended transferring plaintiff to the position of Station Engineer at the Conemaugh generating station. Plaintiff was summoned to meet with Lantzy and Herbein in Herbein's office and was told that he was being transferred because of a budget overrun in his department. Dkt. no. 13, Exh. 14, at 110. Fearful for his career, Plaintiff did not question these decisions. Id. Effective January 25, 1988, he was transferred with no salary or benefits change despite a drop in grade level from 22 to 17. Dkt. no. 13, Exh. 29. Plaintiff's new direct supervisor was John Barron.

 Citing the proximity of his demotion to the "Value of the Person" seminar, plaintiff now asserts that Lantzy was motivated by disapproval of the seminar's religious content and, by implication, by disapproval of plaintiff's own beliefs. Dkt. no. 13, Exh. 14, at 92. He states that other seminar attendees told him of Lantzy's disapproval, id. at 112, although the record does not contain their testimony. From the other attendees, plaintiff understood the seminar to be a "hot issue" with someone, most likely Lantzy. Id. Moreover, although he expressed no such sentiment at the time it was given, plaintiff now disagrees with the unfavorable 1987 review and, noting previous favorable assessments, alleges that Lantzy fabricated most of it. Dkt. no. 13, Exh. 14, at 100-06.

 C. The 1994-95 Reorganization

 1. The Drafting Process

 In 1994, the GPU companies underwent reorganization, the purpose of which was to streamline operations through functional regrouping, and a process which typically involved downsizing. Dkt. no. 13, Exh. 20, at 21-22; Dkt. no. 12, Exh. 8, at 21. A team first identified the companies' six core processes: 1) Produce Energy; 2) Modify Plant; 3) Growth; 4) Provide Fuels and Materials; 5) Collect and Disburse Money; and 6) Recruit and Develop People. Dkt. no. 13, Exh. 20, at 23-24. The "Produce Energy" process became the responsibility of Genco. Each process had an "owner." Herbein became the Produce Energy Process Owner, in other words, the person responsible for all of Genco's power generation functions. Dkt. no.12, Exh. 13, at 4-5, 13.

 Each individual generating station had six Local Process Owners ("LPOs"). At each station, the LPO of Produce Energy ("PELPO") became the equivalent of the former Station Director. Dkt. no. 11, at 13. John Gritzer held that position at Conemaugh, where plaintiff was employed in 1995. Id. at 15. Together, these six local process owners formed the "Station Leadership Team." At Conemaugh, this team included Barron (plaintiff's direct supervisor), Gritzer (Conemaugh's PELPO), John Humphrey, Carl Dodson and Debbie Kuhne. Id.

 An elaborate drafting system was put in place to staff Genco. See Dkt. no. 13, Exh. 1 to Exh. 20 (outlining the structure and goals of the drafting process). First, an evaluation team identified twenty areas of competency by which each employee would be assessed for his or her future capability to adapt to Genco's new policy of employee self-direction. Id. at 12. These twenty competencies were developed "in lieu of using the [then-]current performance evaluation process." Id. Thus, rather than simply referring to past reviews, each supervisor or group of supervisors was required to rate the employee "on the skill areas which are believed to be important to Genco." Id. at 7. Employees were to submit personal data sheets and preferred duty stations. Supervisors then used the competency evaluations to assess and rank their direct reports within four separate, equally-sized quartiles. Dkt. no. 12, Exh. 8, at 22. This evaluation was based solely on the raw score from the competency assessment. Station leadership teams then worked with the Modify Plant Leadership Team to further reassess the rankings. Id. at 24. This was required in order to eliminate rater bias and promote fair comparison of employees reporting to different supervisors. Dkt. no. 13, Exh. 1 to Exh. 20, at 13-14. Quartile rankings from each of the three companies were then combined.

 After quartiling, two separate personnel drafts were held, one for technical positions and a second for production and administrative positions. In these drafts, the PELPOs and the Modify Plant Leadership Team selected employees in four rounds. Dkt. no. 13, Exh. 20, at 75-76. In each round, these eighteen selectors filled one-fourth of the total positions per station. Selectors could pick regardless of quartile, but challenges to their selections were permitted. In the third or fourth rounds, any selection from other than the highest available quartile resulted in a mandatory challenge. Id. at 76, Exh.1 to Exh. 20, at 15-16. Gary Moyer and Ron Smith from the Recruit and Develop People Process analyzed each round for disparate impact on race or gender. See Dkt. no. 13, Exh. 1 to Exh. 20, at 16.

 2. The Technical Draft

 Engineers were selected in the technical draft held on September 4, 1995. Prior to that date, Conemaugh's leadership team had determined that it could eliminate one mechanical and one electrical engineer. Dkt. no. 12, Exh. 8, at 21-22. The Conemaugh selectors were accordingly aware that they had only fourteen positions for sixteen incumbents. Barron assessed and ranked his sixteen direct reports. See Dkt. no. 13, Exh. 31. Plaintiff placed sixth out of fifteen *fn2" , falling into the second quartile with a score of 107.

 The station leadership team reviewed and debated these ratings. See Dkt. no. 13, Exh. 32. Each team member was familiar with each engineer, having relied on them in their own work. This reassessment changed the rankings, especially for eight engineers, five of whom increased and three of whom decreased. In particular, Brandick, a twenty-four year old female, jumped up by three positions, from eighth to fifth. Of the three engineers who moved down, all were males over age forty. Jacoby lost three places, Lewis lost four and plaintiff was downgraded five places, from sixth to eleventh. Klavuhn, a female aged thirty-four, was ranked thirteenth in both assessments with a score of 82. Id.

 Barron and Gritzer both testified about the changes. Although Barron had more personal knowledge of the engineers, he agreed that the re-rankings represented a considered consensus. Dkt. no 12, Exh. 8, at 26. The team members discussed each engineer on all twenty competencies, the goal being to "assess[] how these people will function and fit into the new Genco we're creating" without actually comparing them. Dkt. no. 12, Exh. 11, at 58. Conemaugh's rankings were then combined with rankings from the rest of Penelec and the other two companies. Plaintiff was ultimately ranked in the third quartile and Ms. Klavuhn was ranked in the fourth.

 Two Conemaugh engineers, Plaintiff and Johnson, were unselected. Both were male and over forty years old. Gritzer, on behalf of Conemaugh, chose Ms. Klavuhn, a ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.