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Kerns v. Borough of Wilkinsburg

January 16, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Donetta W. Ambrose Chief Judge, U.S. District Court



In this civil action, Plaintiff, a female former employee of the Defendant Borough, brings claims for gender discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., as well as the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 P.S. § 955 et seq.

In brief,*fn1 Plaintiff contends that during the course of her employment, her direct supervisor, Wes Johnson, often made inappropriate comments and physical contact, asked her to dinner, and reacted inappropriately to her relationship with another Borough employee. After she filed an EEOC charge relating to Johnson's conduct, she contends that Defendant retaliated against her by, inter alia, assigning her to a different supervisor, and changing her job duties.

Defendant has filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on all claims against it. For the following reasons, the Motion will be denied.


I. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary Judgment shall be granted if the pleadings, depositions, and answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In considering a motion for summary judgment, the Court must examine the facts in a light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. International Raw Materials, Ltd. v. Stauffer Chem . Co., 898 F. 2d 946, 949 (3d Cir. 1990). The moving party bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of any genuine issues of material fact. United States v. Omnicare, Inc., 382 F. 3d 432 (3d Cir. 2004). Rule 56, however, mandates the entry of judgment 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. Celotex Corp. v. Cattrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed. 265 (1986). The sum of the affirmative evidence to be presented by the non-moving party must be such that a reasonable jury could find in its favor; it cannot simply reiterate unsupported assertions, conclusory allegations, or suspicious beliefs. Croman v. Twp. of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 633 (3d Cir. 1995).

II. Defendant's Motion

A. Hostile Work Environment

I first address Defendant's argument that Plaintiff cannot, as a matter of law, maintain her claim for hostile work environment. In order to prevail on a hostile work environment claim, Plaintiff must demonstrate, inter alia, that she suffered intentional discrimination because of gender, that the discrimination was severe or pervasive, and that the discrimination would detrimentally affect a reasonable person of the same sex in the same position. See Amati v. United States Steel Corp., No. 04-1442, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 82079, at *40 (W.D. Pa. Nov. 1, 2007). A hostile work environment claim cannot be analyzed on an "incident-by-incident" basis; instead, a court must examine the totality of the circumstances. Konstantopolous v. Westvaco Corp., 112 F.3d 710, 715 (3d Cir. 1997); Anderson v. Deluxe Homes of Pa. Inc., 131 F. Supp. 2d 637, 644 (M.D. Pa. 2001).

In this case, Plaintiff and Johnson present conflicting testimony, and therefore genuine issues of material fact, regarding the nature and extent of Johnson's behavior towards Plaintiff. As Defendant suggests, each alleged incident taken alone would likely be insufficient to support Plaintiff's claim; moreover, it appears that Johnson's alleged behavior falls on the lower end of the continuum between abusive and merely inappropriate. Nevertheless, if a jury were to accept Plaintiff's testimony -- and disbelieve Johnson's denials or explanations -- it could find that over a period of approximately seven months, Johnson repeatedly touched Plaintiff's legs and shoulders, commented on her appearance, stared at her for prolonged periods, squeezed and rubbed her leg, invited her to dinner, alone, several times, and screamed a vulgarity at her relating to her romantic relationship with another man. I am unprepared to hold that no reasonable jury could conclude that Plaintiff was subject to pervasive behavior that would have detrimentally affected a reasonable person in her position, and that she was treated thus because of her gender. Accordingly, Defendant's Motion will be denied to that extent.

B. Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

Next, I address Defendant's challenge to Plaintiff's quid pro quo harassment claim. In order to prove quid pro quo harassment, a plaintiff must show that her response to unwelcome advances was subsequently used as a basis for a decision about compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment. Farrell v. Planters Lifesavers Co., Inc., 206 F.3d 271, 281-82 (3d Cir. 2000). In this Circuit, the "law contains no requirement that the ...

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