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Paich v. Nike

March 12, 2008


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



Plaintiff Jeffrey Paich ("Paich") brings this action pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and its state counterpart, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, asserting claims of reverse gender discrimination, hostile work environment and retaliatory discharge. In short, Paich, a store manager, alleges that he was terminated from his employment as a result of his gender and because he reported gender discrimination claims against his district manager, a woman. Defendant has moved for summary judgment dismissing the action in its entirety [Docket No. 41]. For the reasons set forth below, I grant Defendant's motion for summary judgment dismissing Plaintiff's claims of reverse gender discrimination and hostile work environment, and deny Defendant's motion for summary judgment with respect to the retaliation claims.

I. Legal Standard

In order to prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the moving party must demonstrate that "there is no genuine issue of material fact and. . .the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Jurimex Kommerz Transit G.M.B.H. v. Case Corp., 2007 WL 2153278, at *1 (3d Cir. July 27, 2007) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)). "[W]here the party opposing a motion for summary judgment bears the ultimate burden of proof, the moving party may discharge its initial burden of showing that there is no genuine of material fact by showing -that is, pointing out to the district court - that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Player v. Motiva Enter., LLC, 2007 WL 2020086, at *9 n.4 (3d Cir. July 13, 2007). "If the moving party has satisfied its initial burden, the nonmoving party must, in their opposition to the motion, identify evidence of record that creates a genuine issue of material fact." Id. Moreover, "[t]o defeat a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must 'do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. In the language of the Rule, the non-moving party must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. ' " Jurimex Kommerz Transit G.M.B.H., 2007 WL 2153278, at *1 (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986)).

II. Statement of Relevant Facts

The parties have gone to great length to dispute the accuracy and the admissibility of each other's assertions of fact.*fn1 Having carefully reviewed each side's submissions, I parse the following facts most relevant to my decision.

Plaintiff's Employment History With Nike

Paich was hired on August 30, 2000 to be the store manager for the Nike Grove City Factory Store. The hiring decision was made by Chris Griesmer, a male and the District Manager of Defendant's Grove City store. Paich replaced Nike's former female store manager, Karen Haas. Paich understood that as a store manager, he was responsible not only for the financial performance of the store, but for managing the employees of the store, including maintaining a pleasant work environment for those employees. [Docket No. 43, at 2; Docket No. 64, at 2.]

On or about June 19, 2001, Paich was given a year-end evaluation by Griesmer, his District Manager. Paich was given an overall rating of "Meets Expectations" for his performance. [Docket No. 44-3, at 20-25.] This rating was the third highest of five categories. [Id.]

In June 2001, Griesmer was replaced as District Manager by Debra Sweda. Sweda began with Nike in 1989 as a store manager. Although the number and location of the stores in her territory has changed over time, she has been responsible as District Manager for between seven and eleven Nike stores, including the Grove City store. According to Nike, in January 2001, 71% of the store managers in Sweda's district were male, and that percentage has remained constant or increased during her tenure as district manager. [Docket No. 44-10, at 10.]

Paich received his first year-end evaluation from Sweda in June 2002. Sweda gave Paich an overall performance rating of "Achieves," one level higher than Paich had received from Griesmer. [Docket No. 44-3, at 30.] She gave Paich a 4% salary raise, which also exceeded the raise he had previously received from Griesmer. [Docket No. 43, at 4; Docket No. 64, at 5.]

Following Paich's first year-end evaluation, the record is repleat with complaints regarding Paich's performance. According to Sweda's declaration, she began to receive complaints about Paich from store employees beginning in September 2002. For instance, in September 2002, a pregnant female employee filed an anonymous complaint against Paich, alleging that Paich had verbally warned her for being late despite her medical excuse and had called her doctor himself to confirm her illness, that she and other employees had heard him cursing and that he had referred to a female job candidate as "yummy in the tummy." [Docket No. 44-10, at 14; Docket No. 44-12, at 7.] That same month, an assistant store manager at the Grove City store told Sweda that Paich had severe mood swings and exhibited extreme anger, had pushed a cart in anger frightening an employee and making her cry, had left the store with no manager present for a short period, had given the safe combination to a store employee, and frequently was late to work. [Docket No. 44-10, at 14-15; Docket No. 44-12, at 8.] Paich admits to the incident with the cart, but denies or offers explanations for the other incidents. [Docket No. 64, at 5.]

In November 2002, Sweda met with the management team at the Grove City store. Again according to Sweda's declaration, the team expressed much frustration regarding their dealings with Paich, including that they were not made aware of organizational changes, they were unable to express concerns to Paich for fear of anger or retaliation, and that they believed Paich would be unreceptive and defensive if they did bring concerns to him. [Docket No. 44-10, at 15.] In December 2002, Paich showed a naked picture of a woman to store employees. [Id.; Docket No. 44-15, at 11.] At about the same time, Employee Relations received a report from a female employee at the Grove City store that Paich had been told by a female assistant store manager to stop hugging her and to stop discussing his sexual dreams with her, had discussed with male Nike employees how to have anal sex with a woman, made inappropriate comments about female associates and hired only attractive females. [Docket No. 44-12, at 16.]

In January 2003, Sweda met with Paich to discuss these allegations. Again, Paich denied the majority of the allegations, and explained that he had hugged the assistant store manager in sympathy, which would not be repeated. Sweda reminded Paich of Nike's Matter of Respect policy, instructed him to distribute and discuss the policy with the entire store team, and admonished him to keep the store "G" rated. Sweda concluded by warning Paich that corrective action could occur if these incidents continue. Paich stated that he understood, and apologized. Sweda's meeting with Paich was memorialized in a contemporaneous memo she sent to Melissa Marks, Employee Relations Specialist [Docket No. 44-12, at 17.]

In April 2003, Sweda again received complaints from two female Grove City store employees, Maryanne Graham and Jennifer Hutchinson, regarding Paich's behavior. According to the e-mail sent by Sweda to Marks, Graham and Hutchinson had a long list of complaints, including: Paich's inability to control his anger; throwing away materials on a corkboard in a fit of anger; Paich won't talk to employees who disagree with him; Paich didn't help with a store remodel; leaves early most days; jogs close to the end of his shift and then leaves; and that he slams doors and yells at employees. [Docket No. 44-12, at 18.] Sweda discussed these complaints with Paich on April 25, and informed him that she was going to issue a Written Reminder of the incidents and their conversation.

On May 4, 2003, Sweda forwarded a draft of the Written Reminder to Paich for his review. [Docket No. 69-5, at 2-3.] The draft summarized the complaints received from the store employees. Paich again disagreed with the substance of the allegations set forth in the Written Reminder. At his request, Sweda revised the Written Reminder to remove the reference to slamming doors. [Id., at 6.] Paich then appealed the Written Reminder. It was reviewed by Jeff Nichols, Sweda's supervisor, who discussed the allegations with Paich. [Docket No. 69-3, at 239-40.] Ultimately, Nichols approved the Written Reminder. [Id.]

Paich's year-end review occurred in August 2003. Paich was given a overall performance rating of "Meets" expectations. [Docket No. 44-4, at 29.] Under the "Leadership" category, the review stated that "[w]e discussed that improvement was needed on professionalism, matter of respect, and communication skills. You have begun working on these areas by reading books on anger management, and have worked on opening up lines of communication with your management team." [Id. at 28.] Sweda concluded her written comments with "I am confident with continued focus, you will be able to achieve this goal in FY 04." [Id.]

Paich believed that the anger management books helped his performance. [Docket No. 43, at 9; Docket No. 64, at 9.] The record does not contain any complaints from store employees for the 2004 fiscal year. In June 2004, Paich received his year-end review. [Docket No. 44-5, at 5-11.] He received an overall performance rating of "Excels," the highest rating, and was the only store manager in Sweda's district to receive it. [Docket No. 69-3, at 4.] In Paich's comments on the review, he wrote: "Deb, I want to personally thank you for you[r] help this past year." [Id. at 10.]

On April 20, 2005, Deena Green, a sales associate at the Grove City store, called the Nike Confidential Alertline to complain about Paich. [Docket No. 69-4, at 32.] Green characterized Paich as "one of the worst store managers for whom she has ever worked." [Id. at 33.] She accused Paich of laying down on a counter while employees stocked shelves during a power outage, going for a run instead of helping the employees close the store, hiding behind fixtures and eavesdropping on employees' conversations. She stated that Paich's behavior made people "uncomfortable." [Id.]

On June 10, 2005, Sweda received an e-mail from Kathy Kramer, the shipping and receiving manager at the Grove City store. [Docket No. 44-12, at 27.] Kramer reported that morale in the store was down as a result of the store manager. She suggested that Sweda talk to other members of the staff to get their feedback as well. [Id.]

As a result of this e-mail, as well as the April Alertline call, Sweda and Melissa Buganza, the District Human Resources Manager for the Northeast Region, went to the Grove City store in June 2005 to conduct a "health check." Health checks are performed at Nike to assess the atmosphere at a store, to gauge employee morale and to determine if any issues exist at a store that need to be addressed. [Docket No. 43, at 11; Docket No. 64, at 11.] During the course of the health check, Buganza met with twelve store employees individually, asking each employee, including Paich, the same ten questions. [Docket No. 44-13, at 12, 18-33.] She had telephone conversations with two other employees. According to a summary of her notes prepared by Buganza, the results of the health check showed that employees were nervous of Paich, that he was moody, that the employees did not respect Paich and did not trust him and that morale was "very poor." [Docket No. 44-14, at 35-37.]

The healthcheck resulted in Sweda issuing a "Final Warning" to Paich on July 1, 2005. [Docket No. 64, at 10.] The final warning letter identified eight specific concerns raised by employees during the health check, including his lack of presence on the sales floor, his failure to deliver on commitments, inconsistent communication and interaction with staff, staff's fear of his reactions and retaliation, his hiding behind fixtures and spying, and generally low morale. [Docket No. 44-5, at 13.] The letter also identified nine instances during his employment when similar issues had been discussed him. [Id.] Sweda further stated:

Let me be perfectly clear with regard to my expectations going forward, Jeffrey -it is wholly unacceptable to lead your team by intimidation. You must change your behavior immediately and become a positive presence in the store. You must spend time with your team on the floor, treat co-workers with respect, trust your team to do their work well, and praise them when they do, correct them appropriately if necessary. I am glad to help you achieve these goals, and if you have ideas about how I can help support you please don't hesitate to bring them up. [Id. at 14.] The final warning concluded: "As your supervisor, I also have the ...

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