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Wilson v. Children's Museum of Pittsburgh

August 31, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Arthur J. Schwab United States District Judge

Memorandum Opinion

This is an action for employment discrimination. Plaintiff, Yvonne Wilson (Wilson) alleges that defendants, Children's Museum of Pittsburgh (Children's Museum) treated her disparately, harassed her, retaliated against her, and wrongfully terminated her on the basis of age, race, and disability under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), respectively. Plaintiff further alleges that her supervisor, Jane Werner (Werner) aided and abetted Children's Museum under the PHRA. Finally, plaintiff advances additional common law claims for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress and negligence. Pending before this Court is defendant's motion for summary judgment (doc. no. 42). After careful consideration, and for the reasons that follow, this Court will GRANT defendant's motion for summary judgment.

I. Facts

The facts may be fairly summarized as follows:*fn1

Plaintiff, who is an African-American female and is 57 years of age, was hired by Werner, who is the Executive Director of the Children's Museum, to work as her Executive Administrative Assistant on January 24, 2000. Warner, who became the Executive Director in May of 1999, is a Caucasian female and is 47 years of age.

From the years 2000 to 2004, plaintiff received favorable performance evaluations and reviews, and she received several merit increases throughout her employment.

Plaintiff has a long list of alleged impairments/disabilities including osteoarthritis in her spine, fingers, neck and knees, a heart murmur, high blood pressure, an abdominal hernia, a cyst of her liver, spots on her lungs, asthma, an atrophic kidney, carpal tunnel problems, venostatis, digestive problems, eye problems and pain in her right shoulder. Plaintiff gave defendant written requests for accommodations from her doctor on April 19, 1999, April 28, 2004, and December 6, 2004. Plaintiff contends that she made the following requests for accommodations during her employment with Children's Museum: a new chair; a wrist rest; accommodation for standing; accommodation for lifting; having her desk lifted higher; and an accommodation for her doing the mail. Defendant accommodated plaintiff with a new chair, a wrist rest, a foot rest, a wooden platform to set the computer screen at a more appropriate eye level, and a higher desk. Plaintiff was never required to lift more than ten pounds. Although the note from plaintiff's doctor requested that plaintiff's standing be limited, Wilson requested that she discontinue doing the mail and supplies and that she not be required to do "floor hours" (walking around the museum and speaking to visitors). Responsibility for the supplies was taken away from plaintiff in August or September of 2004; however, prior to the supply duties being taken from plaintiff, other employees helped her in performing those duties. Plaintiff was required to perform two hours of floor duty per month, and according to defendant, Werner never required plaintiff to work beyond her restrictions. Although plaintiff was required to do the mail until her employment was terminated, she was accommodated by having interns available to assist her.

Plaintiff filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ("PHRC") on December 28, 2004 claiming retaliation, but plaintiff did not tell anyone at Children's Museum that she had filed the complaint with the PHRC. Werner testified that she did not become aware of the complaint until after plaintiff was terminated. According to plaintiff, she was retaliated against because someone placed the mail machine on her desk and someone broke into her desk and took a letter from her doctor. Plaintiff contends that the placement of the mail machine was disrespectful and cruel and that the staff did it to make fun of her. Werner, however, testified that although she did not request that the mail machine be placed on plaintiff's desk, that she did direct someone to place the mail machine in plaintiff's office as an accommodation. Plaintiff further alleges that she was harassed by being denied access to Museum charge cards, which she needed to make arrangements for Werner.

In early November 2004, plaintiff requested a meeting with Werner and Cathy Cicco (Cicco) (Human Resources consultant to Children's Museum) to discuss a number of workplace issues, and Cicco took notes of that meeting. Among the outcomes from the November 2004 meeting was that Werner was to complete and review a job description for plaintiff's job that outlined her essential job functions and responsibilities, and that they would meet again to discuss plaintiff's complaints and discuss the proposed position description for plaintiff.

After the meeting, Werner and Cicco consulted about the job description and provided plaintiff with a copy of the proposed job description on November 22, 2004. Plaintiff provided a copy of the job description to her doctor but she never discussed the proposed job description with Werner. Plaintiff never told either Cicco or Werner that she could not perform any of the duties on the job description, nor did she request any accommodations in connection with her receipt of the new job description. The position description, which allegedly added assignments to plaintiff, was never agreed to or formalized, and the description was not finalized or published until after plaintiff's employment was terminated. On December 6, 2004, plaintiff provided Rebecca McNeil (McNeil), who is Children's Museum Financial Director, with a copy of the letter from her doctor authored on that date regarding plaintiff's health problems and resulting limitations. McNeil then provided a copy of that letter to Cicco, and Cicco indicated that she intended to obtain permission from plaintiff to communicate with plaintiff's physician about the contents of the letters. Cicco never contacted plaintiff's physician prior to her termination.

On December 9, 2004, plaintiff sent Cicco an email proposing that Werner, Cicco and plaintiff meet on December 16, 2004 to further discuss the "mail situation" and the added job responsibilities. On December 13, 2004, plaintiff sent another email to Cicco canceling the December 16, 2004 meeting and "reserving further discussion until [she met] with the Personnel Committee."

On January 13, 2005, Werner sent plaintiff an email arranging a meeting with Tom Mole (Mole), a board member and chairman of the Personnel Committee, for that day. However, when plaintiff failed to attend the meeting, Werner called plaintiff and plaintiff allegedly refused to meet with them. Plaintiff did agree to meet with Mole and Werner in February.

Soon after plaintiff refused to meet with Mole and Werner, Werner and Cicco went to plaintiff's office to discuss the proposed position description and plaintiff's ability to perform her job duties in light of her alleged impairments. When Werner and Cicco appeared in plaintiff's office, plaintiff refused to discuss the issues and became agitated. Werner and Cicco then left plaintiff's office and when they returned to plaintiff's office, plaintiff refused to speak with Werner and Cicco and left her office. Werner and Cicco followed plaintiff onto the second floor balcony where plaintiff then allegedly yelled at Werner and Cicco. Plaintiff disputes the contention that she "yelled," however, the parties agree that Werner never raised her voice when speaking with plaintiff. Museum visitors, as well as a number of administrative offices, had access to the area on the second floor balcony where the altercation took place. Jennifer Albaugh, a development assistant for Children's Museum, who was in her office located near the site of the altercation, heard plaintiff outside her office saying words to the effect "leave me along Jane," "stay away from me," and "stop harassing me, I have a heart condition." Several other employees gave similar recounts and all employees who heard the incident testified that they only heard plaintiff raise her voice, no one heard Werner or Cicco.

After the incident, plaintiff then returned to her office, locked her door, and called paramedics. The Pittsburgh paramedics ...

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