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Prise v. Alderwoods Group

September 21, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Conti, District Judge



This case involves two former funeral home employees, plaintiffs Deborah Prise ("Prise") and Heather Rady ("Rady," and together with Prise "plaintiffs"), who allege that their employers, defendants Alderwoods Group, Inc. ("Alderwoods"), Burton L. Hirsch Funeral Home, Inc. ("Hirsch Funeral Home"), H.P. Brandt Funeral Home, Inc. ("Brandt Funeral Home") and H. Samson, Inc. ("Samson Funeral Home" and together with Alderwoods, Hirsch Funeral Home and Brandt Funeral Home, "defendants"), subjected them to various forms of illegal discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. ("Title VII") and the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. §206(d) ("Equal Pay Act"). Pending before the court are motions for summary judgment filed by defendants and a motion for partial summary judgment filed by Prise.


A. Prise

Approximately six decades ago, Burton L. Hirsch ("Mr. Hirsch") established Hirsch Funeral Home in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, community of Squirrel Hill, a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. (Joint Statement of Facts Relative to Defs.' Mot. for Sum. J. as to the Claims of Pl. Deborah Prise ("J.S.-Prise") ¶ 1.) (Doc. No. 157.) In 1996, Mr. Hirsch sold Hirsch Funeral Home to the entity that would later become Alderwoods. (Id. ¶ 3.) Between 2002 and 2006, Alderwoods was a corporation engaged in the business of providing mortuary services. (Id. ¶ 4.) Alderwoods operated funeral homes and cemeteries across North America, among which were Hirsch Funeral Home, Brandt Funeral Home and Samson Funeral Home. (Joint Statement of Facts Relative to Defs." Mot. For Sum. J. as to the Claims of Pl. Heather Rady ("J.S.-Rady") ¶ 1.) (Doc. No. 158.) These three funeral homes were all located in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area. (Id.) Alderwoods maintained an antidiscrimination policy designed to ensure that its services were available to all deceased customers, without regard to gender, race or religion. (J.S.-Prise ¶ 5.)

In September 2002, Prise, who is Jewish, enrolled at the Pittsburgh Institute for Mortuary Science ("PIMS"). (Id. ¶ 8.) She applied for a student-level position at Alderwoods in October 2002. (Id.) Two months later, in December 2002, Alderwoods hired Prise for a part-time position at Hirsch Funeral Home. (Id. ¶ 9.) She earned $5.15 per hour. (Id.)

Prise received her funeral director's license from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on November 12, 2004. (Id. ¶ 10.) Nine days later, Alderwoods promoted her to the position of funeral director. (Id.) In that capacity, she earned $18.00 per hour. (Id.) She reported to Michael Hilgefort ("Hilgefort"), who was the location manager at Hirsch Funeral Home. (Id.)

Shortly thereafter, Hilgefort expressed his intention to resign as the location manager in order to become a full-time funeral director. (Id. ¶ 14.) Pat McDermott ("McDermott"), the general manager for Alderwoods' Pittsburgh market, suggested to recruiter Larry Newsom ("Newsom") that Prise be considered as a possible replacement for Hilgefort. (Id.) Prise applied to succeed Hilgefort as the location manager at Hirsch Funeral Home. (Id. ¶ 16.) Alderwoods typically required its location managers to have anywhere from three to five years of experience in the position of funeral director. (Id. ¶ 17.) Nevertheless, Prise was promoted to be Hirsch Funeral Home's location manager in May 2005, at which point she had only seven months of experience as a funeral director. (Id.) After her promotion, Prise's annual salary was $50,000.00. (Id. ¶ 18.) Hilgefort's starting salary had been $48,000.00 per year. (Id.) Hilgefort had roughly five years of experience as a funeral director when he became a location manager. (Id.) His salary was increased to $50,000.00 per year after the conclusion of a three-month probationary period. (Id.) Prise was apparently never subject to such a probationary period. (Id.) Because Hirsch Funeral Home was located in Squirrel Hill, Alderwoods attempted to make it attractive to Jewish families. (Id. ¶ 21.) Particular Jewish congregations were offered special pricing packages. (Id.)

During this same period of time, Alderwoods merged its Pittsburgh and West Virginia markets. (Id. ¶ 17 n.4.) Randy Amos ("Amos") became the general manager for the combined market. (Id.) Although McDermott remained the general manager for the Pittsburgh area, he was placed under Amos' authority. (Id.) In October 2005, McDermott's general manager position was eliminated. (Id.) He was demoted to the position of funeral director. (Id.)

On August 15, 2005, Miriam Maizlech ("Maizlech") arrived at Hirsch Funeral Home for her first day of work as a location assistant. (Id. ¶ 22.) Prise was in Chicago, Illinois, that day in order to attend a Jewish studies class. (Id.) Maizlech apparently sat alone throughout the day, with no one to train her. (Id.) Prise contended that it was not her responsibility to train new employees, and that she was not responsible for being at Hirsch Funeral Home on Maizlech's first day of work. (Id.) McDermott reprimanded Prise the next day for not being present to acquaint Maizlech with her duties. (Id.) McDermott suggested that Prise exhaust her vacation days in order to attend classes in Chicago, which was apparently in conflict with Prise's understanding of Alderwoods' policies. (Id.) Prise called Amos later that day to complain about McDermott's comments. (Id. ¶ 23.) During a conference call held on August 19, 2005, John Blute ("Blute"), Alderwoods' manager for the northeast region, informed Prise that she did not have to exhaust her vacation days in order to further her education. (Id. ¶ 25.)

Nancy Baum ("Baum"), a Christian, passed away in September 2005. On September 21, 2005, Baum's husband spoke with Hilgefort and requested that Hirsch Funeral Home schedule a visitation for the afternoon of Saturday, September 24, 2005. (Id. ¶ 27.) Hilgefort was reluctant to schedule the visitation for that day, because Hirsch Funeral Home had customarily refrained from having visitations on the Jewish Sabbath out of respect for the surrounding Jewish community. (Id.) Hilgefort discussed the matter with Amos, who subsequently conferred with Blute. (Id.) Katie Leahy ("Leahy"), Alderwoods' director of operations, was also consulted.

(Id.) Blute ultimately instructed Amos and Hilgefort to honor Baum's husband's request for a Saturday visitation. (Id.)

When Prise learned that the visitation had been scheduled to take place on a Saturday, she instructed Hilgefort to reschedule it. (Id. ¶ 28.) Prise was apparently motivated by both a desire to avoid alienating the Squirrel Hill community and an intention to refrain from performing work on the Jewish Sabbath. (Id.) After learning about the situation, Amos again conferred with Blute and Leahy. (Id. ¶ 29.) Ron Collins ("Collins"), Alderwoods' vice president, was also consulted. (Id.) Amos was apparently instructed to follow the wishes of Baum's husband. (Id.)

During a conference call with Prise, Hilgefort and Maizlech, Amos stated that Alderwoods would honor the request which had been made by Baum's husband. (Id. ¶ 30.) Prise expressed her objection to the decision, claiming that it would cause Hirsch Funeral Home to lose credibility within Squirrel Hill's Jewish community. (Id.) Maizlech suggested that Baum's husband be asked to postpone the visitation to Saturday evening at sundown, at which point the Jewish Sabbath would be over. (Id. ¶ 31.) Amos was in favor of this idea. (Id.) After speaking with Hilgefort, Baum's husband agreed to this arrangement. (Id.)

Prise was still resistant to the idea of Hirsch Funeral Home conducting a visitation on a Saturday. In an email to Leahy sent at 7:07 p.m. on September 21, 2005, Blute stated as follows:

They decided to have the visitation (8:30-10:30) after the sabbath is over.

Deborah had been unavailable to answer her phone at first, but now she found out and is livid. Randy is saying he can not control her at all. She says that randy [sic]has disgraced her. (Defs.' App. in Support of Mot. for Sum. J. on Pl. Deborah Prise's Claims ("Def.'s App.-Prise") at Tab 34.) (Docket No. 110). On the morning of September 22, 2005, Amos reiterated that Alderwoods would conduct the visitation pursuant to the understanding between Baum's husband and Hilgefort. (J.S.-Prise ¶ 32.) Amos told Prise that she would not have to worry about staffing concerns related to the visitation. (Id.) Prise apparently argued that it would constitute religion-based discrimination against her for Alderwoods to force her to perform work on the Jewish Sabbath.

Meanwhile, Alderwoods' executives began to discuss the possibility of terminating Prise. (Id.) In an email to Leahy and Blute sent at 4:20 a.m. on September 22, 2005, Collins made the following observations:

Deborah alleges discrimination against herself but doesn't care to understand the potential of discrimination against others. Be certain to document as we appear to be headed towards her departure. (Def.'s App.-Prise at Tab 35.) The documentary evidence indicates that a tentative decision to terminate Prise was made as early as the morning of September 23, 2005. (Id. at Tab 40.) That same day, Prise contacted Leahy to express her dissatisfaction with the decision to conduct the Baum visitation on a Saturday. (J.S.-Prise ¶ 33.)

On Saturday, September 24, 2005, Hilgefort handled the Baum visitation even though he was not scheduled to work on that day. (Id. ¶ 35.) Leahy and Collins had further discussions about Prise's behavior. (Id.) They decided to give her a second chance. (Id.) A decision was apparently made to give Prise a letter informing her that further resistance to Alderwoods' policies would result in the termination of her employment. (Id.)

Prise continued to take issue with Alderwoods' decision to host the Baum visitation on a Saturday. On the morning of September 25, 2005, Prise made the following observations in an email to Amos:

If you were to go to a Kosher restaurant, you would get ONLY a kosher meal regardless of your desire for any other meal. You would be served graciously and genourously [sic] but kosherly. That is what we at Burton L. Hirsch have been striving for as a JFDA member firm. We will serve anyone, but we will not violate sacred laws. And to ask a Jewess to break the laws of her religion is remarkably heinous. Since I have always had issues with working on Shabbos, I have found a way to make it work whilst also being available for an at-need first call. This is a day that I usually attend communiity [sic] functions or make shabbos visits as aftercare.

We need to be consistent and decide if we are going to be a Jewish Funeral Home.

If that is the case, we must do it well and within halacha. If not, our preneed business has lots of room to complain and our credibility with the community will be greatly impaired. Being a Jewish FH does not preclude serving other religions but it does mean operating at a standard consistent with the Jewish Religion and Halacha (Mosaic law). (Defs.' App.-Prise at Tab 41.) On September 26, 2005, Amos met with Prise to discuss the situation. (J.S.-Prise ¶ 37.) Angie Sanders ("Sanders"), a market administrator, witnessed the meeting. (Id. ¶ 38.) Prise evidently expressed her unwillingness to work on the Jewish Sabbath, or on Jewish holidays. ( Def.'s App.-Prise at Tab 42.) Amos gave Prise a letter warning that future instances of "insubordination" would lead to her discharge. (Id. at Tab 43.)

Shortly thereafter, Amos received messages from three Jewish rabbis expressing support for Prise's efforts to operate Hirsch Funeral Home as a Jewish funeral home and warning that they would discourage the members of their congregations from patronizing Hirsch Funeral Home if it were to engage in practices violative of Jewish law. (Id. at Tab 46.) In a letter dated September 27, 2005, Rabbi Alvin Berkun warned that Hirsch Funeral Home would "suffer grievous economic harm" if Prise were to be dismissed. (Id.) In an email to Amos dated September 28, 2005, Rabbi Aaron Benjamin Bisno, the president of Pittsburgh's Reform Rabbis Association and the rabbi of Rodef Shalom Congregation, of which both Prise and Mr. Hirsch were members, stated that he would no longer "feel comfortable" recommending Hirsch Funeral Home to his congregants if it were to "turn[] its back on Jewish practice." (Id.) In an undated letter to Amos, Rabbi Shoshana Kaminsky stated as follows:

As the rabbi of a synagogue located in the Pittsburgh area, I am writing to share my thoughts on your insistence that the Burton Hirsch Funeral Home remain open on the Jewish sabbath and on our most sacred holidays. Quite frankly, your proposal runs entirely counter to the fundamental teachings I strive to pass on to the members of my congregation. It is forbidden under Jewish law to hold funerals on the sabbath and on Jewish holidays, and I would never consider officiating under such conditions. What is more, by placing intolerable pressure on Deborah Prise, you threaten to do irreversible harm to your business. Ms. Prise is a gifted and dedicated professional who has revived the reputation of the Burton Hirsch Funeral Home in the Pittsburgh area. Were you to fire her and force the Burton Hirsch Funeral Home to knowingly turn its back on accepted Jewish practice, I would personally and officially discourage the members of my congregation from considering this funeral home when it came time to do pre-planning for funerals, and I would urge those who had already made arrangements through Burton Hirsch to consider switching to another funeral home.

I believe your recommendation to be wrong-headed, intolerant of Jewish practices and teachings, and potentially disastrous for your business. I urge you to reconsider.

I am happy to be available to you or anyone else within the Alderwood Group for consultation or assistance. (Id.) These communications from rabbis evidently resulted from Prise's consultations with her own rabbi. (Id. at Tab 48.)

On the morning of September 29, 2005, Prise sent Leahy an email expressing an interest in discussing "damage control." (Id. at Tab 47.) Prise and Leahy spoke later that day. (J.S.-Prise ¶ 41.) Leahy instructed Prise to take two weeks off. (Id.) Prise's mother was ill. (Id.) Leahy told Prise not to return to work until October 14, 2005, which was the day after the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. (Def.'s App.-Prise at Tab 48.) During this two-week period, Prise continued to receive her salary and benefits. (J.S.-Prise ¶ 41.) She, however, was unable to earn commissions from the sale of pre-need insurance policies during this period of time. (Id.) Prise returned from leave in mid-October and resumed her duties. On October 27, 2005, Prise filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(b), alleging violations of Title VII. (Pls.' Joint App. in Response to Defs.' Mot. for Summary J. ("Pls.' J.A.") at Tab 18.) (Docket No. 137.) The charge was dual-filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ("PHRC") in order to exhaust administratively parallel claims under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 PA. STAT. § 951 et seq.

The question whether Hirsch Funeral Home should accommodate requests for Saturday visitations was discussed at a staff meeting held on November 2, 2005. (J.S.-Prise ¶ 44.) Rady argued that if Hirsch Funeral Home were to close on Saturdays and Jewish holidays, Christian funeral directors should be permitted to miss work on Christmas. (Id.) Prise took issue with Rady's assertion, contending that while Jews were forbidden to work on the Jewish Sabbath, Christians were not forbidden to work on Christmas. (Id.) Because of the ongoing tensions surrounding Prise's resistance to Alderwoods' determination that Hirsch Funeral Home should honor requests for Saturday visitations, Leahy and Collins decided to place Prise on a temporary paid leave after the staff meeting. (Id. ¶ 45.) During her paid leave, however, Prise was unable to earn commissions from the sale of pre-need insurance policies. (Id.) In an email to Collins dated November 2, 2005, Leahy stated as follows:

* Pat is going over to meet with Deborah with Pete now [sic]

* Explain [sic] her attorney has spoken to our attorney and that while they are talking it would be best that she stay at home with pay until it is resolved.

* Pat will work with Pete and revise the schedule but felt that the staff would be much happier and it would not be a problem.

(Pls.' J.A. at Tab 20.) Prise had filed her EEOC and PHRC charges six days earlier.

With her status at Hirsch Funeral Home uncertain, Prise contacted Eugene C. Ogrodnik ("Ogrodnik"), the president and chief executive officer ("CEO") of PIMS, about a vacancy at PIMS for a director of development position. (Def.'s App.-Prise at Tab 56.) PIMS extended an offer to Prise on November 11, 2005. (Id. at Tab 54.) Although it is clear that Prise accepted this offer, there is some dispute about when this acceptance occurred. According to Ogrodnik, Prise formally accepted an offer of employment with PIMS on November 14, 2005. (Id. at Tab 56.) The record contains an email from Prise to Ogrodnik dated November 15, 2005, in which Prise stated as follows:

Confidentially speaking (very confidentially), I am trying to figure out who my direct supervisor at Alderwoods is at this point and given my paid leave status the ramifications as to my responsibilities insofar as how much notice they will require. I should have an answer from them by day's end. They are aware that I am looking to wrap things up and seek other employment but I did not disclose details. (Id. at Tab 57.) That same day, Thomas J. Harris ("Harris"), Alderwoods' in-house attorney, claims to have received a voicemail from Ann-Marie Mizel ("Mizel"), Prise's attorney, indicating that Prise had accepted a position with PIMS. (Id. at Tab 58.) Mizel disputes Harris' claim. (Pls.' J.A. at Tabs 16, 36.) Prise contends that she never wanted to lose her position at Hirsch Funeral Home, and that her email to Ogrodnik was a stalling tactic designed to give her more time to inquire concerning whether Alderwoods was willing to let her continue with her job at Hirsch Funeral Home. (J.S.-Prise ¶¶ 47-48.)

Leahy claims to have received an email from Harris dated November 15, 2005, indicating that Prise voluntarily resigned from her position at Hirsch Funeral Home. (Def.'s App.-Prise at Tab 6.) Leahy recorded Prise's change in status as a voluntary resignation. (Id. at Tab 59.) Amos told the staff at Hirsch Funeral Home that Prise had tendered her resignation. (J.S.-Prise ¶ 53.) Prise disputes Alderwoods' contention that the termination of her employment was voluntary. (Id.) On November 21, 2005, Maizlech emailed the following message to Amos:

#1 I learned over the weekend that the email about a resignation was about someone else in our community w/ Jewish political ties. So this was NOT about Deborah as first thought. We were both speaking in code and assumed we were on the same page. OOPS... #2 FYI when I left work on Friday I called Deborah to tell her that under the circumstances I felt that she should have informed us of her decision to resign and that I was annoyed and disappointed etc and she said that she agreed that if and when a resignation would come about she would indeed let us know personally. That SHE DID NOT RESIGN! So what's going on?

Pls.' J.A. at Tab 21.)

Prise worked for PIMS from December 2005 through October 19, 2007. (J.S.-Prise ¶ 74; Defs.' App.-Prise at Tab 56.) Ogrodnik terminated Prise's employment with PIMS on October 19, 2007, after she refused his request that she resign. (Id. at Tabs 56, 60.) Prise filed EEOC and PHRC charges against PIMS related to her discharge. (Pls.' J.A. at Tab 18.) Those charges are currently pending.

B. Rady

Rady graduated from PIMS in 1997 and obtained her funeral director's license in 1998.

(Pl. Rady's Counter-Statements of Fact with Defs.' Responses ("Rady Countersts.") ¶ 1.) (Doc. No. 158.)*fn1 Hilgefort and Rady had been classmates at PIMS. (J.S.-Rady ¶ 14.) Rady had been away from the funeral business for awhile, but she told Hilgefort that she was interested in getting back into it. (Id.) Rady formally applied for a position with Alderwoods in May 2002. (Id. ¶ 15.) In her application, she apparently overstated her experience as a funeral director. (Id.)

McDermott explained to Rady that the only position available at Alderwoods at the time was an entry-level intern position. (Id. ¶ 16.) Rady accepted this position in July 2002, hoping to re-establish herself within the funeral business. (Id.) Although McDermott told Rady that she might be promoted to the position of funeral director at a later date, he made no guarantee that a promotion would occur. (Id.) Rady began to work primarily at Samson Funeral Home. (Id.) She was expected to assist at Alderwoods' other Pittsburgh-area funeral homes on an as-needed basis. (Id.) Her initial rate of pay was $10.00 per hour. (Id. ¶ 17.) In October 2002, at Alderwoods' expense, Rady became licensed to sell pre-need insurance policies. (Id.) She was eligible to receive commissions associated with the sale of pre-need insurance policies. (Id.)

On March 13, 2003, McDermott reprimanded Rady for spilling cremated human remains into a sink drain. (Id. ¶ 18.) This spillage was apparently unintentional. (Id.) In any event, Rady was promoted to the position of funeral director/embalmer on August 24, 2003. (Id. ¶ 19.) Her rate of pay, which had already been increased to $11.00 per hour, was further increased to $15.25 per hour due to the promotion. (Id.)

Adlerwoods closed Samson Funeral Home's physical location in February 2004. (Id. ¶ 20.) Samson Funeral Home's funeral home license was hung at Brandt Funeral Home, and Alderwoods fulfilled Samson Funeral Home's pre-need obligations there. (Id.) Rady was transferred to Hirsch Funeral Home, but she provided support services at Brandt Funeral Home when necessary. (Id. at ¶ 21.) Her rate of pay was increased to $16.00 per hour in May 2004. (Id.) During the fall of 2004, Rady was transferred to Brandt Funeral Home. (Id. at ¶ 22.) She reported to Peter Johnson ("Johnson"), who was the location manager at Brandt Funeral Home. (Id.) Although she was primarily assigned to work at Brandt Funeral Home, Rady was still expected to provide support services at Hirsch Funeral Home. (Id.)

In November 2004, Rady filed with the EEOC a charge of discrimination against Brandt Funeral Home, alleging that she had suffered discrimination because of her sex. (Rady Countersts. ¶ 24.) She indicated in her EEOC charge that Brandt Funeral Home was "a member of the Alderwoods Group." (Defs.' App. at Tab 40.) These claims were settled on March 29, 2005, when the parties signed a written settlement agreement. (Id. at Tab 41.) As a part of the settlement agreement, Alderwoods agreed to pay Rady an amount equal to the commissions that she would have made by selling pre-need insurance policies had she been allowed to make such sales. (Rady Countersts. ¶ 25.) Rady agreed to waive any claims that she may have had, at that time, under Title VII or the Equal Pay Act. (J.S.-Rady ¶ 23.)

Rady's rate of pay was increased to $16.50 per hour in May 2005. (Id. ¶ 24.) During the spring of 2005, Amos became the general manager for the merged Pittsburgh and West Virginia markets. (Id. ¶ 25.) During this same period of time, Alderwoods had a location manager vacancy at Hirsch Funeral Home. Rady applied for the position at Hirsch Funeral Home, but it was ultimately given to Prise. On May 9, 2005, McDermott emailed the following message to Amos:

Has anyone discussed the hiring of Deborah as manager with Heather Rady, [sic] she was the other candidate for the job. She is quick to go to HR and/or the EEOC. The decision to put Deborah in the position should have been or needs to be discussed with Heather. (Pls.' J.A. at Tab 30.) In an email dated May 26, 2005, Johnson told Amos that employee morale was suffering because of Rady's complaints about her need to perform more and more work to make up for the deficiencies of other employees. (Defs.' App.-Rady at Tab 43.)

Alderwoods' personnel continued to discuss their concerns about Rady's performance. On July 6, 2005, McDermott informed Amos in an email that Prise received a complaint from a woman contending that Rady was "rude to her" during a funeral service at Hirsch Funeral Home. (Id. at Tab 45.) He advised that the entire staff was "tired" of Rady's "attitude" and "lack of concern" for the families served by Alderwoods. (Id.) The next day, Johnson sent Amos an email about Rady, claiming that Rady's "poison attitude" was "affecting every employee." (Id. at Tab 44.) He indicated that Rady would need to be dismissed if her poor behavior were to continue, despite the fact that she was known to be litigious. (Id.) He complained that the situation with Rady was "getting old." (Id.)

On July 21, 2005, Johnson issued a verbal warning to Rady. (Id. at Tab 46.) A written record described the reasons for the warning as follows:

On, [sic] June 30, 2005, Heather left for vacation at 4:00 PM, when on duty/call until 8:00 AM the following morning. She did not discuss any arrangements for coverage with other staff and did not notify the Mortuary School student that was also on call.. [sic] The Mortuary School student would have received the initial call and would have notified Heather is [sic] necessary. At 4:45 PM, Pat McDermott call [sic] her cell phone and left a message for her to call him back to discuss if arrangements had been made with other staff [sic] she did not return the call.

(Id.) Rady's alleged failure to respond to telephone calls and pages was apparently an ongoing problem. (J.S.-Rady ¶ 28.) Alderwoods provided her with a special pager that was designed to overcome reception-related difficulties that she had been having with her previous pager. (Id.)

In an email to Amos dated January 20, 2006, Johnson again complained about Rady's performance. (Defs.' app. at Tab 47.) In that email, Johnson made the following comments about Rady:

I have never had to deal with someone like her. She is a very difficult employee.

I would appreciate your thoughts and ideas. Something has to be done at some point and I think we both need to do it. (Id.) In February 2006, a family blamed Rady for a rabbi not being transported on time for a cemetery service. (J.S.-Rady ¶ 30.) The late arrival of the rabbi was evidently caused when John Fodor ("Fodor"), a part-time employee, went to the wrong address to pick up the rabbi. (Defs.' App. at Tab 49.) Alderwoods gave the aggrieved family a discount to compensate for the mistake. (Id. at Tab 50.) Rady refused to provide documentation concerning the discount because she did not believe that the incident was her fault. (J.S.-Rady ¶ 31.) A few weeks later, the same rabbi was left at a cemetery without a ride after a service because of an error by an Alderwoods' employee. (Defs.' App. at Tab 51.) Although it is unclear what happened in this instance, Johnson told Amos that Rady was to blame. (Id.)

On the evening of March 27, 2006, Johnson sent an email to Amos and Blute recommending that Rady be terminated. (Id. at Tab 52.) He claimed that Rady complained about having to report for certain duties at Hirsch Funeral Home. (Id.) Johnson made the following observations:

It has gotten to the point where nobody want [sic] to work with her, [sic] students, part-time, full time employees. The staff all comes forward to ask when she will be held responsible for all the things she does. She will not get involved with the business or community. She cannot be trusted to complete all the details and follow thru [sic] with arrangements, [sic] we all have to pitch in and clean up her cases. She has poor prep skills. I know she is litigious and has zinged us with the EEOC case. But my goodness it is horrible. She has no redeeming quality for our business or our success. Can HR look this over and can we move forward? (Id.) That same evening, Leahy emailed the following message to Blute:

Talk with Chuck and see if we have cause, [sic] we should by now. I won't be surprised if Heather does not join Deborah in her quest*fn2 so I would like to ensure it is tight. Having said that, Heather clearly is not living our values in teamwork, communication, or compassion and I am in agreement that the relationship is no longer a productive one and [sic] she is not serving families in their best interest during their greatest time of need. (Id. at Tab 54.) The "Chuck" referred to in Leahy's email was Chuck Gibson ("Gibson"), who served as a human resources manager for Alderwoods. (J.S.-Rady ¶ 34.) Gibson recommended that Johnson meet with Rady in order to provide instructions about how she could improve her performance. (Id.) He also recommended that any future instances of "misconduct" by Rady be documented. (Defs.' App. at Tab 55.)

On April 6, 2006, Rady filed new charges of discrimination with the EEOC and the PHRC. (Id. at Tab 56.) She alleged sex-based discrimination under Title VII, the Equal Pay Act and the PHRA, as well as retaliation stemming from her 2004 charges of discrimination. (Id.) In the "particulars" section of her EEOC charge form, she made the following statements:

1. I have been employed by the Respondent since July 15, 2002. Although I performed the duties of a Funeral Director immediately upon my hiring, they titled me as an Intern/Apprentice and paid me as such. Even after my title was changed to Intern/Funeral Director on or about December 30, 2002, my salary was not increased at that time.

I have been repeatedly denied the opportunity to apply for promotions that were given to males who have not filed charges of discrimination.

I have been disciplined more strictly than similarly-situated males who have not filed charges of discrimination.

I have consistently been paid less money and been awarded fewer benefits than similarly-situated, often less-qualified males who have not filed charges of discrimination.

I have been treated in a demeaning fashion due to my sex, female, and have observed other females treated in a demeaning fashion without any corrective action taken by management [sic]

I have been repeatedly subjected to offensive talk of a sexual nature in the office, of which Management was aware but took no corrective action.

2. I have been subjected to discriminatory treatment since becoming employed by the Respondent. However, since filing my prior charge of discrimination the scrutiny and treatment has become worse, as indicated above, in retaliation and in their effort to force me to leave my employment and/or terminate me from my employment.

3. I believe that I have been discriminated against because of my sex, female, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended (Title VII), and/or the Equal Pay Act of 1967, as amended (the EPA), in that male employees are permitted to sleep on the job and not disciplined as harshly as I have been for less serious matters, [sic] additionally, they are paid wages and benefits higher than the females in similar job classifications. Additionally, since filing my original charge of discrimination, my treatment has become worse in that I am being scrutinized more closely, disciplined and denied other promotions. They were to post promotional positions, but have continued to deny opportunities because they refused to post the positions. (Id.) Rady's responses to a general intake questionnaire were more specific. She alleged that McDermott and Johnson were promoted to positions for which she was never given the opportunity to apply. (Id. at Tab 58.) She claimed that Prise was "harassed," "retaliated against," and "fired" for filing a charge of discrimination. (Id.) She contended that Claudine Young ("Young"), a female employee, resigned because of a "hostile work environment." (Id.) She accused McDermott of both "sexual harassment" and religion-based discrimination. (Id.) She also claimed that McDermott made inappropriate interjections during her interview on March 23, 2005, for the position of location manager at Hirsch Funeral Home, thereby preventing her from being promoted. (Id.) That promotion was ultimately given to Prise. In addition, Rady alleged that Larry Beck ("Beck"), a male employee, was not properly disciplined for serious instances of misconduct. (Id.)

Rady did not tell anyone at Alderwoods that she filed new charges of discrimination. (J.S.-Rady ¶ 35.) On April 7, 2006, just one day after the filing of the charges, Johnson and Amos met with Rady to discuss her performance and their expectations for her in the future. (Id. ¶ 36.) Although Johnson and Amos viewed the meeting in a positive light, Rady contends that it was "harassing and demeaning." ( Id. ¶¶ 36-37.) According to Rady, the meeting went on for approximately two and a half hours. (Id.)

On the morning of April 28, 2006, Amos sent Johnson an email with the word "Justin" appearing in the subject line. (Pls.' J.A.. at Tab 25.) The word "Justin" appears to be a reference to Justin Huntsman ("Huntsman"), who was working for Alderwoods as a student-level intern at the time. (Rady Countersts. ¶ 15.) In the email, Amos indicated that he wanted to promote Huntsman, but that a decline in volume at Brandt Funeral Home was making such a promotion hard to justify. (Pls.' J.A. at Tab 25.) This message also included the following statements:

Replacement of Heather, how do we get that done? A suggestion we might ask her to transfer to strictly preneed sales! We need someone, it will get her out of day to day operations with Pat etc..............continue to work on a paper trail for dismissal................ (Id.) Despite Amos and Johnson seeking to dismiss her, Rady's rate of pay was raised to $17.00 per hour in May 2006. (J.S.-Rady ¶ 38.)

Throughout the month of June 2006, Johnson carefully documented a series of incidents in which Rady had allegedly failed to complete her assigned tasks. (Defs.' App. at Tabs 62, 63.) On June 20, 2006, Johnson emailed the following message to Amos:

Randy, we need to talk again about Heather. Everybody is fed up. I have Justin and Michael documenting all their grievances and problems. She needs to go, [sic] she is negatively affecting the staff and our business. (Id. at Tab 64.) Hilgefort forwarded a list of Rady's alleged deficiencies to Johnson on June 23, 2006. (Id. at Tab 65.)

On July 14, 2006, Sanford Robinowitz passed away. (Id. at Tab 66.) Rady apparently arranged the funeral. (Id.) The Robinowitz family was awarded a $250.00 discount by Alderwoods. (Id.) Alderwoods' documentation of the discount indicated that the Robinowitz family was upset about Rady's performance and that they asked that she be fired. (Id.) In a letter to Johnson dated July 19, 2006, Maizlech made the following comments:

Just to reiterate our conversation from earlier today, I feel the need to remind you that I am neither a licensed funeral director nor a licensed funeral arranger. Yet on Friday, July 14, 2006 when I asked Heather if I could "sit in and help" with making funeral arrangements for the Robinowitz family; [sic] Heather graciously agreed. However, I did not plan to "fly solo." Heather was not an active participant having my [sic] calling the Rabbi, the cemetery, and the caretaker. If I seemed to be so actively involved it was really only because I saw the need and tried my best to serve the family--seamless service.

I feel that I am an asset to the company, [sic] when assisting in the Robinowitz case, the family was torn between going to where Rabbi Wasserman suggested (BLH) and Jennifer Jordan in White Oak where the family is from.

They chose BLH because of the connection with ME. I cannot and will not accept the responsibility for incomplete or inappropriate arrangements.

I do have concerns that so often Heather is upstairs either reading on the computer or on her cell phone during a visitation or service [sic] leaving me to make certain that everything is running smoothly. I like the trust factor involved and love interacting with the community, yet I am not comfortable with the apathetic attitude and lack of teamwork. (Id. at Tab 67.)

On July 31, 2006, Rady presented Johnson with a letter of resignation. (Id. at Tab 68.) In that letter, she stated that she could no longer tolerate the discrimination and harassment that she had experienced while employed by Alderwoods. (Id.) The record indicates that she accepted an offer of employment from the Meridian Mortuary Group ("Meridian") five days earlier. (Id. at Tab 69.) Pursuant to the terms of her employment contract with Meridian, Rady was to work at the Farnsworth Funeral Home for an annual salary of $43,000.00. (Id. at Tab 70.) She also received a $500.00 signing bonus. (Id.)

On August 2, 2006, Johnson emailed the following message to Amos concerning Rady's resignation:

Randy, Heather was telling Michael wwhile [sic] Kim and I were standing with her that she is leaving us and going to work with Meridian Mortuary Group at one of their Pittsburgh locations. She said she had been offered the job and couldn't turn it down. She went on to say that obviously she was going for less than she got here and that she was getting double the clothing allowance, two students as helpers and was in charge of the location. She also said that they had a much nicer working schedule too. So, she had a better job and that is why she is leaving, despite what she put in her resignation letter. I guess that stuff was there to pad her EEOC complaint?

Randy, she also wants to know if she can use her remaining vacation next week during her final work week. I told her I would speak to you about that before I would approve or decline it. What are your thoughts?

(Id. at Tab 71.) Rady's employment with Alderwoods apparently ended shortly thereafter.*fn3

Procedural History

The EEOC issued "right to sue" letters to Prise and Rady on August 22, 2006. (Compl. Ex. 1.) (Doc. No. 1.) On November 6, 2006, Prise and Rady commenced this action against Alderwoods, Hirsch Funeral Home, Brandt Funeral Home, Samson Funeral Home, and the Neill Funeral Home ("Neill Funeral Home"). (Compl. ¶¶ 12-16.) Neill Funeral Home, which is also owned and operated by Alderwoods, is located in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (Id. ¶ 16.) On January 8, 2007, defendants filed a partial motion to dismiss, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Defs.'Partial Mot. Dismiss.) (Docket No. 12.) On February 28, 2007, Prise and Rady filed a first amended complaint, adding Service Corporation International ("SCI") as a defendant. (First Am. Compl.) (Docket No. 23.) This action was apparently taken because of an alleged merger agreement between Alderwoods and SCI. (Id. at ¶¶ 13-26.) On March 13, 2007, the court denied defendants' motion to dismiss as moot upon the filing of the first amended complaint. (Order) (Doc. No. 26.) On April 17, 2007, the PHRC issued "right to sue" letters to Prise and Rady. (Mot. Second Am. Compl. Ex. 3 at 35-42.) (Doc. No. 33.) On June 8, 2007, Prise and Rady sought leave to amend their complaint in order add claims under the PHRA, and to clarify the nature of their claims against SCI. (Mot. Second Am. Compl.) On October 25, 2007, at oral argument proceedings, the court permitted plaintiffs to add their PHRA claims, but denied plaintiffs' request to add a successor liability claim against defendant SCI. On October 26, 2007, Prise and Rady filed a second amended complaint against Alderwoods, Hirsch Funeral Home, Brandt Funeral Home, Samson Funeral Home and Neill Funeral Home. (Second Am. Compl.) (Docket No. 39.) SCI was not named as a defendant in the second amended complaint. (Id.) On November 9, 2007, defendants filed a partial motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Defs.' Partial Mot. Dismiss.) (Docket No. 40.) On January 15, 2008, the motion was partially granted and partially denied. All claims against Neill Funeral Home were dismissed without prejudice. Some claims against Alderwoods, Hirsch Funeral Home, Brandt Funeral Home and Samson Funeral Home were dismissed.*fn4 In response to the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224 (3d Cir. 2008), on May 15, 2008, Prise and Rady filed a motion for leave to reinstate some of the claims which had previously been dismissed. (Doc. No. 76.) On June 23, 2008, the motion was partially granted and partially denied.*fn5

On June 27, 2008, Prise and Rady filed a third amended complaint. (Third Am. Compl.) (Docket No. 84.) Prise asserted claims under Title VII and the PHRA for religion-based and sex-based discrimination, and for retaliation. (Id. ¶¶ 66-81.) She also asserted claims under the Equal Pay Act for sex-based pay disparities. (Id. ¶¶ 82-86.) Prise named both Alderwoods and Hirsch Funeral Home as defendants. (Id. ¶¶ 66-86.) Rady asserted claims under Title VII and the PHRA for sex-based discrimination and retaliation. (Id. ¶¶ 87-99.) She also asserted claims under the Equal Pay Act for unequal pay. (Id. ¶¶ 100-104.) She named Alderwoods, Hirsch Funeral Home, Brandt Funeral Home and Samson Funeral Home as defendants. (Id. ¶¶ 87-104.) On July 2, 2008, defendants filed a motion to strike Rady's sex-based discrimination claims under Title VII and the PHRA. (Defs.' Mot. Strike) (Doc. No. 85.) On November 17, 2008, the court granted the motion, leaving Rady to pursue only her retaliation claims under Title VII and the PHRA and her unequal pay claims under the Equal Pay Act. On January 26, 2009, three motions for summary judgment were filed. Defendants filed separate motions for summary judgment against Prise and Rady, seeking the dismissal of all remaining claims. (Doc. Nos. 107, 111.) Plaintiffs moved for partial summary judgment solely with respect to Prise's retaliation claims under Title VII and the PHRA, conceding that genuine issues of material fact existed with respect to all other claims. (Doc. No. 116.) These summary judgment motions are the subject of this memorandum opinion.

Standard of Review

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) provides that summary judgment may be granted if, drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). A motion for summary judgment will not be defeated by the mere existence of some disputed facts, but will be defeated only if there is a genuine issue of material fact. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). In determining whether a dispute is genuine, the court's function is not to weigh the evidence or to determine the truth of the matter, but only to determine whether the evidence of record is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id. at 249.


A. Prise's Claims

In the third amended complaint, Prise alleges both religion-based and sex-based discrimination under Title VII and the PHRA. In Prise's brief in response to defendants' motion for summary judgment, however, she indicated that she was withdrawing her sex-based discrimination claims concerning her "suspensions and termination." (Prise's Mem. Resp. Defs.' Mot. Sum. J. 1 n.2.) (Docket No. 131.) For this reason, the court need only address her religion-based discrimination claims under Title VII and the PHRA, her retaliation claims under those statutes, and her Equal Pay Act claims. Prise acknowledges that Alderwoods, rather than ...

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