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Jennifer Brown v. County of Northampton

December 6, 2010



McLaughlin, J. December 3, 2010

The plaintiff, Jennifer Brown, is an African American female who alleges that she was discriminated against by her employer, defendant Northampton County, and terminated due to her race, in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 P.S. § 951 et seq. The plaintiff claims that the defendant failed to adequately train her during her probationary period due to racial animus, and that as a result, she was terminated from her position for failure to successfully perform her job. The defendant now moves for summary judgment on the plaintiff's claims, asserting that the plaintiff's training was no worse than that of any other employee in her department and that her termination was the result of poor job performance. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant the defendant's motion.

I. The Summary Judgment Record*fn1

The plaintiff began working as a Clerical Tech III for the Department of Revenue in June 2007 on a probationary basis. Deposition of Jennifer Brown 81:14-16 ("Brown Dep"), Ex. D; Dec. 13, 2007 Letter from Nancy Poplawski ("Poplawski Letter"), Ex.

A.*fn2 The plaintiff's direct supervisor was Cindy Hoffer and the plaintiff's manager was Nancy Poplawski. Pl.'s Compl. ¶¶ 6-7. Doree Anglemeyer, another employee with the Department, was assigned to train the plaintiff. Compl. ¶ 8. The plaintiff was the only African American in her department. Deposition of Cindy Hoffer 42:5-7 ("Hoffer Dep"), Ex. B.

Throughout the plaintiff's probationary period she received three performance evaluations, all apparently written by Ms. Poplawski. The evaluation form asked her supervisors to assess the plaintiff's performance with respect to a number of different criteria, including quality of work, initiative, cooperation, and dependability. Evaluation Form ("Evaluation Form"), Ex. C. On October 5, 2007, the plaintiff received her first performance evaluation, in which the plaintiff received low scores. Evaluation Form. In her second evaluation, dated November 5, 2007, the plaintiff received slightly improved, but still low overall scores. Id. In her comments to the second evaluation, Ms. Poplawski does note some progress by the plaintiff, but states that the plaintiff "remains unclear about some of the basic concepts associated with the collection of current real estate taxes and tax claims" and was generally experiencing difficulty with other aspects of her job. November 5, 2007 Evaluation, Ex. C.

In her final evaluation on December 14, 2007, the plaintiff's scores failed to improve. Evaluation Form. The comments attached to her final evaluation state that the plaintiff was "struggling with her assigned tasks far beyond what would be expected for an employee in this position for six months." December 10, 2007 Evaluation, Ex. C. On December 13, 2007, the plaintiff was terminated. Poplawski Letter. Ms. Poplawski's letter to the plaintiff stated that the plaintiff had "not progressed sufficiently" during her probationary training period and that the Department was observing a "general lack of understanding of some of the basic concepts surrounding the collection of taxes and continued difficulty in utilizing some of the tools that are necessary to perform your job function." Id.

The plaintiff makes several allegations in her complaint and deposition with which the defendant takes issue. Specifically, the plaintiff states that she was poorly trained during her time at the Department. The plaintiff states that Ms. Anglemeyer failed to teach her all aspects of the tax software used by the Department, that she was not "cross-trained" for other jobs, and that generally Ms. Anglemeyer seemed too busy and inexperienced to properly train her. Compl. ¶¶ 14, 35, 37, 44. The plaintiff complained about her training to Ms. Poplawski and requested a new trainer, but never received one. Brown Dep. 60:8-18. In her deposition, the plaintiff blames any deficiencies in her work and progress on inadequate training. Brown Dep. 53:4-11, 58:6-10, 59:2-5, 61:5-8.

The plaintiff also describes some personal friction with Cindy Hoffer. The plaintiff states that it was "solely" Ms. Hoffer who treated her "differently" from her colleagues. Brown Dep. 68:22-24. The plaintiff describes Ms. Hoffer as "standoff-ish" and alleges that she "berated and insulted" the plaintiff when she had difficulty "cashing out" her drawer at the end of the day. Brown Dep. 66:12, 66:19-67:18, 73:16-17. The plaintiff states that Ms. Hoffer made the plaintiff late for some of her doctor's appointments by asking her whether she had finished various tasks as she was preparing to leave.*fn3 Brown Dep. 66:3-5, 76:1-18. The plaintiff never heard either Ms. Hoffer or anyone else make any racially offensive remarks during her employment. Brown Dep. 71:3-16.

Ms. Hoffer denies that Ms. Anglemeyer was not qualified to train the plaintiff or that she failed to adequately train her. Hoffer Dep. 11:9-24, 17:11-22, 31:8-11. Ms. Hoffer also denies any personal hostility between she and the plaintiff, or that she ever berated the plaintiff. Hoffer Dep. 35:5-9, 36:11-14. Ms. Hoffer states that the plaintiff did not "cross-train", or advance to new responsibilities, because she was unable to master the basic requirements of her job. Hoffer Dep. 31:8-25.

The Court notes that the plaintiff also makes several allegations that her colleagues received better training than she did, that she was "looked over," and that Ms. Hoffer refused to "direct" Ms. Anglemeyer to properly train her. Brown Dep. 45:17-24, 46:9-23, 69:6-9. The plaintiff, however, has neither personal knowledge nor factual support to substantiate these claims.

II. Analysis

The plaintiff asserts claims of race discrimination under Title VII and the PHRA for her termination by the defendant. The defendant moves for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff cannot establish a prima facie case of discrimination because (1) the plaintiff is not qualified for the position, and (2) the plaintiff has not identified similarly situated non-African American employees who were treated more favorably or shown that any other circumstances exist that would give rise to an inference of racial discrimination by the defendant. The defendant further argues that, even if the plaintiff could make out a prima facie case of race discrimination, the plaintiff does not rebut the defendant's legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for terminating the plaintiff.

A party moving for summary judgment must show that, when viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue of material fact and that judgment is appropriate as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 232 (3d Cir. 2001). A plaintiff's allegations and denials, unsupported by facts of record, do not create an issue of ...

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