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Stezzi v. Aramark Sports

July 30, 2009


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


I. Introduction

This case involves Title VII allegations raised by Plaintiff, Rocco S. Stezzi, III, who claims that he was wrongfully terminated by Defendant, Aramark Sports, LLC. Specifically, Plaintiff raises claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA") asserting that his termination occurred as a result of his association with his girlfriend and co-worker, Carmela Risica, who was allegedly the victim of sexual harassment. Plaintiff also claims that his termination was in retaliation for complaints he made about this harassment.

Currently before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment seeking the dismissal of both the associational discrimination and the retaliation claims. As Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact regarding associational discrimination, Defendant's motion on this claim will be granted. However, because the Court finds that there are material facts in dispute regarding Plaintiff's retaliation allegation, Defendant's motion on that claim will be denied.

II. Pertinent Facts

Defendant manages the food and beverage services at Citizen's Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies. Plaintiff first worked for Defendant in 2002 and continued to do so through the first half of the 2003 baseball season, serving food at Veteran's Stadium, the prior venue used by the Phillies. Plaintiff returned to work for Defendant at the start of the 2004 baseball season, working at the Phillies' new stadium, Citizen's Bank Park, where he remained through the 2005 baseball season. During the 2005 off-season, Plaintiff also worked at a number of banquets as a server and captain and was then invited to return for the 2006 season. Plaintiff's employment was terminated on March 31, 2006. (Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. K.)*fn1 The events leading up to his termination are as follows.

Sometime in 2005, Plaintiff and a co-worker, Carmen Risica, entered into a romantic relationship. On July 9, 2005, Plaintiff filed a formal complaint of sexual harassment with Defendant, on behalf of Risica. Specifically, Plaintiff alleged that Rich Green, the manager of the group that Plaintiff and Risica worked in, had asked Risica about her relationship status, followed her out of the stadium, and wrote letters to her of an inappropriate nature. Plaintiff's letter was addressed to Sabrina Knouse, Regional Human Resources Manager, and faxed to Ms. Knouse on July 11, 2005. (Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. C; Pl. Dep., pp. 31, 34-35, 36-37, 56.)

Ms. Knouse responded to Plaintiff on the same day she received his fax and shortly thereafter, met with Green and Risica. Ms. Knouse subsequently advised Plaintiff that everything had been taken care of but did not disclose the content of her conversations with Green and Risica to Plaintiff, citing Defendant's confidentiality policy. (Pl. Dep., pp. 58-59, 99-100.)

Thereafter, Plaintiff and Risica jointly wrote a letter to Defendant's District Manager, Brian Hastings, dated August 14, 2005, again alleging that Green had been sexually harassing Risica. This letter also raised a new complaint that Green had now threatened Plaintiff. Plaintiff and Risica attended a meeting on August 16, 2005 with several members of Defendant's management, as well as Plaintiff's union representative. At that meeting, Plaintiff provided the August 14, 2005 letter signed by him and Risica,as well as e-mails exchanged between Green and Risica. (See, generally, Pl. Dep., pp. 60-64, 88-95, 107-09, 113, 120, 128, 131-32.) Plaintiff summarized the meeting during his deposition as follows: "We went over the paperwork. They were reading it. They said this is very serious. We'll take this seriously. We're going to look into this. We have to look into this before we can make any judgments." Defendant's representatives at the meeting assured Plaintiff that Mr. Green would stay away from him and Mr. Green was similarly advised and directed to give Plaintiff work instructions through intermediary supervisors. (Pl. Dep, pp. 209-10, 220, 238.) Approximately one week later, Plaintiff supplied Defendant's management personnel with what he deemed to be further supporting documentation. Plaintiff was again advised that management had dealt with the situation and it had been "taken care of." (Pl. Dep., pp. 219-30, 248-55; Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Exs. F, G, H.)

Thereafter, Plaintiff followed-up by telephone with H. R. Manager, Knouse, who advised that she would be leaving her position and directed Plaintiff to speak to Jim Gwinn, Defendant's Associate Vice President of Human Resources. Plaintiff and Risica both contacted Gwinn and provided him with what they viewed as further supporting documentation. (Pl. Dep., pp. 60, 65-67, 219, 221-22, 219-35; Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Exs. F, G, H.) On September 23, 2005, Gwinn met with Plaintiff and Risica, and on October 19, 2005, Gwinn informed Plaintiff that everything had been taken care of. Additionally, at some point Green was given an undated written reprimand for "harassment" in which he was notified that a subsequent incident could be cause for immediate dismissal. (Pl. Dep., pp. 248-58; Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. C.)

Plaintiff continued to work for Defendant for the remainder of the Phillies' 2005 season and selected off-season banquets without incident. Indeed, from August 16, 2005, through the remainder of 2005 and well into 2006, Green stayed away from Plaintiff and, as directed, never spoke to him. While Plaintiff alleges that Green "stared" at him from a distance, and caused him to feel uncomfortable, no further complaints were raised by Plaintiff or Risica. (Pl. Dep., pp. 210-17.)

After Defendant invited Plaintiff back for the Phillies' 2006 season, Plaintiff worked at a special event at the Citizen's Bank Park on March 8, 2006. This event took place approximately nine months after Plaintiff's discrimination complaint was filed. After the event, Green told Plaintiff he did a good job while passing him in a corridor. Plaintiff acknowledged that he took this remark at face value and that Green was praising his work. Despite the innocuous nature of this comment, Plaintiff complained to management.

Defendant alleges that on the same day that Green's "good job" comment was made, Plaintiff engaged in three separate conversations with supervisors regarding the incident. According to Defendant, when Plaintiff was offered a transfer to a different department, Plaintiff declined the offer because he considered it a demotion. (Pl. Dep., pp. 261-73.) Defendant has described Plaintiff's conversation with his supervisors as 'heated and threatening." Defendant also claims that other employees observed that Defendant "became infuriated" . . ., and "went off in a tirade," and that ARAMARK personnel felt threatened. Plaintiff was further described as being "full of disgust, but he was also gloating in the fact that he could do anything around here and get away with it." (Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., pp. 11-14.) Plaintiff denies this behavior. (Pl.'s Mem. of Law in Opp. to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., pp. 13-14.) As set forth above, by letter dated March 31, 2006, Plaintiff's employment was terminated for creating an "intimidating and offensive work environment."

Plaintiff filed his Complaint on December 5, 2007, alleging sex discrimination and retaliation pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 2000E (Counts I and II) and violations under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (Counts III and IV). Defendant filed its Answer and Affirmative Defenses ...

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