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Marriott v. Audiovox Corp.

December 22, 2006


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


Pending before the court is a motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 18) filed by defendant Audiovox Corporation ("Audiovox" or "defendant"). Sandra Marriott ("Marriott" or "plaintiff") filed this civil action alleging discriminatory employment practices, sex discrimination and wage discrimination.

Plaintiff's complaint contains two counts. Count one asserts six federal claims -- two arising under the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 206 et seq., ("Equal Pay Act") and four arising under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"). Count two asserts four state law claims arising under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 PA. CONS. STAT. ANN. §§ 951 et seq. ("PHRA"), which are similar to the four claims raised in count one under Title VII. The claims raised by plaintiff are: 1) under the Equal Pay Act, that defendant paid her less than a male comparator for performing "work of substantially equal skill, effort and responsibility, under similar working conditions;"*fn1 2) under the Equal Pay Act, that defendant retaliated against her by firing her after she complained about the inequity in pay; 3) under Title VII and the PHRA, defendant discriminated against her on the basis of sex in the form of failure to promote; 4) under Title VII and the PHRA, defendant discriminated against her on the basis of sex by reason of wrongful termination; 5) under Title VII and the PHRA, defendant discriminated against her on the basis of sex by reason of a hostile work environment and 6) under Title VII and the PHRA, defendant retaliated against her by firing her after she complained about the failure to promote her.

Defendant moves for summary judgment in its favor with respect to all claims raised by plaintiff. Summary judgment will be granted in favor of defendant on the hostile work environment claims under Title VII and the PHRA because the undisputed material facts of record show that plaintiff cannot prove a prima facie case for those claims. Summary judgment will be denied with respect to all other claims by reason of genuine issues of material fact being in dispute.

Factual Background

The factual background is derived from the undisputed evidence of record and the disputed evidence of record viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986) ("The evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.").

Plaintiff was employed by defendant*fn2 as an "agent manager" from May 2002 through July 9, 2003. Joint Statement of Facts ("J.S.") ¶ 1. Her salary was $26,000 per year, plus commissions based on a performance factor. Id. ¶ 3. On May 13, 2002, defendant hired Ed Winklarek ("Winklarek") at a higher salary. Id. ¶ 2. Winklarek was paid $40,000 per year, plus commissions with no performance factor. Id. ¶ 4. Plaintiff complained about the salary discrepancy in June 2002, but her salary did not change.*fn3 Id. ¶ 5. Winklarek was "promoted" to general manager on May 1, 2003. J.S. ¶ 7. Plaintiff was discharged on July 9, 2003, and Winklarek was retained as an employee. Id. ¶ 8. On July 28, 2003, plaintiff filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the "EEOC") and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (the "PHRC").*fn4 Id. ¶ 6; Ex. A.

From approximately October 2000 through May 1, 2003, Bill Funovits ("Funovits") was the general manager of the Pittsburgh area cellular division of Audiovox.*fn5 Id. ¶ 9. Prior to October 2000, Funovits' position was president and general manager of the cellular division of Audiovox in Pittsburgh.*fn6 Id. ¶ 10. In approximately October 2000, Funovits purchased the retail automotive operations of Audiovox in the Pittsburgh area and was retained as general manager of Audiovox's cellular division in the Pittsburgh area.*fn7 Id. ¶ 11.

After the transition in or about October 2000, Funovits reported to Aris Constantinides ("Constantinides") in New York. Id. ¶ 14; Ex. B at 30. Prior to this time, Funovits and Constantinides had been peers. Id. ¶ 15; Ex. B at 30. After the transition, Constantinides and Chris Christopero ("Christopero") were Funovits' New York contacts with respect to decision making for the Pittsburgh operations. Id. Funovits no longer had decision making abilities with respect to employees' salaries, nor did he have the authority to discipline employees. Id. ¶ 16; Ex. B at 33, 65.

At the time of the transition, Audiovox had two sales persons in the Pittsburgh area other than plaintiff: Daniel Brienza ("Brienza") and Gary Stepanic ("Stepanic"). Id. ¶ 12; Ex. B at 23. Their salaries were comparable to plaintiff's salary. Id. ¶ 13; Ex. B at 32. During Funovits' negotiations for the purchase of the retail division of Audiovox, Constantinides instructed him to terminate Stepanic and Brienza and retain plaintiff. Id.; Ex. B at 36. After October 2000, plaintiff was given the primary responsibility for managing subagents. Id. ¶ 20; Ex. P at 1, 36, 37, 126, 127.

In May 2002, Ed Winklarek was hired without having any prior experience in the cellular industry. J.S. ¶ 21, 23; Ex. B at 51. Winklarek had little management experience at the time Audiovox hired him, and had not operated any business comparable to that of Audiovox's wireless division.*fn8 J.S. ¶ 24, 46; Ex. P at 1, 51; Ex. B at 5, 17, 21.

Winklarek was initially hired by Audiovox in May 2002 as a subagent manager to assist plaintiff in securing new subagent accounts for the Quintex Cellular Division of Audiovox. J.S. ¶ 44. Christophoro and Constantinides informed Funovits that Winklarek was to perform the same duties as plaintiff and receive the same salary. J.S. ¶ 44. Several other Audiovox employees were also told that Winklarek was to be plaintiff's assistant and share her duties. J.S. ¶ 44; Ex. P-1 at 54, 58, 59, 131-134; B-5, B-17, B-21.

After approximately September 2002, Christophoro and Constantinides hired three or four male direct sales people to work for Audiovox in Pittsburgh. J.S. ¶ 26; Ex. P at 1, 51, 52, 61, 62. Around that time, another retail location was opened and Winklarek reported to that location and had little contact with Funovits thereafter. J.S. ¶ 27; Ex. B at 61-62. The direct salespeople hired by Winklarek were Adam Reeping ("Reeping"), Dan Castleforte ("Castleforte"), and Chris Clover ("Clover"). J.S. ¶ 28; Ex. B at 62. Reeping, Castleforte, and Clover were earning a base salary of $18,000 per year. J.S. ¶ 29; Ex. C.

Shortly after Winklarek was hired, Funovits learned that Winklarek was being paid more than plaintiff and complained to Christophoro. J.S. ¶ 30; Ex. B at 67. Funovits complained to Neil Levine ("Levine") and Constantinides. J.S. ¶ 30; Ex. P-1 at 67, 68, B at 5, 7,21. At the time Funovits made his complaints to Christophoro, Levine, and Constantinides regarding Winklarek's salary, Funovits's total compensation exceeded Winklarek's compensation, but Winklarek before 2000 was in effect being paid a higher base salary than Funovits because Winklarek was being paid a guaranteed commission factor. J.S. ¶ 31 at P-1 at 62, 70, 71. Plaintiff believes that sexual discrimination motivated the large disparity in pay between Winklarek and her. J.S. ¶ 50; Ex. P-1 at 133, 134.

In mid-May 2003, plaintiff learned that Winklarek was being promoted to general manager. J.S. ¶ 37; Ex. P-2 at 48, 49. Winklarek's management experience included experience as a manager of various maintenance and installation operations for cable television services.

J.S. ¶ 58; Def.'s Ex. C, F. Plaintiff's prior management experience involved overseeing salespeople and subagent business, and it included helping in establishing three retail stores and programs and procedures in those stores and designing one of the locations.*fn9 J.S. ¶ 34; Ex. P-1, P-12.

The day-to-day activities that both Winklarek and plaintiff performed were the same from October 2002 to the time of his promotion to general manager. J.S. ¶ 33; Ex. P-1 at 61, 78, 79. Prior to approximately mid-May of 2003, Winklarek and plaintiff were provided by Audiovox with identical business cards, indicating the title of agent manager. J.S. ¶ 57; Ex. P-2 at 84.

Defendant eventually terminated plaintiff allegedly due to declining sales.*fn10 J.S. ¶ 42; Ex. D at 71. Plaintiff, however, believes that the termination resulted from sexual discrimination because she claims there was not a single legitimate business reason for her termination while Winklarek was retained.*fn11 J. S. ¶ 50; Ex. P-1 at 133, 134. To support her claim that there was no legitimate business reason for her dismissal she adduces evidence that a less experienced male was promoted to plaintiff's position and two less experienced male sales persons were retained even though plaintiff's sales vastly outnumbered those of Winklarek, her male replacement, and the two male sales persons combined.*fn12 J.S. ¶ 52; Ex. P-2 at 73, 74, 78; Ex. P-4; Ex. P-7. At the time of plaintiff's termination in 2003, plaintiff points to evidence that most of the income generated by Audiovox's Pittsburgh wireless operation was coming from subagent sales business and that more than 90 percent of the subagents generating income for Audiovox's Pittsburgh wireless operation were subagents acquired and maintained by plaintiff. J.S. ¶ 60; Ex. P-2, P-1, B-5, B-17, B-21; J.S. ¶ 61; Ex. P-4. Plaintiff received several rewards for her retail and wholesale sales figures, which facts were known to Constantinides, Christophoro and Phillip Christopher ("Christopher"), an officer of Audiovox, since all three were present at the awards ceremonies at which the awards were presented. J.S. ¶ 55; Ex. P-2 at 78, 79; Ex. P-9, 12. During the relevant period of plaintiff's employment by Audiovox, there were no women other than her in the position of sales representative or agent manager, nor were there any women in the position of general manager. J.S. ¶ 53; Ex. P-1 at 127, 128; P-2 at 79-81.

Plaintiff complained to Funovits that Winklarek had been retained because of Christopero's relationship with Winklarek's brother. J.S. ¶ 52; Ex. B at 117. In June 2003, plaintiff made a discrimination complaint to Audiovox's human resources department relative to the pay inequity and Winklarek's promotion. J.S. ¶ 52; Ex. P-2 at 74, 78; Ex. P-4; Ex. P-7. Plaintiff, in June 2002, had also complained to Christopher that her dissatisfaction with Audiovox was based on its treatment of female employees. Id.

Standard of Review

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) provides that summary judgment may be granted if, drawing all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, "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). A motion for summary judgment will not be defeated by the mere existence of some disputed facts, but will be defeated when there is a genuine issue of material fact. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). In determining whether the dispute is genuine, the court's function is not to weigh the evidence or to determine the truth of the matter, but only to determine whether the evidence of record is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id. at 249. The court may consider any material or evidence that would be admissible or usable at trial in deciding the merits of a motion for summary judgment. Horta v. Sullivan, 4 F.3d 2, 8 (1st Cir. 1993) (citing WRIGHT AND MILLER, FEDERAL PRACTICE § 2721); Pollack v. City of Newark, 147 F.Supp. 35, 39 (D.N.J. 1956), aff'd, 248 F.2d 543 (3d Cir. 1957), cert.denied, 355 U.S. 964 (1958) ("in considering a motion for summary judgment, the court is entitled to consider exhibits and other papers that have been identified by affidavit or otherwise made admissible in evidence") (emphasis added).


Defendant moves for summary judgment on all six of plaintiff's claims asserted under federal law and on all plaintiff's claims asserted under the PHRA. Each federal claim will be discussed. Plaintiff's PHRA claims are analyzed under the same framework as Title VII. See Woodson v. Scott Paper Co., 109 F.3d 913, 919 (3d Cir. 1997) (applying Title VII analysis to PHRA claim). The parties did not separately discuss or brief the PHRA claims. The discussion and disposition of plaintiff's Title VII claims will apply to the related PHRA claims and will be granted or denied in the same manner as the Title VII claims. Each federal claim will be separately discussed.

I. Equal Pay Act Claims

A. Pay Inequity

The Equal Pay Act provides in relevant part:

No employer having employees subject to any provisions of this section shall discriminate, within any establishment in which such employees are employed, between employees on the basis of sex by paying wages to employees in such establishment at a rate less than the rate at which he pays wages to employees of the opposite sex in such establishment for equal work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions, except where such payment is made pursuant to (i) a seniority system; (ii) a merit system; (iii) a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production; or (iv) a differential based on any other factor other than sex: Provided, That an employer who is paying a wage rate differential in violation of this subsection shall not, in order to comply with the provisions of this subsection, reduce the wage rate of any employee.

29 U.S.C. § 206(d)(1).

The purpose of the Equal Pay Act was described by the Supreme Court in Corning Glass Works v. Brennan, 417 U.S. 188 (1994), as follows:

Congress' purpose in enacting the Equal Pay Act was to remedy what was perceived to be a serious and endemic problem of employment discrimination in private industry -- the fact that the wage structure of "many segments of American industry has been based on an ancient but outmoded belief that a man, because of his role in society, should be paid more than a woman even though his duties are the same". . . . The ...

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