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Jamie A. Miller, District v. Laurel Highlands School

October 7, 2011

JAMIE A. MILLER, DISTRICT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LAUREL HIGHLANDS SCHOOL
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Cathy Bissoon*fn1

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

I.MEMORANDUM

Pending before the Court is Defendant Laurel Highlands School District‟s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 24). For the reasons stated herein, the Court will deny Defendant‟s motion.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Jamie Miller brought this action under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 621, et seq. ("ADEA"), alleging that Defendant Laurel Highlands School District discriminated against her on the basis of age by failing to hire her.

On July 8, 2008, Defendant advertised a job opening for a Federal Programs Coordinator/Data Analyst. See Federal Programs Coordinator/Data Analyst Posting of Professional Position (A.246) (Doc. 27-4 at 18). The position was advertised only to Defendant‟s employees. Brain Dep. at 91:8-92:14 (A.70) (Doc. 27-1 at 31). Nonetheless, Plaintiff, who was not an employee of Defendant, was invited to interview for the position on July 16, 2008. Id. at 96:5-97:4 (A.71) (Doc. 27-1 at 32); Administrative Interview Schedule (A.264) (Doc. 27-4 at 36). Jessica Scott, who was an employee of Defendant, also interviewed for the position. Administrative Interview Schedule (A.264) (Doc. 27-4 at 36).

On July 17, 2008, the school board voted 7-1-1 to hire Scott as the Federal Programs Coordinator/Data Analyst. School Board Meeting Minutes at 6 (A.375) (Doc. 27-6 at 24). Director Beal voted "no" and Director Vernon abstained because Scott is his daughter. See id.

Following the vote to hire Scott, Superintendent Gary Brain commented:

We make a conscious effort to work with our staff. If we don‟t have people within the District, we look outside. When we have people within the District why look elsewhere? We work to give young administrators and teachers opportunities to improve themselves.

Angie Oravec, LH School Board President, Superintendent Deny Nepotism Accusations, Herald-Standard, July 18, 2008 (A.1) (Doc. 27 at 8).

When the school board voted to hire Scott, Plaintiff was forty-one years old and Scott was twenty-eight years old. Miller Dep. at 7:8-10 (A.36) (Doc. 27 at 43); Scott Dep. at 6:10-14

(A.201) (Doc. 27-3 at 40). Defendant concedes that Plaintiff was qualified for the position. Def.‟s Br. at 9 (Doc. 25).

Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment (Doc. 24), asserting that Plaintiff has not produced any direct evidence of age discrimination, that Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate a prima facie case of age discrimination, and that Plaintiff has not shown that Defendant‟s legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for not hiring Plaintiff were a pretext for age discrimination.

ANALYSIS

A.ADEA

Under the ADEA, an employer may not fail or refuse to hire any individual over forty years of age because of the individual‟s age. 29 U.S.C. §§ 623(a), 631(a). An ADEA plaintiff may prove his/her case by presenting "direct evidence" of discrimination. Fakete v. Aetna, Inc., 308 F.3d 335, 337 (3d Cir. 2002).*fn2 Absent direct evidence, a plaintiff may nonetheless prevail by presenting "indirect evidence" of discrimination under the three-step burden-shifting framework of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). Fakete, 308 F.3d at 337-38; Smith v. City of Allentown, 589 F.3d 684, 689 (3d Cir. 2009).

B.Direct Evidence of Discrimination

"Direct evidence" is evidence sufficient to allow the jury to find that the decision makers placed substantial negative reliance on the plaintiff‟s age in reaching their decision.*fn3 Fakete, 308 F.3d at 338. Plaintiff asserts that Superintendent Brain‟s comment that "[w]e work to give young administrators and teachers opportunities to improve themselves" is direct evidence of age discrimination. While this comment may constitute circumstantial evidence of some general age bias, the comment is insufficient to allow a jury to find that Defendant placed "substantial negative reliance" on Plaintiff‟s age in deciding to hire Scott instead of Plaintiff. Brain‟s comment, thus, is not "direct evidence" of age discrimination.*fn4

C.Indirect Evidence of Discrimination

Because Plaintiff has not presented any direct evidence of discrimination, Plaintiff must rely on the familiar burden-shifting framework of McDonnell Douglas. First, the plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of discrimination. Smith, 589 F.3d at 689. Once the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the burden of production shifts to the defendant to identify a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. Id. at 690. If the defendant does so, the burden of production returns to the plaintiff to demonstrate that the ...


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