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Hill v. Education Management Corp.

October 13, 2009

LARRY HILL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
EDUCATION MANAGEMENT CORP., DEFENDANT.



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

OPINION AND ORDER OF THE COURT

SYNOPSIS

Plaintiff, an African-American male, whose employment was terminated, asserts race and gender discrimination claims as well as a claim for retaliation. Defendant Employer contends that what Plaintiff perceives to be unlawful discrimination was nothing more than perceived favoritism. Plaintiff's race and gender claims cannot survive the scrutiny of summary judgment, but the retaliation claim will go forward.

OPINION

Plaintiff Larry Hill ("Hill") worked in a variety of capacities over the years for Defendant Education Management Corporation d/b/a the Art Institute of Pittsburgh ("the Art Institute"). Immediately prior to his termination he held the position of Associate Director of Admissions. His direct supervisor, Jeffrey Bucklew, the Director of Admissions, had promoted him from his prior position as Assistant Director of Admissions in July of 2006. As an Associate Director, Hill gained managerial and training responsibilities and was still required to meet his personal goals of recruiting new students to attend the Art Institute.

The Art Institute measured recruitment performance by assessing such things as the number of telephone calls to prospective students, the number of appointments set, the number of interviews held, the number of applications submitted by prospective students and the number of students recruited who started classes. Unsolicited inquiries from prospective students were received either by mail, phone or the Internet. These "leads" were then distributed among members of the Admissions Department.

Hill's race, gender and retaliation claims have their genesis in the distribution of these "leads." Specifically, Hill contends that Bucklew unequally distributed these leads. According to Hill, Bucklew gave the best and the most leads to a select group of Caucasian women. He contends that he, and other African-Americans and men, were denied the same number and quality of leads. Bucklew's unfair method of distributing the leads caused, Hill insists, a backlash in the Admissions Department. Many of the individuals not the beneficiaries of Bucklew's largess began complaining of his actions. The Art Institute conducted an investigation and ultimately, on April 9, 2007, terminated both Hill's and Gloria Hunt's (a Caucasian woman)*fn1 employment based upon the belief that they had disrupted the office over the issue of unfair lead distribution, that they had acted with insubordination and that Hill had intimidated a colleague. The Art Institute added that, though performance alone would not have mandated Hill's termination, his poor performance was a factor in his termination.

Hill then commenced this action. He asserts claims of race discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("§ 1981"); under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 200e-2 ("Title VII"); under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 P.S. § 951 et seq. ("PHRA") and under Chapter 659.02 of the Pittsburgh City Code. He also asserts claims of sex discrimination in violation of Title VII, the PHRA and the Pittsburgh City Code and claims of retaliation under § 1981, § 2000e-3(a) of Title VII, the PHRA and under the Pittsburgh City Code. His race and gender claims are two-fold: that the distribution of leads was based upon race and sex, and that his termination was based upon his race and sex. The Art Institute challenges Hill's ability to establish a prima facie case of race and gender discrimination as well as his ability to establish that its articulated non-discriminatory reason for its actions was mere pretext for discrimination. The Art Institute challenges the viability of the retaliation claim as well. See Docket No. [19].

Standard of Review

Summary judgment may only be granted if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with any affidavits, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material facts and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A fact is material when it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Rule 56 mandates the entry of judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against the 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 at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

In considering a motion for summary judgment, the Court must examine the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. International Raw Materials, Ltd. v. Stauffer Chemical Co., 898 F.2d 946, 949 (3d Cir. 1990). The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. Where the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the party moving for summary judgment may meet its burden by showing that the evidentiary materials of record, if reduced to admissible evidence, would be insufficient to carry the non-movant's burden of proof at trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. Once the moving party satisfies its burden, the burden shifts to the non-moving party, who must go beyond its pleadings, and designate specific facts by the use of affidavits, depositions, admissions, or answers to interrogatories showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324.

Analysis

I. Race Discrimination

As stated above, Hill asserts a race discrimination claim under Title VII, § 1981, the PHRA and the Pittsburgh City Code. While the statutory language differs to some degree,*fn2 the claims are all predicated upon unlawful discrimination based upon race. The familiar burden shifting analysis set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973) applies to Hill's race discrimination claims, given his lack of direct evidence of discrimination.*fn3 Under the McDonnell Douglas test, Hill bears the initial burden of establishing a prima facie case of unlawful discrimination. McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802. If Hill succeeds, the burden of production shifts to the Art Institute to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its actions. Id. This burden is "relatively light." If this burden is met, the burden of production then shifts back to Hill who must "show by ...


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