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Bastl v. Citizens Bank of Pennsylvania

September 12, 2008

DIANE BASTL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITIZENS BANK OF PENNSYLVANIA, T/D/B/A CITIZENS BANK, A SUBSIDIARY OF CITIZENS FINANCIAL GROUP, INC., AND CITIZENS FINANCIAL GROUP, INC., DEFENDANTS.



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

OPINION AND ORDER OF COURT

Plaintiff, Diane Bastl ("Plaintiff" or "Bastl"), initiated this action against Defendants Citizens Bank of Pennsylvania and Citizens Financial Group, Inc., alleging discriminatory treatment in employment on the basis of age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq. ("ADEA"), and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 P.S. § 951, et seq. ("PHRA"). Pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment seeking dismissal of Plaintiff's claims in their entirety. (Docket No. 29). Plaintiff opposes Defendants' Motion. After careful consideration of the parties' submissions and for the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is granted.

I. INTRODUCTION

A. Factual Background

Unless otherwise indicated, the following material facts are undisputed. Defendant Citizens Bank of Pennsylvania ("Citizens") was formed in 2001 in connection with the December 2001 acquisition by Citizens Financial Group, Inc. of the retail and commercial banking operations of Mellon Bank, N.A. ("Mellon"). Plaintiff initially was hired by Mellon in 1981. At the time of the acquisition, Plaintiff was employed as an administrative assistant in the Retail Banking Department, and she continued to work in that position following the acquisition. As an administrative assistant, Plaintiff's principal duties involved providing administrative and clerical support to managers.

In the fall of 2004, Plaintiff was providing administrative support to, inter alia, two regional mangers, Charlotte Bullock and Ryan Kraynick. Kraynick, who started working as a Regional Manager with Citizens in March 2004, claimed that "a number of serious deficiencies" existed in Plaintiff's performance. These purported deficiencies included: ineffectiveness in dealing with other Citizens' personnel, including various branch managers and regional managers; judgment that was below standards; untimely completion of assigned projects; and inadequate organization skills. Kraynick reported these alleged deficiencies to Pam Nagy (Operations Manager of the Retail Banking Department), and also discussed them in a draft evaluation that he sent to Nagy in the fall of 2004. Defs.' App. Ex. 55. In the draft evaluation, Kraynick gave Plaintiff an overall rating of "4" ("fails to meet requirements of the position and requires more than usual supervision, standards not consistently met"). Plaintiff denies that any of these alleged performance deficiencies existed.

On October 22, 2004, a meeting was held with Plaintiff in which Kraynick, Bullock, Nagy, and Human Resources Representative Lee Blundon discussed the alleged deficiencies in Plaintiff's performance. Following the October 22, 2004 meeting, Bullock also completed a draft evaluation concerning Plaintiff in which she gave Plaintiff an overall rating of "3" ("Routinely meets requirements of the position with expected supervisory assistance. Consistently meets level demanded by business."). Defs.' App. Ex. 56. Bullock, however, rated Plaintiff a "4" in several individual areas. See id. Based upon the draft performance reviews from Kraynick and Bullock, Nagy prepared an annual performance review for Plaintiff in which she gave Plaintiff an overall rating of 3.65, which translated to an overall rating of "4." Defs.' App. Ex. 33 (Pl.'s Dep. Ex. 30A). The "Areas of Improvement" section of the performance evaluation identified several areas in which improvement in Plaintiff's performance purportedly was necessary. See id. On December 2, 2004, Nagy, Kraynick, Bullock, and Blundon met with Plaintiff and presented her with the performance review.

In early-2005, Bullock retired and, in February 2005, was replaced as regional manager by Reid Segar. On June 21, 2005, Kraynick, Segar, and Blundon met with Plaintiff and provided her with a written warning regarding purported continued performance issues. Defs.' App. Ex. 35. Citizens claims that the warning was given in accordance with the company's performance improvement policy.*fn1 The June 21, 2005 warning contained a specific list of alleged deficiencies and stated that if Plaintiff did not demonstrate immediate and sustained improvement in her performance, further steps in the corrective action process could be taken. See id.

A few weeks after receiving the written warning, Plaintiff commenced a disability leave for a gastrointestinal problem. While out on disability leave, Plaintiff sent a letter dated August 12, 2005, to Ralph Papa, the President of Citizens Bank of Pennsylvania, in which she complained about her performance review and the written warning. See Pl. Dep. Ex. 34. In her letter, Plaintiff advised Papa of her receipt of the warning and responded to some of the criticisms concerning her performance which had been included in the evaluation and warning. Plaintiff's August 12, 2005 letter eventually was forwarded to Barbara Blyth, Citizens' Director of Human Resources. Blyth already was familiar with the performance issues being addressed with Plaintiff as a result of her role in supervising Blundon.

Blyth testified that after reviewing Plaintiff's August 12, 2005 letter, she discussed Plaintiff's circumstances with both Blundon and Nagy. Blyth also telephoned Plaintiff in early-September 2005, while Plaintiff was out on disability leave. During the phone call, Blyth offered Plaintiff a teller position as an alternative to her administrative assistant position. Blyth testified that prior to calling Plaintiff, she had discussed with Nagy whether there were any alternative positions within Citizens given the fact that it did not appear that Plaintiff's performance in the administrative assistant position was improving. According to Blyth and Nagy, it was agreed that a possible transfer to a teller position may be a way to address the situation since Plaintiff had worked as a teller earlier in her career with Mellon.

Plaintiff returned to work from disability leave on September 23, 2005. Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff advised Citizens that she would accept a teller position. Plaintiff began working in the position of Senior Teller in a Citizens branch office located in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, on October 24, 2005. Following her move to the teller position, Plaintiff's compensation was "red circled," or held, at the level she had been receiving as an administrative assistant, even though that compensation level was higher than the maximum compensation rate applicable to the senior teller position. Citizens describes Plaintiff's move to the Senior Teller position as a voluntary transfer. Plaintiff disagrees and alleges that the move was a demotion and that she had no choice but to accept the position or face termination from employment. Plaintiff was 58 years old when she began working in the teller position.

Although Citizens claims that Plaintiff had some initial difficulties in the teller position, the parties agree that Plaintiff soon was performing the duties of the position at an acceptable level. In fact, quarterly performance reviews Plaintiff received during 2006 consistently rated her as meeting the expectations of the position. In addition, on an annual performance review the Greensburg branch manager completed in late-August 2006, Plaintiff received a "2" rating, i.e., "exceeds expectations." See Defs.' App. Ex. 41. Despite her positive performance reviews in the teller position, Plaintiff claims that her supervisor, Susan Krasausky, subjected her to harassment by, inter alia, failing to provide adequate training and unfairly criticizing her performance.

Plaintiff commenced a disability leave from her position as senior teller in late-January of 2007. In May 2007, the third party administrator for Citizens' short term disability plan advised Plaintiff that her receipt of short-term disability leave benefits was being discontinued because she no longer met the definition of disability under the plan. Plaintiff currently is pursuing an administrative appeal of that determination, and remains on unpaid, unapproved leave of absence from her position with Citizens.

B. Procedural History

On or about January 5, 2006, Plaintiff filed a charge claiming age discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC").*fn2 On or about October 31, 2006, the EEOC issued a Dismissal and Notice of Right to Sue to Plaintiff. (Docket No. 1, Ex. A). Plaintiff filed a Complaint against Defendants in this Court on January 29, 2007. (Docket No. 1). On April 9, 2007, Defendants filed their Answer to Plaintiff's Complaint. (Docket No. 4). On February 11, 2008, Defendants filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment and supporting materials. (Docket Nos. 29-32). On March 10, 2008, Plaintiff filed a Responsive Concise Statement of Material Facts, Exhibits, and a Brief in Opposition to Defendants' Motion. (Docket Nos. 33-35). Defendants filed a Reply Brief and Response to Plaintiff's Concise Statement of Material Facts on March 28, 2008. (Docket Nos. 38-39).*fn3 The Motion is now ripe for my review.

II. LEGAL ANALYSIS

A. Standard of Review

Summary judgment may only be granted 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). Rule 56 mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against the party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an 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 considering a motion for summary judgment, this Court must examine the facts in a light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Int'l Raw Materials, Ltd. v. Stauffer Chem. Co., 898 F.2d 946, 949 (3d Cir. 1990). The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that the evidence creates no genuine issue of material fact. Chipollini v. Spencer Gifts, Inc., 814 F.2d 893, 896 (3d Cir. 1987). The dispute is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is material when it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Id. Where the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the party moving for summary judgment may meet its burden by showing that the evidentiary materials of record, if reduced to admissible evidence, would be insufficient to carry the non-movant's burden of proof at trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. Once the moving party satisfies its burden, the burden shifts to the non-moving party, who must go beyond its pleadings, and designate specific facts by the use of affidavits, depositions, admissions, or answers to interrogatories showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324. Summary ...


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