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Stevenson v. Rosemont College of the Holy Child Jesus

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA


December 23, 2008

TRACY STEVENSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ROSEMONT COLLEGE OF THE HOLY CHILD JESUS, T/D/B/A ROSEMONT COLLEGE, DEFENDANT.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rufe, J.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Tracy Stevenson ("Stevenson") brings suit against her former employer, Defendant Rosemont College of the Holy Child Jesus ("Rosemont College") alleging violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). Before the Court is the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Document No. 10]. For the reasons that follow, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Stevenson was employed by Defendant Rosemont College as the school's "Director of Publications" from approximately September 2004 until January 30, 2007, when she was informed that she was being terminated because her position was being outsourced.*fn1 Stevenson was approximately forty-eight-years-old at the time.*fn2 Shortly after her termination Stevenson discovered that Rosemont College's Web site listed her former assistant, Jessica Green, a twenty-seven-year old woman, as the College's Director of Publications, prompting her to file the current suit for age discrimination on April 18, 2008.*fn3

Stevenson alleges that Green does not possess her same level of ability or experience, that her termination was the result of intentional age discrimination, and that by virtue of her age she is in the class of persons protected by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. She seeks damages and monetary benefits accorded her former position including bonuses, medical benefits, and back pay in addition to damages for pain and suffering. Moreover, Stevenson seeks double damages pursuant to 29 U.S.C. 626(b) for a willful violation of the ADEA.*fn4

Rosemont College counters the allegations against it, arguing that Stevenson's annual performance report listed several deficiencies in her work, including a continued inability to edit text.*fn5 Additionally, Rosemont College argues that a large portion of the duties previously assigned to the Director of Publications were outsourced, eliminating the need for a full-time position. It asserts, supported by an internal memo and an employee appraisal report of Stevenson, that Green's position was retained in a newly structured role based on the decision that she was a better asset to Rosemont College than Stevenson because of her more advanced skills in text editing and various computer programs.*fn6 Rosemont College moves for summary judgment on the grounds that Stevenson has offered no evidence discrediting Rosemont College's claimed legitimate business reasons for terminating Stevenson's employment and has offered no evidence that discrimination was more likely than not a motivating or determinative cause of Stevenson's termination.

On July 21, 2008 the Court issued a Scheduling Order [Document No. 7] to govern the proceedings in this matter requiring that all discovery be completed by September 30, 2008. Stevenson propounded written discovery that was answered by Rosemont College. However, Stevenson failed to respond to the written discovery requests of Rosemont College and also failed to appear for her deposition. Depositions of Defendant Rosemont College officials were scheduled by Plaintiff but later cancelled.*fn7 Therefore, the amount of discovery in this case is extremely limited.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate if "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."*fn8 An issue of material fact is genuine if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party."*fn9 In examining motions, all inferences must be drawn in the light most favorable to the non-movants, and their allegations must be treated as true whenever they conflict with those of the movants and are supported by proper proofs.*fn10 The Court will not, however, make any credibility determinations or weigh the evidence presented.*fn11

The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating that there are no genuine issues of material fact.*fn12 Once the movant has done so, the opposing party cannot rest on its pleadings.*fn13 To avoid summary judgment, the non-movant must come forward with probative evidence demonstrating the existence of genuine issues for trial.*fn14 The non-movant therefore must raise "more than a mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in its favor" on elements for which it bears the burden of production.*fn15 An inference based upon speculation or conjecture will not create a material fact.*fn16

III. DISCUSSION

A. Prima Facie Case

The plaintiff initially carries the burden or establishing a prima facie case of unlawful discrimination.*fn17 In order to establish a prima facie case of discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. 621 et seq. ("ADEA"), a plaintiff must demonstrate that "(1) plaintiff was a member of the protected class, i.e. 40 years of age or older at the time the action occurred; (2) that the plaintiff was discharged; (3) that the plaintiff was qualified for the job; and (4) that the plaintiff was replaced by a sufficiently younger person creating an inference of discrimination."*fn18

The Court finds that Stevenson is able to establish a prima facie case of age discrimination against Rosemont College by meeting each of the listed requirements. Stevenson was older than 40 years of age when she was terminated from her job, fulfilling the first two elements. She was qualified to do her job, as evidenced by the "Rosemont College Performance Appraisal" for the period June 2005 to June 2006, which states that Stevenson "meets the requirements and expectations of her position," thereby satisfying the third factor. Finally, Stevenson was replaced by a sufficiently younger person, a woman more than twenty years her junior, meeting the fourth and final factor and successfully establishing a prime facie age discrimination case.

B. Legitimate Nondiscriminatory Reason

Because Stevenson is able to establish a prima facie case for age discrimination the burden of production shifts to the defendant, Rosemont College to offer a "legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the unfavorable employment decision."*fn19

An employer satisfies its burden of production "by producing evidence which, taken as true, would permit the conclusion that there was a nondiscriminatory reason for the unfavorable employment decision."*fn20 "The employer need not prove that the tendered reason actually motivated its behavior, as throughout this burden shifting paradigm the ultimate burden of proving intentional discrimination always rests with the plaintiff."*fn21 Rosemont College has produced such evidence in the form of an internal memo regarding the Director of Publications position which states that Stevenson was terminated because the duties of her position had changed and it was effectively being eliminated. Taking the stated reason that the majority of her position's duties was outsourced as true, the Court finds that Rosemont College has met its burden of production to show a "legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason" for Stevenson's termination. The burden of production thus shift back to Stevenson.

In order to show that her termination was an act of age discrimination under the ADEA Stevenson must proffer evidence "from which a fact finder could reasonably either (1) disbelieve the employer's articulated legitimate reasons; or (2) believe that an invidious discriminatory reason was more likely than not a motivating or determinative cause of the employer's action."*fn22

Plaintiff Stevenson has not fulfilled either of these conditions.

Stevenson argues that her position was not outsourced, but rather reassigned to a younger individual. While it is true that Jessica Green was listed under Stevenson's former title "Director of Publications" on Rosemont College's Web site, the job performed by Ms. Green is not the same as that held by Stevenson. An internal Rosemont College's Memo dated January 10, 2007,*fn23 listed the reasons for outsourcing particular duties and the school's decision to keep on Ms. Green to perform a reduced workload, continuing at her assistant's salary. The memo specifically referenced the elimination of the "higher compensated position," and stated no intent to increase Ms. Green's salary, which was nearly $8,000 less than Stevenson's. Rather, the memo highlighted the benefit of keeping Green at her lower rate of pay. Other than pointing out that Ms. Green the Web site listing, Stevenson has offered no additional evidence to overcome Rosemont's proffered business decision to outsource.

Moreover, there is insufficient evidence of an invidious discriminatory basis as a motivating or determinative cause of Stevenson's termination. The internal Rosemont College memo references work performance deficiencies that had been listed on Stevenson's Performance Appraisals, most notably her difficulties in text editing*fn24 . In her Response to the Motion for Summary Judgment, Stevenson contends that no such critique was contained in her written review. However, the Appraisal, provided by Stevenson, explicitly states that her "background as a designer does not equip her to make often needed text edits and, at times this has been an impediment to projects."*fn25

Because there was so little discovery in this case, the Court's review was conducted on minimal evidence. However, what was presented to the Court, namely the internal memo and Stevenson's Performance Appraisal both support Rosemont College's nondiscriminatory reasons for ending Stevenson's employment with them. Stevenson has offered no evidence that would cause the Court to find it more likely than not that an invidious discriminatory reason caused her termination and therefore, as a matter of law, the Court grants Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.*fn26

IV. CONCLUSION

The Court grants Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff's claims against Rosemont College under the Employment Discrimination Act of 1967 are dismissed. An appropriate Order follows.

ORDER

AND NOW, this 23rd day of December 2008, upon consideration of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [Document No. 10] and Plaintiff's Response in Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [Document No. 15], it is hereby

ORDERED that Defendants' Motion is GRANTED. All claims against Defendant arising under the Employment Discrimination Act of 1967, 29 U.S.C. § 623 are DISMISSED.

The Clerk of Court is directed to CLOSE this case.

It is so ORDERED.

CYNTHIA M. RUFE, J.


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