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Richards v. Centre Area Transportation Authority

January 25, 2010

BILLIE JO RICHARDS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CENTRE AREA TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge McClure

MEMORANDUM

I. BACKGROUND

On October 24, 2008, plaintiff Billie Jo Richards instituted this civil action against defendant, Centre Area Transportation Authority ("CATA"). In her complaint, Richards alleges that her employment was terminated by CATA in retaliation for her filing a complaint in federal court against CATA for sexual harassment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA").

CATA asserts that it has not retaliated against Richards. First, CATA contends that Richards has failed to demonstrate a prima facie case of retaliation in the instant case. Second, even if Richards has in fact demonstrated a prima facie case of retaliation, CATA argues that it has proven a legitimate, non- discriminatory reason for its termination of Richards' employment. Third, CATA asserts that Richards is unable to prove that CATA's proffered legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for terminating her employment was pretext. In the alternative, CATA contends that Richards should not be entitled to attorney's fees or punitive damages.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

After Richards filed her federal complaint in the instant matter, CATA filed a "Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to F.R.C.P. No. 12(b)(6)" on December 5, 2008. (Rec. Doc. No. 5). Briefs supporting and opposing the motion to dismiss were filed on December 5, 2008, and December 18, 2008, respectively. (Rec. Doc. Nos. 6 and 7). A reply brief was filed on January 5, 2009. (Rec. Doc. No. 8). On March 3, 2009, this Court denied CATA's "Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to F.R.C.P. No. 12(b)(6)." (Rec. Doc. No. 12). On March 6, 2009, this Court ordered the referral of the case to a mediator, as the case was subject to mandatory mediation. (Rec. Doc. No. 13). Mediation, however, was unsuccessful, as the parties were unable to reach a settlement. (Rec. Doc. No. 17).

CATA, on March 23, 2009, filed an answer to Richards' complaint. (Rec. Doc. No. 14). On September 29, 2009, CATA filed a "Motion for Summary Judgment Pursuant to F.R.C.P. No. 56" and a supporting brief. (Rec. Doc. Nos. 18 and 19). CATA also filed a statement of material facts, as required by Middle District Local Rule 56.1. (Rec. Doc. No. 20). On October 14, 2009, Richards filed a brief opposing the defendant's motion for summary judgment and her own statement of material facts. (Rec. Doc. Nos. 22 and 23). CATA did not file a reply brief.

In light of the above, the matter is ripe for disposition. Now, for the following reasons, we will grant CATA's motion for summary judgment.

III. STATEMENT OF MATERIAL FACTS

The facts of record, viewed in a light most favorable to Ms. Richards, the non-moving party, are as follows. Richards began her employment with CATA in early October 1989. During this employment, Richards worked as a bus operator and was a member of AFSCME, AFL-CIO, District Council 83, Local 1203-B.

Richards reported a sexual harassment claim on April 12, 2001, later filing a Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission complaint on June 1, 2001.

Because of a verbal outburst made by Richards against one of her supervisors on or about April of 2004, Richards was disciplined, later returning to work on May 28, 2004. In November of 2004, Richards was involved in further inappropriate conduct, which included workplace threats and inappropriate comments over the radio. As a result, CATA undertook a second investigation, which was concluded in early December of 2004. CATA reprimanded Richards for the conduct, advising her that similar conduct in the future would be disciplined. Richards' union did not dispute the reprimand. By a letter dated July 27, 2006, CATA informed Richards that, based on an incident that had occurred on July 24, 2006, there was "possible cause for disciplinary action . . . ." (Rec. Doc. No. 20, Exhibit 8). At least two CATA employees, in January and September of 2006, filed complaints concerning "violent outbursts" by Richards against her fellow workers.

Apparently, such conduct on the part of Richards had escalated by the spring of 2007, and CATA took steps pursuant to its Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA") to terminate Richards' employment on or about June 7, 2007. Pursuant to CATA's CBA, CATA is entitled to consider, for the purposing of disciplinary action, misconduct that occurred within a preceding 18 month period. In addition, CATA has an anti-discrimination policy in place; this policy prohibits retaliation on the part of CATA if the employee is engaged in a protected activity.

CATA contends that termination of Richards' employment was the result of her continued inappropriate conduct as a CATA employee; on the other hand, Richards contends that her employment was terminated because of her filing of a federal complaint against CATA on May 31, 2007. Richards also notes that she was suspended by CATA on May 25, 2007, one day after she says CATA became aware of her intent to file the federal complaint. While CATA claims that Richards' conduct violated "policies relative to customer service, professional performance and other work rules," Richards contends that CATA failed to conduct an adequate investigation into Richards' actual conduct. (Rec. Doc. No. 20 at 4). CATA reiterates that it followed its CBA and "progressive disciplinary requirements." Id. However, Richards contends that the evidence in the record supports an inference that the termination was actually an act of retaliation and that CATA is simply using Richards' prior conduct as pretext for its real reason for firing her, namely her filing of a federal complaint against CATA on May 31, 2007.

Shortly after Richards' employment with CATA was terminated, Richards' union labor representative filed a grievance on her behalf contending that she was fired without just cause. An "internal grievance hearing" was held on June 19, 2007, at which a CATA general manager considered the investigatory evidence and Richards' testimony. Id. at 5. Richards was represented at the meeting, and the CATA union requested arbitration on behalf of Richards.

Arbitration was conducted before a neutral arbitrator on or about October 19, 2007. This neutral arbitrator heard testimony from the plaintiff, two witnesses by deposition, and CATA administrative staff. The neutral arbitrator denied the grievance appeal on December 21, 2007, upholding Richards' termination.

Three events are relevant to the instant matter, and each is discussed below. These events concern Richards' conduct that occurred during the 18 month period leading up to the termination of her employment.

A. The April 13, 2007 Incident

A co-worker of Richards filed a discrimination complaint against Richards on April 13, 2007, with CATA's human relations department. In the complaint, the worker alleged that Richards "was swearing and yelling about the people at CATA and about her lawsuit." Id. at 6. CATA claims that its investigation into the event consisted of eleven interviews and, while the plaintiff disputes CATA's contention that it conducted this many interviews, she has failed to cite to the record in her dispute of this claim.*fn1 However, it is undisputed that the department of human relations concluded on June 6, 2007 that Richards' actions were inappropriate, and recommended termination of her employment. CATA's transit operations department conducted a separate investigation and review, as did CATA's operations department, with the operations department reprimanding Richards in writing for her ...


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