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Vroman v. A. Crivelli Buick Pontiac GMC

March 22, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: United States Magistrate Judge Susan Paradise Baxter.



A. Relevant Procedural History

On June 23, 2008, Plaintiff Theodore Vroman, filed this employment discrimination action against Defendant A. Crivelli Buick Pontiac GMC, Inc. ("Crivelli"). [Document # 1]. In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that he was subjected to sex discrimination, a hostile or offensive work environment, and retaliation, during his employment with Crivelli as a service technician. In particular, Plaintiff claims that: (i) his female supervisor, Lugene Przestrzelski ("Przestrzelski"), "entered a restroom occupied by members of the opposite sex...," yet Crivelli "had no effective complaint resolution procedure, and did not take action on Plaintiff's complaint" regarding the incident (Complaint at ¶¶ 21-22); (ii) Przestrzelski created a hostile or offensive work environment by "frequently touching, patting and rubbing Plaintiff," and by making "suggestive and offensive comments to Plaintiff and other service technicians" (Id. at ¶ 11, 28); and (iii) Przestrzelski retaliated against Plaintiff for his complaints to management by "withholding lucrative service assignments" from him, thus depressing his earnings. (Id. at ¶ 14, 33-34). As relief for his claims, Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages, attorneys' fees and costs.

Crivelli has filed a motion for summary judgment [Document # 20] seeking the entry of judgment against Plaintiff, as a matter of law, on all three of his claims. Plaintiff has filed a brief in opposition to Crivelli's motion, and Crivelli has filed a reply brief. This matter is now ripe for consideration.

B. Relevant Factual History*fn1

Plaintiff began working for Crivelli as a service technician on May 23, 1997. (SMF ¶¶ 3, 8; RSMF ¶ 8). Przestrzelski became Plaintiff's supervisor approximately two years later. (SMF ¶¶ 13, 14; RSMF ¶ 8). Archie Simpson ("Simpson") was Przestrzelski's boss. (SMF ¶ 24).

During Plaintiff's employment with Crivelli, service technicians were paid according to a "flat rate" system, pursuant to which each technician's pay depended upon the number and type of jobs he completed in a workday. (SMF ¶ 15). Jeff Pennington ("Pennington") was the management official directly responsible for distributing work assignments to the service technicians, although Plaintiff alleges that he frequently saw and heard Pennington and Przestrselski confer about the allocation of these work assignments. (SMF¶¶ 16-17; RSMF ¶¶ 16-17). Throughout the term of his employment with Crivelli, Plaintiff consistently made less income and was consistently less productive than the other technicians. (SMF ¶ 51). In particular, Plaintiff maintained an efficiency rating of 88.2 percent, while his counterparts' efficiency ratings ranged from 155.8 percent to 111.3 percent. (Id.).

Sometime in 2005, Plaintiff and the other service technicians were asked to write down their complaints on paper. (SMF ¶ 19). In response, Plaintiff and another service technician submitted written complaints to Simpson. (SMF ¶ 20). In particular, Plaintiff complained that, when he went to use the inspection desk and/or the store computer, which were located in Przestrzelski's office at the time, Przestrzelski would rub his back and pat his rear end in a sexually suggestive manner, while calling him "honey" or "sweetie." (SMF ¶¶ 21, 27).*fn2 In response to the written complaints, the service desk, computer, and inspection supplies were moved outside of Przestrzelski's office, Przestrzelski's office was moved to a more interior location, and Przestrzelski was reprimanded by Simpson. (SMF ¶ 23).

On or about August 4, 2006, Przestrzelski entered Crivelli's bathroom through the body shop entrance, placed some cleaning supplies in a storage space located in the bathroom, and walked through the bathroom to exit through another door leading to the service area. (SMF ¶ 32). At the time Przestrzelski entered and walked through the bathroom, Plaintiff was inside allegedly talking to another service technician, Andy Wolbert ("Wolbert"), who was standing at a urinal. (Id.). According to Plaintiff, this was the second time Przestrzelski had entered the bathroom while Plaintiff was inside, with the first such incident having allegedly taken place in the late 1990's; however, Plaintiff made no complaint regarding the first alleged incident. (SMF ¶ 31).

Later on August 4, 2006, Plaintiff complained about Przestrzelski's presence in the bathroom to Michael Crivelli, who happened to be in the building that day. (SMF ¶ 36). The following Monday, Simpson spoke to Plaintiff about the incident and informed him that it would be "two weeks before he could pull [Przestrzelski] off the counter to reprimand her." (SMF ¶ 37). Simpson subsequently reprimanded Przestrzelski for carelessly entering the restroom without checking it for occupants and, on August 25, 2006, Przestrzelski apologized directly to Plaintiff and to Wolbert. (SMF ¶¶ 38-39). Nonetheless, in Plaintiff's view, the apology was not an effective response to the nature and severity of his complaint. (SMF ¶ 40). In particular, Plaintiff believed that, because this was not the first bathroom incident involving Przestrzelski, "something more appropriate to the situation than just an apology" was needed, such as a loss of pay or sending her home for a few days. (Id.). As a result, Plaintiff quit Crivelli on August 25, 2006, which Plaintiff asserts was a constructive discharge caused by his having to endure a "hostile and offensive work environment...." (SMF ¶ 1; Complaint at ¶ 15).

C. Standard of Review

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) provides that summary judgment shall be granted 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 judgment as a matter of law." Rule 56(e) further provides that when a motion for summary judgment is made and supported, "an adverse party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of the adverse party's pleading, but the adverse party's response, by affidavits or as otherwise provided in this rule, must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. If the adverse party does not so respond, summary judgment, if appropriate, shall be entered against the adverse party." Id.

A district court may grant summary judgment for the defendant when the plaintiff has failed to present any genuine issues of material fact. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Krouse v. American Sterilizer Company, 126 F.3d 494, 500 n.2 (3d Cir. 1997). The moving party has the initial burden of proving to the district court the absence of evidence supporting the non-moving party's claims. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986); Country Floors, Inc. v. Partnership Composed of Gepner and Ford, 930 F.2d 1056, 1061 (3d Cir. 1990). Further, "[R]ule 56 enables a party contending that there is no genuine dispute as to a specific, essential fact 'to demand at least one sworn averment of that fact before the lengthy process of litigation continues.'" Schoch v. First Fidelity Bancorporation, 912 F.2d 654, 657 (3d Cir. 1990) quoting Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation, 497 U.S. 871 (1990).

The burden then shifts to the non-movant to come forward with specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Company v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574 (1986); Williams v. Borough of West Chester, Pa., 891 F.2d 458, 460-461 (3d Cir. 1989)(the non-movant must present affirmative evidence - more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance - which supports each element of his claim to defeat a properly presented motion for summary judgment). The non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings and show specific facts by affidavit or by information contained in the filed documents (i.e., depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions) to meet his burden of proving elements essential to his claim. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322; Country Floors, 930 F.2d at 1061.

A material fact is a fact whose resolution will affect the outcome of the case under applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Although the court must resolve any doubts as to the existence of genuine issues of fact against the party moving for summary judgment, Rule 56 "does not allow a party resisting the motion to rely merely upon bare assertions, conclusory allegation or suspicions." Firemen's Ins. Company of Newark, N.J. v. DuFresne, 676 F.2d 965, 969 (3d Cir. 1982). Summary judgment is only precluded if the dispute about a material fact ...

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