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JOHNSON v. WOMEN'S CHRISTIAN ALLIANCE

November 29, 1999

MILDRED JOHNSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WOMEN'S CHRISTIAN ALLIANCE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Eduardo C. Robreno, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM

Pro se plaintiff, Mildred Johnson (plaintiff), brought this employment discrimination action against the Women's Christian Alliance (defendant or WCA), alleging that defendant discriminated against her because of her age by demoting her from a supervising position to a non-supervising job. Defendant contends that plaintiff was reassigned to another position as part of a company-wide reorganization, and not because of her age. The case is before the court on defendant's motion for summary judgment. The issue in this case is the seldom explored question of the adequacy of the defendant's asserted legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for an adverse employment action under the McDonnell Douglas burden shifting mode of analysis. Because the court finds that the reason stated by WCA is not sufficiently clear and reasonably specific to afford plaintiff a full and fair opportunity to demonstrate pretext, the motion will be denied.

I. FACTS

The following facts are uncontested or viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff. Defendant hired plaintiff as a social worker in its foster care unit in 1988. (Def.'s Mem., Ex. A, pp. 13-14). Plaintiff's duties included visiting clients in foster homes supervised by WCA. (Def.'s Mem., Ex. A, p. 15). In approximately 1992 or 1993, plaintiff became the supervisor of the foster care unit at WCA. (Def.'s Mem., Ex. A, pp. 17-19).

In January of 1994, plaintiff was demoted from her supervisor position and reassigned to the position of senior social worker, but her salary was not affected by this demotion. (Def.'s Mem., Ex. A, p. 20). WCA informed plaintiff that her demotion was the result of a reorganization of its personnel structure. (Def.'s Mem., Ex. A, p. 24). In fact, plaintiff admits that other WCA employees were also reassigned. (Def.'s Mem., Ex. A, p. 25).

When plaintiff was demoted, Ann Thorpe, who is younger than plaintiff, was the supervisor of the respite unit at WCA. (Def.'s Mem., Ex. A, p. 30; Pl.'s Compl.). Ms. Thorpe was not demoted, but instead was permitted to remain in a supervisory capacity, and in fact, assumed the supervisor position vacated by plaintiff. (Def.'s Mem., p. 2). In turn, plaintiff unsuccessfully requested that she be assigned to the position made available by Ms. Thorpe's reassignment. (Def.'s Mem., Ex. A, p. 30). Plaintiff continued to work at WCA as a senior social worker until she resigned on March 20, 1996. (Def.'s Mem., Ex. A, p. 9).

Defendant responds that plaintiff was reassigned to the position of senior social worker as part of a universally applied personnel reorganization, and not because of her age. This reorganization, WCA contends, forms the legitimate, non-discriminatory basis for its decision to demote plaintiff. Defendant further contends that plaintiff has offered no evidence to show that this reason is pretextual.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate if the moving party can "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). The court must accept the non-movant's version of the facts as true, and resolve conflicts in the non-movant's favor. See Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N. Amer., Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir. 1992), cert. denied, 507 U.S. 912, 113 S.Ct. 1262, 122 L.Ed.2d 659 (1993).

The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of genuine issues of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Once the movant has done so, however, the non-moving party cannot rest on its pleadings. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). Rather, the non-movant must then "make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of every element essential to his case, based on the affidavits or by depositions and admissions on file." Harter v. GAF Corp., 967 F.2d 846, 852 (3d Cir. 1992); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

III. ANALYSIS

A. ADEA Age Discrimination Claim

Defendant argues that it is entitled to judgment on plaintiff's age discrimination claim brought under the ADEA because no genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether its legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for ...


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