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Knoll v. City of Allentown

January 27, 2010

TERA KNOLL, PLAINTIFF
v.
CITY OF ALLENTOWN, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stengel, J.

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff Tera Knoll was employed by defendant City of Allentown for approximately ten years. She held numerous positions, and, on March 25, 2005, she obtained a position as maintenance worker II for the parks department. On October 13, 2005, she was demoted to her previous position at the parks department, maintenance worker I. Allentown alleges Ms. Knoll was demoted prior to the conclusion of her probationary period because of poor performance and Ms. Knoll's inability to interact well with her co-workers and the public. Ms. Knoll alleges she was demoted because of her gender and in retaliation for her complaints of harassment.

In February 2006, Ms. Knoll was transferred to the Allentown golf course. On March 31, 2006, Ms. Knoll presented Allentown's human resource department with tape recorded conversations between her and a supervisor and her and a superintendent, allegedly evidencing harassment. On April 5, 2006, Allentown terminated Ms. Knoll, alleging she was terminated because she violated Pennsylvania law when she tape recorded the conversations. Ms. Knoll alleges she was terminated because of her gender and in retaliation for complaining about harassment.

Allentown filed a partial motion for summary judgment.*fn1 For the reasons set forth below, I will grant Allentown's summary judgment motion regarding Ms. Knoll's claim she was discriminated against when Allentown refused to pay for tree-climbing school, and deny summary judgment for all other claims.

I. BACKGROUND

Ms. Knoll was hired by Allentown in October 1996 as a data entry technician. Plaintiff's Statement of Undisputed Material Facts at ¶ 1-2, Knoll v. City of Allentown, No. 08-4692 (E.D. Pa. filed June 30, 2009) [hereinafter Plaintiff's Statement of Facts]; Defendant's Response to Plaintiff's Statement of Undisputed Facts at ¶ 1-2, Knoll v. City of Allentown, No. 08-4692 (E.D. Pa. filed July 22, 2009) [hereinafter Defendant's Response to Plaintiff's Facts]. In 1996, she began a new position as clerk II in the tax and utility systems department. Plaintiff's Statement of Facts at ¶ 3; Defendant's Response to Plaintiff's Facts at ¶ 3. In August 2003, Ms. Knoll obtained a position with Allentown's parks department as a maintenance worker I. Plaintiff's Statement of Facts at ¶ 4; Defendant's Response to Plaintiff's Facts at ¶ 4.

Ms. Knoll was one of three female employees of the approximately fifty people employed by the parks department. Plaintiff's Statement of Facts at ¶ 8-9; Defendant's Response to Plaintiff's Facts at ¶ 8-9. Ms. Knoll alleges she was harassed by her male co-workers, including incidents where a co-worker pushed her against a wall, co-workers called her a "bitch," a co-worker jabbed her leg with a tool, and co-workers played music describing violence to women. Plaintiff's Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment at Exh. B at 43-44; 46, 58-60, 65-67, 71, 166-67. Ms. Knoll repeatedly complained to her supervisors and to human resources concerning the harassment. See, e.g., Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment at Exh. A at ¶¶ 16, 19. After one incident, a female co-worker warned Ms. Knoll not to complained to her supervisors because she would be returned to a position at the Treasury Department. Plaintiff's Opposition at Exh. B. at 60-61. In addition, following a different incident, the Parks Department disciplined Ms. Knoll and a co-worker, but refused to listen to Ms. Knoll's version of events prior to issuing the discipline. Id. at 173-74.

On August 8, 2005, Ms. Knoll was injured when the springs to the trailer connected to her work truck were disconnected. See Defendant's Motion at Exh. A at ¶ 21. The trailer fell back, harming her. Id. Following this injury, Ms. Knoll took eight weeks of worker's compensation leave. Plaintiffs Response to Defendant's Motion at Exh. B at 40-41. On August 8, 2005, Ms. Knoll filed a complaint, alleging her co-workers disconnected the springs. Defendant's Motion at Exh. A at ¶ 21.

On October 10, 2005, Ms. Knoll was demoted from maintenance worker II to maintenance worker I. Plaintiff's Statement of Facts at ¶ 42; Defendant's Response to Plaintiff's Facts at ¶ 42. Allentown alleges Ms. Knoll held the position as maintenance worker II on a probationary status and was demoted because of poor performance and her inability to work well with co-workers and the public. Defendant's Motion at Exh. C at ¶¶ 5-6.

In February 2006, Ms. Knoll was transferred to the Allentown golf course. Plaintiff's Statement of Facts at ¶ 41; Defendant's Response to Plaintiff's Facts at ¶ 41. At her deposition, Ms. Knoll testified Len Kesserling, the director of human resources, told Ms. Knoll that she was being transferred to protect her, not to punish her. Plaintiff's Response to Defendants Motion at Exh. B at 75.

On April 5, 2006, Allentown terminated Ms. Knoll's employment. Plaintiff's Statement of Facts at ¶ 45; Defendant's Response to Plaintiff's Facts at ¶ 45. Allentown alleges Ms. Knoll was terminated because she had illegally tape recorded conversations between herself and her supervisor Bruce Solt, and between herself and superintendent John Fasolka. Defendant's Motion at Exh. A at ¶¶ 29-31.

II. STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). An issue is "genuine" when a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party based on the evidence in the record. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is "material" when it could affect the outcome of the case under the governing law. Id.

A party seeking summary judgment initially bears responsibility for informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record that it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Where the non-moving party bears the burden of proof on a particular issue at trial, the moving party's initial Celotex burden can be met simply by demonstrating "to the district court that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. After the moving party has met its initial burden, "the adverse party's response, by affidavits or otherwise as provided in this rule, must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e). Summary judgment is therefore appropriate when the non-moving party fails to rebut by making a factual showing that is "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, 477 U.S. at 322.

Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the court must view the evidence in the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of that party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. The court must decide not whether the evidence unmistakably favors one side or the other, but whether a fair-minded jury could return a verdict for the plaintiff on the evidence presented. Id. at 252. If the non-moving party has produced more than a "mere scintilla of evidence" demonstrating a genuine issue of material fact, then the court may not credit the moving party's version of events against the opponent, ...


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