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Hardee-Guerra v. Shire Pharmaceuticals

August 25, 2010

HEATHER HARDEE-GUERRA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SHIRE PHARMACEUTICALS, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM

I. INTRODUCTION

This is a discrimination and breach of contract case in which plaintiff, Heather HardeeGuerra, alleges that defendant, Shire Pharmaceuticals ("Shire"), breached a contract of employment by firing her because of her pregnancy. By Memorandum and Order dated December 18, 2009, the Court granted defendant's motion to dismiss Counts V and VI of the First Amended Complaint. Presently before the Court is defendant's motion for summary judgment on the remaining counts, which allege violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a) (Count One), violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k) (Count Two), violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 42 P.S. § 955(a) (Count Three), breach of contract, and breach of an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing (Count Four). For the reasons set forth below, defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted as it relates to Count Four of the First Amended Complaint, but denied as it relates to the other counts. In addition, the Court applies the doctrine of judicial estoppel to preclude plaintiff from seeking compensatory relief in this action. Plaintiff may seek appropriate equitable relief on the remaining counts relating to discrimination.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Plaintiff's Employment and Termination

Hardee-Guerra began working at Shire on September 11, 2006 as a temporary employee provided through the services of Matterhouse Contract Staffing, a workforce staffing company in the business of providing temporary workers to corporate clients like Shire. (Plaintiff's Answer to Mot. for Summ. J. of Def., Shire Pharmaceuticals ¶¶ 21-23; Defendant's Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ¶¶ 21-23) (hereinafter, "Def.'s Stmt." and "Pl.'s Stmt."). As a temporary employee, Hardee-Guerra was assigned to take over the position of recruiting coordinator, which had been left vacant when Shire employee Sandee Slindee went on maternity leave. (Pl.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 20, 26; Def.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 20, 26.) At the time of her placement with Shire, Hardee-Guerra knew that she was a contract employee hired on a temporary basis. (Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 22; Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 22.) She also knew that her employment was at-will, which she understood to mean that she could be terminated at any time without cause. (Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 27; Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 27.)

In October 2006, Hardee-Guerra discussed with Gina Meloni, Shire's Director of Global Recruitment, the possibility of obtaining permanent employment at Shire. (Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 32; Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 32.) That same month, she applied and was interviewed for a position at Shire as a Human Resources Generalist, but was not hired. (Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 32; Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 32.) By the end of the month, Hardee-Guerra was considering moving to South Carolina. (Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 34; Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 34.) Megan Murray, Hardee-Guerra's contact at Matterhouse, asked if Hardee-Guerra would instead be interested in extending Matterhouse's staffing arrangement with Shire so that Hardee- Guerra could remain at Shire. (Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 34; Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 34.) Meloni also approached Murray and Hardee-Guerra about the possibility of extending Shire's contract with Matterhouse. (Pl.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 33-34; Def.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 33-34.)

In a series of e-mails between Meloni and her subordinate, Doug Page, Meloni asked Page to work with Matterhouse to extend Hardee-Guerra's placement at Shire through September 2007. (Pl.'s Stmt. ¶35; Pl.'s Ex. P-6; Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 35.) On December 28, 2006, Matterhouse issued a "Statement of Work" to Shire extending Hardee-Guerra's potential placement with Shire through September 2007. (Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 38; Pl.'s Ex. P-7; Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 38.) The document extended Matterhouse's services until September 2007 and provided that Shire could hire Hardee-Guerra as a permanent employee without paying a fee to Matterhouse. (Pl.'s Ex. P-7.)

While away from work on vacation, Hardee-Guerra learned on December 25, 2006, that she was pregnant. (Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 36; Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 36.) She told her co-workers the news when she returned to work on January 3, 2007. (Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 36; Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 36.) That same day, she signed a letter prepared by Matterhouse explaining the terms of her employment. (Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 40; Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 40.) The letter explained that Hardee-Guerra would continue to provide services to Shire Pharmaceuticals as a Contract Recruitment Coordinator through September 30, 2007. (Def.'s Ex. D-6.) The letter also stated that "[e]ither party may terminate this agreement at anytime without notice. You shall not be liable to provide the consulting services beyond such notice period." (Def.'s Ex. D-6.)*fn1

On May 5, 2007, Hardee-Guerra applied for a job with Kelly Services, another a workforce staffing company that, like Matterhouse, provided contract employment services to Shire. (Pl.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 48-49; Def.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 48-49.) Hardee-Guerra applied for the job with Kelly Services because Kelly Services, unlike Matterhouse, provided its employees with benefits such as health insurance. (Pl.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 46-50; Def.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 46-50.) In her application, she noted that she was a temporary employee. (Def.'s Ex. D-18.)

Later in May, the position of Senior Operations Specialist at Shire became vacant. (Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 55; Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 55.) Hardee-Guerra told Kim Chiazza, Shire Recruitment Manager, that she was interested in the position. (Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 56; Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 56.) Shortly thereafter, HardeeGuerra experienced complications with her pregnancy that forced her to take several days off of work. (Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 57). She submitted an application for the position sometime between June 11 and June 13, 2007, after returning from pregnancy leave. (Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 56). However, by the time Hardee-Guerra returned from her pregnancy leave, the position had already been filled by Jon Walk, a contract employee who had been providing work to Shire through another contract staffing company, TWC. (Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 57; Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 57.) Just a few days later, on June 19, 2007, David Brinkman-Shire's new Global Recruiting Director-and Chiazza informed Hardee-Guerra that she was being terminated because there was not enough work for a temporary employee, even though Hardee-Guerra had worked fifty three hours at home the previous week while on pregnancy leave. (Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 59; Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 59.)

B. Plaintiff's Administrative and Bankruptcy Proceedings

Hardee-Guerra cross-filed with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ("PHRC") complaints against Shire Pharmaceuticals on October 19, 2007 and against Kelly Services and Matterhouse Contract Staffing on December 17, 2007. Each complaint alleged that Hardee-Guerra was unlawfully discriminated against because of her pregnancy in violation of Title VII and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. (Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 6; Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 6.)

On February 22, 2009, Hardee-Guerra, through an attorney,filed a bankruptcy petition under Chapter 13 of the United States Code in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of South Carolina. (Pl.'s Ex. A; Def.'s Ex. D-37.) In her bankruptcy petition, Hardee-Guerra listed assets of $40,230 and liabilities of $168,593.76, including $22,437 in secured debt and $146,156.76 in unsecured debt. (Pl.'s Ex. A; Def.'s Ex. D-37.) On Schedule B, listing her personal property and attached to her petition, Hardee-Guerra did not list as assets her pending suits against Kelly Services, Matterhouse, and Shire. (Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 2; Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 2.)A Statement of Financial Affairs, also attached to the petition, directed Hardee-Guerra to "[l]ist all suits and administrative proceedings to which the debtor is or was a party within one year immediately preceding the filing of this bankruptcy case." (Pl.'s Ex. A; Def.'s Ex. D-37.) Hardee Guerra listed no such proceedings, despite having received a "right to sue" letter from the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission on February 11, 2009, stating that she had the right to file a suit against Shire. (First Am. Compl. ¶ 6.) Just a few months earlier, on December 23, 2008, she had received a letter from the Commission explaining that the investigation into her complaint against Kelly Services was still active. (Def.'s Ex. 33.) On February 26, 2009, she received a "right to sue" letter from the Commission regarding her complaint against Matterhouse. (Def.'s Ex. D-30.)

On April 8, 2009, Hardee-Guerra, through an attorney, amended her Schedule F, a list of unsecured creditors, to include ten additional creditors and an additional $4,561.79 in unsecured debt. (Def.'s Ex. D-38.) The next day, on April 9, 2009, through separate counsel, Hardee-Guerra filed her Complaint against Shire in this Court. On September 22, 2009 she filed a Notice of Plan Modification with the bankruptcy court, under the terms of which she would pay $24,084 over five years and avoid approximately $140,000 of unsecured debt. (Pl.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 14-15; Def.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 14-15; Def.'s Ex. D-39.) The bankruptcy court approved Hardee-Guerra's plan on November 2, 2009. (Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 16; Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 16; Def.'s Ex. D-36.)

Hardee-Guerra never disclosed to the bankruptcy court or the bankruptcy trustee the existence of her lawsuit against Shire. (Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 17; Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 17.) On this issue, in interrogatories sent to Hardee-Guerra, Shire asked if she had "even been a party to any other legal proceeding of any kind." (Def.'s Ex. D-26). She responded that "[p]aintiff has not been involved in any other legal proceedings." (Def.'s Ex. D-26.)

III. LEGAL STANDARD

In considering a motion for summary judgment, "the court is required to examine the evidence of record in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment, and resolve all reasonable inferences in that party's favor." Wishkin v. Potter, 476 F.3d 180, 184 (3d Cir. 2007). The party opposing the motion, however, cannot "rely merely upon bare assertions, conclusory allegations or suspicions" to support its claim. Fireman's Ins. Co. v. DuFresne, 676 F.2d 965, 969 (3d Cir. 1982). After examining the evidence of record, a court should grant summary judgment if "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine ...


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