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Falconer v. Papco

June 17, 2008

VIRGINIA L. FALCONER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PAPCO, INC. AND HOOVER OIL FIELD SUPPLY COMPANY AND DARRYL PIERCE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: McLAUGHLIN, Sean J., District J.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Currently pending before the Court is the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 32].

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Virginia L. Falconer, (hereinafter "Plaintiff" or "Falconer"), was born on March 9, 1960 and began her employment with Papco, Inc. and Hoover Oil Supply Company (hereinafter "Papco" and "Hoover" respectively), on November 29, 1999 when she was approximately 39 years old. Falconer Dep. P. 4; Myers Dep. Ex. 4. Papco owns and operates oil and gas wells with its main office located in Warren, Pennsylvania. Amended Complaint ¶ 4; Pierce Aff. ¶ 2. Hoover, a subsidiary of Papco, sells oil and gas production supplies. Petersen Dep. p. 4; Pierce Aff. ¶ 3. Defendant Darryl Pierce (hereinafter "Pierce"), is part owner and the secretary/treasurer of Papco. Petersen Dep. pp. 4-5; Pierce Aff. ¶ 1. Kristine Myers (hereinafter "Myers"), was at all material times Plaintiff's immediate supervisor. Falconer Dep. p. 24; Myers Dep. pp. 5; 7-9.

Plaintiff performed general accounting and clerical functions. Falconer Dep. pp. 14- 15. Her responsibilities included completing and forwarding oil well completion reports to the Department of Environmental Protection ("DEP") in Pennsylvania and to the Texas Railroad Commission in Texas. Falconer Dep. p. 15. In order to complete the reports, Plaintiff gathered information from various individuals, including but not limited to Pierce, Myers and Jesse Olson (hereinafter "Olson"), who was an employee of Olson Drilling Company. Falconer Dep. p. 22; Olson Dep. p. 4. Olson Drilling Company performed drilling services for Papco. Olson Dep. p. 7; Pierce Aff. ¶ 6; Pierce Dep. Ex. 6. Plaintiff met with Olson periodically throughout her employment with Papco in order to obtain the required information to complete the reports. Falconer Dep. pp. 28-29.

Plaintiff claimed that during her employment with Defendant, Pierce demonstrated, through his conduct, that he was interested in developing more than a working relationship with her. See Amended Complaint ¶ 19. In this regard, Plaintiff testified that he would occasionally put his arm around her shoulder and would stand too close when speaking to her. Falconer Dep. pp. 73; 78. She relayed an incident in June 2005 when he introduced her as his wife, referred to her as "honey" and kissed her on the cheek. Falconer Dep. p. 76. On another occasion, Plaintiff testified that Pierce came out of his bedroom with his bathrobe "wide open" and his underwear exposed while they were both staying at a company apartment during a business trip in June 2005. Falconer Dep. pp. 91-92. As a result, Plaintiff requested that Pierce take her to another company apartment where she stayed by herself for the remainder of the trip. Falconer Dep. pp. 95-96.

On Friday, August 19, 2005, Plaintiff spoke with Olson by telephone who apologized for not inviting her to his daughter's wedding. Falconer Dep. pp. 58-59. He informed her that he could not do so because his wife assumed they were having an affair. Id. Pierce and his wife attended the wedding and it was Plaintiff's "assumption" that Pierce heard about her alleged affair at the wedding from Olson's wife and thereafter terminated her because of his jealousy. Falconer Dep. pp. 51-53; 56; 64.

Plaintiff claimed that Friday August 19, 2005 was uneventful and there was no indication that Pierce had any issue at that time with her job performance. Falconer Dep. pp. 52. The record reflects that Pierce visited Myers at her home on Sunday evening, August 21, 2005 and instructed her to terminate Plaintiff the following day. Pierce Dep. p. 75; Myers Dep. pp. 18-21. Pursuant to Pierce's instruction, Myers terminated Plaintiff on Monday, August 22, 2005. Falconer Dep. 57-58; Myers Dep. p. 32. Plaintiff was 46 years old at that time and was replaced by a female who was 28 years old. Amended Complaint ¶ 38; Pierce Aff. ¶ 9.

Pierce denied that Plaintiff's termination had anything to do with her affair with Olson and further claimed that the subject of her alleged affair never came up at the wedding. Pierce Dep. Vol I pp. 42-43. Rather, Pierce testified that he had been considering terminating Plaintiff for some time because of her failure to timely complete the regulatory reports, interpersonal problems with employees and customers and excessive personal phone calls. Pierce Dep. Vol. I pp. 15; 18-20; 33; 35; 40; Pierce Dep. Vol. II p. 17. The need to terminate her was "brought to a head" according to Pierce by the fact that a new employee was scheduled to start on Monday, August 22, 2005 and he did not want the individual to be exposed to Plaintiff. Pierce Dep. Vol. I pp. 35-36; Pierce Dep. Vol. II p. 11.

As a result of her termination, Plaintiff brought suit pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., ("Title VII"), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., (the "ADEA"), and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 Pa.C.S.A. § 951 et seq., (the "PHRA"). Defendants have moved for summary judgment with respect to her claims.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is proper "if 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 judgment as a matter of law."

Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). In order to withstand a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must "make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of [each] element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In evaluating whether the non-moving party has established each necessary element, the Court must grant all reasonable inferences from the evidence to the non-moving party. Knabe v. Boury Corp., 114 F.3d 407, 410, n.4 (3d Cir. 1997) (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574 (1986)). "Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a reasonable trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no 'genuine issue for trial.'" Id. (quoting Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Title VII Claims*fn1

1. Discriminatory Discharge

In order to establish a prima facie case with respect to her discriminatory discharge claim, Plaintiff must demonstrate that she: (1) is a member of a protected class; (2) was qualified for the position; (3) suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) the adverse employment action occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination. Jones v. Sch. Dist. of Philidelphia, 198 F.3d 403, 410-011 (3rd Cir. 1999); Samuels v. Postmaster General, 257 Fed. Appx. 585, 586 (3rd Cir. 2007); Moussa v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 289 F. Supp. 2d 639, 649 (W.D.Pa. 2003). The central focus of the inquiry is always whether the employer treated the plaintiff differently because of her sex. Pivirotto v. Innovative Systems, Inc., 191 F.3d 344, 352 (3rd Cir. 1999) (citations omitted). The prima facie case requires a plaintiff to present "evidence adequate to create an inference that an employment decision was based on an illegal discriminatory criterion." Id. at 355 (citations omitted).

In her Memorandum in Opposition to Defendants' Summary Judgment, Plaintiff describes the nature of her Title VII gender discrimination claim as follows:

Plaintiff will show that Darryl Pierce, the decision-maker, was interested in a sexual relationship with Falconer and that he monitored whether she was interested in someone other than himself. Despite claiming that she was a terrible employee for six years, he suddenly, without any notice, fired her under circumstances from which it appeared that he believed that she was having an affair with an individual contracted to drill oil wells for his company, but not with him. Wouldn't any human being feel rejected, worthless, perhaps angry? Pierce must have.

See Plaintiff's Memorandum in Opposition to Summary Judgment p. 2 [Doc. No. 52]. At deposition, Plaintiff testified as follows:

Q: Why do you think you were fired from Papco and/or Hoover?

A: I feel that I was let go from Papco due to Mr. Pierce assuming that I was having an affair with Jesse Olson.

Q: And so I'm clear, you believe you were terminated because Mr. Pierce learned or heard that you may have been ...


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