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Deborah Prise v. Alderwoods Group

June 24, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joy Flowers Conti United States District Judge


I. Introduction

Pending before the court is a motion for reconsideration ("Motion" (ECF No. 279)) filed by plaintiff Deborah Prise ("plaintiff" or "Prise"), requesting the court to reconsider its memorandum opinion and order ("Memorandum Opinion and Order" (ECF No. 273)), with respect to plaintiff‟s motion for equitable relief ("Motion for Equitable Relief" (ECF No. 266)). For the reasons that follow, the Motion will be denied.

II. Background*fn1

On May 14, 2010, at the end of trial the jury entered a verdict (ECF No. 251) in favor of plaintiff with respect to her claims that defendant retaliated against her when it suspended her after she filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. She was not awarded damages by the jury. She did not prevail on the retaliation claims concerning her resignation -- two weeks after she was suspended -- being a constructive discharge. On July 9, 2010, plaintiff filed the Motion for Equitable Relief (ECF No. 266) requesting the court to require defendant to cease and desist from retaliating against its employees. Plaintiff based her request on the jury‟s finding that defendant engaged in activity protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"), and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 PA. STAT. §§ 951 et seq.

On July 20, 2010, the court held a hearing. During oral argument, plaintiff requested - for the first time -- that the court order Alderwoods Group, Inc. ("defendant" or "Alderwoods Group") to post a notice at its various funeral home locations informing its employees, among other things, about the jury‟s finding that defendant retaliated against plaintiff for filing a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. Plaintiff argued that kind of notice was necessary to assure defendant‟s other employees of their right to file a charge of discrimination without fear of retaliation. The court denied the Motion for Equitable Relief, including the request concerning the posting, and detailed its reasons on the record. On August 31, 2010, the court issued the Memorandum Opinion and Order. (ECF No. 273). With respect to the posting of the notice, the court‟s decision was based, in part, upon its consideration that enforceability of a requirement to post such a notice would be difficult. On September 28, 2010, plaintiff filed the instant Motion. (ECF No. 279). On October 18, 2010, defendant filed its response to the Motion. (ECF No. 283).

III. Legal Standard

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e), a party may move to alter or amend a judgment within twenty-eight days of judgment. See Pediatrix Screening, Inc. v. TeleChem Int‟l, Inc., 602 F.3d 541, 546 (3d Cir. 2010). "A proper Rule 59 "motion to alter or amend judgment m[ay] rely on ... the need to correct clear error [of law] or prevent manifest injustice.‟" Id. (quoting North River Ins. Co. v. CIGNA Reinsurance Co., 52 F.3d 1194, 1218 (3d Cir. 1995)).

A motion for reconsideration "must rely on one of three grounds: (1) an intervening change in controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence; or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice." Lazaridis v. Wehmer, 591 F.3d 666, 669 (3d Cir. 2010); see Wilson v. Mobilex USA, Inc., 406 F. App‟x 625, 626 (3d Cir. 2011) (finding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in refusing ""to consider evidence presented in a motion for reconsideration when the evidence was available prior to summary judgment‟") (quoting Bailey v. United Airlines, 279 F.3d 194, 201 (3d Cir. 2002) (citing Harsco Corp. v. Zlotnicki, 779 F.2d 906, 909 (3d Cir. 1985))). "Because of the interest in finality, at least at the district court level, motions for reconsideration should be granted sparingly." Williams v. City of Pittsburgh, 32 F. Supp.2d 236, 238 (W.D. Pa. 1998). In denying a motion for reconsideration, the district court in Williams stated:the parties are not free to relitigate issues the court has already decided. Rottmund v. Continental Assurance Co., 813 F. Supp. 1104, 1107 (E.D. Pa. 1992). Stated another way, a motion for reconsideration is not properly grounded in a request for a district court to rethink a decision it has already made, rightly or wrongly. Glendon Energy Co. v. Borough of Glendon, 836 F. Supp. 1109, 1122 (E.D. Pa. 1993). Williams, 32 F. Supp.2d at 238.

IV. Discussion

Plaintiff requests the court to reconsider its rulings with respect to her request for equitable relief. Plaintiff proposed the court order defendant to post a notice for one year in all funeral homes in the regional markets where plaintiff worked - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The notice would advise defendant‟s employees about: 1) the jury‟s finding in this case; 2) the employees‟ right to be free from retaliation for filing EEOC charges; and 3) the location of the EEOC in the event an employee feels she or he has been retaliated against. Plaintiff also requests the court to reconsider its threshold conclusion that injunctive relief could not be granted because she waived her right for injunctive relief by failing to make such a request at any time after the complaint was filed and through the trial, including failing to request that relief in her pretrial statement.

A. Notice Posting

Plaintiff argues that reconsideration of the court‟s alternative basis for denying her request to require defendant to post a notice is necessary to correct an error of law and to prevent manifest injustice. In challenging the court‟s rationale that enforcement of a notice posting is questionable because plaintiff is no longer employed by defendant, and because injunctive relief is designed to protect other employees, plaintiff relies upon five decisions: 1) Hare v. Potter, 549 F. Supp.2d 688, 698 (E.D. Pa. 2007) (finding equitable relief "appropriate because the jury found defendant retaliated against one of [its employees]"); 2) EEOC v. DCP Midstream, L.P, 608 F. Supp.2d 107, 108, 112 (D. Me. 2009) (granting a former employee‟s request for injunctive relief to require the defendant to post a two-year notice to employees within fourteen days after the entry of the judgment); 3) EEOC v. Custom Companies, Inc., Nos. 02 C 3768, 03 C 2293, 2007 WL 734395, at **19-20 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 8, 2007) (ordering the defendants to be enjoined for a period of four years from violating Title VII with respect to sexual harassment and retaliation and to post a notice informing its employees about the verdict and injunction in the case, along with the employees‟ right to contact the EEOC without the fear of retaliation); 4) EEOC v. AIC Security Investigations, Ltd., 823 F. Supp. 571, 580 (N.D. Ill. 1993) (finding injunctive relief proper because the jury concluded there was a violation of the law and it was clear from the testimony at trial that the defendant still believed that its conduct was proper), aff‟d in part, rev‟d in part, 55 F.3d 1276 (7th Cir. 1995); and 5) EEOC v. Gurnee Inn Corp., 914 F.2d 815 (7th Cir. 1990) (affirming posting for three years of a notice at corporate headquarters and in the employee handbooks or training manuals where the employee was terminated; the managers who failed to take action to stop the harassment at issue were still employed by defendant and still in management positions).

Plaintiff notes that Hare, DCP Midstream L.P., Custom Companies, Inc., AIC Security Investigations, Ltd., and Gurnee Inn Corp., all involve court orders granting equitable relief to former employee plaintiffs prohibiting the employer defendants from engaging in additional discrimination, retaliation, or harassment against other employees and requiring the employers to post a notice related to the respective litigations. Plaintiff argues the rationales of those decisions should be followed by this court.

Plaintiff, among other things, asserts that the instant defendant is similar to the defendants in Custom Companies, Inc., who did not accept responsibility for their violations of the law and "bitterly contested every issue" in the suit. Custom Companies, Inc., 2007 WL 734395, at *19. In support, plaintiff points to defendant‟s opening and closing statements, testimony at trial, the deposition testimony of defendant‟s former manager and current employee, Pat McDermott ("McDermott"), the decision to suspend plaintiff having come from defendant‟s top eschelon management, and posttrial pleadings -- including a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law (ECF Nos. 268, 278). Plaintiff argues that defendant‟s continued denial of its unlawful conduct shows that it does not take the jury‟s decision seriously and that it will more likely than not engage in similar misconduct in the future. Plaintiff notes that defendant‟s counsel posted two publications on their firm‟s website in September 2009 and June 2010 related to this case, describing plaintiff‟s retaliation claim as "nominal" and announcing that defendant prevailed at trial in plaintiff‟s employment retaliation claims. (See Pl.‟s Mot., Ex. 2).

Plaintiff argues that the court erred in relying on Cardenas v. Massey, 269 F.3d 251 (3d Cir. 2001), for the proposition that she is not entitled to injunctive relief because she is no longer employed by defendant and cannot assert the rights of other employees. Plaintiff maintains that the plaintiff in Cardenas sought to enforce the novel implementation of specific antidiscrimination policies by the employer, even though he was no longer employed by that employer, along with changes to his performance evaluations that were contrary to fact. Id. at 265. Plaintiff contends that the holding by the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Cardenas - that one cannot sue for the deprivation for another‟s civil rights - does not apply to the circumstances in this case. Plaintiff claims that ...

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