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Jorge G. Casas v. Bank of America

August 30, 2011

JORGE G. CASAS,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
BANK OF AMERICA, N.A., DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff, Mr. Jorge G. Casas ("Plaintiff"), brings this action against Bank of America ("Defendant" or "the Bank") alleging that Defendant, through its employees, engaged in discriminatory actions in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"). In addition, Plaintiff alleges claims for defamation and breach of contract. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion for summary judgment will be granted in full.

II. BACKGROUND

The Court will first discuss the relevant procedural background and then address general facts relevant to this case.

A. Procedural

On March 14, 2009, Plaintiff filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). (Pl's Compl. ¶ 5.) This complaint was dually filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ("PHRC"). (Id.) Thereafter, on December 24, 2009, Plaintiff filed this action against the Bank and Mr. Bradley Strock, SVP/Business Executive-Technology for the Bank ("Mr. Strock"). The complaint included six counts: (1) race and national origin discrimination in violation of Title VII; (2) age discrimination in violation of the ADEA; (3) race and national origin discrimination in violation of the PHRA; (4) age discrimination in violation of the PHRA; (5) defamation; and (6) breach of contract. (See id. at ¶¶ 27-67.)

On March 22, 2009, the Bank filed an answer admitting in part and denying in part Defendant's allegations and raising twenty-eight affirmative defenses. Defendant Mr. Strock, individually, filed a motion to dismiss which was granted. On February 7, 2011, Defendant Bank filed a motion for summary judgment. On February 21, 2011, Plaintiff filed a response. Currently, Defendant's motion for summary judgment is before the Court.

B. Relevant Facts Plaintiff, a forty-seven-year-old Hispanic male, was hired by MBNA Corporation in 1995 as a Voice Response Unit ("VRU") Programmer. (Compl. at ¶¶ 7, 13.) Eventually, MBNA Corporation promoted Plaintiff to the position of Assistant Vice President. On December 15, 2005, MBNA Corporation provided Plaintiff a letter indicating that it planned to merge with Defendant and requesting that Plaintiff stay with the corporation throughout the merger. (Def. Undisp. Facts at ¶¶ 5-6.)*fn1 In January 2006, Plaintiff became an employee of Defendant after it successfully acquired MBNA Corporation. (Compl. at ¶ 14.)

After the merger, the VRU team, which Plaintiff was a part of at MBNA Corporation, became part of the Interactive Voice Response ("IVR") Group. (Pl. Undisp. Facts at ¶ 14.) The IVR Group was composed of a deposit group and credit card group. The credit card group ("Credit IVR Group") was composed of five individuals, Plaintiff, Robert Casas ("Plaintiff's brother"), and Thomas Wolfe, whom were all age-protected individuals. The other two individuals in the Group were, at the time of the merger, not age-protected. These two individuals were Ashish Desai and Mark Pender. (Id. at ¶¶ 16, 17.) All five members of the Card IVR Group were under the direct supervision of Berton Reynolds ("Mr. Reynolds"), the Band 4 Level Manager. (Id. at ¶¶ 16, 18.) Mr. Reynolds testified that he gave work assignments to the members of the Card IVR Group based on several factors including their availability and workload. (Reynolds Dep. at 151-153.) Reynolds also testified that he sent members of the group to attend particular meetings based on their knowledge about the topics that were to be discussed at the meetings. (Id. at 147-48, 150).

Plaintiff worked for the Bank from January 1, 2006 until March 19, 2009, when he was laid off from his employment as part of a reduction in force. (Pl. Undisp. Facts at ¶ 3.) Plaintiff and Mr. Wolfe were the only two individuals within the Card IVR Group who were laid off. Plaintiff's brother, Mr. Desai, and Mr. Pender all retained their employment. After Plaintiff's termination, Plaintiff filed this action alleging that he was not laid-off due to a reduction in force, but rather because of his age, race, and national origin.*fn2

III. DISCUSSION

The Court will first address the Plaintiff's claims for age, race, and national origin discrimination as set forth in counts I, II, III, and IV of the complaint. Next, the Court will address Plaintiff's state law claims for defamation and breach of contract as set forth in counts V and VI of the complaint. Finally, the Court will address Plaintiff's arguments regarding the discovery process in this case.

A. Summary Judgment Standard 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(a). "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.

In undertaking this analysis, the Court views the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. "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, meeting this obligation shifts the burden to the nonmoving party who must "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250.

B. Age, Race, and National Origin Discrimination in Violation of the ADEA, Title VII, and PHRA (Counts I, II, III, IV)

Plaintiff has not alleged facts that create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Defendant's legitimate, non-discriminatory, and non-retaliatory reason for Plaintiff's termination is a pretext for unlawful age, race, or national origin discrimination. Consequently, Defendant's motion for summary judgment as to counts I, II, III, and IV will be granted.

1. The McDonnell Douglas Burden-Shifting Framework When there is no direct evidence that a party was motivated by unlawful discrimination in violation of the ADEA, Title VII, or the PHRA, the plaintiff must prove his or her case using the three-step burden shifting framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973) and its progeny.*fn3 Initially, the plaintiff must set forth a prima facie case of discrimination. Id. at 804-05. Once the plaintiff has established his or her prima facie case, "the burden of production shifts to the employer to identify a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment action." Smith v. City of Allentown, 589 F.3d 684, 689-90 (3d Cir. 2009). Thereafter, "the burden of production returns to the plaintiff to demonstrate that the employer's proffered rationale was a pretext for [the] discrimination." Id. At all times, the burden of persuasion rests with the plaintiff.

2. Plaintiff's Prima Facie Case To establish a prima facie case, the plaintiff must put forth evidence to satisfy four elements. First, that the plaintiff was a member of the protected class. Second, that the plaintiff was qualified for his or her position. Third, that he or she was subject to an adverse employment action. And fourth, that the circumstances of the adverse employment action give rise to an inference of discrimination. See Sarullo v. U.S. Postal Serv., 352 F.3d 789, 797 (3d Cir. 2003) (discussing prima facie case and indicating that this test is flexible and can be tailored depending on the circumstances of the case).

Here, Plaintiff meets the first prong of the prima facie case for his age, race, and national origin claims because, at the time he was terminated from Defendant's employment, he was forty-five years old, and he is Hispanic. (Pl. Dep. at 7-8, 22; Compl. at ¶ 7.) Plaintiff meets the second prong of the prima facie case as it is undisputed that Plaintiff was qualified for the position in question-member of the Card IVR Group.

As to the third prong of Plaintiff's prima facie case, Defendant takes issue with the numerous adverse actions Plaintiff asserted in his complaint and discussed during his deposition. These alleged adverse actions include the following: (1) Plaintiff's termination; (2) Defendant did not pay Plaintiff a retention bonus upon his termination; (3) Mr. Strock caused a poor mid-year and year-end review to be given to Plaintiff in 2007; (4) Defendant did not reimburse Plaintiff for tuition and business expenses; (5) Defendant failed to give Plaintiff raises and bonuses; (6) Defendant did not invite Plaintiff to an IVR Group meeting in Seattle; and (7) Defendant did not assign Plaintiff to lead a host interface project. (Def. Mot. for Summ. J. at 7.) Defendant argues that the only proper adverse actions before the Court are Plaintiff's termination and Defendant's failure to pay Plaintiff a retention bonus upon his termination. (Id.)

An adverse employment action must be "sufficiently severe as to alter the employee's 'compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment,' or to 'deprive or tend to deprive [him or her] of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his [or her] status as an employee.'" Robinson v. City of Pittsburgh, 120 F.3d 1286, 1296-97 (3d Cir. 1997), overruled on other grounds by Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53 (2006). Not every "insult, slight, or unpleasantness gives rise to a valid Title VII claim." Id. at 1297; see also Tucker v. Merck & Co., Inc., 131 F. App'x 852, 855-56 (3d Cir. 2005) (finding no adverse action where plaintiff was denied discretionary benefit).

Defendant concedes that Plaintiff's termination and Defendant's failure to pay a retention bonus both qualify as adverse actions; however, Defendant states that the other acts Plaintiff alleges are adverse actions do not constitute adverse actions under the ADEA, Title VII, or the PHRA. (Def. Mot. Summ. J. at 8-14.) In his briefing, when laying out his prima facie case, Plaintiff only asserts his termination as the relevant adverse action. (Pl. Resp. at 27.) As such, the Court will only focus on Plaintiff's termination as the relevant adverse action to make out the third prong of Plaintiff's prima facie case.

As to the fourth prong of the prima facie case, Plaintiff does not specifically address this issue. In passing, Plaintiff states that his termination occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination because those retained "were both younger and less experienced than Mr. Casas." (Id.) In particular, Mr. Casas points out that two of the three individuals retained out of the five members of the Card IVR Group were Mr. Desai and Mr. Pender. (Id.) At the time Plaintiff was laid-off, in March 2009, Mr. Desai was approximately forty-two years old, and Mr. Pender was thirty-three. (Def. Undisp. Facts at ¶¶ 23, 28.) As such, both men were younger than Plaintiff and, in particular, Mr. Pender was approximately twelve years younger than Plaintiff.*fn4

Additionally, out of those retained, only Plaintiff's brother was Hispanic. Mr. Desai was South Asian ...


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