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Young v. St. James Management

October 29, 2010

STEVEN YOUNG AND EZEKIEL YOUNG, PLAINTIFFS
v.
ST. JAMES MANAGEMENT, LLC, STONEHENGE-WALNUT, LLC AND STONEHENGE ADVISORS, LLC, (D.B.A. STONEHENGE-WALNUT, LLC), DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Anita B. Brody, J.

MEMORANDUM

This case arises out of Steven Young and Ezekiel Young's allegations of race discrimination against their former employer, Defendants St. James Management, LLC, Stonehenge-Walnut, LLC, and Stonehenge Advisors, LLC ("Defendants"). In their Second Amended Complaint, both Plaintiffs allege violations of Title VII (Counts I & III) and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (Count II). Ezekiel Young also alleges violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Count IV). Defendants move for summary judgment on all four counts.*fn1

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND*fn2

A. Facts Pertinent to Steven Young's Race Discrimination Claims

Plaintiff Steven Young ("Steve") is African American. From April 12, 2004 through May 1, 2007, Steve was employed as a maintenance technician at the St. James, a luxury apartment building in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In addition to working at the St. James, Steve was also a resident of the building. Steve had a twelve-month residential lease for a one-bedroom unit that began on May 1, 2004. By its terms, the lease renewed automatically each year unless one party gave written notice at least sixty days before the end of the term. One-bedroom units at the St. James can rent for up to $2,000 a month. (Sablosky Dep. 55:8-9, Nov. 4, 2009.) The Employment Addendum to Steve's Residential Lease Agreement waived rent in exchange for Steve waiving overtime compensation for on-call responsibilities. Steve was the only employee provided with an on-site residence. (Hughes Dep. 11:20, Jan. 21, 2010.) The Employment Addendum also provided that Steve must vacate the unit within fourteen days if he resigned or was terminated.

During his tenure at the St. James, Steve received numerous written warnings from Defendants for various infractions including: (1) overusing his company cell phone for personal calls; (2) refusing to move a second vehicle from the garage at the St. James; (3) behaving in a loud and abusive manner while on the premises; (4) spending time in his apartment during working hours; (5) intimidating and harassing a fellow employee; (6) refusing to abide by the company dress code; (7) working overtime hours without authorization; and (8) refusing to perform assigned duties.

In December 2006, Steve's son moved in with him at the St. James. (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶ 58.) Steve's son is African American. (See id. ¶ 62.) Shortly after Steve's son moved in with him, his son's Caucasian girlfriend began to visit Steve's son at the St. James. (Id. ¶ 59.) On January 18, 2007, Alex Walker, Property Manager at the St. James, approached Steve to discuss Steve's son and his son's girlfriend. (Id. ¶ 60.) Walker told Steve that he had seen them holding hands in the lobby and that "it didn't look right." (Id.) When Steve asked Walker what he meant, Walker replied: "You know what I mean." (Id. at 61.) Steve believes Walker meant that it was inappropriate for an African American male to be seen holding a Caucasian female's hand at the St. James, where the majority of residents are Caucasian. (Id. ¶ 62.) On January 29, 2007, Alan Casnoff, former owner and current consultant of Defendant Stonehenge,*fn3 asked Steve if he had spoken to Walker about his son's girlfriend. (Id. ¶ 63.) When Steve asked if there was a problem, Casnoff replied: "Think about it. It doesn't look right." (Id.)

On February 1, 2007, Steve received a letter from Daniel Sablosky, President of Stonehenge, notifying him that his lease would be terminated at the end of the term. (Id. ¶ 64.) On February 15, 2007, Sablosky approached Steve and initiated a third conversation concerning Steve's son. (Id. ¶ 65.) Sablosky asked Steve if he had ever met his son's girlfriend's parents. (Id.) When Steve asked what difference it made, Sablosky responded: "You know what I mean."

(Id.) Sablosky went on to tell Steve that if his son and his son's girlfriend ever got into an argument, the police would take the girlfriend's side. (Id.) Steve believes that Sablosky meant to imply that the police would be less likely to believe his son because he was African American.

Steve failed to vacate his apartment by the end of the lease term. On May 1, 2007, Steve received a letter from Sablosky notifying him that he was being terminated from his employment for "insubordination, including refusal to perform assigned duties or refusal to perform work in the manner described by a supervisor or manager." The letter also cited Steve's refusal to vacate his apartment as a reason for termination.

On August 24, 2007, Steve filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") claiming that Defendants terminated him because they disapproved of his son's interracial relationship. Steve claims that Defendants' explanation that Steve was terminated for insubordination is merely a pretext for discrimination or, in the alternative, that Defendants had mixed motives in their decision to terminate his employment. (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 101-02.) Steve also alleges that Defendants negligently violated Title VII. (Id. ¶ 97.)

B. Facts Pertinent to Ezekiel Young's Race Discrimination Claims

Plaintiff Ezekiel Young ("Ezekiel") is African American. From October 18, 2004 through October 10, 2007, Ezekiel was an employee at the St. James. Ezekiel was hired as a doorman and was promoted on August 21, 2006 to the position of maintenance mechanic. Ezekiel was occasionally asked to move items in the basement of the St. James, which was generally a housekeeping duty. (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶ 85; Defs.' Mem. Supp. Summ. J. Ex. 34.)

During his three years as a St. James employee, Ezekiel received two warnings. The first was for improperly punching out on the time clock. (Defs.' Mem. Supp. Summ. J. Exs. 31-32.)

Management later realized that the warning was a mistake and placed a note in Ezekiel's file indicating that the problem had been resolved. (Id.) A second warning was issued to Ezekiel after he was allegedly seen playing Solitaire on a company computer during working hours. (Id. at Ex. 33.) Ezekiel denies that he was playing Solitaire. (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶ 29.)

On August 17, 2007, Ezekiel filed charges of racial discrimination with the EEOC, claiming that: (1) African Americans were denied access to the office bathroom, parking spaces, and company-supplied bottled water; (2) only African American employees were required to punch in using the time clock; (3) he was improperly warned for failing to punch out on the time clock and for playing Solitaire on a company computer; and (4) he was discriminated against when the St. James hired Paul Kuzan as Chief Engineer. (Id. at Ex. 37.)*fn4

In his Second Amended Complaint to this Court, Ezekiel adds several new allegations. Ezekiel alleges that he was discriminated against because: (1) African American employees were denied access to company-supplied snacks; (2) African American employees were prohibited from taking breaks on the loading dock where Caucasian employees took their breaks, (3) employees were racially segregated at the 2006 company Christmas party; (4) he overheard managers claiming that they could increase profits by replacing African American employees with Caucasians; (5) African American employees were prohibited from using the office water fountain; and (6) he was demoted to housekeeping duties following a workplace injury. (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 77-79, 81-82, 86, 92-93.)

Ezekiel claims that Defendants' actions were discriminatory or, most favorably to Defendants, that Defendants had mixed motives for taking these actions. (Id. ¶¶ 101-02.) Ezekiel also asserts that Defendants negligently violated Title VII. (Id. ¶ 97.)

II.SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Summary judgment will 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). There is a "genuine" issue of material fact if the evidence would permit a reasonable jury to find for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The "mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" is insufficient. Id. at 252.

The moving party must make an initial showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The non-movant must then "make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of [every] element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Id. at 322. The nonmoving party must "do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Instead, "'the nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Id. at 587 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)). In determining whether the nonmoving party has established each element of its case, the court must draw all reasonable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor. Id.

III. DISCUSSION

Steve and Ezekiel allege several counts of race discrimination: violation of Title VII (Count I), violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA") (Count II), and negligent violation of Title VII (Count III). Ezekiel also alleges race discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Count IV).

Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer "to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). A Title VII plaintiff may use either the burden-shifting framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), or the mixed-motive approach established in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228 (1989). Steve and Ezekiel also assert negligent Title VII violations. These claims are analyzed using a separate five-part framework. PHRA violations are subject to the same analysis as Title VII claims. Gomez v. Allegheny Health Servs., Inc., 71 F.3d 1079, 1083-84 (3d Cir. 1995).

Under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, "all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right... to make and enforce contracts... and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property as is enjoyed by white citizens." The elements of a § 1981 claim are identical to the elements of a Title VII ...


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