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MARTIN v. ALLEGHENY AIRLINES

March 17, 2000

MICHELE L. MARTIN, PLAINTIFF
V.
ALLEGHENY AIRLINES, INC., D/B/A U.S. AIRWAYS EXPRESS, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM

Before the court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment. The parties have briefed the issues, and the motion is ripe for disposition.

I. Background

This is an employment discrimination action wherein Plaintiff Michele Martin alleges violation the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., in that Defendant, Allegheny Airlines, Inc., ("Allegheny"): (1) failed to award Plaintiff a promotion because of her disability; (2) subjected her to a hostile work environment; and (3) constructively discharged her because of the hostile work environment. Except where noted, the following facts are undisputed by the parties:

Allegheny hired Martin in June of 1992 as an Accounts Payable Coder. Just prior to beginning work for Allegheny, Martin obtained an associates degree in accounting. Martin later received an associates degree in business administration in December 1996. At the time she was hired, Martin had no prior work experience in the field of accounting.

As an Accounts Payable Coder, Martin was responsible for reviewing invoices to determine which general ledger account code the items contained on the invoice should be applied to, and manually filling out the coding slip to correspond to the correct account. While the Accounts Payable Coder position did sometimes involve using Merlin, Allegheny's computer inventory system, it did not require use of a regular personal computer. Martin admits that an Accounts Payable Coder's use of Lotus (a computer spreadsheet program often used in the field of accounting) was very limited. As a result, no one at Allegheny ever had the opportunity to see Martin's computer skills and spread-sheet capabilities.

Martin reported directly to the Accounts Payable Supervisor, who at the time she started working, was Deb Offenger. Offenger was subsequently replaced by Jeff Otto, who was later replaced by Tim McMasters. During this time, the Accounts Payable Supervisor reported to the controller, Lisa Coldren Coover Tucci, who ultimately reported to the Vice-President of Finance, Scott Strohm.

Approximately one year after Martin began working at Allegheny, she received her first performance evaluation during a meeting held by Offenger and Tucci. While her evaluation was good overall, with respect to her attitude toward the company, managers, and associates, Martin was informed that she "expresses personal feelings and frustrations openly," "says what's on her mind," and "can improve by channeling things in a more positive manner." When Offenger specifically discussed these comments with Martin, Offenger advised her that she needed to keep her "frustrations in check." Under the "working relationship" section, Martin received only a "satisfactory" score.

Martin's second evaluation was due in early summer of 1994. However, because Otto had only recently become her supervisor, Martin did a "self-evaluation." Overall she rated her performance as good, with individual scores ranging from satisfactory to excellent. Martin gave herself her lowest mark, a satisfactory, on "confines dissatisfaction to [] herself." In a subsequent evaluation, McMasters gave his lowest marks to Martin on items relating to her interpersonal skills. McMasters's satisfactory ratings in this section indicated that he felt she needed improvement with her interpersonal skills. (McMasters Dep. at 51-53.) He warned her of her "need to develop a kinder, gentler attitude towards the workplace," and that she "needs to work on tactfulness." Martin admits that based on these various performance evaluations she was aware that Allegheny or its managers had concerns about her interpersonal skills.

McMasters perceived Martin to be "definitely the most negative person" in her department. (McMasters Dep. at 29.) He testified that "she was probably . . . one of the more negative people [he] has ever met." (Id. at 31-32.) McMasters received complaints from other employees Foose and Loomis about Martin's attitude. (Id. at 38-39.) Strohm also observed that Martin conveyed a negative attitude towards employees at Allegheny. He testified that on numerous occasions she was sarcastic to the point of being disrespectful. He testified that other employees Doug Horn, Jim Eppley, and Deb Hoke commented to Strohm about Martin's negative attitude. (Id. at 32.) However, when asked in his deposition about whether Martin "ever display[ed] a negative attitude towards [Eppley] or towards her job," Eppley responded that she did not. (Eppley Dep. at 8.) In reference to her interpersonal skills, as they related to Eppley, he responded "Professional, to the point, no time wasting, down to the business at hand and getting answers." (Id. at 9.) He also testified that she displayed a positive attitude a lot of times, her attitude compared to other employees was "even keel," and she was "extremely jovial. Always seemed to have a good attitude, pleasant in my dealings." (Id. at 10-11.)

Allegheny hired Tammy Kreider in 1988 as an Accounts Payable Coder. Prior to coming to Allegheny, Kreider had worked in the accounting department at a car dealership. She has an associates degree in accounting. Foose, Director of Human Resources, stated in her affidavit that Kreider always received good to excellent scores under the interpersonal skills and attitude sections of her performance evaluation. (Def.'s Ex. A.) In 1993 Kreider transferred into the treasury analyst position where she continued until her promotion in the summer of 1997. As a treasury analyst, Kreider worked daily with computer spreadsheets, specifically Lotus.

The position of Accounts Payable Supervisor, the position on which the instant controversy concerns, which was awarded to Kreider instead of Martin, is responsible for, among other things: managing the work flow for each Accounts Payable Coder, resolving any problems with vendors or other departments, and acting as a financial analyst. This involves maintaining various spreadsheets such that knowing computer spreadsheet programs, like Lotus and/or Excel, was a necessary requirement for the position. Allegheny asserts that the Accounts Payable Supervisor position requires good interpersonal skills and computer skills.

On June 6, 1997 Martin was diagnosed as having "probable multiple sclerosis." Martin's doctor put no physical limitations on her but warned her not to push herself or tire herself out. Martin's diagnosis did not prohibit her in any way from performing the duties of her job as an Accounts Payable Coder and would not have prevented her from performing any of the duties of the Accounts Payable Supervisor. In addition to informing her co-workers of her diagnosis, Martin also informed McMasters, Strohm, and Doug Horn, the acting president of Allegheny at the time. Strohm and McMasters expressed their sympathy and asked if there was anything they could do for her. When Martin informed Horn of her diagnosis, she also told him about her interest in the Accounts Payable Supervisor position and expressed concern that her chances would be ruined because of her condition. Horn reassured her that she would be considered for the position and that her diagnosis would not play any part in the promotion decision.

At Allegheny, the promotion process in the Finance department was informal. As a result, when it was rumored that the position of Accounts Payable Supervisor might be opening, Martin expressed to Strohm and McMasters that she was interested in the position. Strohm and Tucci discussed who should replace McMasters as the Accounts Payable Supervisor.*fn1 Strohm testified that both he and Tucci thought that Kreider was the best qualified to do the job. (Strohm Dep. at 22.) He testified that Kreider was best qualified because she had been at Allegheny for nine to ten years, had a broad-based background in accounting, had computer skills, and had good interpersonal skills needed for supervising staff. (Id.) Strohm and Tucci thereafter discussed with McMasters who should be chosen. Because Martin had expressed interest in the position, Tucci, Strohm, and McMasters also discussed her for the position. However, Allegheny asserts that they did not think Martin could be promoted to a supervisor position because of her negative attitude. (McMasters Dep. at 27; Strohm Dep. at 29-30, 45.) McMasters testified that Martin was not a good role model and would not have provided good leadership. (McMasters Dep. at 59.) Additionally, Strohm testified that Martin did not have as broad a base of experience in accounting as did Kreider. (Strohm Dep. at 37.) And, although Strohm knew Martin had taken a class in computers, she had not demonstrated at Allegheny the computer skills required for the financial analyst duties of the position. (Id. at 37-38.) Martin, however, argues that she was not given the opportunity to demonstrate her computer abilities.

Strohm and McMasters offered Kreider the Accounts Payable Supervisor position. Shortly after Kreider accepted the position, Strohm and McMasters met with Martin and advised her that they had awarded the position to Kreider. Strohm mentioned Kreider's seniority and stated that they did not feel Martin had the requisite interpersonal skills for the position. During this meeting, Strohm told Martin that he expected her to be cooperative with Kreider, her new supervisor, and told her that if she gave him any problems in this regard, she would be on the "outside looking in." (Strohm Dep. at 55-57; Martin Dep. at 70-73.) At no point in this meeting was Martin's probable multiple sclerosis ever mentioned. In fact, no one at Allegheny ever brought up Martin's probable multiple sclerosis with regard to the promotion decision.

Martin claims that after June 30, 1997 her workplace became a hostile work environment. In support of her claim, Martin avers that Tucci came to her less often for assistance on projects. (Id. at 138.) Additionally, Martin contends that Tucci would act uncomfortable and try to avoid conversation. (Id. at 146-47.) On one occasion, after Martin ran into Tucci in the bathroom and had to force a conversation with her, Martin asked McMasters what was wrong with Tucci. McMasters responded that she thought Tucci was fine. Martin does not claim that her question to McMasters was a "complaint" or a request that he intercede on her behalf. (Id. at 148-49.)

During the summer and fall of 1997, Strohm at times inquired about Martin's medical problems. Martin believed Strohm's inquiries were insincere. She also asserts that he was less friendly and would avoid coming into the Accounts Payable office, or if he did come in, he would avoid her. (Id. at 87-88, 152-53.) Martin never complained to anyone about Strohm's behavior.

Drug testing for the flight attendants and pilots at Allegheny was conducted in the bathrooms at the office where Martin worked. As a result, on days when drug testing was performed, access to that bathroom was blocked for an hour or more at a time. Noticing that the bathroom with the handicap stall was being used for testing, Martin and a coworker with rheumatoid arthritis discussed their concerns with McMasters. In response to their complaint, McMasters immediately spoke with Foose who responded by permanently relocating the drug testing to another bathroom. Martin alleges that shortly after the drug testing was relocated to another bathroom, Trang Rioux, a recruiter for Allegheny, commented to another person when Martin and Lindsay walked by, that they were the reason "why we have to go all the way down to the other end of the building now to use the bathroom" to conduct drug testing. (Martin Dep. at 82-83.) Martin claims that she repeated Rioux's comment to a group that was present in the Accounts Payable office, which included McMasters. (Id. at 151-52.) However, she also testified that she did not want or expect McMasters to speak with Rioux about the comment, and McMasters did ...


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