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Hartshorn v. Borough

April 2, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo


Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 67). For the reasons provided below, Defendants' motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

The Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343 and pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq..


Plaintiffs and Defendants have provided the following undisputed facts. Plaintiff was first employed by the Borough of Throop ("Throop" or "Throop Borough") in January 2004 when she was appointed Treasurer. (Defs.' SOF, Doc. 69 ¶ 4; Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' SOF, Doc. 77 ¶ 4.) Two months later, on March 11, 2004, Plaintiff resigned her Treasurer position because she believed that she could not be bonded. (Defs.' SOF ¶ 5 ; Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' SOF ¶ 5.) In May 2004, Plaintiff was, once again, hired by Throop in the position of Assistant Secretary after Elaine Morrell, the Throop Administrator and Secretary, informed the Borough Council that she was "in dire need of an assistant secretary, asap." (Defs.' SOF ¶ 3; Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' SOF ¶ 3.) On July 14, 2004, after an incident where Plaintiff accused one of her bosses, Defendant James Barnick, a member of the Borough Council, of yelling at her, Defendant Barnick sent a memo to Plaintiff directing her to contact him only in writing. (Defs.' SOF ¶ 7; Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' SOF ¶ 7.) Plaintiff was politically active with respect to Throop Borough Council elections, and although her political ties were well known within Throop political circles, Plaintiff never had any conversations about her political activity with Defendant Barnick. (Defs.' SOF ¶ 8; Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' SOF ¶ 8.)

In November 2004, and again in July 2005, Plaintiff filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") alleging employment discrimination. (Defs.' SOF ¶ 6; Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' SOF ¶ 6.)

In September 2005, Defendant Robert Hegedus became Throop Manager (Defs.' SOF ¶ 9; Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' SOF ¶ 9) and shortly thereafter, on September 19, 2005, Plaintiff left her position with Throop Borough on medical leave (Defs.' SOF ¶ 10; Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' SOF ¶ 10). While on medical leave in September 2005, Plaintiff attempted to access the Throop bank records from her home computer, but was unsuccessful in obtaining the records. On December 2, 2005, Defendant Hegedus sent a letter to Plaintiff requesting an explanation for why her computer hard drive had been erased and, on the advice of counsel, Plaintiff did not respond. (Defs.' SOF ¶¶ 12,13; Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' SOF ¶¶ 12, 13.) In a letter dated December 6, 2005, with an attached doctor's note excusing her from work through December 14, 2005, Plaintiff informed the Borough Council that she would resign from her position, effective December 14, 2005. (Defs.' SOF ¶¶ 14, 15; Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' SOF ¶¶ 14, 15.)

Plaintiff filed her Complaint (Doc. 1) initiating this action on July 23, 2007. In this Complaint, Plaintiff brought seven (7) claims against the Borough of Throop, three (3) members of the Borough Council, and the former Borough Manager. These claims included allegations of sex discrimination, retaliation, and violations of Plaintiff's rights protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.*fn1 After the conclusion of discovery in the case, Defendants filed the current Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 67) on November 17, 2008, along with a corresponding Statement of Facts (Doc. 69) and Brief in Support (Doc. 71). On December 5, 2008, Plaintiff filed an Answer to Defendants' Statement of Facts (Doc. 77) and a corresponding Brief in Opposition (Doc. 78) to Defendants' motion. Defendants did not file a brief in reply to Plaintiff's opposition brief. Since the current motion has been thoroughly briefed, it is now ripe for disposition.


Summary judgment is appropriate 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 a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). A fact is material if proof of its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable substantive law. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

Where there is no material fact in dispute, the moving party need only establish that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Where, however, there is a disputed issue of material fact, summary judgment is appropriate only if the factual dispute is not a genuine one. See id. at 248. An issue of material fact is genuine if "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id.

Where there is a material fact in dispute, the moving party has the initial burden of proving that: (1) there is no genuine issue of material fact; and (2) the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See CHARLES ALAN WRIGHT & ARTHURR. MILLER, FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE: CIVIL 2D § 2727 (2d ed. 1983). The moving party may present its own evidence or, where the nonmoving party has the burden of proof, simply point out to the Court that "the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing of an essential element of her case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

All doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact must be resolved against the moving party, and the entire record must be examined in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See White v. Westinghouse Elec. Co., 862 F.2d 56, 59 (3d Cir. 1988). Once the moving party has satisfied its initial burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to either present affirmative evidence supporting its version of the material facts or to refute the moving party's contention that the facts entitle it to judgment as a matter of law. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57.

The Court need not accept mere conclusory allegations, whether they are made in the complaint or a sworn statement. Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, "the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.


I. Counts I, II & III: Sex/Gender Discrimination, Harassment, Retaliation, and Hostile Working Environment Under Title VII and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act Count I of Plaintiff's

Complaint alleges that Defendants created a hostile working environment and both discriminated and retaliated against Plaintiff because of her sex and her EEOC complaints detailing this discrimination. (Compl. ¶¶ 38-45.)

"Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act make it unlawful for an employer to 'discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex or national origin.'" Weston v. Pennsylvania, 251 F.3d 420, 425 (3d Cir. 2005) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1)). "In order to fall within the purview of Title VII, the conduct in question must be severe and pervasive enough to create an 'objectively hostile or abusive work environment -- an environment that a reasonable person would find hostile -- and an environment the victim-employee subjectively perceives as abusive or hostile.'" Id. at 426 (quoting Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21-22 (1993)). In order to determine whether an environment was hostile or abusive, the Court must look at numerous factors, including "the frequency of the discriminatory conduct; its severity; whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee's work performance." Id. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has identified the framework for evaluating hostile work environment claims:

Five constituents must converge to bring a successful claim for a sexually hostile work environment under Title VII: (1) the employee suffered intentional discrimination because of their sex, (2) the discrimination was pervasive and regular, (3) the discrimination detrimentally affected the plaintiff, (4) the discrimination would detrimentally affect a reasonable person of the same sex in that position, and (5) the existence of respondeat superior liability.

Id. at 426 (quoting Andrews v. City of Philadelphia, 895 F.2d 1469, 1482 (3d Cir. 1990)). "[W]hether an environment is 'hostile' or 'abusive' can be determined only by looking at all the circumstances." Harris, 510 U.S. at 23.

Defendants argue that Plaintiff's claims fail under the Harris "totality of the circumstances" analysis because "there is no evidence that Plaintiff was subjected [to] pervasive discriminatory conduct due to her gender or political affiliation." (Defs.' Br. in Supp., Doc. 71, at 7.) In support of this argument, Defendants note only that Plaintiff admits that she never had any conversation with Defendant Barnick concerning her political affiliations. (Id.) Defendants provide no supporting argument or evidence supporting their motion with respect to Plaintiff'sclaims alleging gender discrimination.

The Court observes, however, that Plaintiff's Count I claim does not, in any way, involve Plaintiff's political activities or affiliations, but involves only allegations that Defendants discriminated against and retaliated against Plaintiff on the basis of her gender. As a result of what the Court assumes to be either a mischaracterization or failure to properly frame Plaintiff's Count I claim, Defendants present no arguments concerning Plaintiff's gender-related claims. However, in its review of the current motion, the Court has extensively reviewed the available evidence in this case. On the basis of this review, the Court finds that the evidence does indicate that there are genuine issues of material fact concerning whether Defendants Barnick and Hegedus subjected ...

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