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SHERROD v. PHILADELPHIA GAS WORKS

March 29, 2002

CLAUDIA S. SHERROD, PLAINTIFF,
V.
PHILADELPHIA GAS WORKS, DEFENDANT.



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

  OPINION

Plaintiff Claudia S. Sherrod has alleged discrimination on the basis of race and age by her former employer, defendant Philadelphia Gas Works ("PGW"), in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("§ 1981"), the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 P.S. § 951 et seq. Before the court is PGW's motion for summary judgment, brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c). For the following reasons, the motion will be granted.

Factual Background

The parties have developed a substantial record in this case. The following is a summary of the details relevant to the instant motion.

Sherrod is a black female whose, date of birth is September 9, 1940. She was hired by PGW in March 1989. By 1997 — the year Sherrod was promoted to a management position at PGW — she was the only black management-level employee in her department. She was also the oldest female management employee, and one of the oldest management employees overall, in her department.

Sherrod's Salary and Promotion History

Sherrod was initially hired by PGW as a Junior Clerk, and in 1990 became a General Accounting Clerk, a position in which she earned approximately $18,000 per year. Before her 1997 promotion, Sherrod applied for — and was denied — at least two different positions. First, she sought a job in Human Resources. The job was given to the other applicant, Bill Ambrose, a white employee twenty years Sherrod's junior. Sherrod also applied for a job in Fixed Assets. The job was given to Kim Brennan, a white employee twenty-seven years younger than Sherrod. Sherrod Dep. 46.

In 1997, Sherrod was selected over several other candidates for the position of Supervisor of Bill Passing, for which position the rated minimum salary was $40,705. Larry Hoffman, PGW's then-Vice President, offered Sherrod a salary of $38,500 because, by her own admission, she was unfamiliar with the systems in the Accounting Department — in particular, an accounting system known as the "material system." Sherrod Dep. 59-60; Hoffman Dep. 34. Sherrod accepted the position at the salary she was offered. According to her own testimony, Sherrod understood that any salary increases she could expect thereafter would be based on quarterly performance evaluations. Sherrod Dep. 67-68. She assumed the position of Supervisor on September 27, 1997, at a salary of $40,000 — $1,500 more than the $38,500 she had agreed to accept. On February 7, 1998, Sherrod was given an increase to $41,000, retroactive to October 4, 1997. The effect of the retroactive raise was that Sherrod had been compensated at a rate less than the $40,705 figure which was the rated minimum for the position for only one week.

The other details of Sherrod's salary history — beyond the above mentioned issues that related to her promotion to Supervisor — are not extraordinary, either in terms of amount or timing. On May 15, 1997 and April 1, 1999, she received a 4% general wage increase in conformity with the governing collective bargaining agreement. When Sherrod left PGW in 2000, she was earning a salary of $42,640 per year.

Sherrod's Work Environment

Sherrod's testimony in this case is replete with general characterizations of her work environment at PGW as racially hostile and otherwise unpleasant. She has purported to bolster these characterizations with four incidents in particular:

First, Sherrod alleged in her complaint that Joe Bogdonavage, then Senior Vice President of Finance at PGW, remarked that if Sherrod "could not get her African American clerks to work, he would sit at their desks with a whip for them." Compl. 5. In her deposition testimony, Sherrod later recalled the remark as lacking any reference to race. Sherrod Dep. 129.

Second, Thomas Smyth, who succeeded Larry Hoffman as Acting Vice President in February 1999, observed that the clerks under Sherrod's supervision had a habit of eating at their desks. Sherrod testified that Smyth remarked that "he didn't like the way they were eating at their desks, it must be their culture." Sherrod Dep. 195. Although Sherrod testified that she "[didn't] have a clue" as to what Smyth meant by the remark, she took it to be racist because the clerks eating at the time were black. Id. at 195-96. Smyth testified that he made this remark because "[c]oming in as the new vice president . . . I need to understand the company culture and how it applies to the accounting organization." Smyth Dep. 66. The same day, Smyth instituted an office policy according to which no PGW employee would be permitted to eat at his or her desk. Id. at 64.

Third, when Sherrod's department moved to a different location within the PGW building in early 1999, the seating for managers and clerks was rearranged. As a result of the rearrangement, all of the minority employees were seated in front of managers' offices. According to testimony not only by her white colleagues but also by Sherrod herself, this seating was based on union classifications, with the least senior employees seated in front of management offices and the more senior clerks placed in larger cubicles in the back of the floor. Sherrod Dep. 174-75; Young Dep. 53-54; Breyer Dep. 73-73. Moreover, although Sherrod testified that the union and the other clerks had taken the position that the seating arrangement was "a racist setup," she herself had no opinion as to whether it was racially motivated. Sherrod Dep. 174-75.

Fourth, shortly after taking the position of Acting Vice President, Smyth assigned to Sherrod various clerical tasks in addition to her managerial responsibilities. However, the testimony of both Smyth and Sherrod herself establishes that all PGW employees at that time were called upon to assist with clerical responsibilities to combat the backlog of unpaid bills which had resulted from the introduction of a new system of bill paying in the summer of 1998. Sherrod Dep. 134; Smyth Dep. 76.

Sherrod's Leaves of Absence and Complaint to Human Resources

Sherrod took two sick leaves during her employment with PGW: one between December 2, 1998 and January 19, 1999, and the other between March 16, 1999 and June 8, 1999. She attributes her need for the first sick leave to stress she was experiencing at PGW. Sherrod Dep. 236. She undertook the second leave in order to care for her grandmother, who had raised her. Id. 224.

Prior to the second of these two leaves of absence, Sherrod lodged a complaint with PGW's Human Resources Department, stating that she was experiencing stress because of the racially hostile environment in her department. Stewart Dep. 20, 26; Pl.'s Ex. N.

Sherrod's Resignation

In July of 1999, after her second leave of absence, Sherrod informed Ann Stewart, Manager of Staffing and Diversity at PGW, that she was not interested in returning to the Accounting Department to work for Smyth. Sherrod Dep. 108. Stewart responded by reassigning Sherrod as a Community Relations Specialist in the Public Relations Department, a position comparable in salary and work hours to her previous position. Stewart Dep. 28. Sherrod testified that she was dissatisfied with the kind of work she was asked to do in this new position, as she considered it duplicative of work that was already being conducted by her co-workers, and thus a waste of her time. Sherrod Dep. 110-112. Avowedly as a result ...


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