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Elaine Stites, et al v. Alan Ritchey

January 10, 2011

ELAINE STITES, ET AL.,
PLAINTIFFS,
v.
ALAN RITCHEY, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Eduardo C. Robreno, J.

MEMORANDUM

I. INTRODUCTION

This case arises under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("§ 1981"), Title VII, and the Pennsylvania Human Rights Act ("PHRA"). Plaintiff Elaine Stites ("Stites"), Plaintiff Lauren Ball ("Ball"), and Plaintiff Barbara Buchman ("Buchman") (collectively "Plaintiffs"), bring this cause of action against Defendant Alan Ritchey, Inc. ("Defendant"). Plaintiffs allege that they were terminated from their employment at Defendant's plant due to race discrimination and retaliation.*fn1 (Pl. Compl. ¶¶ 30-44.) Plaintiff Stites is the only Plaintiff that exhausted all administrative remedies. (Id. ¶¶ 31, 35.) As such, Plaintiff Stites is the only Plaintiff who brought her reverse race discrimination claim under Title VII, the PHRA, and § 1981. Since § 1981 claims do not require exhaustion of administrative remedies, Plaintiffs Ball and Buchman proceed solely on that basis. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion for summary judgment will be granted.

II. BACKGROUND*fn2

Defendant is a supplier to the United States Postal Service ("USPS") and services mail transport equipment pursuant to a contract with the USPS. Defendant receives mail transport equipment from the USPS on tractor trailers, sorts the equipment by type, classifies it as serviceable, defective, or condemned, repairs it if necessary, audits it in accordance with procedures and standards of the USPS, and loads it for shipment. Defendant hires various service employees to perform the necessary tasks on mail transport equipment. Among the service employee positions are loaders, inspectors, and material handlers. (Heins Cert., Def.'s Ex. G.)

Plaintiffs all worked as full-time inspectors on the first-shift under the management of Arlene Yorgey ("Ms. Yorgey"), Daniel Murphy ("Mr. Murphy"), and/or Marge Sassany ("Ms. Sassany"). (Pl. Statement of Mat. Facts ¶¶ 10, 12, 14, 19, 21.) Inspectors are given large boxes/containers from unloaders. These boxes/containers contain bags, sleeves, containers/trays, and other products to be inspected. Inspectors are rated on how quickly they are able to inspect and stack mail transport equipment on pallets they are assigned to inspect, and they are given efficiency ratings based on their output errors. (Id. ¶ 3-9.)

To measure inspector efficiency, Defendant utilizes a formula originally developed by the USPS, which measures how quickly an inspector services mail transport equipment. Defendant implements a minimum weekly efficiency rating, and since January 2006 that minimum is 170. Failure to meet the minimum weekly efficiency rating can result in progressive discipline leading to suspension and termination. If an inspector does not maintain minimum weekly efficiency ratings or has other performance issues (i.e., failing to locate mail in the equipment), the inspector can receive employee counseling reports. (Heins Cert. ¶¶ 11-14, Def.'s Ex. G; 2003 Alan Ritchey Handbook at 43-44, Def.'s Ex. M; Yorgey Dep. at 17-18, 232-35.)

In early 2006, Defendant experienced a steady reduction in volume of mail transport equipment arriving at the location where Plaintiffs worked. During this time, Defendant implemented a reduction in force, resulting in six layoffs. A year later, in 2007, under the then-anticipated November 2007 contract renewal with USPS, Defendant was aware it would receive a reduced per-piece compensation rate for each item of mail transport equipment it serviced. Additionally, the overall amount of mail transport equipment arriving continued to decline. At that time, Defendant decided to streamline its process for servicing mail transport equipment by consolidating two shifts and becoming a one-shift operation. Also, Defendant implemented another reduction in force and a new processing procedure requiring all inspectors to receive a minimum weekly efficiency rating of 170. (Heins Cert. ¶¶ 15, 19, 20-23, Def.'s Ex. G; Murphy Dep. at 23-24, 29-31.)

During 2006-2007, all three Plaintiffs were terminated by Defendant. Plaintiffs allege that the terminations violated their civil rights as well as federal and state statutes prohibiting discrimination.

III. DISCUSSION

All three Plaintiffs seek recovery pursuant to § 1981, alleging that Defendant engaged in reverse race discrimination and retaliation. Additionally, Plaintiff Stites has asserted reverse race discrimination under Title VII and the PHRA. Defendant has moved for summary judgment.

A. Legal Standard for Summary Judgment Summary judgment is appropriate if there are no genuine issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). "A motion for summary judgment will not be defeated by 'the mere existence' of some disputed facts, but will be denied when there is a genuine issue of material fact." Am. Eagle Outfitters v. Lyle & Scott Ltd., 584 F.3d 575, 581 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-248 (1986)). A fact is "material" if proof of its existence or non-existence might affect the outcome of the litigation, and a dispute is "genuine" if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

"After making all reasonable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor, there is a genuine issue of material fact if a reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party." Pignataro v. Port Auth. of N.Y. & N.J., 593 F.3d 265, 268 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Reliance Ins. Co. v. Moessner, 121 F.3d 895, 900 (3d Cir. 1997)). While the moving party bears the initial burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the non-moving party "may not rely merely on allegations or denials in its own pleading; rather, its response must-by affidavits or as otherwise provided in [Rule 56]-set out specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2).

B. Legal Standard to Establish Reverse Race Discrimination Pursuant to § 1981, Title VII, and the PHRA*fn3 With respect to Plaintiffs' reverse race discrimination claims, the Third Circuit applies a "modified burden shifting analysis."*fn4 An employer who discriminates does not typically disclose a discriminatory animus; therefore, the Supreme Court created a modified burden shifting analysis to allow plaintiffs to bring discrimination claims even though they lack direct proof of discrimination. See Iadimarco v. Runyon, 190 F.3d 151, 157 (3d Cir. 1999). Under this analysis, each plaintiff carries the initial burden and must establish a prima facie case of racial discrimination by a preponderance of the evidence. Sarullo v. U.S. Postal Serv., 352 F.3d 789, 797 (3d Cir. 2009).

Once the prima facie case is established, "the burden shifts to the employer to 'articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the employee's rejection.'" Id. (quoting McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973)). Although the burden of production shifts to the defendant "the ultimate burden of persuading the trier of fact that the defendant intentionally discriminated against the plaintiff remains at all times with the plaintiff." St. Mary's Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 506-07 (1993) (internal marks omitted). If the employer puts forth a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason, the presumption of discrimination raised by plaintiff's prima facie case is rebutted, and "[t]he plaintiff must establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the employer's proffered reasons were merely a pretext for discrimination." Sarullo, 352 F.3d at 157.

1. The Prima Facie Case

Whether a plaintiff has established a prima facie case is a question of law. Id. Establishing a prima facie case requires the plaintiff to show that: "(1) [he/she] belongs to a protected class; (2) he/she was qualified for the position; (3) he/she was subject to an adverse employment action despite being qualified; and (4) [this occurred] under circumstances that raise an inference of discriminatory action." Id. In reverse discrimination cases, the Third Circuit does not place a higher burden on plaintiffs who are not in a minority class. Iadimarco, 190 F.3d at 163. The Supreme Court has recognized that the dictates of Title VII "are not limited to discrimination against members of any particular race [and Title VII] proscribe[s] ...


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