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Yandrisevitz v. H. T. Lyons

July 22, 2009

REGINA YANDRISEVITZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
H. T. LYONS, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lynne A. Sitarski United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff Regina Yandrisevitz ("Plaintiff") brings this action against her former employer, defendant H.T. Lyons, Inc. ("Defendant"), claiming that Defendant discriminated against her on the basis of her gender, and permitted a co-worker to sexually harass her in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000e et seq., and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§951-963.*fn1 Plaintiff further contends that Defendant unlawfully interfered with her rights under the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C.A. § 2601 et seq., and retaliated against her for taking FMLA leave to care for her adult son.

Presently before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, Plaintiff's Response, and Defendant's Reply thereto. For the reasons set forth herein, Defendant's motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

I. BACKGROUND

Viewing the evidence and making all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the non-moving party, the relevant facts are as follows:

Plaintiff was employed by Defendant from March 11, 1999 until October 13, 2005. She was hired as a temporary employee in the purchasing department, but was subsequently promoted to payroll coordinator, and then to construction coordinator. As construction coordinator, Plaintiff was assigned to a construction project known as the "Olympus Project." Beginning in March 2005, Plaintiff worked "on site" at the Olympus project and was supervised by Patrick Kelly ("Kelly"), a senior project manager.

A. Facts Pertaining to Plaintiff's Title VII/PHRA Claims

While on the Olympus Project, Plaintiff shared a trailer with a co-employee named Ryan Regec ("Regec"). Plaintiff initially shared the work trailer with four other employees, but beginning in June 2005, Plaintiff shared the trailer only with Regec and her supervisor Kelly.

While working in the trailer, Plaintiff alleges that Regec intentionally harassed her due to her gender. Regec mentioned having a "talking stick" to resolve disputes three to four times between March and May 2005, and showed Plaintiff the stick at least once. Pl. Dep. at 320.*fn2

Regec locked his computer so that Plaintiff was unable to use it to complete a project. Id. at 259-67. Regec had workers place boxes in Plaintiff's work area. Id. at 290-96. Regec did not follow Kelly's instructions to replace a fuse in the trailer, leading to intermittent power loss on Plaintiff's computer. Id. at 272-82. Regec told Plaintiff he had "anger issues" and martial arts training. Id. at 301-08. Regec also hid Plaintiff's purse for three hours and took cigarettes from the purse, id. at 285-88, and hid construction drawings Plaintiff needed. Id. at 259-60.

Plaintiff reported Regec's behavior to her immediate supervisor, Patrick Kelly, and requested that he meet with Regec and her. Kelly instructed Plaintiff to inform Regec that she felt harassed and that she would file a complaint against Regec if the inappropriate behavior continued. Id. at 261-262. Plaintiff acknowledges that she was aware of the protocol in place for filing a sexual harassment complaint, but chose not to do so during the time she shared the trailer with Regec. Id. at 377-84. Plaintiff states that she believed filing a complaint would make her "immediately look like a baby" due to the fact that she was the only female in the construction trailer. Id. at 382. Plaintiff also feared that filing a complaint would jeopardize her position on the Olympus Project. Id. at 382-83.

B. Facts Pertaining to Plaintiff's FMLA Claims

Plaintiff took a leave of absence from her employment with Defendant from June 23, 2005 until September 26, 2005, to care for her adult son who suffers from "bipolar mania with schizophrenic episodes." Pl. Dep. at 136. Her son's mental health issues had become so severe that he was involuntarily committed for forty-five days in September 2004. Id. at 135-36, 150-51.

Beginning in March 2005, Plaintiff frequently needed to arrive to work late or miss work altogether as a result of her son's failure to take his prescribed medication. Id. at 76-84. Without proper medication, Plaintiff believed her son was a "threat to himself." Id. at 76. Plaintiff's son would often disappear from Plaintiff's home, which required Plaintiff and her husband to look for him, and sometimes retrieve him from police custody prior to coming to work. Id. at 76-84.

By June 2005, Plaintiff had used almost all of her allotted five personal days and fifteen vacation days to care for her son. Id. at 79-85. On June 20, 2005, Plaintiff met with Rick Perosa ("Perosa"), Defendant's Chief Executive Officer and President. At this meeting, Perosa told Plaintiff that he wanted to remove the "burden" of coming to work while caring for her son. Id. at 93. Perosa also stated that he "would hate to have [Plaintiff] use up all her [vacation and personal] days and then have to lay [Plaintiff] off." Id. According to Perosa, "business was slow" and "it would be a perfect time" to take a 12-week FMLA leave of absence. Id. at 90-97.

Plaintiff began FMLA leave on June 23, 2005. Plaintiff received the corresponding FMLA paperwork on June 24, 2005.Also on June 24, 2005, the police discovered Plaintiff's son in the midst of a manic episode. Id. at 124. The police called Plaintiff and her husband to come get their son. Id. When Plaintiff's son would not return home with his parents voluntarily, the police transported him to the hospital. Id. at 124-25. Plaintiff's son was released from the hospital on June 27, 2005, and was scheduled to begin outpatient therapy the next day. Id. at 126-128, 131.

Despite initially refusing to do so, Plaintiff's son eventually attended the outpatient therapy and his mental health improved over time. Id. at 126-28, 151. On July 5, 2005, Plaintiff contacted a co-worker and indicated that her son was "doing much better" and that an anti-depressant "helped tremendously." Email from Plaintiff to Mary Lahouchak (July 5, 2005) (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. G).Beginning in mid-July, Plaintiff's son was able to return to part-time employment doing construction work. Pl. Dep. at 155-56. From mid-August until the end of Plaintiff's leave, Plaintiff's son worked in a warehouse. Id. at 156.

In July 2005, Plaintiff contacted Defendant and indicated that she felt able to return to work. Id. at 174. Plaintiff spoke with Perosa who explained that the company was "in a lull" and that Plaintiff should "just take the time and spend it with [her] family." Id. at 175. Plaintiff was never asked to furnish a report as to her status and intent to return to work. Id. at 174.

In "the middle of August" 2005, Plaintiff contacted Perosa seeking permission to extend her leave beyond the twelve weeks provided by FMLA in order to care for her ailing mother and father. Id. at 176.*fn3 Perosa allowed Plaintiff to extend her leave and did not require Plaintiff to furnish any medical documentation verifying her need for additional leave. Id. at 176-77.

On September 9, 2005, while Plaintiff was still on FMLA leave, Perosa informed Plaintiff that her construction coordinator job had been eliminated, and that the only available position with Defendant was as a receptionist. Id. at 184-85. Perosa also told Plaintiff that her pay would not be reduced if she accepted the receptionist position, and she would likely be given the next construction coordinator position that became available. Id. at 193-94.

Plaintiff accepted the receptionist position and returned from her FMLA leave on September 26, 2005. Id. at 194. Plaintiff admits that she believed the receptionist job was "beneath" her and that she had a bad attitude. Id. at 196. At some point thereafter, Plaintiff spoke with Defendant's human resources department to ask what severance might be available. Id. at 196-97. "Around the 9th or 10th of October," Plaintiff also met with human resources to discuss Regec's earlier behavior at the Olympus job site. Id. at 350-52.

On October 13, 2005, Perosa and a human resources representative presented Plaintiff with a severance package. Id. at 200. During this meeting, Plaintiff was told that she could "collect her things and go."*fn4 Id. at 204.

On November 14, 2005, Plaintiff filed "Charges of Discrimination" with the EEOC.

Plaintiff received a Notice of Right to Sue on March 22, 2007. The instant action followed.

II. PLAINTIFF'S CLAIMS

A. Title VII/PHRA Claim

Plaintiff's complaint does not explicitly state the nature of her Title VII claim. However, her response to Defendant's motion for summary judgment clarifies that she asserts a "hostile work environment gender based harassment" claim. Pl.'s Mem. Law Opp'n Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. at 9. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant was aware of Regec's intentional gender based harassment but allowed it to "continue unabated." Id at 8.

Defendant moves for summary judgment on this claim, arguing that there is no support for Plaintiff's contention that Regec's conduct was motivated by gender. Defendant notes that Plaintiff concedes that Regec was difficult to get along with for employees of both sexes. Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. at 14 n.5 (citing Pl. Dep. at 335); Plaintiff also acknowledges that Regec ...


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