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Oakley v. Orthopaedic Associates of Allentown

September 28, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: O'Neill, J.


I. Introduction

Plaintiff Jaclyn Oakley is a certified athletic trainer and a member of the Church of God, a Christian denomination that observes the Sabbath as described in the Old Testament. Defendants are Orthopaedic Associates of Allentown ("OAA"), a provider of orthopaedic care, and individual defendants including OAA's chief operating officer, Vincent Hudson, its director of athletic training services, Linda Stout, and its human resources director, Maryanne Nastasee. Following her termination in October 2008, plaintiff brought suit for employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, alleging that she was terminated because of her religion; that OAA terminated her employment in retaliation for her requests for an accommodation of her religious beliefs; and that OAA failed to provide her with an appropriate accommodation that would have allowed her to observe the Sabbath and various Holy Days. OAA counterclaimed for breach of plaintiff's employment contract.

Defendants have moved for summary judgment against plaintiff as to all of her claims and for judgment in OAA's favor on the counterclaim. Summary judgment will be granted in favor of defendants as to plaintiff's disparate treatment and retaliation claims. Summary judgment will be denied as to plaintiff's failure to accommodate claim. Summary judgment will be denied without prejudice as to plaintiff's remaining claims and OAA's counterclaim.

II. Standard of Review

Summary judgment should be granted if the record, including pleadings, depositions, affidavits, and answers to interrogatories, demonstrates "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." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In making that determination, the "evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). The question is whether "the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Id. at 251-52. It is not the role of the trial judge "to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial," id. at 250, because "[c]redibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge." Id. at 255. At "the summary judgment stage, 'all that is required [for a non-moving party to survive the motion] is that sufficient evidence supporting the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a jury or judge to resolve [at trial] the parties' differing versions of the truth.'" Jackson v. Univ. of Pittsburgh, 846 F.2d 230, 233 (3d Cir. 1987), quoting First Nat'l Bank of Ariz. v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 288-89 (1968).

III. Factual Background*fn1

OAA employs two types of certified athletic trainers ("ATCs"): Outreach ATCs, who work on site at schools and provide services during team practices and athletic events and Clinical ATCs, who treat patients at OAA's Allentown facility. (Defs.' Statement at 5-7). The clinic is open on Mondays through Fridays, and also on Sundays during football season. (Defs.' Statement at 7). When outreach ATCs work in the clinic on Sundays during football season, they are paid $35 for roughly two hours of work. (Pl.'s Resp. at 45).

Although most Outreach ATCs work full time in schools, some districts pay for a part time ATC to service middle schools. Those part time ATCs who work in middle schools also work in the OAA clinic in the mornings, as middle school sporting events tend to require less time than their high school counterparts. (Pl.'s Resp. at 6, 46).

Plaintiff began working for OAA as an Outreach ATC in June 2007, following the completion of her graduate education. (Pl.'s Counterstatement at 2). Plaintiff signed a lengthy employment contract with OAA, which she did not take home to review prior to signing. (Id.) She did not receive a copy of the contract. (Pl.'s Counterstatement at 4). Plaintiff signed a renewal of her employment contract, again without taking it home or submitting it to review by an attorney, in June 2008. (Pl.'s Counterstatement at 18). The contracts permitted OAA to determine plaintiff's responsibilities and time commitment, but did not specify which days or hours she was to work. (Pl.'s Resp. at 12). The contracts provided that if plaintiff failed to satisfy her obligations under the agreement she would be required to pay OAA liquidated damages in the amount of 20% of her base salary. (Defs.' statement at 13).

Plaintiff was assigned to work at Saucon Valley High School in Hellertown, Pennsylvania. (Pl.'s counterstatement at 7). She reported to both Linda Stout, OAA's director of athletic training services, and the athletic director of Saucon Valley School District, Robert Frey. (Pl.'s counterstatement at 8). She was required to cover all high school and middle school sports, which included both games and practices. (Defs.' statement at 18). Plaintiff worked 35 hours per week during the fall and winter seasons in 2007-2008, including Fridays after sundown and some Saturdays. (Defs.' statement at 18, 20-21). During the 2008 spring season, her hours were the same. (Defs.' statement at 22).

Plaintiff had a successful tenure at Saucon Valley between her hiring in June 2007 and June 2008. (Pl.'s counterstatement at 14). She received excellent performance evaluations, and worked well with athletic director Robert Frey. (Id.) Although plaintiff was the only athletic trainer assigned to Saucon Valley when she began working for OAA, an additional ATC, Erin McCormick, was added in 2007. (Pl.'s counterstatement at 16). Plaintiff and McCormick were permitted to work out their schedules and division of labor at the school district without input from their supervisor, Stout. (Pl.'s counterstatement at 17).

In or about July 2008, Plaintiff became an active member of the Church of God. (Pl.'s counterstatement at 19). On or about August 19, 2008, plaintiff emailed Stout to advise Stout of her conversion, and to explain her objection to working on the Sabbath and on other Church Holy Days. (Id.) Prior to emailing Stout, plaintiff had agreed with McCormick that McCormick would cover any events that took place on Friday nights and Saturdays. (Pl.'s counterstatement at 20). In return, Plaintiff worked late on Monday through Thursday evenings. (Id.)

Shortly after advising Stout of her conversion, plaintiff had a meeting with Stout to further explain which days plaintiff would be unable to work and to advise Stout that McCormick intended to cover for plaintiff when plaintiff could not work. (Pl.'s counterstatement at 23). Stout indicated that she was comfortable with the arrangement between plaintiff and McCormick, but that Robert Frey at Saucon Valley would also have to approve. (Pl.'s counterstatement at 25). Stout also commented that she believed other employees would like to take off on Friday nights and Saturday mornings, and referred to plaintiff's religious beliefs and Holy Days as "weird." (Pl.'s counterstatement at 26).

Plaintiff discussed her conversion with Robert Frey at Saucon Valley, who was supportive and indicated a willingness to accommodate her new schedule. (Pl.'s counterstatement at 30). Frey never told plaintiff that Saucon Valley needed to have two ATCs on site at all times or that her job might be in jeopardy if she did not work on the Sabbath or Holy Days. (Pl.'s counterstatement at 32). Plaintiff did not work a Friday evening past sunset or a Saturday morning after August 19, 2008. (Pl.'s resp. at 29).

Plaintiff lived near the Saucon Valley campus and could fulfill her religious requirements to not work on the Sabbath by leaving work roughly ten minutes before sundown. (Pl.'s counterstatement at 21). During the fall sports season, the only Saucon Valley events that took place after sundown on Fridays were football games. (Pl.'s counterstatement at 21). Saucon Valley's football season lasted until October 30, 2008. (Pl.'s resp. at 36). In the spring, there are no sporting events at Saucon Valley that take place after dark. (Pl.'s counterstatement at 22).

Plaintiff's co-worker and friend, Erin McCormick, struggled with the increased workload that came with her agreement to cover varsity football for plaintiff. (Defs.' statement at 30). On October 1, 2008, Saucon Valley's Frey emailed OAA's Stout to express his concerns about the strain that plaintiff's absences put on McCormick and the rest of his staff. (Defs.' statement at 31). Frey also requested that Stout guarantee coverage on all Fridays, Saturdays, and additional Church of God Holy Days when plaintiff might be absent. (Defs.' statement at 31). Frey went on to write, "In no case do I believe any of us are in a position to discriminate against a religious belief and therefore I think we must be able to work around her needs at least to a considerable and respectable means..." (Pl.'s resp. at 31).

Plaintiff planned to take off of work to observe the Feast of the Tabernacles during October 2008. (Pl.'s counterstatement at 33). Before taking off, plaintiff came to OAA's offices on October 2, 2008 to meet with Stout and OAA's human resources director, defendant Maryanne Nastasee. (Pl.'s resp. at 33). Plaintiff asked to be absent on October 9, and between October 13 and October 21, for Holy Day observances. (Id.)

Nastasee told plaintiff that her religious observances were causing a problem and were not fair to OAA's other employees. (Pl.'s counterstatement at 33). Plaintiff said that she would do anything she could to preserve her job, including working extra hours in defendant's clinic, covering for ATCs on days besides the Sabbath, and paying for a replacement for the days she would miss. (Pl.'s counterstatement at 33). At no time did Stout or Nastasee indicate to plaintiff that she would lose her job if she took off from work to observe ...

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