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LEWIS v. SHERIDAN BROADCASTING NETWORK

November 7, 2005.

MARY ANNE LEWIS, Plaintiff,
v.
SHERIDAN BROADCASTING NETWORK, INC., Defendant.



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

OPINION

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Mary Anne Lewis (Lewis) brought this action against her former employer, Sheridan Broadcasting Network (Sheridan), for gender and race discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), violations of the Equal Pay Act (EPA), and violations of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA).

  Presently before the Court is Sheridan's Motion for Summary Judgement on all Counts. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant the motion for summary judgment as to Counts I and II (Title VII Hostile Work Environment) and Count V (PHRA). However, the Court will deny the motion as to Count III (Title VII Retaliation) and Count IV (Equal Pay Act). II. Facts

  The following facts are derived from the evidence of record and are taken in the light most favorable to Lewis, the nonmovant. See Strozyk v. Norfolk Southern Corp., 358 F.3d 268, 277 n. 7 (3d Cir. 2004). Lewis is a 45 year-old Caucasian woman who was hired temporarily by Sheridan to work as a news anchor for its American Urban Radio Networks in December 1997. From March 1998 until February 1999, Lewis again worked for Sheridan on a part-time basis. In May 1999, she returned as a part-time anchor and received a full-time position in August of that year.

  During her employment with Sheridan, Lewis experienced what she believes was discrimination based on her race and gender. She claims that Sheridan denied her certain employment opportunities and benefits that it extended to African-American employees. Specifically, Sheridan did not send Lewis to cover certain news stories, offer her yearly reviews, or choose her to substitute for a prominent radio host. In addition, Lewis alleges that co-workers made comments to her and to others that constitute race and gender discrimination. Specifically, she claims that Gerry Scott, another anchor and a member of the management team, told Lewis that she did not understand the station's "core audience" and she asked too many questions. Scott said she was "stubborn and hardheaded," and that her desk was a "pile of chaos." Ty Miller, who was not a supervisor, asked Lewis if her parents let her listen to "black music" and told her that the only reason white people would see a certain movie was to "see a black man in chains." In addition, Lewis overheard Miller make a comment to an African-American co-worker, whose wife is Caucasian, about a "white woman whipping a slave." Lewis complained about her experiences to Sheridan's Human Resources Director on November 9, 2001. Less than two months later, on January 7, 2002, Sheridan terminated Lewis because of what it claims was a reduction in force for financial reasons. On July 5, 2002, Lewis filed both intake and witness questionnaires with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging retaliation under Title VII and violations of the Equal Pay Act. On March 5, 2003, the EEOC completed the formal charge, which it then sent to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC).

  III. Discussion

  Summary judgment is required on an issue or a claim 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); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-52 (1986); Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 231-32 (3d Cir. 2001). An issue is "material" only if the factual dispute "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

  "Summary judgment procedure is properly regarded not as a disfavorable procedural shortcut, but rather as an integral part of the Federal Rules as a whole, which are designed to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted). The parties have a duty to present evidence; neither statements of counsel in briefs nor speculative or conclusory allegations satisfy this duty. Ridgewood Bd. of Educ. v. N.E. for M.E., 172 F.3d 238, 252 (3d Cir. 1999). After the moving party has filed a properly supported motion, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). The non-moving party must make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of each element essential to her case on which she will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23.

  A. Timeliness of Plaintiff's Title VII Claims

  The language of Title VII is sparse in its guidance on what constitutes a formal charge with the EEOC, stating merely that "[c]harges shall be in writing under oath or affirmation and shall contain such information and be in such form as the Commission requires." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(b). Similarly, the Code of Federal Regulations states that "a charge shall be in writing and signed and shall be verified" and it "shall name the prospective respondent and shall generally allege the discriminatory act(s). Charges received in person or by telephone shall be reduced to writing." 29 C.F.R. §§ 1601.9 and 1626.6. In Bihler v. Singer Co., 710 F.2d 96, 99 (3d Cir. 1983), the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit interpreted the statute in considering the types of allegations that satisfy the charge requirement: "[i]n order to constitute a charge that satisfies the requirement of section 626(d), notice to the EEOC must be of a kind that would convince a reasonable person that the grievant has manifested an intent to activate the Act's machinery." Id. at 99.

  A charge satisfying the foregoing requirements must be timely filed with the EEOC. "[I]n a case of an unlawful employment practice with respect to which the person aggrieved has initially instituted proceedings with a State or local agency . . . such charge shall be filed by or on behalf of the person aggrieved within three hundred days after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1). Recognizing the widespread interest in pursuing fair employment practices, 29 C.F.R. § 1626.10 permits the EEOC to enter into agreements with state and local fair employment practices agencies. Under such agreements, the requirement of § 2000e-5(e)(1) that a charge must first be filed with the State to trigger the 300 day limitations period is satisfied by filing with the EEOC. "When a worksharing agreement with a State agency is in effect, the State agency will act on certain charges and the Commission will promptly process charges which the State agency does not pursue. Charges received by one agency under the agreement shall be deemed received by the other agency for purposes of § 1626.7." The Third Circuit, in addressing the timeliness of charges filed in States with such agreements, held that "in a state such as Pennsylvania which has an agency performing functions similar to those of the EEOC, the time for filing is extended to 300 days. . . ." Callowhill v. Allen-Sherman-Hoff Co., Inc., 832 F.2d 269, 271 (3d Cir. 1987).

  Although Lewis filed an intake questionnaire and a witness questionnaire on July 5, 2002, an official charge was not filed with the EEOC until March 5, 2003. Based on these facts, Sheridan argues that all of Lewis' claims are time-barred because she failed to file a proper charge with the EEOC within 300 days of the alleged violation. In support of this argument, Sheridan cites Third Circuit precedent, along with cases from other jurisdictions, which hold that intake questionnaires are insufficient to satisfy Title VII's charge requirement. Sheridan argues that the holding of the Court of Appeals in Michelson v. Exxon Research & Eng'g Co., 808 F.2d 1005 (3d Cir. 1987) stands for the broad proposition that intake questionnaires are insufficient to evidence an intent to activate the machinery of Title VII. But the Court in Michelson, as conceded by Sheridan's counsel at oral argument, merely applied the Bihler standard to the particular facts of that case and held that the plaintiff had not shown facts that would "convince a reasonable person that the grievant has manifested an intent to activate the Act's machinery." Bihler, 710 F.2d at 99. The Court in Michelson did not hold that intake questionnaires are per se insufficient to satisfy the charge requirement. Rather, the Court found that correspondence between the plaintiff and the EEOC failed to, in the words of the Bihler decision, "allow the EEOC to investigate immediately [instead of] await further communication from the plaintiff before investigation." Michelson 808 F.2d at 1010 (internal citations omitted).

  In Michelson, the plaintiff contacted the EEOC and was told that the Commission needed more facts before it could begin to investigate his claim. The plaintiff never made further contact with the EEOC, however. Unlike the plaintiff in Michelson, here Lewis gave a detailed account of the alleged conduct, including a sworn statement and witness information. Moreover, she promptly answered a subsequent request from the EEOC, which itself referred to her action as a "charge." Therefore, Lewis "manifested an intent to activate the Act's machinery," and the Court finds that the questionnaires submitted to the EEOC constitute a timely filing under Bihler. Accordingly, the Court will consider conduct ...


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