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Linda Stallings v. Cellco Partnership

June 24, 2011

LINDA STALLINGS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CELLCO PARTNERSHIP,
D/B/A VERIZON WIRELESS, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: McVerry, J.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF COURT

Presently pending before the Court is the MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, with brief in support filed by Defendant Cellco Partnership d/b/a Verizon Wireless (Document Nos. 14 and 15), the BRIEF IN OPPOSITION filed by Plaintiff, Linda Stallings (Document No. 20), and the REPLY BRIEF filed by Defendant Cellco Partnership, d/b/a Verizon Wireless (Document No. 22). For the following reasons, the Motion will be granted in part and denied in part without prejudice.

Background

Plaintiff, Linda Stallings, initiated this action by the filing of a Complaint on July 21, 2010, in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania in which she asserts retaliation claims pursuant to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA") against her former employer, Defendant Cellco Partnership, d/b/a Verizon Wireless ("Verizon Wireless"). Defendant removed the case to this Court on October 10, 2010.

Plaintiff alleges that Defendant illegally retaliated against her on two separate occasions:

(i) when she was not hired for the position of Consultant -- Human Relations ("HR-Consultant position") and (ii) when her employment was ultimately terminated in March 2008. Plaintiff alleges that on both occasions Defendant illegally retaliated against her because of prior chargesof discrimination which she had filed against Verizon Wireless and because of her participation in an internal Company investigation which involved an incident she characterizes as a "hate crime" (hereinafter referred to as the "Warrendale incident"). The Warrendale incident occurred on October 3, 2007, when an inter-office envelope containing an African-American doll with a noose around its neck and a note containing a racial epithet was discovered on the desk of one of Plaintiff's co-workers. The co-worker's name was written on the abdomen of the doll and a racial epithet was written on the doll's forehead and in the note. Plaintiff was present at the desk area of the employee to whom the envelope was addressed at the time the envelope was discovered and opened. The Warrendale incident was the subject of an internal Verizon Wireless investigation headed by Corporate Security Officer Diane Wilson, who interviewed approximately thirty (30) Verizon Wireless employees, including Plaintiff. The FBI eventually became involved in the investigation at which time Verizon Wireless discontinued its internal investigation.

Defendant has moved for summary judgment on three grounds. First, Defendant argues that Plaintiff has failed to exhaust her administrative remedies with regard to her failure to hire claim purportedly based upon her participation in the Company internal investigation of the Warrendale incident.

Next, Defendant argues that Plaintiff cannot establish the elements of a prima facie retaliation case on either her failure to hire and/or her termination claims as her participation in a Company investigation does not alone constitute protected activity. Defendant also argues that there is no causal connection between Plaintiff's participation in the internal investigation and the decisions to deny her the HR-Consultant position and/or to terminate her employment.

Defendant also contends that the decisionmakers in this case were not aware that Plaintiff had filed any prior discrimination claims against Verizon Wireless.

Finally, assuming arguendo that Plaintiff could establish a prima facie case, Defendant argues that it had legitimate, non-retaliatory business reasons for denying her the HR-Consultant position and for terminating her employment, namely that Plaintiff violated Verizon Wireless's Code of Conduct when she improperly accessed information about employees over whom she had no job responsibilities.

Plaintiff argues that granting summary judgment at this early stage of the litigation would be premature as she has not had an opportunity to conduct any discovery. With the exception of Plaintiff's failure to exhaust administrative remedies, the Court agrees with Plaintiff.

Discussion

A. Plaintiff Failed to Exhaust Her Administrative Remedies

With Regard to Her Failure-to- Hire Claim Based on Her Participation in the Warrendale Incident Plaintiff alleges that Verizon Wireless failed to hire her for the HR-Consultant position for essentially two reasons: (i) she participated in the internal investigation of the Warrendale incident and (ii) she filed ...


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