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Husick v. Allegheny County

May 10, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Nora Barry Fischer


I. Introduction

This matter comes before the Court on a motion for summary judgment filed by Allegheny County, Pennsylvania ("Allegheny County"), the defendant in this action, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. (Docket No. 55). For the reasons that follow, that motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

II. Background

Plaintiff Robert J. Husick ("Husick") is a white male who was born on October 15, 1952. On February 14, 1977, Judge Henry Ellenbogen ("Judge Ellenbogen"), the President Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, signed an order appointing Husick to the position of Data Coordinator for the Criminal Calendar Control Unit of the Court of Common Pleas. (Docket No. 57-2). Husick's appointment became effective on February 28, 1977. ( Id. ). During a meeting conducted in November 1978, the judges of the Criminal Court selected Husick to serve as a Minute Clerk. (Docket No. 57-3). This action was memorialized in a letter from Judge Robert E. Dauer ("Judge Dauer") to Judge Michael J. O'Malley ("Judge O'Malley") dated November 17, 1978. ( Id. ).

Husick's employment as a Minute Clerk was terminated on January 25, 2006. (Docket No. 57-4). In a letter to Husick setting forth the grounds for his discharge, Criminal Division Administrator Helen M. Lynch ("Lynch") stated that Husick had misrepresented information to a judge, to other court personnel, to Sheriff's Department officials, and to members of the general public. ( Id. at 1). Lynch also declared in her letter that Husick had "potentially compromised the safety" of a judicial officer "by not following established security precautions regarding a defendant." ( Id. ). Making reference to "previous discussions" concerning Husick's "work performance," Lynch informed Husick in writing that he was being terminated because of the "latest incidents" involving misrepresentation and a breach of security. ( Id. ).

On October 30, 2006, Husick filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), alleging that his discharge had constituted violations of both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") [42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ] and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 ("ADEA") [29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. ]. (Docket No. 22-1). The charge named the "Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas-Criminal Division" as the respondent. ( Id. ). Allegheny County, through the Allegheny County Law Department, filed with the EEOC a motion to dismiss Husick's complaint on the ground that it had not been filed in a timely manner. (Docket No. 28-2 at 2-3). The EEOC granted the motion on May 31, 2007, dismissing Husick's complaint on statute-of-limitations grounds.*fn1 (Docket No. 26-1 at 1). Husick was provided with a notice informing him both of the administrative dismissal of his complaint and of his "right to sue" under Title VII and the ADEA. ( Id. ).

Husick filed a pro se complaint against Allegheny County on August 28, 2007, alleging violations of Title VII and the ADEA. (Docket No. 1). On February 20, 2008, Allegheny County filed a motion to dismiss Husick's complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), contending that his case could not proceed because he had not exhausted his administrative remedies in a timely manner, and because his complaint had not been prepared in conformity with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 10(b). (Docket No. 10). That same day, the Court entered an order indicating that any party's response to a dispositive motion was to be filed within 20 days of the filing of the motion. (Docket No. 12 at ¶ 2). Husick failed to respond to Allegheny County's motion to dismiss within the requisite period of time. Because no response had been filed, the Court granted the motion to dismiss on March 17, 2008. (Docket No. 13).

Husick appealed the dismissal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit on April 16, 2008. (Docket No. 14). In an opinion filed on December 30, 2008, the Court of Appeals held that the dismissal of Husick's complaint had been contrary to its decision in Stackhouse v. Mazurkiewicz, 951 F.2d 29 (3d Cir. 1991).*fn2 Husick v. Allegheny County, 304 Fed.Appx. 977, 979 (3d Cir. 2008). The Court's prior order dismissing the case was vacated, and the case was remanded for further proceedings. Id.

On February 10, 2009, Husick filed his response to Allegheny County's motion to dismiss. (Docket Nos. 18 & 19). A hearing concerning the motion to dismiss was held on March 4, 2009. (Docket No. 33). Husick, who participated by telephone from his home in Arizona, was placed under oath so that his statements could be regarded as testimonial evidence in support of his case. ( Id. at 4, 10). In a memorandum opinion and order dated June 18, 2009, the Court denied the motion to dismiss without prejudice.*fn3 Husick v. Allegheny County, Civil Action No. 07-1175, 2009 WL 1743917, at *13, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 53502, at *47 (W.D.Pa. June 18, 2009). Allegheny County filed its answer to Husick's complaint on July 20, 2009. (Docket No. 47).

Husick was deposed in the office of the Allegheny County Law Department on October 26, 2009. (Docket No. 48). A mediation session was conducted before Magistrate Judge Robert C. Mitchell on October 27, 2009, but the parties were unable to reach a settlement agreement. (Docket No. 51). On January 4, 2010, Allegheny County filed a motion for summary judgment.

(Docket No. 55). That motion is the subject of this memorandum opinion.

III. Standard of Review

Summary judgment may only be granted "if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), the Court must enter summary judgment against a party who fails to make a showing 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 Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In evaluating the evidence, the Court must interpret the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, drawing all reasonable inferences in his or her favor. Watson v. Abington Township, 478 F.3d 144, 147 (3d Cir. 2007). The burden is initially on the moving party to demonstrate that the evidence contained in the record does not create a genuine issue of material fact. Conoshenti v. Public Service Electric & Gas Co., 364 F.3d 135, 140 (3d Cir. 2004). A dispute is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. McGreevy v. Stroup, 413 F.3d 359, 363 (3d Cir. 2005). Where the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may meet its burden by showing that the admissible evidence contained in the record would be insufficient to carry the non-moving party's burden of proof. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. Once the moving party satisfies its burden, the burden shifts to the non-moving party, who must go beyond his or her pleadings and designate specific facts by the use of affidavits, depositions, admissions or answers to interrogatories in order to show that there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial. Id. at 324. The non-moving party cannot defeat a well-supported motion for summary judgment by simply reasserting unsupported factual allegations contained in his or her pleadings. Williams v. Borough of West Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460 (3d Cir. 1989).

IV. Discussion

Allegheny County advances two arguments in support of its motion for summary judgment. First, Allegheny County contends that only the Court of Common Pleas (and not Allegheny County) was Husick's "employer." (Docket No. 56 at 3-5). Second, Allegheny County asserts that Husick cannot establish a violation of Title VII or the ADEA (against either Allegheny County or the Court of Common Pleas) in any event. ( Id. at 6-7). These issues will be addressed in sequence.

A. The Identity of Husick's Former "Employer"

A 1968 amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution provided for the creation of a "unified judicial system" which included Pennsylvania's "courts of common pleas." P A. C ONST., A RT. V, § 1. This constitutional mandate was subsequently implemented by the Pennsylvania Legislature. 42 P A. C ONS. S TAT. § 301. When the Legislature provided for the creation of a "unified" Pennsylvania Judiciary, it also passed legislation requiring individual counties to "establish and maintain on their respective books" accounts "to be known as the judicial and related account[s]," from which the salaries of judicial employees working within their respective counties were to be paid. 42 P A. C ONS. S TAT. § 3541. In County of Allegheny v. Pennsylvania, 534 A.2d 760, 765 (Pa. 1987), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found the statutory provision providing for county-based funding of the individual "courts of common pleas" to be inconsistent with the Pennsylvania Constitution's mandate that the Pennsylvania Judiciary be "unified." The judgment was stayed in order to provide the Pennsylvania Legislature with an opportunity to fund the Pennsylvania Judiciary on a statewide basis, thereby leaving the reality of county-based funding in place for the time being. County of Allegheny, 534 A.2d at 765. Therefore, judicial employees such as Husick continued to be paid by their respective counties even though they were not regarded as county employees under Pennsylvania law.

Under the law of Pennsylvania, Husick was an employee of the Court of Common Pleas. The fact that he was paid from an account maintained by Allegheny County did not render him an employee of Allegheny County for purposes of Pennsylvania law. County of Lehigh v. Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, 489 A.2d 1325, 1327 (Pa. 1985). It is clear that, for purposes of employment discrimination law, Pennsylvania did not regard Husick as an employee of Allegheny County. Indeed, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has held that the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ("PHRC") has no jurisdiction over charges of discrimination filed by state judicial employees. First Judicial District of Pennsylvania v. Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, 727 A.2d 1110, 262-263 (Pa. 1999). Pennsylvania's characterization of Husick's employment status, however, is not dispositive of his claims against Allegheny County under Title VII and the ADEA. Congress has specifically defined the terms "employer" and "employee" within the text of those statutes.*fn4 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(b), (f); 29 U.S.C. § 630(b), (f). Because Congress has provided its own statutory definitions for these terms, the existence (or nonexistence) of an employment relationship between Husick and Allegheny County for purposes of Title VII and the ADEA is a question of federal law. Cruz-Lovo v. Ryder System, Inc., 298 F.Supp.2d 1248, 1251 (S.D.Fla. 2003).

The parties do not appear to dispute that Allegheny County is an "employer" within the meaning of Title VII and the ADEA. Allegheny County contends that Husick was an "employee" of the Court of Common Pleas, and that he was not "employed by" Allegheny County within the meaning of Title VII and the ADEA.*fn5 (Docket No. 56 at 3-5). In Graves v. Lowery, 117 F.3d 723, 724 (3d Cir. 1997), the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that employees of the Pennsylvania Judiciary, who were formally regarded as judicial employees (and not county employees) under Pennsylvania law, were not precluded from proceeding with Title VII claims against Dauphin County. The Court of Appeals explained that an "employer" such as the Pennsylvania Judiciary may "have the derivative right to delegate employer-type responsibilities to a county" while retaining the "inherent right" to hire and fire its own employees, thereby rendering both entities "employers" within the meaning of Title VII. Graves, 117 F.3d at 727. In other words, the interrelationship between two separate entities may be such that both are regarded as "employers" of the same ...

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