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July 30, 2003


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Maurice B. Cohill, Senior District Judge


Plaintiff Linda K. Verdecchia commenced this four-count civil rights employment discrimination action based on age and disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") (42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") (29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq.), and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA") (43 Pa.C.S.A. § 951 et seq.).

Presently before the court for disposition is the Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 23) filed by all the above-named defendants. Defendants have also filed a brief in support of their motion, and plaintiff Linda K. Verdecchia, has filed a brief in opposition, to which Defendants filed a reply brief. For the reasons that follow, we will grant Defendants' motion as to Plaintiff's federal claims, and decline to exercise our supplemental jurisdiction over her state law claims.

I. Background

Plaintiff Linda Verdecchia began working as a bookkeeper for Douglas A. Prozan, Inc. on May 31, 1988. (Complaint, ¶ 7.) She brings this lawsuit as a result of the events that occurred after she was diagnosed with kidney disease in March 1995. (Complaint, ¶ 9.) She sues Defendants for age and disability discrimination claiming the following unlawful conduct:

(1) demoting her for approximately a three month time period from October 2, 1995 through January 1996;
(2) disparate treatment in failing to pay her while she was on leave recovering from surgery from March 8, 1996 through July 8, 1996; and
(3) terminating her employment on July 8, 1996.

In order to better understand the sequence of events, it is helpful to know a few key differences in each parties' statement of the issues. Ms. Verdecchia claims she was demoted, but Mr. Prozan assert that it was a temporary reduction of hours due to business reasons. Ms. Verdecchia claims she was promised to be paid while recovering and that others were paid when they took time off, but Mr. Prozan argues that he tried to help Ms. Verdecchia out while she was recovering but told her the company could not afford to pay her when she was not working. Ms. Verdecchia contends that she was fired on the day she returned to work on July 8, 1996, but Mr. Prozan says that her return to work was a complete surprise, that he was unprepared for her to start that day, and that he never terminated her.

On March 30, 1995, Ms. Verdecchia informed her superior, Douglas A. Prozan, that she had kidney disease, and that this condition would not limit or restrict her ability to perform her job. (Complaint, ¶ 10.) She underwent treatment for her kidney disease, which include taking steroid medication. (Complaint, ¶¶ 11, 12.) During this time, Ms. Verdecchia continued to perform her full-time job as usual. (Complaint, ¶ 12.)

On September 29, 1995, Mr. Prozan told her that he had to temporarily reduce her hours to part-time status for reasons relating to restructuring of the organization. (Complaint, ¶ 12; Answer ¶ 12.) She began working part-time hours on October 2, 1995. (Complaint, ¶ 12; Answer ¶ 12.)

Ms. Verdecchia alleges that she was demoted because of a perception that her job performance was affected adversely due to her medication. (Complaint, ¶ 12.) Mr. Prozan denies that it was a demotion and denies that the temporary reduction in her hours was due to her job performance or her medical condition. (Answer ¶ 12.) Mr. Prozan maintains that the temporary part-time status was due to economic and business factors and was in lieu of a lay off. (Answer, ¶ 12.) Ms. Verdecchia resumed her full-time status in January 1996.

As a result of the steroids she was taking, Ms. Verdecchia developed steroid induced osteoporosis, which led to avasculkar necrosis femur and degenerative hip joints. (Complaint, ¶ 14.) She eventually learned that she would have to undergo hip replacement surgery for this condition. (Complaint, ¶ 15.)

In late December 1995, or early January 1996, shortly after learning that she would need hip replacement surgery, Ms. Verdecchia told Mr. Prozan that the surgery was scheduled for March 8, 1996, and that she would need to take a leave of absence while she was recovering. (Complaint, ¶¶ 15-16.) Plaintiff claims that she never told Mr. Prozan how long she would need to recover, while Mr. Prozan states that she told him recovery time was estimated to be 6 to 8 weeks.

Initially, Mr. Prozan told her that he would continue to compensate her while she was recovering and that her job would not be in jeopardy. (Complaint, ¶ 17.) However, on February 12, 1996, Mr. Prozan told Ms. Verdecchia that the company was not in a financial position to pay her while she was recuperating. (Deposition of Linda Verdecchia, at 154.) As an alternative, he thought he could lay off Ms. Verdecchia and she then would be able to collect unemployment compensation. (Verdecchia Deposition, at 154.) However, unknown to the parties at the time, a person is prohibited from collecting unemployment compensation for a lay off to recover from surgery. (Verdecchia Deposition, at 155.)

Ms. Verdecchia underwent hip surgery on March 8, 1996. Two days after the surgery, Mr. Prozan called her in the hospital to see how she was doing. (Verdecchia Deposition, at 170.)

On March 27, 1996, Ms. Verdecchia telephoned the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ("PHRC") to inquire about filing a complaint. (Verdecchia Deposition, at 172; Linda Verdecchia's Diary, at 24, attached as Ex. 6 to Plaintiff's Appendix.) She completed and mailed PHRC forms, which would later become the short form complaint filed April 1, 1996, alleging disability discrimination for demotion and failure to pay while on leave. (Verdechhia Deposition, at 172-173; Verdecchia Diary, at 25; Short Form Complaint, Ex. N, attached to Supplemental Affidavit of Matthew McCullough, Doc. 37.)

On April 19, 1996, Mr. Prozan visited Ms. Verdechhia at her home. (Verdechhia Deposition, at 174-175.) At that time he gave her a personal check for $500, and mentioned that he was not sure if it was an advance or arrears. (Verdechhia Deposition, at 176.) He also asked when Ms. Verdechhia thought she would be back to work. (Verdechhia Deposition, at 175.) Ms. Verdechhia said that she thought it might be three months, but that she had not talked to the doctor and she did not know when she would be permitted to return. (Verdechhia Deposition, at 176-178, 180; Complaint, ¶ 20; Diary, at 26.).)

Mr. Prozan also asked Ms. Verdechhia if she might want to do computer work from home. (Verdechhia Deposition, at 165-166; Diary at 26.) Ms. Verdechhia testified that she nodded her head in agreement to this suggestion, but that Mr. Prozan never brought a computer or otherwise followed through on this suggestion. (Verdechhia Deposition, at 166).

On June 3, 1996, Ms. Verdecchia's doctor told her to stay off work another four weeks, and he scheduled a follow-up appointment for July 1, 1996. (Complaint, at 23; Verdechhia Deposition at 184; Diary at 27.) On June 5, 1996, Ms. Verdechhia telephoned the office to inform Mr. Prozan that her doctor said it would be another four weeks before she could return to work. (Verdechhia Deposition, at 184-186.) Mr. Prozan was in a meeting, so Ms. Verdechhia spoke with Pat Sullivan who was to relay the message to Mr. Prozan, but he did not call Ms. Verdechhia back. (Verdechhia Deposition, at 185-186; Diary at 27.)

At her July 1, 1996 doctor appointment, Ms. Verdecchia's doctor released her to return to work on July 8, 1996, limiting her to a four-hour workday to start. (Complaint, ¶ 22; Verdechhia Deposition at 188-189; Diary at 28.) That same day she also signed her formal PHRC complaint against her employer complaining about her demotion and sent it to the Commission. (Verdechhia Deposition at 201; Diary at 28.)

On July 8, 1996, Ms. Verdechhia returned to the office. (Complaint, at 24; Verdechhia Deposition, at 188.) According to Mr. Prozan, her return to work was a complete surprise as he had no notice that she was returning. (Deposition of Douglas A. Prozan, at 147-148.) According to Ms. Verdechhia, she believes she had telephoned the office on July 1, 1996 and spoke with Pat Sullivan and told her that she would be coming back to work the next week. (Verdechhia Deposition, at 189-190, 194-195.)

In any event, Mr. Prozan told Ms. Verdechhia that he was not prepared for her return to work and did not have a seat for her. (Verdechhia Deposition, at 209-210; Prozan Deposition, at 148.) He further stated that he also wanted to talk to his partner about her return. (Verdechhia Deposition, at 209-210.) Ms. Verdechhia believed she was refused admittance to work, left the office and that same day filed for unemployment compensation. (Verdechhia Deposition, at 213, 214.)

After exchanging telephone messages over the next few days, Ms. Verdechhia and Mr. Prozan spoke by telephone on July 10, 1996, and agreed to a meeting on July 16, 1996. (Verdechhia Deposition, at 215-217, 219-220.)

On July 14, 1996, Ms. Verdechhia completed a PHRC IN-17 Form complaining that she was discharged based on age and disability discrimination. (Verdechhia Deposition, at 201-202; Verdechhia Dep. Ex. 3, attached to Defendants' Appendix as Ex. D). This ultimately formed the basis for her second PHRC complaint, which was filed on February 19, 1997. (Ex. J. to Affidavit of Matthew McCullough, attached as Ex. H to Defendants' Appendix.)

At no time did Ms. Verdechhia inform Mr. Prozan that she believed she was fired, that she had applied for unemployment compensation, that she filed one PHRC complaint, and had begun the process of filing a second PHRC complaint. (Verdechhia Deposition, at 221, 237.) On July 16, 1996, Mr. Prozan, Ms. Verdechhia and her husband met at the Prozan office.

The parties agree that the July 16, 1996 meeting was heated, ending with Mr. Prozan suggesting that Ms. Verdechhia could return to work if she could put everything behind her and be loyal to him. (Verdechhia Deposition, at 227-228, 231; P. Deposition, at 157-159; Verdechhia Dep. Ex. 6, Typewritten Notes of L. Verdechhia, attached to Defendants' Appendix as Ex. D.) Ms. Verdechhia was to think about what she wanted to do and then telephone Mr. Prozan with her decision. (Verdechhia Deposition, at 227-228, 231; P. Deposition, at 157-159; Verdechhia Dep. Ex. 6, Typewritten Notes of L. Verdechhia, attached to Defendants' Appendix as Ex. D.)

On July 19, 1996, Ms. Verdechhia telephoned Mr. Prozan to tell him she wanted to visit her daughter in Pittsburgh over the weekend and would make her decision when she returned on the following Monday. (Prozan Deposition, at 152; Verdechhia Deposition, at 234-235.)

On July 22, 1996, she telephoned Mr. Prozan and told him that she was prepared to come back to work, however, she said she could not put the past behind her. (Prozan Deposition, at 153, 165; Verdechhia Deposition, at 236-237, Diary, at 35.) During that telephone call, Mr. Prozan mentioned that he had received notice that Ms. Verdechhia had applied for unemployment compensation and felt that he needed to talk to his partner before making any decision about Ms. Verdecchia's return to work. (Prozan Deposition, at 237-238.)

II. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P.56(c), Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). Summary judgment may be granted only if the moving party establishes that there exists no genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id. Summary judgment is appropriate only when the record evidence could not lead a reasonable jury to find for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986). In evaluating a motion for summary judgment the court does not weigh the evidence or make credibility determinations. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 120 S.Ct. 2097, 2110 (2000). Rather than evaluating the evidence and determining the truth of the matter, the court determines whether there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. In reviewing the evidence, the court draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Reeves, 120 S.Ct. at 1210; Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, ...

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