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Riddell v. Slippery Rock University

September 25, 2006


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


In this memorandum order, the court considers the motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 30) filed by defendant Slippery Rock University ("defendant") with respect to all claims against defendant asserted by plaintiff Marjorie Riddell ("plaintiff" or "Riddell"). After considering the joint statement of material facts and the respective submissions of the parties, the court will deny defendant's motion for summary judgment for the reasons set forth herein.

Factual Background

I. Plaintiff's Employment

Plaintiff began her employment with defendant, a member of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, on or about April 4, 1986. Complaint filed in Civil Action 04-108 ("2004 Compl.") ¶ 8. Plaintiff was hired to work in defendant's payroll department as a Clerk Typist II. Id.

The payroll department is a component of the accounting services department. Appendix to Plaintiff's Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Pl. App."), Ex. 3 (Clerk II Typist Job Description for Marjorie Riddell) ¶8 (organizational chart). The director of the accounting services department was Mr. Tim Harlan. Id. The head of the payroll department was Mr. Don Bickel. Id. Mr. Bickel directly supervised two employees including plaintiff, who held the position of Clerk Typist II, and Janet McConnell, who held the position of Clerk Typist III. Id.; Joint Concise Statement of Material Facts ("J.S.") ¶¶2, 4.

Janet McConnell's primary function as a Clerk Typist III in the payroll department was to support the payroll manager during the relevant period, Mr. Bickel, by inputting the personnel and payroll transactions of students into the statewide computer system. J.S. ¶8 (emphasis in original). In addition to being in charge of student payroll, Ms. McConnell also did some clerical and support work as needed for Mr. Bickel. Pl. App., Ex. 2 at 10, lines 17-22. (February 10, 2005 Deposition of Donald A. Bickel) ("Bickel Dep."). According to Mr. Bickel, Ms. McConnell's work was more independent than that of plaintiff and was not verified by Mr. Bickel because she worked strictly with students, without the direct supervision of Mr. Bickel, inputting student hours verified by timesheets supplied by various departments. Id. at 35-36 ("Jan kind of runs her own process where I don't verify her work like I do Margie's.").

Plaintiff held the position of Clerk Typist II. J.S. ¶2. A Clerk Typist II is in pay scale group 3. J.S.¶1. According to the job description, the duties of a Clerk Typist II include performing clerical work "of moderate complexity" which requires the utilization of typing skills and the processing of documents. The employee when processing documents performs a variety of functions including the verification of information, performing arithmetic calculations, coding, and assisting the public in completing government forms. J.S. ¶5 (quoting Appendix to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Def. App.") at 1 (state job classification for a Clerk Typist II). The duties also include, inter alia, typing correspondence, reports and transmittals; the skilled utilization of specialized equipment such as mass storage typewriters and computers; assuming responsibility for a significant aspect of a work process; providing secretarial services; providing training and guidance to new employees; and fulfilling a lead worker role for routine clerical operations. J.S.¶¶5-6; see also Def. App. at 1-3(state job classification for a Clerk Typist II). Employees who are designated Clerk Typist II "work with considerable independence within standard operating procedures[;] however, detailed supervisory guidance and review is received for new or unusual situations and changes in operating procedures and policies." Id.

Plaintiff's primary function in the payroll department was to provide clerical support to the payroll manager by inputting personnel/payroll transactions of faculty and staff into a statewide computer system. J.S.¶7 (emphasis in original). Personnel/payroll transactions were initiated by an employee with the human resources department ("human resources") whenever that employee required a change to his or her payroll status. J.S. ¶10. For example, if an employee wanted to change dependants or do anything affecting payroll or a payroll-related classification, that employee would go through human resources. Def. App. at 25 (Bickel Dep.). Human resources would then send a written request together with a transaction request transmittal to the payroll department for input into the statewide computer system. J.S. ¶11. Plaintiff would receive and process these transmittals by inputting them. J.S. ¶12. Plaintiff testified that her job had changed during her tenure because at the time that she started working as a Clerk Typist II this process only involved typing items that the Commonwealth would process; whereas, around the time that she began requesting desk audits, she not only was inputting the information but was processing it as well. Pl. App., Ex. 1 at 14-15 (Excerpt from the Deposition Transcript of Marjorie Riddell) ("Riddell Dep.").*fn1

As a Clerk Typist II, plaintiff was tasked to use computer-based systems to input data and generate employee payroll reports. J.S. ¶9. In order to accomplish this, she would obtain information from either a computer system or employee timesheets and input the data into a program to generate other reports. Def. App. at 18 (Bickel Dep.). Mr. Don Bickel, plaintiff's supervisor, testified in his deposition that plaintiff was also required to analyze this data to determine, for example, whether an employee was entitled to extra pay and whether overtime pay was accurately paid. Id. He further testified that after implementation of a new software package for human resources and payroll called the "SAP System," Pl. App., Ex.1 at 57 (Riddell Dep.), she had to create reports within that system, and that in doing this, she was performing duties that were "definitely different than what she had been doing before under the old system." Def. App. at 21-22 (Bickel Dep.) (emphasis added).

In addition to the foregoing, plaintiff independently researched exceptional payroll cases and problems and answered related questions when her supervisor was absent or on vacation, the frequency of which Mr. Bickel characterized as "occasionally." Def. App. at 19-20 (Bickel Dep.). Plaintiff also asserts that she was doing wage reports and query reports that were initially requested to be produced by Mr. Bickel because he could not "figure out the instructions" for what was being sent. Pl. App., Ex.1 at 90-91. (Riddell Dep.). Plaintiff testified that this work was either given to her by Mr. Bickel himself or he directed the requesting party to send it directly to plaintiff instead. Id. Plaintiff testified that around this time she was doing "fiscal tech professional type work" as opposed to clerk work about "99 percent of the time." Id. at 91.

Plaintiff occasionally would volunteer for committees through the workplace, although these types of duties were not assigned to her by her supervisor. J.S. ¶52. Her supervisor, however, did not object to her participation in these projects to the extent that they did not interfere with her assigned duties. J.S.¶53. At his deposition, Mr. Bickel testified that plaintiff was able to perform the job functions that were expected of her notwithstanding her participation in those activities. Def. App. at 22 (Bickel Dep.).

For example, plaintiff was invited to participate on the staff issues committee of the president's commission for women. Pl. App., Ex. 1 at 14-15 (Riddell Dep.). She also was invited to attend a "high-level cross functional transition impact meeting" regarding the implementation of the SAP system. Id. at 57-58. This invitation was extended to her by telephone by the chancellor's office of the State System of Higher Education on January 31, 2002. J.S. ¶48. Although the parties do not dispute that plaintiff agreed to attend, there is some conflict as to whether or not she received her supervisor's assent prior to accepting the invitation. J.S. ¶49-50. She asserts that -- in extending this invitation -- her employer, defendant, was again asking her to perform the duties of a Fiscal Technician.*fn2 J.S. ¶47-8.

Plaintiff ultimately did not attend that meeting and the events surrounding the cancellation of her attendance are in dispute. Defendant contends that it reviewed the situation and determined that, in lieu of plaintiff attending, the payroll manager should attend. J.S. ¶51. Plaintiff counters that one day before the meeting was to occur, an AFSCME*fn3 union representative, Karen Momberger, came to see her. Pl. App., Ex.1 at 58 (Riddell Dep.). Plaintiff stated that because she wasbusy with preparations for this meeting, she asked the representative to make an appointment to see her at a later time. Id. The representative then told her that Lynne Moytl, then an employee working in the benefits area of the human resources department, later the director of human resources, Pl. App., Ex. 1 at 54,said that plaintiff did not do anything outside a clerk/typist job. Id.; J.S. ¶51 (plaintiff's response). Plaintiff informed Ms. Momberger that she was going to the "high-level cross functional transition impact meeting." Pl. App., Ex.1 at 58. Several hours later, Bill Elliot, then director of human resources, J.S., Plaintiff's Facts ("Pl. Facts") ¶5, came to the payroll office and spoke to Mr. Bickel. Id. at 59; J.S. ¶51 (plaintiff's response). Plaintiff contends that after Mr. Elliot departed, Mr. Bickel departed and when Mr. Bickel returned, he received a telephone call. After the telephone call, Mr. Bickel informed plaintiff that her attendance at the meeting had been cancelled. Id.; J.S. ¶51 (plaintiff's response). Mr. Bickel confirmed that some version of these events occurred, although in his deposition he testified that he believed that Mr. Tim Harlan had replaced Mr. Elliot at the time that the events occurred. J.S. ¶51 (plaintiff's response) (citing Pl. App., Ex. 2 (Bickel Dep.) at 21-23). Plaintiff testified that, as a result of not being allowed to go to the meeting about the new software which plaintiff would be required to use, she had to learn the new software on her own. Id. (citing Pl. App., Ex. 1 (Riddell Dep.) at 66-67, 106-07).

Plaintiff's position was reclassified from Clerk Typist II to Clerk II on or around November 29, 2000. Def. App. at 9 (Letter to Karen Momberger from State System of Higher Education regarding plaintiff's grievance). This reclassification did not result in a change in pay grade. Id. On August 25, 2004, plaintiff's position was reclassified from Clerk II to Data Analyst II and the reclassification was made retroactive to June 25, 2004. Def. App. at 66 (Moytl Aff.). On July 27, 2005, plaintiff was offered a promotion to the position of payroll manager. Def. App. at 76 (Letter from Dr. Robert M. Smith to Plaintiff).

II. Incidents in the Workplace prior to 2000

Plaintiff alleges that between 1993 and 1994, Mr. Bill Elliot subjected her to on-going harassment that occurred at least once per week for approximately one year. Pl. App., Ex.1 at 70-73 (Riddell Dep.). She alleges that he made frequent visits to her work area and made inappropriate comments to her, including that she "made his knees weak" and asking if she wanted to work in his office Id. at 71. She testified that her co-worker and supervisor were sometimes present in the area at certain times when Mr. Elliot approached her. Id. at 74. This pattern continued, according to plaintiff, until Mr. Elliot asked her to work for him and she indicated that she would not be comfortable with that arrangement. Id. at 75. The incident during which Elliott made the job offer was the last time that he came into her office prior to the visit when he allegedly had Mr. Bickel cancel plaintiff's trip to the high-level cross functional transition impact meeting. Id.

Plaintiff also alleges that at some time between 1994 and 1996, while she was changing her clothes in the locker room adjacent to the racquetball courts at Marrow fieldhouse on defendant's campus, she encountered a male voyeur. Id. at 51-54, 76-79. She reported the incident to the dean of students, Dr. Ann Zimmerman, Id. at 79, the vice president of student affairs, Sharon Johnson, Id. at 80, and Bill Elliot, who was then in charge of defendant's police. Id. at 81. According to plaintiff, Mr. Elliott laughed about it and thought that it was "a big joke." Id. at 53. Plaintiff testified that it was later determined that the individual was a student. Id. at 79, 80-81. When plaintiff was appointed to the women's commission, she alleges that she tried to get defendant to install an ID card-operated security system for the locker room areas similar to those that existed at Clarion University and Indiana University of Pennsylvania, but that they refused to implement her idea because it was too expensive. Id. at 53-54. According to plaintiff, the voyeur was ultimately caught and disciplined in part because similar incidents continued to be reported by other students. Id. at 81.

III. Plaintiff's Request for Desk Audits and Initial Grievance in 2000

If an employee of defendant is requesting a review of his or her position, that employee may file a classification appeal through the collective bargaining process. Def. App. at 65 ¶4. (Affidavit of Lynne Motyl) ("Motyl Aff."). Alternatively, if a supervisor is requesting a review of his subordinate's position, the supervisor may initiate a classification review under a different administrative process. Id. An administrative process review can be initiated solely by an employee's immediate supervisor by submitting a classification review form. Id. at 65 ¶6. Based upon approval granted up through the chain of command to defendant's vice president for staff positions, a classification audit can then be conducted. Id.

The collective bargaining process for filing a classification appeal is governed by Article 27 of the Master Agreement between the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and AFSCME (the "Master Agreement").*fn4 Pursuant to Article 27, "[o]nly in those instances where there is a substantial change in permanent job duties or job content . . . which justifies a change in job classification, the employees may process an appeal for a reallocation of their position through a grievance procedure as set forth in Article 37. . . ." Def. App. at 51 (Article 27 of the Master Agreement).

Plaintiff refers to her appeal for a reallocation of her position under the Master Agreement as a "desk audit." Pl. App., Ex.1 at 12 (Riddell Dep.). Her appeal is also referred to by defendant as a "position audit." Def. App. at 49 (position audit report). The desk audit or position audit is a procedure by which the job functions performed by an employee are compared with the applicable standards as established by the Commonwealth to make a determination whether the employee's position is properly classified. See Def. App. at 5 (plaintiff's classification grievance document).

Plaintiff testified that she requested desk audits approximately every two years beginning in 1990 because she believed that her job had significantly changed. Pl. App., Ex. 1 at 10. The requests for a desk audit were made to her supervisor, Mr. Bickel. Id. at 11. Because the requests did not result in desk audits, plaintiff testified that she filed a grievance with AFSCME so that defendant "would be forced" to give her the desk audit. Id. at 12. Plaintiff testified that she did not want to file a grievance because she felt she had been doing a very good job for defendant, and that she filed a grievance "as a very last resort." Id.

Although plaintiff alleges that she made multiple requests for desk audits over the years, see Amended Complaint filed in Civil Action 02-1286 ("2002 Compl."), later consolidated with the above-entitled civil action, ¶15-20; 2004 Compl.¶10-11, the parties in their joint statement of facts and briefs specifically focus on certain instances when she pursued reclassification. For example, the parties highlight plaintiff's filing of a classification grievance in August 2000, which led to a desk audit. See J.S. ¶31. Plaintiff, desiring to have her position reclassified to Fiscal Technician, filed a grievance with her union, AFSCME, pursuant to the Master Agreement. See Def. App. at 4-7 (plaintiff's 2000 grievance form);*fn5 Def. App. at 65, ΒΆ5 (Motyl Aff.).Plaintiff's grievance form states that, "[g]rievant feels that she has been working at the Fiscal Technician position" and that she "is seeking ...

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