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Anthony v. Duff & Phelps Corp.

August 12, 2010

TAMARA ANTHONY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DUFF & PHELPS CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



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

Memorandum

Proceeding under federal and state law, Tamara Anthony alleges that banking firm Duff & Phelps fired her in June 2008 because of her Russian national origin. Because she offers no supporting evidence, I will grant the Company's Motion for Summary Judgment.

I. JURISDICTION

Plaintiff Tamara Anthony brings this action against Defendant Duff & Phelps, LLC pursuant to Title VII and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000(e) et seq; 42 Pa. Stat. §§ 951-963. I have jurisdiction to hear Plaintiff's federal claim under 28 U.S.C. §1331 and supplemental jurisdiction to hear Plaintiff's state law claim under 28 U.S.C. §1367.

II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARDS

The "underlying purpose of summary judgment is to avoid a pointless trial in cases where it is unnecessary and would only cause delay and expense." Walden v. Saint Gobain Corp., 323 F. Supp. 2d 637, 641 (E.D. Pa. 2004) (citing Goodman v. Mead Johnson & Co., 534 F.2d 566, 573 (3d Cir. 1976)).

The requirements for granting summary judgment are well known: Upon motion of any party, summary judgment is appropriate 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). Summary judgment may be granted only if the movant shows that "there exists no genuine issue of material fact that would permit a reasonable jury to find for the nonmoving party." Miller v. Ind. Hosp., 843 F.2d 139, 143 (3d Cir. 1988). An issue is "genuine" if a reasonable jury could possibly hold in the non-movant's favor with regard to that issue. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is "material" only if it could affect the result of the suit under governing law. Id.

In deciding whether to grant summary judgment, the district court "must view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party," and make every reasonable inference in that party's favor. Hugh v. Butler County Family YMCA, 418 F.3d 265, 267 (3d Cir. 2005). If, after viewing all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party, the court determines that there is no genuine issue of material fact, summary judgment is appropriate. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Wisniewski v. Johns-Manville Corp., 812 F.2d 81, 83 (3d Cir. 1987).

The opposing party must support each essential element with concrete evidence in the record. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. "If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (internal citations omitted).

III. HISTORY

I have construed the undisputed facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, and made all reasonable inferences and resolved all material factual disputes in her favor. When Plaintiff seeks to contradict Defendant's factual contentions but offers no supporting evidence, I have treated these contentions as undisputed. See Blaylock v. City of Phila., 504 F.3d 405, 413 (3d Cir. 2007) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48 (a factual allegation without evidentiary support cannot create a genuine factual dispute)).

A. Plaintiff's Employment

Plaintiff was born in Russia in 1981. Her family moved to the Ukraine when Plaintiff was four years old, and she emigrated to the United States in 2000. Plaintiff graduated from St. Joseph's University in 2006. Having applied for a job at Duff & Phelps, she was interviewed in June 2006 by Vice President John Corbett and Senior Analyst Paul Sipala. (Doc. No. 34, Ex. A, Anthony Dep. 128.) On September 11, 2006, Plaintiff began working as an analyst in the Philadelphia Real Estate subunit of Defendant's Valuation Advisory Services Business group. (Anthony Dep. 135-137.) Plaintiff's responsibilities included organizing data from public and private records for use in creating commercial real estate appraisals. (Anthony Dep. 153:2-4.) Plaintiff's starting salary was $50,000, although she received a raise and discretionary bonus in 2007 and 2008. (Anthony Dep. 136:1-4, 143:23-24, 144:1-3.) Plaintiff's immediate supervisor was Sipala who, in turn, was supervised by Corbett. (Doc. No. 32, at 1.) In March 2008, Jay White became Managing Director of Plaintiff's subunit. There were eight employees in the subunit; in addition to Plaintiff, one -- Edli Zaloom -- was foreign born. (Anthony Dep. 34:7-8, 152:22-24.)

In early 2008, the Company evaluated Plaintiff's 2007 performance. (Doc. No. 34, Ex. B.) Although Plaintiff received the highest rating in two of ten "Competency Assessment" areas, she received the second lowest rating -- "proficient" -- in seven areas, and an overall competency rating of "proficient." (Doc. No. 34, Ex. B.) Sipala, who conducted the evaluation, characterized Plaintiff's overall performance as neither positive nor negative, but "fair." (Doc. No. 34, Ex. B, Sipala Dep. 22:16.) Plaintiff testified that Sipala was a "reasonable supervisor" without anti-Russian bias. (Anthony Dep. 22:9-11, 225:18-22.)

The only other real estate analyst then working in the Philadelphia office was Robert Wasenius, who was born in the United States and began working at Duff & Phelps after graduating from college in June 2007. (Doc. No. 34, Ex. C, Wasenius Dep. 8.) Wasenius' 2007 performance evaluation was similar to Plaintiff's, except that his overall competency was rated as "requires development" - the lowest possible rating. (Doc. No. 34, Ex. B.) Sipala, who also evaluated Wasenius, testified without contradiction that Wasenius' overall rating was not based on his competence, which was adequate, but "strictly on the formality that he had less than a year's experience, so at that point you would [necessarily] define someone as requiring development." (Sipala Dep. 93:3-8.) Thus, Plaintiff's 2006 evaluation -- completed when she had worked at the Company for less than a year -- included the same overall competency rating: "requires development." (Plaintiff's Tr. Exhibits, at No. 4.)

In July 2008 -- shortly after her college graduation -- Carly Kurkiewicz, who was born in the United States, began working at Duff & Phelps as a real estate analyst. Kurkiewicz had interned at Duff & Phelps in the summer of 2007, and accepted the Company's full time employment offer in November 2007 while a senior in college. (Doc. No. 40, Ex. C.) At the time the Company hired Kurkiewicz, "there was still the view that the need [for more employees] would be there" when she actually began her employment some nine months later. (Sipala Dep. 87:15-17.) In the Spring of 2008, however, "as a result of the general economic downturn beginning in late 2007," Duff & Phelps "implemented Project Pearl, a nationwide reduction-in-force." (Doc. No. 32, Ex. A, Certification of Ross Prindle.) Because "Duff & Phelps relies heavily upon college recruiting, the Company decided during the current economic downturn to have a policy of not rescinding offers to impending college graduates in connection with layoffs, including Project Pearl, to avoid creating any potential disadvantage in competing for top college talent." (Doc. No. 40, Ex. E, Prindle Affidavit.)

B. Plaintiff's Firing

Ross Prindle -- a Chicago-based Managing Director and national head of the Company's Real Estate subunit -- was among those executives who implemented Project Pearl. Fellow Managing Director Paul Barnes advised Prindle that "due to the Philadelphia office's relatively weak performance, [he] would be required to select [a real estate] Analyst-level employee there for termination." (Doc. No. 32, Ex. A.) Mr. Prindle did not know either Plaintiff or Wasenius (the only two real estate analysts working in Philadelphia at the time), nor did Prindle know their national origins. (Id.)

In deciding whom to terminate, Prindle relied primarily on "utilization data," by which the Company analyzed its employees' efficiency and productivity. (Id.) The data showed that "between January 1, 2007 and March 31, 2008, Plaintiff's overall utilization score was 10-15% lower per year than Wasenius' score." (Id.) Prindle then contacted Corbett to discuss the 2007 performance reviews of employees in the Philadelphia office. (Doc. No. 34, Ex. D, Corbett Dep. 64-65.) Corbett did not know that this conversation was related to layoffs, believing that Prindle had contacted him simply to discuss the employees' annual performance reviews. (Corbett Dep. 65:7-13; Doc. No. 32, ¶¶ 45-47.) No mention was made of Plaintiff's nationality during the conversation. (See Corbett Dep. 63-68; Doc. No. 32, Ex. A.) Prindle contacted neither Sipala nor White. (Sipala Dep. 23-24; Doc. No. 34, Ex. E, White Dep. 17-19.)

Concluding that there was no "reason to believe Plaintiff's and Wasenius' utilization scores grossly mischaracterized the overall quality of their respective work performance," Prindle alone decided to terminate Plaintiff. (Doc. No. 32, Ex. A.) He stated without contradiction that Plaintiff's national origin (of which he was ignorant) played no part in his decision. (Id.) Plaintiff was one of 30 employees "nationwide across multiple business units . . . laid off as part of Project Pearl." (Doc. No. 32, Ex. B.)

On June 9, 2008, members of the Human Resources Department told Plaintiff that she would be laid off effective in one week. (Anthony Dep. 226.) Plaintiff's termination surprised Corbett and Sipala, who were unaware of any plans to terminate employees. (Corbett Dep. 62:10-24, 65:7-9, 70:7-9; Sipala Dep. 23-24, 80-83.) Indeed, Sipala, Corbett, and White were not involved in the decision to terminate Plaintiff, did not know of Project Pearl, and did not know who had made the ...


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