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Bianco v. GMAC Mortgage Corp.

November 25, 2008

ELENA BIANCO
v.
GMAC MORTGAGE CORPORATION, ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert F. Kelly, Sr. J.

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is Defendant GMAC Mortgage Corporation's ("GMAC") Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion will be granted.

I. FACTS

Plaintiff Elena Bianco ("Bianco") began working as an administrative assistant in the legal department of GMAC's Horsham, Pennsylvania office in May 2005. At the time she was hired, Sharon Leonard ("Leonard") was employed as Bianco's supervisor. Leonard supervised the administrative assistants in GMAC's legal department and reported directly to Robert Patterson ("Patterson"), who was employed as General Counsel for the company. The record indicates that Leonard became unhappy with Bianco's performance early on in Bianco's career at GMAC. Leonard submits that she had to meet with Bianco as early as October 2005 to address Bianco's tardiness and time management issues. (App. Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 3.)

On October 24, 2005, Anne Janiczek ("Janiczek") assumed Leonard's role in supervising the administrative assistants in the legal department. In February 2006, Janiczek conducted a performance evaluation of the administrative assistants, wherein Bianco was reviewed in all categories as meeting or exceeding expectations. (Janiczek Dep. 22:18-29:24, July 9, 2008.) Nonetheless, an email dated March 29, 2006, reveals that Janiczek had been receiving complaints from the attorneys whom Bianco supported concerning Bianco's failure to complete her filing, and that Janiczek informed Bianco of the complaints as of that date. (App. Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 5.) In another email dated May 1, 2006, Janiczek again warned Bianco that her lateness in arriving to work continued to be a problem. (App. Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 9.)

Around this same time in May 2006, Bianco asserts that she began experiencing health problems, including sores and lesions, chronic fatigue, joint pain, muscle pain, muscle weakness, lack of energy, fibers on the skin and hair, hair loss and hair breakage, stinging and biting sensations on her skin, and extreme anxiety. (Bianco Dep. 24:1-18, June 24, 2008.) Bianco asserts that she consulted and treated with many doctors in the hope of finding a diagnosis and cure. However, as of the date that she was terminated from her position, she had been diagnosed only with reddened itchy skin in the form of a rash, dermatitis and seborrhea of the scalp, brittle hair and alopecia, fatigue, and an insect bite.*fn1

Bianco asserts that she had conversations with both Leonard and Janiczek concerning her condition because her doctor's visits were causing her to miss time from work. Janiczek testified that she did not specifically remember how many conversations she had with Bianco concerning her condition, but that, as far as she understood, Bianco believed she was suffering from an allergic reaction that was causing some hair loss, as well as spots and sores on her skin. (Janiczek Dep. 39:5-21.) Leonard testified that she recalls only one conversation, wherein Bianco informed her that she had been experiencing hair loss and that she was seeing doctors to ascertain its cause. (Leonard Dep. 37:13-38:12.) Bianco, on the other hand, asserts that she apprised Leonard of her full range of symptoms, and that Leonard even suggested that Bianco should see Leonard's doctor. (Bianco Dep. 80:12-24.) Nevertheless, Bianco testified that she never requested an accommodation for her condition, and that at no time was she ever unable to perform her job. (Id. at 24:19-25:1; 111:20-112:9; 121:3-122:1.)

On December 11, 2006, Leonard, who had resumed supervisory duties over the administrative assistants in October 2006, placed Bianco on an Action Plan. Leonard and Lori Wertman ("Wertman"), a Human Resources consultant, met with Bianco on December 11, 2006 to discuss why it had become necessary to place Bianco on an Action Plan ("Action Plan meeting"). In the Action Plan itself, Leonard identifies conversations that she had with Bianco on October 17, 2006, October 30, 2006, November 17, 2006, and November 27, 2006, concerning Bianco's tardiness and time management issues. (App. Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 14.) Leonard testified in her deposition that she felt compelled to present Bianco with an Action Plan because Bianco's problems with tardiness and time management persisted despite numerous attempts to speak with Bianco and resolve these issues. (Leonard Dep. 30:20-31:7.)

On January 8, 2007, Bianco submitted a rebuttal to the Action Plan to Lori Wertman via email. (App. Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 17.) In her rebuttal, Bianco admitted that she had had problems with tardiness, but otherwise objected to the characterizations of her job performance as put forth in the Action Plan. She also stated that, during the Action Plan meeting of December 11, 2006, she felt that her sickness was being held against her. As evidence of such, she alleged that Leonard made certain comments to her regarding her illness during the Action Plan meeting.

Specifically, she alleged that Leonard said: "What you have is not life threatening," and "You don't have cancer." (Id. at D0030.) As further evidence that Leonard was holding her illness against her, Bianco identified an instance where Leonard questioned her concerning an appointment she had at Temple University Hospital and stated that Leonard allegedly asked why she could not have chosen an appointment earlier in the day or a later point in the year. (Id.) Additionally, she noted that she learned of the FMLA after she was presented with the Action Plan, and questioned why Leonard, as her supervisor, had not advised her about the possibility of FMLA leave. (Id. at D0028.)

On January 11, 2007, Bianco again emailed Wertman and asked her to set up a meeting with Patterson, pursuant to GMAC's "open door" policy. (App. Pl.'s Resp., Ex. Q, D1067.) Wertman responded that she would set up the meeting with Mr. Patterson and also asked Bianco to "confirm that during our meeting on Tuesday, you indicated that you do not feel that you are being discriminated against due to your medical issues. Also during that meeting, I communicated that if you felt you were being discriminated against, that I would conduct an investigation into your concerns. You again stated that you do not feel you are being discriminated against." (Id.) Bianco did not respond to this email. Because she was laid off on January 16, 2007, the meeting with Patterson never occurred.

GMAC asserts that Bianco was laid off as part of a company-wide reduction-in-force ("RIF"), which was instituted in November 2006, with the aim of eliminating as many positions as possible in an effort to reduce costs throughout the company. As part of the RIF, Patterson was asked to create a contingency plan, outlining the positions that would be eliminated within the legal department. In December 2006, he was asked to submit a list of employees that would be laid off in January 2007. Patterson identified three positions to be eliminated, one of which was that of Ms. Bianco. Importantly, he testified that he had no knowledge of Bianco's health problems when he made the decision to include her in the RIF. (Patterson Dep. 76:9-77:8, July 9, 2008.) He explained that, in deciding who would ultimately be laid off, he based his decision on input that he received from individuals that the administrative assistants supported, as well as his own overall knowledge of the administrative assistants' performance reviews. (Id. at 56:6-66:12.) Ultimately, he decided that Bianco would be included in the RIF, and she was subsequently laid off on January 16, 2007.

On November 5, 2007, Bianco filed a Complaint against GMAC in this Court. Count I of Bianco's Complaint alleges that GMAC failed to provide reasonable accommodations,*fn2 and engaged in unlawful discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 ("ADA"). In Count II, she alleges unlawful discrimination and/or retaliation in violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 951 ("PHRA"). Count III sets forth claims for unlawful discrimination and/or retaliation and interference with her rights under the Family Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2601 ("FMLA").

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

"Summary judgment is appropriate when, after considering the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, no genuine issue of material fact remains in dispute and 'the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'" Hines v. Consol. Rail Corp., 926 F.2d 262, 267 (3d Cir. 1991). The inquiry is "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986). The moving party carries the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of any genuine issues of material fact. Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N. Am. Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1362 (3d Cir. 1992). "A fact is material if it could affect the outcome of the suit after applying the substantive law. Further, a dispute over a material fact must be 'genuine,' i.e., the evidence must be such 'that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party.'" Compton v. Nat'l League of Prof'l Baseball Clubs, 995 F. Supp. 554, 561 n.14 (E.D. Pa. 1998), aff'd, 172 F.3d 40 (3d Cir. 1998).

Once the moving party has produced evidence in support of summary judgment, the non-moving party must go beyond the allegations set forth in its pleadings and counter with evidence that demonstrates that there is a genuine issue of fact requiring a trial. See Big Apple BMW, 974 F.2d at 1362-63. Summary judgment must be granted "against a 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). "[A]n opposing party may not rely merely on allegations or denials in its own pleading; rather, its response must . . . set out specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Disability Discrimination Under the ...


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