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GOODWINE v. CASTING

November 3, 2005.

CARI GOODWINE, Plaintiff,
v.
PHB DIE CASTING, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SEAN McLAUGHLIN, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Presently pending before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by the Defendant, PHB Die Casting.

I. BACKGROUND

  Plaintiff, Cari Goodwine ("Goodwine" or "Plaintiff"), started working at PHB Die Casting ("PHB" or "Defendant"), on March 6, 2000. (Complaint ¶ 5). Plaintiff, an African-American male, worked primarily as a Die Cast Punch Operator at PHB's Fairview location. (Complaint ¶ 6). Plaintiff remained at PHB through July, 2004.

  In or around February 2003, Plaintiff's supervisor, Gary Gebhart, directed Plaintiff to undertake a workplace task that Plaintiff was not qualified to perform. Plaintiff objected and summoned another supervisor, Ron Sayers, who informed Gebhart that Plaintiff lacked the requisite training to accomplish the task. According to a white PHB employee, Rob Tolhurst, Gebhart then made the comment, "We have to make them work harder." This comment was not made in Goodwine's presence, but was relayed to him by Tolhurst. (Goodwine Depo. I (1/29/05), Dkt. #27, Exhibit 1, p. 54). Goodwine attributes racial connotations to the remark, interpreting it to mean that Gebhart felt that the white employees ("we") had to make the black employees ("them") work harder. (Goodwine Depo. I, pp. 56-59, 60-62; Complaint ¶ 14). Goodwine reported the comment to Sayers who advised Goodwine that he would look into it. Sayers returned in less than an hour and advised Goodwine that he had arranged a meeting between Goodwine, Gebhardt, Tollhurst, Sayers and a union steward. (Goodwine Depo. I, pp. 56-57). At the meeting, Gebhardt stated that he did not recall making the comment, but that, whatever he said, he did not intend it to be racial in nature. Gebhardt attempted to apologize to Goodwine and offered his hand, but Goodwine refused to shake his hand and rejected the apology. (Goodwine Depo. I, pp. 57-58). Goodwine indicated that he did not feel the apology was sincere. (Id.) After the meeting, Ben Hancock, PHB's Manager of Human Resources, met with Gebhardt and advised him to be more considerate in his comments and sensitive to how others might perceive them. Hancock also ordered Gebhardt to attend a diversity training class at Edinboro University. (Hancock Affidavit, ¶¶ 12-14). Gebhardt enrolled in the course, but Edinboro University later cancelled it due to insufficient enrollment. (Id.)

  After Goodwine complained about Gebhardt, another incident occurred involving Goodwine. Goodwine's machine had malfunctioned, so Goodwine and Ron Sharp, a process control technician, worked on the valves in an attempt to repair it. At some point, while Goodwine was away getting a drink of water, a joke was shared between Supervisor Gordon Phillips and another employee, Jay Lewis, to the effect that they should open the valve and spray Goodwine with water to see how fast he could run. (Goodwine Depo. I, pp. 76-78). Sharp informed Goodwine of Phillips' comment when Goodwine returned from the water fountain and inquired as to why everyone was laughing. (Id.) It is undisputed that no one actually opened the valve or sprayed water on Goodwine, and there is nothing in the record indicating that Phillips' comment had anything to do with Goodwine's race.

  Sometime in late 2003 or early 2004, while Goodwine was on leave, a large hole was being excavated on the premises of PHB. Maintenance Supervisor Bill Donnell, when asked as to the purpose of the hole, allegedly responded with words to the effect that "he would like to put Cari Goodwine in it." (Goodwine Depo. I., pp. 122-23; Plaintiff's Brief in Opposition, Dkt. #35, Ex. 2, Henry Aff.). Goodwine was not present when the comment was made, but it was relayed to him by another employee, James Henry. (Id.) Goodwine testified that he did not feel the comment was racially motivated; instead he attributed it to Phillips' anger over Goodwine having asserted what Phillips believed to be a frivolous EEOC claim against PHB. (Goodwine Depo. I, pp 123-24).

  In addition to the aforementioned comments, Goodwine asserts that he was constantly subjected to racial slurs from co-employees and supervisors and to racist graffiti in the workplace. Goodwine also suggests that he was subjected to a hostile work environment because he was once made to "degrease shot monitors," a job that was apparently distasteful to PHB employees. (Complaint, ¶ 39). Although Goodwine alleges in his complaint that this job assignment constitutes evidence of a racially hostile work environment, he later admitted at deposition that the job assignment had nothing to do with his race. (Goodwine Depo. I, pp. 133-135). Rather, Goodwine asserts that Hancock required him to degrease the monitors because he held a grudge against Goodwine for prevailing in an unemployment compensation proceeding. (Goodwine Depo. II (2/12/05), Dkt. #27, Exhibit 2, p. 34-35).

  Finally, Goodwine also asserts that, throughout his employment at PHB, he was routinely assigned to "harder" jobs than white employees in his position. Without citing specifics, Goodwine contends that he suffered disparate treatment in his job assignments, primarily by being assigned to "the worst jobs within the workplace" and "routine assignment to the most difficult machines." (Complaint, ¶¶ 9-10). Goodwine contends that assignment to the "difficult" machines occurred "three or four times more often" than his white co-workers. (Id.)

  Goodwine filed the underlying complaint on May 26, 2004. PHB filed a motion for summary judgment on May 23, 2005, and Goodwine responded on July 25, 2005. PHB filed a reply on August 11, 2005, and oral argument on the summary judgment motion was held on August 25, 2005. This matter is ripe for review.

  II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

  Summary judgment is proper "if 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 judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). In order to withstand a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must "make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of [each] element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In evaluating whether the non-moving party has established each necessary element, the Court must grant all reasonable inferences from the evidence to the non-moving party. Knabe v. Boury Corp., 114 F.3d 407, 410, n. 4 (3d Cir. 1997) (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574 (1986)). "Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a reasonable trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no `genuine issue for trial.'" Id. (quoting Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587).

  III. HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT

  Under Title VII and the PHRA it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against any individual with respect to this compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex or national origin. See Weston v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Dept. of Corrections, 251 F.3d 420, 425 (3rd Cir. 2001), citing 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1).*fn1 To establish a claim under Title VII based on an intimidating or offensive work environment, a plaintiff must show: "(1) that he or she suffered intentional discrimination because of race; (2) the discrimination was pervasive and regular; (3) the discrimination detrimentally affected the plaintiff; (4) the discrimination would detrimentally affect a reasonable person of the same race in that position; and (5) the existence of respondeat superior liability." See Aman v. Cort Furniture Rental Corp., 85 F.3d 1074, 1081 (3rd Cir. 1996). In employing this analysis a court must evaluate the frequency of the conduct, its severity, whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, and whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee's work performance. See Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 23 (1993). Title VII is not violated by "[m]ere utterance of an . . . epithet which engenders offensive feelings in an employee" or by mere ...


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