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Heater v. Impro Corp.

February 8, 2008


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


Rosalyn Heater, who is over forty years old, worked as a warehouse shipping clerk for Defendant Impro Corporation ("Impro"). Defendants Dan Parrish ("Parrish") and Brady Troutman ("Troutman") supervised and / or managed the warehouse during Heater's employment. According to Heater, they also participated in and fostered a campaign of sexual and age discrimination, harassment and retaliation directed against her. The discrimination consisted of, among other things, vulgar and inappropriate comments and, on a few occasions, unwelcome touching. The unlawful employment practices began on or about April 19, 2004 and continued even after she was unable to continuing working due to a disability in February of 2005.

Heater has asserted claims against Impro under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., Section 102 of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621et seq., the EqualPayAct of 1963, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d) and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 Pa. C.S.A. § 951 et seq. She also asserts claims against Parrish and Troutman for aiding and abetting employment discrimination.

Impro, Parrish and Troutman previously filed a Motion to Dismiss. See Docket No. [14]. The Defendants urged that the Title VII, ADEA and PHRA claims were untimely because Heater failed to file her agency charge within the time allowed under those statutes. Though Heater offered several arguments to defeat the Motion,*fn1 I found only one convincing at that juncture -the doctrine of equitable tolling. As noted in my previous Opinion and Order (see Docket No. [26]), the basis for equitable tolling was Heater's mental state. Heater claimed that she was incapable of recognizing her legal rights andmanaging her legal affairs during the relevant period of time. She tendereda letter from her treating psychiatrist andtherapist which seemed to support her assertion in this regard. Accordingly, I denied the Motion, but allowed the parties to engage in limited discovery on the issue.

That period of discovery has concluded. The Defendants have filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. See Docket No. [50]. Again, they contend that the Title VII, ADEA and corresponding PHRA claims are untimely. The Defendants offer several arguments in support of the entry of partial summary judgment in their favor. Specifically, the Defendants argue that equitable tolling is no longer available in light of the Supreme Court's ruling in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 127 S.Ct. 2162, 2007 WL 1528298 (May 29, 2007).*fn2 They further argue that, if Ledbetter has not foreclosed application of the doctrine, that "lower federal courts ought no longer exhibit unwarranted activism in creating equitable considerations that support disregard of these mandatory time periods." See Docket No. [51], p. 9.*fn3 Finally, the Defendants contend that, even if the doctrine of equitable tolling could be applied in circumstances of mental incompetence, the record evidence does not support the conclusion that Heater was mentally incompetent, or otherwise unable to manage her legal affairs.

Turning to the Defendants' third argument, I agree that, assuming that the doctrine is available, the facts in the case at bar do not warrant its application. Heater's own testimony, the documentary evidence and the testimony from the medical professionals involved in this case demonstrate that,*fn4 though Heater may have suffered periodic episodes of psychic pain, perhaps amounting to a depression, and Bipolar Disorder, she was neither incompetent nor unable to manage her legal affairs during the relevant period of time. Indeed, while Heater was undergoing voluntary, outpatient, psychiatric treatment in 2005, she admits that she remained able to dress herself, drive, manage her financial affairs, maintain her scheduled medical appointments and shop. See Heater Dep., Vol. II, p. 26-30. Heater also admits that she met with several attorneys during the 2005 time frame in order to pursue a worker's compensation claim and the harassment claim which forms the basis of this suit, as well as a Social Security disability claim. Id., Vol I, p. 4246, 54-56, 69-71 and Vol. II, 24-30, 33-38. Heater similarly admits to having spoken with OSHA officials about matters underlying this suit. Id. Heater was also competent enough to have written a letter to Impro in March of 2005 in which she detailed all the reasons she was unhappy and angry with her working conditions. Id., Vol. I, p. 49-52.

The documentary evidence confirms Heater's admissions. In May and June of 2005, the same time she now claims to have been incompetent to manage her legal affairs, Heater applied for Social Security benefits. See Docket No. [50-4], Ex. G. Following the denial of that application, which occurred in November of 2005, Heater retained an attorney to handle the appeal. See Docket No. [50-4], Exs. H, I and J.

The medical professionals involved in this case confirm that Heater was competent to manage her legal affairs during the relevant period of time. Dr. Ashraf Helmy treated Heater during the period of her partial hospitalization. He stated that he saw no reason to question her competence and did not believe that she needed to be involuntarily or voluntarily committed. See Docket No.[50-4], Ex. M, p. 78. Neither did he consider having a guardian appointed for her. Id., p. 79. Indeed, Helmy discussed with Heater the possibility of her obtaining legal help with respect to the very matters at issue in this lawsuit. Id., p. 177-78. Dr. Helmy believed from this conversation that Heater "was able to process her thoughts and understand her legal rights and even ask what could be done about the situation." Id., p. 178. According to Dr. Helmy, he "didn't see any evidence toward that impairment cognitively or in an emotional sense that would make her unable to process or proceed with any legal benefit or rights she might have." Id., p. 179-80. When asked directly whether he believed her perfectly competent to pursue a lawsuit during her participation in the partial hospitalization program, he responded that she was. Id., p. 180.

Dr. Kathi Menon, Heater's psychiatrist, echoed Dr. Helmy'sstatements. She confirmed that she never instituted proceedings for Heater's involuntary commitment; that she never notified the Pennsylvania Department of Motor Vehicles that Heater was so impaired as to be unable to drive; that shenever institutedproceedings to have a guardian appointedto manage Heater's affairs and that she never tried to have her committed to a hospital. See Docket No. [50-4], Ex. K, p. 79-80. Similarly, Lynn Valencic, Heater's social worker, took none of those steps. Id., Ex. L, p. 132-33. Indeed, the following exchange makes clear that Valencic, who actually dictated the letter referenced in my earlier Opinion*fn5 , believed that Heater was capable of managing her legal affairs during the relevant period of time:

Q: Okay. And given your knowledge of her history of her doctor's diagnosis, clinical assessments and her medical history, the prescription agenda with respect to Rosalyn Heater, did you ever believe during the course that she was being seen by you that she was capable of handling her own legal affairs?

A: She was capable. She was just totally overwhelmed with - technically she was capable. She was not disoriented. ...

Id., p. 139-40.

A psychiatrist retained by the Defendants who studied and analyzed Heater's medical and psychiatric records also found, to a reasonable degree of psychiatric certainty, that "[w]hile Heater's condition between March 2005 and March 2006 apparently included the hypomanic and depressive episodes that characterize Type II Bipolar Disorder, she remained competent to manage her own affairs and was not incapacitated or otherwise unable to recognize or manage her legal rights and related concerns during that period." See Affidavit of Lawson Bernstein, M.D., Docket No. [50-4], Ex. D. P. 22. Obviously, Heater has not submitted any evidence contradicting Dr. Bernstein's conclusions.

In sum, the overwhelming evidence of record, indeed the only evidence of record, demonstrates that Heater was able to protect her legal rights and affairs during the relevant period of time. In fact she took several steps to explore, pursue and protect various legal rights. Heater acknowledged that her decision to initially forego filing discrimination and harassment claims against Impro stemmed from an attorney's advice that the claims were not strong absent a corroborating witness. See Docket No. [50-4], Ex. C, p. 37-40. She had "let those claims go" until she met present counsel in February of 2006. Id. Accordingly, the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment is ...

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