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REID-FALCONE v. LUZERNE COUNTY COMMUNITY COLLEGE

June 28, 2005.

LINDA REID-FALCONE Plaintiff
v.
LUZERNE COUNTY COMMUNITY COLLEGE Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: THOMAS VANASKIE, Chief Judge, District

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff Linda Reid-Falcone brings this action against Defendant Luzerne County Community College ("LCCC") under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq., Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 PA. CONS. STAT. § 955(a), and the parties' 1997 Consent Decree. Ms. Reid-Falcone's action is predicated upon LCCC's alleged failure to restore her to a position equivalent to the one she held before taking maternity leave in 2001 and 2002. She asserts that although her job title, compensation and benefits remained the same, the responsibilities and duties assigned to her position were significantly reduced when she returned from an approved eight-month leave of absence. LCCC has moved for summary judgment. Because Plaintiff cannot show that she invoked the protection of the FMLA, LCCC is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's claim that the reduction in authority was intended to retaliate against her for taking leave that could have, but was not, taken under the FMLA. Because Plaintiff did not pursue statutorily-mandated administrative remedies, Defendant is also entitled to summary judgment on the claims asserted under Title VII and the PHRA. Because Plaintiff has tendered sufficient evidence in support of her claim of interference with FMLA rights and breach of the 1997 Consent Decree, summary judgment on those claims will be denied.

I. BACKGROUND

  Ms. Reid-Falcone was hired by LCCC in 1992 as an Associate Dean of Continuing Education. Since that time Ms. Reid-Falcone has held several other positions at LCCC. She was made the Executive Director of Development in 1993 and named Associate Dean of Business and Industry Development in 1998, the position which she currently holds.

  In 1996, Ms. Reid-Falcone, along with five other employees of LCCC, filed a sexual harassment suit against LCCC, its president at the time, and others. The lawsuit was resolved by a Consent Decree entered by this Court on September 23, 1997. Among other things, LCCC agreed not to adversely affect the terms of Plaintiff's employment without just cause.

  Prior to June of 2000, Plaintiff's immediate supervisor was Ann Williams, the LCCC Vice President of Economic and Community Development. After Ms. Williams resigned, Plaintiff reported directly to the interim LCCC President, Andreas Paloumpis, for about six months.*fn1 In January of 2001, Dr. Paloumpis assigned the functions of the Economic and Community Development Division to the LCCC Division of Academic Affairs, headed by John Wills. In February of 2001, Ms. Reid-Falcone learned that she was pregnant. She conferred with a college Human Resources Associate, Barbara Struckus, on the matter of maternity leave. She inquired into whether maternity leave fell under the FMLA, and was told that it did not and that "the college policy is different." (Reid-Falcone Dep. at 22-23.) On February 23, 2001, she submitted a request to Paloumpis for approximately eight (8) months of maternity leave.*fn2

  By memorandum dated March 28, 2001, Dr. Paloumpis approved the request for a "maternity/child rearing leave of absence." (Ex. 4 to Reid-Falcone Dep.) Dr. Paloumpis' memorandum stated: "It is important that you understand all issues related to your maternity leave, so I suggest that you meet with Rich Amico, Associate Dean of Human Resources." (Id.) It is unclear whether Plaintiff did so. It is clear, however, that "plaintiff did not make any written application to LCCC specifically requesting FMLA leave." (Def's Statement of Material Facts, ("SMF") at ¶ 15.)*fn3 It is also clear that LCCC did not classify Plaintiff's leave as either FMLA or non-FMLA leave. Nor was Plaintiff told that her FMLA right to reinstatement to her pre-leave position would expire at the end of 12 weeks of leave.

  By memorandum dated March 15, 2001, Dr. Paloumpis expressed to Plaintiff his concerns about her making commitments on LCCC's behalf. (Ex. 7 to Def's S.J. App.) The memorandum informed Plaintiff that she was "not to make any further overtures to providing LCCC academic programs . . . [and] will not meet with and make any financial commitments, including grants, to any group that would then be presented to our Board of Trustees after the fact." (Id.) Ms. Reid-Falcone considered this memorandum to be "hostile and threatening." (Reid-Falcone Dep. at 32.) She complained about this memorandum and a hostile work environment to Richard Amico, Associate Dean of Human Resources. She claimed that "others" had told her that Paloumpis had referred to her as a "bitch" and demonstrated a sexually hostile and retaliatory attitude toward her. (Id. at 44.) In addition, Ms. Reid-Falcone informed Tom Leary, Vice President of Student Development, that she was concerned that she would become the target of retaliation by Paloumpis for filing a complaint against him. As a result of the complaint, LCCC directed Attorney Robert Panowicz to conduct an investigation into the matter. (SMF at ¶ 23.) He concluded in his report dated February 13, 2002 that Paloumpis's actions did not evidence a pattern of sexual discrimination or the creation of a hostile work environment. (Panowicz Investigation Report at 13-14.)

  Ms. Reid-Falcone began her maternity/child rearing leave in July of 2001. On February 28, 2002, Ms. Reid-Falcone requested an extension of her leave that would allow her to return to work part-time for two (2) days per week beginning in April and lasting through July 4, 2002. Her request was approved and she began working part-time. After April, Ms. Reid-Falcone worked three days a week through July 4, 2002. (Reid-Falcone Aff. at ¶ 28.)

  When Ms. Reid-Falcone returned to work she was told to contact her supervisor to learn her revised job responsibilities. (SMF ¶ 30.) Her new supervisor, Nancy Kosteleba, provided Plaintiff with a written job description dated August 9, 2001, several weeks after her leave began. (Reid-Falcone Dep. Ex. 5.) This job description differed substantially from the job description that existed when Plaintiff went on leave. (Reid-Falcone Dep. at 52-57.) Ms. Reid-Falcone's position, title and compensation, however, remained the same. (SMF ¶¶ 35-36.)

  The most significant change to Ms. Reid-Falcone's position was that she no longer had the authority to legally bind LCCC. (Id. at 52-53.) In addition, Ms. Reid-Falcone was not allowed to participate on any college committee, her role as a supervisor was eliminated and she was no longer able to approve course offerings, purchases, letters of agreements, or payroll authorizations. (Reid-Falcone Dep. at 54-64.)

  This action was brought on October 10, 2002. The Complaint contains four numbered counts, asserting violations of the FMLA (Count I), the 1997 Consent Decree (Count II), Title VII (Count III), and the PHRA (Count IV). Each count alleges multiple breaches of statutory and contractual obligations. As to the claims for relief under Title VII and the PHRA, The Complaint does not allege satisfaction of the statutory prerequisites for bringing suit.

  Defendant has moved for summary judgment on all claims. The motion has been fully briefed ...


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