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Taylor v. Staffing Associates

December 30, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sylvia H. Rambo United States District Judge


The captioned matter is a civil rights case where Plaintiff invokes a panoply of causes of action against various Defendants. Specifically, Plaintiff brought suit pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., ("Title VII") and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 951, et seq., ("PHRA"), as well as, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, and 1985. Plaintiff also brings state law claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress and civil conspiracy.

Before the court is (1) Defendants' JFC Staffing Associates, ("JFC"), Karen Goth, Jamie Scott, and Dennis Shambaugh's motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 27); and (2) Defendant Brian Zimmerman's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint. (Doc. 22.) Both motions are fully briefed and ripe for disposition by the court.

I. JFC, Goth, Scott, and Shambaugh's Motion for Summary Judgment

A. Facts

The following facts are undisputed except where noted.*fn1 Plaintiff Dewitt Taylor was employed by JFC from May 2006 until April 2007. (Doc. 27-3, Defs.' Ex. C., Karen Goth Aff. ¶¶ 3, 28.) Taylor, an African-American male, was assigned by JFC to work at TransCore as a customer service employee. (Defendants' Statement of Material Facts ("SMF") ¶ 2.) While working at TransCore, Taylor was an employee of JFC and was paid by JFC. (Id. ¶ 3.) Taylor's supervisor was Defendant Jamie Scott, a JFC employee. (Id. ¶ 4.)

On April 6, 2007, Jennifer Cron, another JFC employee and co-worker of Taylor, left a birthday card for Taylor at his work station. (Id. ¶ 5.) The birthday card was hand drawn, and stated:

Outside: "Happy Birthday 2 You" Inside left side: " happy Birthday To you. [sic]. happy Birthday To you. [sic]. You Look Like a Monkey and you Smell Like one to. [sic]. He He He. Happy 29 Looking Good. He He He Inside right side: "DeWitt, hope you had a great and Wonderful Birthday From Jennifer Back (written in a circle): OVER THE HILL.COM (inside the circle of words): 29 Forever. (Doc. 27-3, Defs.' Ex. A, Heidi Vega Aff., Ex. A (photocopy of card).) Taylor found the card offensive. (Doc. 51, Pl.'s Ex. 1, Dep. of Dewitt Taylor, 18:19-20.) Upon receiving the card, Taylor took it to Heidi Vega, a TransCore employee, and explained to Vega that the card upset him. (Id. at 21:13-20.) Vega made a copy of the card and told Taylor that she would contact JFC and pass his complaint along. (Id. at 21:16-24.)

On April 9, 2007, after hearing nothing from JFC, Taylor again went to Vega who called Jamie Scott, Taylor's supervisor at JFC. (Id. at 22:10-21.) During this phone call, Vega explained to Scott what she knew about the situation. (Id.) The next day, a meeting was held with Taylor, Vega, Scott, and two other JFC employees. (SMF ¶ 8.) The JFC employees present at the meeting listened to Taylor, and told him that their investigation up to that point did not reveal any malicious intent by Jennifer Cron, but that they would nonetheless address the issue with Cron directly. (SMF ¶ 9.) On April 12, 2007, Jamie Scott and Karen Goth-the director of human resources at JFC-met with Taylor to advise him of the actions that they had taken in response to his complaint. (Doc. 27-3, Defs.' Ex. C, Karen Goth Aff., ¶ 1, 13.) Specifically, they told him that based on JFC's investigation they would review and reaffirm with Jennifer Cron JFC's anti-harassment and anti-hostile work environment policies, and that Cron would be disciplined. (Id.) At the end of that meeting, Taylor expressed his appreciation for the outcome of the meeting and the plan to meet with Cron. (Id., ¶ 13; Doc. 27-3, Defs.' Ex. J, Taylor Dep. ¶ 34:25-35:10.) Cron was formally disciplined by JFC on April 13, 2007. (Goth Aff. ¶¶ 15-16.) That day, Cron met with Goth for approximately one hour to review JFC's diversity training, she was given examples of different situations that she needed to be mindful of in the workplace, and she reviewed JFC's anti-harassment policy. (Id.). She was also given a written warning.

(Doc. 35, Defs.' Ex. B, Aff. of Jamie Scott, Ex. A (Written Warning).) On April 17, 2007, Taylor again told Jamie Scott that he did not believe that JFC was taking the matter seriously. Taylor was unhappy with the fact that Cron was given only a written warning, he wanted JFC to suspend Cron. (Doc. 27-3, Defs.' Ex. J, Taylor Dep. at 30:6-17; Doc. 27-1, Defs.' Ex. C, Karen Goth. Aff. ¶ 22.)

Defendants contend that beginning April 10, 2007, Taylor's behavior at work became generally disruptive to TransCore's operations. For instance, Heidi Vega states in her affidavit that "[Taylor's] conduct was so disruptive that I began hearing complaints from the staff about his behavior." (Doc. 27-3, Ex. A, Heidi Vega Aff. ¶ 10). Jamie Scott states in her affidavit that "[s]ince April 10, 2007, [Taylor's] behavior had become disruptive to Transcore's operations and Transcore management wanted to discuss assignment options." (Scott Aff. ¶ 15.)

In addition to vague allegations of disruption, Defendants have also provided specific examples of Taylor's behavior that they found troubling. Vega states in her affidavit that "[o]n or about April 16, 2007, [Taylor] discussed . . . [the then recent] Virginia Tech shooting incident and expressed empathy with the shooter because no one took him seriously either." (Vega Aff. ¶ 11.) Vega also states that one staff member who overheard these comments decided not to come back to work for TransCore because he was so concerned. (Id. ¶ 13.) Furthermore, Jamie Scott states that at an April 18, 2007 meeting with Taylor to address his recent disruptive behavior, "Taylor became agitated and began to pound his fists on the table and began to again threaten Jennifer Cron's safety." (Scott Dep. ¶ 17.) Finally, Kim Turns-an administrative operations supervisor for TransCore-provides further examples of Taylor's disruptiveness. She states that after the events in question, Taylor would have meltdowns from time to time "in which he would be outside my office slamming things, huffing and puffing and walking hard as through his feet were slamming into the ground." (Doc. 27-3 Defs.' Ex. D, Kim Turns Aff. ¶ 4.) Taylor would "comment to other employees as they passed regarding his situation." (Id. at ¶ 6.) Finally, Turns states the following:

On one occasion shortly after the Virginia Tech shootings he mentioned that he identified with the shooter because people[] weren't taking him seriously either and people should listen to people and need to pay attention to one another. As [Taylor] told me this he balled up his fists and he began shaking them. (Id. at ¶¶ 12-13.) For his part, Taylor denies generally that he was disruptive at TransCore or JFC, and specifically denies that he ever mentioned anything about the Virginia Tech shootings. (Doc. 51, Pl.'s Ex. 1, Taylor Dep. at 84:9-85:22.)

As a result of the meeting that took place on April 18, 2007, Taylor was sent home for the balance of the day with pay. (SMF ¶ 19.) That evening, shortly after 5:00 p.m., on April 18, 2007, Goth telephoned Taylor and terminated his assignment with TransCore and his employment with JFC. (SMF ¶ 20.) Goth told Taylor that he was not permitted to return to JFC or TransCore. (Goth Aff. ¶ 28; Doc. 27-3, Defs.' Ex. J, Taylor Dep. at 44:19-21.) Goth informed Taylor that he was being terminated because of his threats to Cron, and his discussions with co-workers about the April 16, 2007, Virginia Tech shootings. (Goth Aff. ¶ 30.) Goth explained to Taylor that his personal belongings would be packed up and sent to him by overnight delivery. (Id. ¶ 31; Doc. 27-3, Defs.' Ex. J, Taylor Dep. at 45:14-21.) That evening, Taylor called the Swatara Township Police Department and spoke with Defendant Zimmerman-a sergeant with the police department. (Doc. 51, Pl.'s Ex. 1, Taylor Dep. 65:8-66:3.) Taylor requested that Zimmerman send a police officer to TransCore to accompany Plaintiff to retrieve his possessions. (Id.) Taylor did not tell Zimmerman that JFC had offered to pack his possessions and overnight them to him. (Id.) Zimmerman told Taylor to call the police department the next day, and that they would send an officer along to accompany him to TransCore. (Id.)

The next day-April 19, 2007-Taylor called Vega and told her that he was coming in to pick up his possessions. (Id. at 62:12-63:9; Vega Aff. ¶ 17.) Vega told Taylor that she had received an e-mail advising her that Taylor was not permitted on the property. (Doc. 51, Pl.'s Ex. 1, Taylor Dep. at 62:18-22; Vega Aff. ¶ 18.) Vega warned Taylor not to come to the property because if he did she would be forced to call the police; instead, she offered to pack his possessions for him and overnight them to him. (Vega Aff. ¶¶ 18, 22.) Taylor told Vega that he would be arriving with a police escort. (Doc. 51, Pl.'s Ex. 1, Taylor Dep. at 62-68.) Later that morning, Taylor arrived at TransCore where he met Swatara Township police officer Jason Lex. (Id. at 67:2-4.) Lex was sent by Zimmerman. (Id. at 66:17-67:4.) When Taylor arrived he and Defendant Dennis Shambaugh got into an argument about whether Taylor was supposed to be there. (Doc. 27-3, Ex. J, Taylor Dep. at 51:10-13.) Both Taylor and Shambaugh explained their version of the events to Lex. According to Shambaugh, Lex explained that Taylor's actions were consistent with the crime of trespassing and asked Shambaugh to press charges, which he did. (Doc. 27-3, Defs.' Ex. E, Dennis Shambaugh Aff. ¶ 9.) Prior to April 19, 2007, Shambaugh had never had any conversations with either Lex or Zimmerman. (Id. at ¶¶ 10-11.) Plaintiff was charged with summary trespassing, and appeared before Magisterial District Judge Michael J. Smith on June 14, 2007. (Doc. 27-3, Defs.' Ex. J, Taylor Dep. at 56:18-20.) Taylor was represented at this hearing by an attorney.

(Id. at 21-22.) Taylor agreed to perform fifteen hours of community service in exchange for the record being expunged.*fn2 (Id. at 57:19-58:11.) Taylor completed his community service, and his arrest record was expunged. (Id. at 58-11-12.)

B. Procedural History

Taylor commenced this case by filing a complaint against Defendants JFC Staffing, Scott, Goth, and Shambaugh on August 27, 2008. (Doc. 1.) Taylor filed an Amended Complaint on September 12, 2008, (Doc. 3), and a Second Amended Complaint on May 1, 2009, (Doc. 17). In his Second Amended Complaint, Taylor added Zimmerman as an additional defendant. On September 3, 2009, Defendants JFC Staffing, Scott, Goth and Shambaugh filed a motion for summary judgment, supporting documents, and a statement of material facts. (Docs. 27-28.) After being granted leave of court to submit a late filing, Defendants filed their brief in support of their motion for summary judgment on September 15, 2009. (Doc. 38.) Plaintiff filed his brief in opposition to summary judgment on October 13, 2009, along with is answer to Defendants' statement of material facts, and his exhibits. (Docs. 48-51.) Defendants' reply brief was filed on October 26, 2009. (Doc. 52.) On December 11, 2009, with leave of court, Plaintiff re-filed his exhibits because of a docketing error. (Doc. 54). Defendants' motion for summary judgment is fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

B. Legal Standard for Summary Judgment

"In an employment discrimination case, the burden of persuasion on summary judgment remains unalterably with the employer as movant. The employer must persuade [the court] that even if all of the inferences which could reasonably be drawn from the evidentiary materials of record were viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, no reasonable jury could find in the plaintiff's favor." Doe v. C.A.R.S. Protection Plus, Inc., 527 F.3d 358, 362 (3d Cir. 2008).

Summary judgment is proper when "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); accord Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 231-32 (3d Cir. 2001). A factual dispute is "material" if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is "genuine" only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis that would allow a reasonable fact-finder to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Id. at 248. The court must resolve all doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact in favor of the non-moving party. Saldana, 260 F.3d at 232; see also Reeder v. Sybron Transition Corp., 142 F.R.D. 607, 609 (M.D. Pa. 1992).

Once the moving party has shown that there is an absence of evidence to support the claims of the non-moving party, the non-moving party may not simply sit back and rest on the allegations in its complaint. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). Instead, it must "go beyond the pleadings and by [its] own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. (internal quotations omitted); see also Saldana, 260 F.3d at 232 (citations omitted). Summary judgment should be granted where a party "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 at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. "'Such affirmative evidence-- regardless of whether it is direct or circumstantial -- must amount to more than a scintilla, but may amount to less (in the evaluation of the court) than a preponderance.'" Saldana, 260 F.3d at 232 (quoting Williams v. Borough of West Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460-61 (3d Cir. 1989)).

D. Discussion

1. Title VII, PHRA, and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 Claims against Defendant JFC

Plaintiff brings claims under Title VII, the PHRA, and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 against Defendant JFC. Because the legal standard for each of these claims is the same, the court will address them collectively.*fn3 Title VII prohibits an employer from discharging an employee based on, among other things, his race. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). In McDonnell Douglas, the Supreme Court created a three-part structure for the presentation of evidence in Title VII cases where the Plaintiff does not have direct evidence of discrimination. See McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973). To survive summary judgment, the plaintiff must first produce evidence that is sufficient to convince a reasonable factfinder to find all of the elements of a prima facie case of discrimination. Keller v. Orix Credit Alliance, Inc., 130 F.3d 1101, 1108 (3d Cir. 1997). If the plaintiff offers sufficient proof of a prima facie case, step two is reached. The burden of production-but not the burden of persuasion-shifts to the defendant, who must then offer evidence that is sufficient, if believed, to support a finding that it had a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for discharging the employee. Keller, 130 F.3d at 1108. If the defendant cannot satisfy this burden, summary judgment must be denied.

On the other hand, if the defendant does satisfy this burden, step three is reached. The plaintiff may then survive summary judgment only by "submitting evidence 'from which a factfinder could reasonably either (1) disbelieve the employer's articulated legitimate reasons; or (2) believe that an invidious discriminatory reason was more likely than not a motivating or determinative ...

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