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Cunningham v. Penn National Holding Corp.

February 2, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Conner


Plaintiff Myra Cunningham ("Cunningham") brings this action alleging that defendant Pennsylvania National Mutual Casualty Insurance Company*fn1 ("Penn National") discriminated against her on the basis of race while she served as one of the company's senior raters. Presently before the court is defendant's motion (Doc. 14) for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, defendant's motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Statement of Facts*fn2 and Procedural History

On November 8, 1999, Penn National hired Cunningham, an African-American female, as a commercial rater. (Doc. 16 ¶ 2; Doc. 25 ¶ 2; Doc. 1 ¶ 16; Doc. 3 ¶ 16). Cunningham was promoted to the position of senior rater in 2002. (Doc. 16 ¶ 5; Doc. 25 ¶ 5). Cunningham alleges that she is paid less than all of the other senior raters, who are Caucasian, and less than many of the raters, most of whom are Caucasian, (Doc. 1 ¶ 21), and she contends that she receives lower pay as a result of her race, (Doc. 1 ¶ 33). Penn National argues that Cunningham's earnings have been affected by performance issues*fn3 and by the fact that she had less than one year of industry experience before she began to work for Penn National. (See Doc. 15 at 17-18; see also Doc. 16 ¶ 3; Doc. 25 ¶ 3.)

In February 2007, Penn National posted an opening for a newly-created supervisory position, called Manager Centralized Audit & Agents Umbrella Processing. (Doc. 16 ¶¶ 50-51; Doc. 25 ¶¶ 50-51). Cunningham and other individuals applied for the position. (Doc. 16 ¶ 52; Doc. 25 ¶ 52). Penn National ultimately awarded the position to another individual, Michelle Hathaway ("Hathaway").

(Doc. 16 ¶¶ 52, 55; Doc. 25 ¶¶ 52, 55). Hathaway is Caucasian. (Doc. 1. ¶ 31; Doc. 3 ¶ 31). Cunningham claims that Penn National denied her the promotion on the basis of her race. (Doc. 1 ¶ 34).

Cunningham filed the present action on April 1, 2008. She claims that Penn National engaged in unlawful race-based discrimination, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to 2000e-17, and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. (See Doc. 1). Penn National filed a motion for summary judgment (Doc. 14) pursuant to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The parties have fully briefed these issues, which are ripe for disposition.

II. Standard of Review

Through summary adjudication the court may dispose of those claims that do not present a "genuine issue as to any material fact" and for which a jury trial would be an empty and unnecessary formality. See FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). The burden of proof is upon the nonmoving party to come forth with "affirmative evidence, beyond the allegations of the pleadings," in support of its right to relief. Pappas v. City of Lebanon, 331 F. Supp. 2d 311, 315 (M.D. Pa. 2004); FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). This evidence must be adequate, as a matter of law, to sustain a judgment in favor of the non-movant on the claims. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-57 (1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-89 (1986); see also FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c), (e). Only if this threshold is met may the cause of action proceed. Pappas, 331 F. Supp. 2d at 315.

III. Discussion

Cunningham alleges that Penn National subjected her to discriminatory treatment because of her race, thereby violating Title VII*fn4 and 42 U.S.C. § 1981.*fn5 Federal courts use the three step burden-shifting analysis established in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973), to analyze claims brought under both statutes.*fn6 See Pamintuan, 192 F.3d at 385.

Under McDonnell Douglas, the first step requires a plaintiff to establish a prima facie case of discrimination by showing that (1) she is a member of a protected class, (2) she was qualified for the position he held or sought, (3) she suffered an adverse employment action, and (4) the circumstances of the adverse employment action give rise to an inference of discrimination.*fn7 Johnson v. Keebler-Sunshine Biscuits, Inc., 214 F. App'x 239, 241-42 (3d Cir. 2007); Connors v. Chrysler Fin. Corp., 160 F.3d 971, 974 (3d Cir. 1998). Once the prima facie case is established, the defendant bears a burden of production to articulate some "legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason" for the plaintiff's treatment. Iadimarco v. Runyon, 190 F.3d 151, 157 (3d Cir. 1999) (citing McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802); Keller v. Orix Credit Alliance, 130 F.3d 1101, 1108 (3d Cir. 1997). If the defendant meets its burden, then the plaintiff must "prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the legitimate reasons offered by the defendant are merely a pretext for discrimination." Johnson, 214 F. App'x at 241-42. The court now inquires into the application of the above-described framework to the action sub judice.

A. Plaintiff's Prima Facie Case

The undisputed facts show that Cunningham is a member of a protected class based on her race. (Doc. 1 ¶ 16; Doc. 3 ¶ 16). In addition, Penn National does not dispute that Cunningham had the necessary qualifications for the position she held and the promotion she sought. (See Doc. 15 at 8-12; Doc. 27 at 3). Thus, Cunningham has met the first two prongs of the prima facie case. Penn National also concedes that it subjected Cunningham to an adverse employment action when it declined to select her for a promotion. Regarding Cunningham's claim of unequal pay, however, Penn National contends that Cunningham has not suffered an adverse ...

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