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Roddy v. Winter

March 31, 2008

CONNIE D. RODDY, PLAINTIFF
v.
DONALD C. WINTER, SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Kane

MEMORANDUM

This is an employment discrimination suit brought pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1), and the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 791, 794a. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant unlawfully terminated her employment because of either her sex, age, or disability, or in retaliation for complaining of discrimination. Before the Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 19.) For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

1. Events leading up to Plaintiff's Employment

In January 2003, Plaintiff Connie Roddy applied for a position as an electrician at the Public Works Department ("PWD") of the Naval Support Activity in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Having heard a rumor that a former employee was "pre-selected" to fill the position, Roddy contacted the Human Resources Office to inform them of the situation. In a letter purportedly sent to Human Resources,*fn1 Roddy alleged that the "Good Old Boy syndrome seems to be a strong unwritten guideline within the [PWD]" and that "[w]ith this kind of opposition in the way, I don't see where there will ever be a female electrician within the [PWD] whether highly qualified or not, now or in the future." (Def's Ex. 5) The Human Resources Office assured Roddy that, rumors aside, the position had not been filled.

After Roddy had submitted the letter, Edward Strayer, the production superintendent at PWD, had been directed to hire her. Strayer then provided Russell Wolf, a first-line supervisor at PWD, with several applications for the position and told him to "review the resumes carefully when making the selection." (Strayer Dep. 17; Pl's Ex. F.) After reviewing the applications, Wolf recommended that Roddy be hired because "she had a very good resume history of working in electrical and, also, on the last page of her resume, it sticks in my mind when I read it, she said, don't discriminate against me for being a woman. I've worked with other women in the trade on the outside." (Wolf Dep. 13-14; Pl's Ex. B.) In fact, on Roddy's resume, Roddy did note that she had "a proven track record; and I have excelled in all my electrical positions. I'm highly regarded among my peers because they judged me according to my abilities and outgoing personality; not as an adversary nor [were] they intimidated because of my sex." (Def's Ex. 4.) Roddy was the first woman that Wolf recommended that PWD hire. (Fact Finding Tr. 156; Def's Ex. 6.)

Roddy's employment began with PWD on March 10, 2003, as a probationary employee at Wage Grade-10. According to Carol Annucci, a Human Resources Specialist at PWD, because of her status as a probationary employee, Roddy had a year to "demonstrate their knowledge and skills, abilities to do the job that [she had] been hired for." (Annucci Dep. 11-12; Pl's Ex. E.) However, if there were "any problems, either with attendance or performance or behavior, [the agency could] take action to terminate the [her] anytime during that period." (Id.); accord 5 C.F.R. § 315.804 (concerning termination of federal probationary employees for unsatisfactory performance).

2. Roddy's early employment experience at PWD

On the first day of Roddy's employment, March 10, 2003, there was friction between Roddy and Wolf. As Roddy describes it in her Lifer Notebook,*fn2 Wolf gave Roddy minimal direction and then chastised her for failing to do certain things, despite the fact that he had not told her that she needed to do those things. Wolf did not show Roddy where her tools were (or what tools were needed), and he did not show her where the restrooms were. In her estimation, Roddy and Wolf had "a SERIOUS communication problem," and by her third day of employment Roddy concluded that Mr. Wolf was a "jerk."

3. The Scissors-Lift Incident

Among her responsibilities as an electrician at PWD, Roddy repaired lighting, cleaned transformers, and re-lamped warehouses. The last of these activities-re-lamping-involved the use of a "scissors lift," which Roddy describes as a "portable scaffold" of approximately five to six feet in length that lifts up to around twenty feet in the air in order to access high ceilings. (Roddy Dep. 74; Pl's Ex. A.) On April 18, 2003, Roddy worked with another employee, Frank Morris, to re-lamp a warehouse on a scissors lift. Both Roddy and Morris were on the lift, and Roddy operated the controls. After Roddy told Morris to "watch his fingers" and "watch his head," she proceeded to raise the lift to reach the lights between the ceiling beams. Attempting to pick up a screwdriver, Morris placed his hand on the safety rail, and his hand became lodged between the rail and a ceiling beam. When he yelled for Roddy to lower the lift, she accidentally raised it further. Morris's hand was crushed, and he was rushed to the emergency room.

When told about the accident, Wolf said something to the effect that he "ought to write [Roddy] up for that," though he did not formally discipline her for the accident. He did, however, tell Roddy that should she want to go to the hospital with Morris, she would be docked leave for that time. (Roddy Dep. 84; Pl's Ex. A.) Later, out of concern that Wolf would "do something," (Roddy Dep. 88), Roddy submitted a written witness statement for Morris's injury report (Def's Ex. 12), in which she described the accident and her role in it. In the injury report, and in his deposition testimony, Morris acknowledged that he left his hand on the safety rail despite Roddy's warning. (Def's Ex. 12; Morris Dep. 22, Pl's Ex. C.)

4. The Transformer Incident

In May 2003, Roddy and another employee, Frank DeNofa, worked together on a project involving a high-voltage transformer. After working for about an hour, the two left the job site and drove to another building for a break. In doing so, they walked past Wolf's office window and Wolf decided to check on their progress on the assignment. When he arrived at the site, Wolf discovered what he perceived to be a dangerous situation: the transformer door was ajar; the door to the high-voltage switch open; the panels were off the high-voltage transformer; there was no lockout tag on the transformer high-voltage switch; and no grounds were applied. While the record is somewhat mixed as to whether the situation was actually dangerous, Wolf screamed at Roddy and DeNofa when they arrived at the site. Wolf told the two employees that he would "make a note" of the incident, but no disciplinary action was initiated as a result thereof.

Later that month, despite the incident, Wolf recommended that several employees, including Roddy, receive a cash bonus for their "very good, craftsman-like" overtime work on a series of transformers.

5. The Extra-Employee Incident

On one occasion in June 2003, Wolf found that Roddy had enlisted the aid of another employee in order to complete an assigned task. According to his testimony during an internal investigation, Wolf took issue with the situation because Roddy and Morris were working on a project he believed that "she should [have been] able to do herself. [Morris] wasn't needed there." (Def's Ex. 6, at 216.) Roddy disputes the characterization, describing the incident as follows:

I'm at a building down in a warehouse relamping a lamp. [I]'m standing on a bridge crane that [is] a platform that goes across the building. There's a big light in the center of this. I'm trying to hold it up. I'm trying to wire the thing, change the lights out in it, rewire I. I just cannot do it . . . standing that high on a four-foot ladder, trying to hold a light. If I fall, then I fall . . . 40 feet. I'm asking assistance and I don't see a problem with that. (Roddy Dep. 110; Pl's Ex. A.) No discipline came as a result of this incident.

6. Roddy's injury

On July 8, 2003, while carrying a ladder and tool bag, Roddy fell into a hole, and twisted her ankle and knee, resulting in torn cartilage and a meniscus tear. After surgery on her knee on July 22, 2003, Roddy was unable to report back to work until September 8, 2003. While she was unable to work, Roddy received worker's compensation benefits. On her return to work, Roddy was restricted to limited duty, and Wolf assigned her to complete certain non-electrical tasks, including cleaning out a closet and reorganizing the tool room.

7. The Silent-Alarm Incident

On September 12, 2003, Wolf assigned Roddy to assist Frank Morris with a security job, which required them to pull wires from a wall. In the course of the assignment, Roddy and Morris stuck a "fish tape" in a conduit, thereby accidentally triggering a silent alarm. Once the silent alarm was activated, security immediately surrounded the building in which Roddy and Morris were working. While the building was evacuated and searched, Roddy and Morris waited. Morris then returned to finish the job.

At the time, Wolf was unaware of the fact that the silent alarm had gone off, and neither Roddy nor Morris told him about what had transpired. Later, Wolf returned to check on the progress of the job and found Roddy standing with her arms folded, while Morris worked. When Wolf ...


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