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Caroline Heath v. Pennsylvania Turnpike J. Rambo Commission

April 20, 2011

CAROLINE HEATH,
PLAINTIFF
v.
PENNSYLVANIA TURNPIKE J. RAMBO COMMISSION, ET AL., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sylvia H. Rambo United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM

Before the court is Defendants Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission ("PTC"),*fn1 Timothy Carson, J. William Lincoln, Pasquale T. Deon, Sr., Joseph G. Brimmeier, George M. Hatalowich, Nikolaus H. Greishaber,*fn2 and Patricia F. Shlegel's motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 37.) For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Facts*fn3

Plaintiff, Caroline Heath, is a Claim Administrator at the PTC. (Defs.' Statement of Material Facts ("SMF") ¶ 1.) She brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that she was not promoted to the position of Credit and Collections Supervisor because she was not "politically connected," which is a violation of the First Amendment. (Id.) The Credit and Collections Supervisor position was instead awarded to Thomas Gajewski, who, according to Plaintiff, was less qualified but was politically connected. (Id.)

Gajewski is a former Berks County Commissioner who, when unemployed in 2008, contacted individuals in both the public and private sectors in an effort to gain employment. (Id. ¶ 2.) One such individual was State Senator Michael O'Pake who informed Gajewski that there were two vacant positions at the PTC. (Id. ¶ 5.) Gajewski filled out a general application for employment with the PTC, listing an interest in management, human resources, and marketing positions. (Id. ¶ 5.) In addition, Senator O'Pake called Defendant Brimmeier, the Chief Executive Officer ("CEO") of the PTC, and explained that Gajewski was a former employee and good friend and asked if Brimmeier would meet with Gajewski. (Id. ¶ 6.) At the request of Senator O'Pake, Brimmeier met with Gajewski on February 4, 2009. (Id. ¶ 9.) On this date, Brimmeier had a copy of Gajewski's resume and a letter of recommendation from Senator O'Pake.*fn4 (Id. ¶ 9.) During this meeting, Defendant Hatalowich, the Chief Operating Office ("COO") for the PTC, also met Gajewski. (Id. ¶ 9.) Two positions were discussed during the meeting, one was the position in question, the other was in real estate. (Id. ¶ 10.) During this meeting, Gajewski expressed some concern about his ability to use the computer program Excel, and was told by Brimmeier that he could "explain that in a further interview."*fn5

(Dep. Gajewski, at 33.) Gajewski was told he would have to interview before a committee, and was not offered a job at this point. (Defs.' SMF ¶ 11.) After meeting with Gajewski, Bremmeier informed Greishaber that he had met with Gajewski and thought he would be a good fit if the finance department had any openings.*fn6 (Dep. Bremmeier, at 58.)

On March 26, 2009, Greishaber contacted Patricia Schlegal, the PTC's Director of Human Resources ("HR"), and asked that the position for Credit and Claims Supervisor be posted and that outside individuals be allowed to apply.*fn7

(Defs.' SMF ¶ 16.) Pursuant to standard PTC policy and practice, Greishaber's request for external candidate applications was submitted to the Commission for approval and was granted.*fn8 (Id. ¶¶ 18, 19.) Between April 13, 2009, and April 24, 2009, the Credit and Claims Supervisor position was posted for both internal and external applicants. (Id. ¶ 20.)

During this time frame, Bremmeier showed Gajewski's resume to Greishaber, and it was discussed that Gajewski would be a good fit for the Credit and Claims Supervisor position because of his past supervisor experience. (Id. ¶ 21.) Greishaber expressed concern that Gajewski did not specifically have credit and collection experience, but Bremmeier believed that his past supervisory experience would suffice. (Dep. Greishaber at 11:6-13;12:10-14.)

Patricia Hernjak is an employee in the PTC's HR division and is responsible for gathering the resumes for the Credit and Claims Supervisor position. (Defs.' SMF ¶ 26.) After receiving the applications, it was Hernjak's job to make sure each applicant met the minimum requirements for the position available. (Id. ¶ 27.) Herjnak determined that both Plaintiff and Gajewski, along with four other applicants, met the minimum qualifications for the position. (Id. ¶¶ 30, 32.)

Qualified applicants were forwarded to Sharon Jones, the immediate supervisor in the department where the Credit and Claims position was open. (Dep. Jones, at 8; Defs.' SMF ¶ 36.) Jones ranked each applicant - Plaintiff received a star beside her name indicating she was qualified, while Gajewski had "no exp." next to his name indicating she "did not consider his experience to be related to this position." (Dep. Jones, at 18:6-7.) Jones then chose three individuals to form a panel to conduct the interviews - these individuals included herself, Catherine Sabo, and Alphonse Lepore. (Defs.' SMF ¶ 36.) After the interview process, the interview panel discussed the candidates and picked who they wanted to recommend for the position. (Dep. Jones, at 19:16-22.) Jones was verbally told by either Greishaber or her immediate supervisor who reported to Greishaber, that Gajewski should be on the list of recommended candidates. (Id. 22:1-3.) Plaintiff, meanwhile, was among the top two ranked candidates. (Id.) After the committee selected their candidates, Catherine Sabo, who did not vote for Gajewski, was told by Jones that he was on the list because of his "political affiliation." (Dep. Sabo, at 10:8-10.) This was the first time Sabo had experienced a "political hiring." (Id. at 14:15, 24.) Lepore also allegedly told another employee that "someone was preordained for the job." (Aff. Eileen Conroy, March 7, 2001, Ex. 14.) Ultimately, Plaintiff, Gajewski, and one other individual were recommended by the interviewing panel for the Credit and Claims Collector position.

On April 28, 2009, an Administrative Committee met to discuss the three recommended candidates. (Defs.' SMF ¶ 51.) The Administrative Committee was normally comprised of Defendants Brimmeier, Hatalowich, Schlegal, and four other individuals not parties to this case. (Id. ¶ 54.) However, Bremmeier had delegated his duties to Hatalowich and had not attended an Administrative Meeting in several years. (Id. ¶ 55.) Pursuant to PTC policy and practice, Greishaber, as the CFO, was required to present and discuss each of the individuals and ultimately recommend his top candidate. (Id. ¶ 52.) Greishaber noted that none of the candidates had both supervisory and credit and collections experience, but that his ultimate pick for the top candidate was Gajewski. (Id. ¶¶ 56, 57.) The Administrative Committee ultimately approved Greishaber's recommendation and Gajewski's name was sent to the Commission for final approval. (Id. ¶¶ 53, 60.)

The Commission approved the recommendation of Gajewski and on May 6, 2009, he was offered the position of Credit and Claims Supervisor for the PTC. (Id. ¶ 63.) However, Gajewski struggled in his new position and was terminated within five months of commencing his employment. (Id. ¶¶ 65, 67.)

B. Procedural History

On March 4, 2010, Plaintiff filed suit (Doc. 1) alleging violations of her rights under the First Amendment to be free from political patronage discrimination pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.*fn9 On May 3, 2010, Defendants filed a partial motion to dismiss the complaint (Doc. 5). This motion was ...

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