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Kravis v. Karr Barth Associates

January 26, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Juan R. Sánchez, J.


Defendants Karr Barth Associates and AXA ask this court for summary judgment on Plaintiff Janet Kravis's claim she suffered employment discrimination, retaliation, and harassment as an employee of Karr Barth and AXA. For the following reasons, this Court will grant Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.


Kravis alleges Karr Barth and AXA (Defendants) discriminated against her based on her age and gender, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII),*fn1 42 U.S.C. §2000e et seq., the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA),*fn2 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA),*fn3 43 P.S. § 951 et seq. Additionally, Kravis alleges she was subjected to a hostile work environment and was retaliated against for filing internal complaints of harassment and a discrimination complaint with the EEOC.

Kravis began working for The Equitable Life Assurance Society in 1987.*fn4 In 1990, upon being promoted to the position of Sales Agent, Kravis executed an Agent's Agreement, or 14th Edition Agreement ("Agreement"). This Agreement superseded her prior 12th Edition Agreement with The Equitable. The significance of the 14th Edition Agreement is contested by the parties and is the primary subject of this motion for summary judgment. The Agreement Kravis signed changed her status from a salaried employee earning 50% of her paycheck though commissions to a "Sales Agent" compensated solely through sales commissions. Kravis contends this Agreement created an employer-employee relationship with AXA; AXA counters such a relationship is precluded by the plain language of the contract.*fn5

At the time this motion was filed, Kravis was still acting as a Sales Agent for Defendants. To become an AXA Sales Agent, Kravis had passed state life insurance and health insurance regulatory exams and obtained licenses to work in the insurance field. Pl.'s Dep. 13:24-15:12, Aug. 5, 2009.*fn6 She is required to maintain those licenses by attending classes and taking regular exams. Pl.'s Dep. 17-18. Kravis is registered as a life insurance salesperson in approximately 15-18 states, and is a registered investment advisor in 12 states. Pl.'s Dep. 22-24.

Kravis must supply her own car and is required to pay for her office computers and telephones. Id. at 66-67. She deducts these business expenses from her tax returns.*fn7 Id. at 46-47. From 2002 to 2005, Kravis attached a Schedule C sole proprietorship form to her tax return. She indicated her principal business was as an Insurance Agent and she materially participated in the operation of this business. See Kravis Tax Returns 2002-2005. As a Sales Agent, Kravis regularly hires administrative assistants to help her and does not need Defendants' permission to hire or fire her secretarial support. Kravis alone is responsible for paying her employees, evaluating employee performance, and approving employees' vacation time. Pl.'s Dep. 78-79.

Kravis runs her daily business operations without interference from AXA or Karr Barth. Kravis primarily works out of an office in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, which she rents from Karr Barth for approximately $1750 a month.*fn8 Pl.'s Dep. 49-50. Kravis also has a home office, and she may choose from which office to work on a daily basis. Id. at 70. No one from Karr Barth or AXA dictates what hours Kravis must be in her office, how much time she must work each week, how many sales she is required to make, or how much vacation time she may take. Id. at 49. She creates her own sales targets and sets her own sales goals for each year, without Karr Barth managers' interference. Id. at 108. Kravis testified she has minimal daily contact with Karr Barth's branch manager, who she typically sees twice a month. Id. at 99. Kravis finds her clients through referrals and seminars, and she is not required by Defendants to take on any specific clients. Id. at 88-89. Through Kravis's sales agent activity, she has generated a book of business which she is permitted to sell to other potential sales agents. Id. at 71, 279-281.

Kravis filed this action following a dispute with Paul Bufty, another Sales Agent in Karr Barth's Philadelphia Office. In 2006, Kravis voluntarily partnered with Bufty to pursue insurance sales with City of Philadelphia employees. This working relationship rapidly deteriorated, and Kravis ended her partnership with Bufty. Kravis contends Bufty wrongfully hired away her secretary, Patti D'Orazio, while Kravis and Bufty were competing for the city's business. When Kravis complained to Karr Barth's management about Bufty hiring D'Orazio, Defendants advised Kravis that Bufty could not be fired or formally reprimanded for hiring Kravis's secretary, since both Kravis and Bufty were independent Sales Agents who exercised exclusive discretion over which employees to hire and fire.*fn9 When D'Orazio accepted employment with Bufty, Defendants supplied Kravis with temporary support for one week. After a week of temporary support, Kravis worked on her own until she hired a new secretary.

In support of her harassment claim, Kravis points to a series of isolated encounters with male co-workers which she believes created a hostile work environment. These include a fight over a parking space, a dispute over the use of a conference room, and an encounter with Bufty when he yelled at Kravis that she was a "nothing and a nobody" in the hallway of their office space. Kravis contends she was denied equal conditions of employment when her secretary was not given adequate office space, Kravis was denied prompt access to the Client Relations Management Program (CRM Program), and Kravis received inferior sales leads when she was eventually admitted to the CRM Program.

Kravis complained about her interactions with Bufty to Karr Barth Management. Karr Barth investigated her complaints and received conflicting information regarding whether Bufty or Kravis was at fault. David Karr testified, "[T]here was a period of time when both of them were complaining constantly about one another." Karr Dep. Sept. 28, 2009 at 29. Ultimately, Defendants were unable to corroborate Kravis's account of her conflicts with male employees. With regard to Kravis's relationship with Bufty, Defendants concluded both Bufty and Kravis had acted unprofessionally toward each other.*fn10 To resolve the issue, Defendants sent letters to both Kravis and Bufty reminding them to maintain professionalism in the office and asked Bufty to avoid Kravis when possible.

In these interactions, Bufty never mentioned Kravis's age or gender and Kravis testified at her deposition that Bufty was equally rude and abrasive to two male employees in their thirties.*fn11


Summary judgment shall be awarded "if 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). On a motion for summary judgment, a court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all inferences in that party's favor. Doe v. County of Centre, 242 F.3d 437, 446 (3d Cir. 2001). Facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is a 'genuine' dispute as to those facts." Ricci v. DeStefano, 120 ...

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