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GRANDE v. STATE FARM MUT. AUTO. INS. CO.

February 18, 2000

RICHARD GRANDE, PLAINTIFF,
V.
STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE CO., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Katz, Senior District Judge.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Before the court is defendant's motion for summary judgment. Because there is no genuine issue of material fact, the court will grant the motion.

I. Background*fn1

Plaintiff Richard Grande was employed by State Farm from 1987 until October 1994. At the time of the events at issue in this case, Grande was working as a claims specialist in the Bodily Injury Unit at State Farm's Hatfield, Pennsylvania office. His primary duty was to process automobile injury claims.

His secretary was Martha Littley. On September 26, 1994, Littley complained to Pius Kang, the individual who supervised both herself and Grande, that Grande had sexually harassed her. Upon Kang's request, Littley put her complaint in writing See Def. Ex. A (letter of September 28, 1994, alleging that Grande sexually harassed her)*fn2; Def. Ex. C at 7-8, 22 (Kang Dep.). Kang reported Littley's complaint to the Human Resources Department, see Def. Ex. C at 7-8, and on September 30, 1994, Janet Hammerman McCleary, the Divisional Claims Superintendent, and Scott Knudsen, the Personnel Manager, interviewed Littley. According to the notes taken by Hammerman McCleary and Knudsen, Littley reaffirmed her complaint but stated that she had not objected vigorously to Grande's behavior. See generally Def. Ex. E (Hammerman McCleary's notes taken during interviews of Littley and Grande)*fn3, Ex. F (Aff. regarding notes); Def. Ex. I at 10 (Dep. of Michelle Mehler, Southeast Claims Manager) (stating that State Farm concluded that Littley had sent "mixed messages"). On October 3, 1994, Knudsen and Hammerman McCleary interviewed Grande, who suggested that Littley had raised the issue because Grande's romantic relationship with her sister Margaret Littley had ended. See generally Def. Ex. E; see also Def. Ex. G at 74-76 (Grande Dep. June 4, 1999) (stating that Littley attempted to persuade Grande to reconcile with her sister). While Grande professed surprise at the accusations, Hammerman McCleary's notes indicate that he agreed that many of the incidents had occurred. See Def. Ex. E, Ex. F ¶ 5. In any event, State Farm conducted no further investigation.

State Farm decided to separate Littley and Grande, and, on October 4, 1994, Grande was offered a lateral transfer to another office at either Exton or Newtown Square. Plaintiff concedes that he was told that he was transferred because it was easier to transfer him than a secretary. See Def. Ex. G at 153-55. On October 6, 1994, Grande requested that he be allowed to transfer to the Doylestown office. State Farm refused this requested and told him to report to Newtown Square on October 17.*fn4 After taking a week's vacation to consider the matter, Grande decided not to report to Newtown Square, and, on October 25, 1994, State Farm informed Grande by letter that he was fired as of October 19, 1994, for failure to report. See Def. Ex. P (termination letter of October 25, 1994).*fn5

II. Discussion*fn6

A. Standards

This action is brought under the PHRA, which makes it an "unlawful discriminatory practice" for an employer to discriminate on the basis of sex. 43 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 955(a). Pennsylvania courts have generally interpreted this statute in accordance with the standards applied to claims brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. See, e.g., Knabe v. Boury Corp., 114 F.3d 407, 410 n. 5 (3d Cir. 1997); Kelly v. Drexel Univ., 94 F.3d 102, 105 (3d Cir. 1996); Hoy v. Angelone, 456 Pa. Super. 596, 691 A.2d 476, 480 (1997).

When, as in this case, a plaintiff alleges disparate treatment, he typically presents his case using the burden shifting framework established in McDonnell Douglas Corporation v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). See, e.g., Anderson v. Haverford College, 868 F. Supp. 741, 744 (E.D.Pa. 1994). Both parties agree, at least implicitly, that this test should apply here. Grande can succeed on this theory only if he can prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, a prima facie case of discrimination.

To establish a prima facie case, Grande must establish that (1) he is a member of a protected class; (2) he performed his job satisfactorily; (3) he suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) his employer treated similarly-situated females more favorably.*fn7 See Ezold v. Wolf, Block, 983 F.2d 509, 523 (3d Cir. 1992); Anderson, 868 F. Supp. at 744; see also Taylor v. PHRC, 681 A.2d 228, 231 (Pa.Commw. 1996) (noting that Pennsylvania has adopted McDonnell Douglas framework for cases brought under section 5(a) of the PHRA and applying same test); Kryeski v. Schott Glass Tech., 426 Pa. Super. 105, 626 A.2d 595, 597-98 (1993) (applying same test). Even though this is a claim of reverse discrimination, in accordance with recent Third Circuit precedent, the court may not apply a heightened pleading standard. See Iadimarco v. Runyon, 190 F.3d 151 (3d Cir. 1999).


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