Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Dr. Gandhi Selvanathan v. Opportunities Industrialization Centers International

May 10, 2012


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



This is an employment discrimination case. Plaintiff, Dr. Gandhi Selvanathan, alleges in the Amended Complaint that defendant Opportunities Industrialization Centers International ("OICI"), his former employer, discriminated and retaliated against him in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 951 et seq. Plaintiff's claims arise from two separate incidents: first, defendant's failure to hire him as the Director of Programs, which he asserts constituted discrimination on the basis of age, race, color, and national origin, as well as retaliation for filing an internal complaint regarding discrimination; and, second, defendant's refusal to rehire him for a different position, Director of Food Security, allegedly in retaliation for filing a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") and Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ("PHRC").

Presently before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants the motion in part and denies it in part.


A.The Parties

Defendant is an international non-profit organization that trains underprivileged individuals around the world in agriculture, health, and economic development. (Defendant's Statement of Material Facts ("Def. SOF") ¶ 1--2.) Defendant's administrative headquarters is in Philadelphia, although most of its work takes place in rural communities in Africa. (Id. ¶¶ 1--2; Pl.'s Statement Undisputed Material Facts Preclude Summ. J. ("Pl. SOF") ¶ 7.) Defendant employs approximately thirteen people in Philadelphia. (Pl. SOF ¶ 8.)

Plaintiff, a sixty-seven year old man, was born in Pondicherry, India, on February 25, 1945. (Pl. SOF ¶ 1--2.) He characterizes his race as "Asian Indian." (Deposition of Dr. Gandhi Selvanathan ("Pl. Dep."), Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. ("Def. Mot.") Ex. 1, at 8.) He emigrated from India to the United States in 1983 and became a United States citizen. (Pl. SOF ¶ 2.) Plaintiff holds four degrees: a bachelor's degree in agriculture from the University of Madras, India; a master's degree in agriculture with a specialization in soil science from UP University in India; a doctorate in agriculture ecology from the University of Paris, France; and a master's degree in business administration from the University of Bridgeport, Connecticut, United States. (Pl. SOF ¶ 1; see also Resume of Dr. Gandhi Selvanathan, Pl.'s Opp'n Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. ("Pl. Opp'n") Ex. B.) Plaintiff began working in the agriculture field in 1966; prior to moving to the United States, he worked as a junior agricultural scientist at the UP University and as an assistant professor and researcher at the University of Algiers in Algeria. (Id. ¶¶ 3--5.)

B.Plaintiff's Employment with Defendant

Plaintiff began working for defendant in 1984 as an agricultural specialist. (Def. SOF ¶ 4; Pl. SOF ¶ 6.) He was promoted to Director of Agriculture and Food Security in 1993, and he held that position until July 31, 1996, when he left OICI to pursue other opportunities. (Id. ¶¶ 6--7; Pl. SOF ¶ 9.) His responsibilities included "developing agricultural projects, monitoring and guiding people in field work, and writing lesson plans and curriculum," as well as "participating in pre-feasibility and detailed feasibility studies." (Def. SOF ¶ 4; Pl. SOF ¶ 10.) Between 1984 and 1996, plaintiff was the "lead person who wrote and edited" and "lead presenter" of numerous funding proposals for outside agencies, such as the United States Agency for International Development ("USAID"). (Id. ¶¶ 11--12.)

Between 1996 and 2007, plaintiff owned and operated several gasoline stations in the Philadelphia area. (Id. ¶ 13; Def. SOF ¶ 8.) During this time, plaintiff sometimes gave advice on an unpaid, ad hoc basis to OICI CEO and president Ronald Howard about food security issues. (Pl. SOF ¶ 14.) Plaintiff rejoined OICI on a part-time basis in January 2007 and became a full-time employee in September 2007. (Id. ¶¶ 15, 19.) When he returned to OICI, plaintiff "took on the responsibilities" of the Director of Food Security but had the title of Deputy Director of Food Security. (Def. SOF ¶ 11; Pl. SOF ¶¶ 15--18.) He reported to the OICI executive director, Molly Roth,*fn2 and his duties were "essentially the same" as his duties from 1993 to 1996. (Pl. SOF ¶¶ 20, 22.) From 2007 to 2009, OICI was run by a three-person "management committee" consisting of Roth, Vice President of Programs and Nigeria Country Director Alfred Tambe, and Vice President of Finance Joel Affognon. (Id. ¶ 33.)

C.Plaintiff's Job Performance

Roth stated at her deposition that she believed plaintiff did not adequately perform his duties as Deputy Director of Food Security between 2007 and 2009. (See Deposition of Molly Roth ("Roth Dep."), Def. Mot. Ex. 12, at 14.) She had "concerns about his administration of the Food Aid Programs" and "grave concerns about his business development abilities." (Id. at 14, 45.) Roth never gave plaintiff any written performance reviews or any other documents regarding her concerns, although she stated that in 2007 or 2008 she twice told plaintiff that she "didn't believe he was performing at the level required, and . . . [she] was not satisfied with his performance." (Id. at 14--16.) Plaintiff claims that Roth never counseled him orally about his performance, and, to the contrary, two OICI country representatives, Leon Sakho and Carla Denizard, repeatedly complimented his work. (Affidavit of Dr. Gandhi Selvanathan ("Pl. Aff."), Pl. Opp'n Ex. W, ¶¶ 2--6.) Moreover, plaintiff asserts that defendant only had the opportunity to apply for one grant between 2007 and 2009 and that he played no "meaningful role in writing the proposal." (Pl. SOF ¶ 76.)

D.Affognon's Conduct Towards Plaintiff

Plaintiff averred that, during an office move on an unspecified date, Affognon was helping him move a table and said: "Oh, you Asians, you are weaklings. You never win anything in the Olympics." (Pl. Dep. 104.) Plaintiff interpreted this comment to mean that "in [Affognon's] mind, [Asian-Indians] are all inferiors" and "are not capable of doing any good work." (Id. at 104--05.)

According to plaintiff, Affognon also "scream[ed] and shout[ed] at [plaintiff]" on an unspecified date in January 2008 when plaintiff asked Affognon if he had reviewed a budget for a proposal. (Sept. 30, 2008, Letter from Plaintiff to Edmund Cooke ("9/30/08 Cooke Letter"), Pl. Opp'n Ex. N, at 2.)

E.The August 15, 2008, Affognon Incident

On August 15, 2008, plaintiff was working on a USAID report when he had an altercation with Affognon, which plaintiff described at his deposition as follows:

[W]e had been working very hard on getting the report ready, and the finance portion of the report was with Mr. Affognon, and he promised that it would be ready on my table by around 11:00 in the morning . . . . He came in around 2:30 . . . and he said he's finished the new budget because what came from the field was just horrible. . . . So when I opened the report, I found that he had not formatted it. It was in a totally unacceptable form to be sent to USAID. Then I asked him around 2:45 or 3:00 that we cannot send this to USAID, and it has to be formatted properly. . . .

When I said that, he got into a rage and said, Why you cannot do this? It's such a small -- you cannot format Excel sheet? He said so many things which I -- very often see this pitch of his voice. He used, frequently, the F-word too, and he said, This is the problem with you guys. You're not even familiar with the latest way of doing things.

I did not lose my patience. I was not angry. I said, Hold on, Joel.

There is no need to scream like that. He said, I have to leave, and you're asking me at 3:00. You better do that. And just pushed it towards me, and he was getting ready to leave.

Then I told him, Mr. Joel, this is not the way. We have to submit this report by 5:00, otherwise it will have serious consequences.

He said, I don't care. You go back to your home if you cannot do this report. If you cannot format this, you're unfit to work here, so go back. That's what he said. (Pl. Dep. 78--80 (paragraph breaks modified).) Plaintiff completed the report with the help of other OICI employees. (Pl. SOF ¶ 27.) Later that day, plaintiff began having chest pains and went to the hospital. (Id. ¶ 28.) Doctors determined that plaintiff had a blocked artery and performed surgery to place a stent. (Id.) Plaintiff missed approximately five days of work. (Id.)

In an e-mail to Roth and Tambe, dated August 18, 2008, Affognon set forth his account of the incident. (Aug. 18, 2008, E-mail from Affognon to "MC" ("8/18/08 Affognon E-mail"), Pl. Opp'n Ex. L, at 1.) According to Affognon, he told plaintiff that "formatting a worksheet is a very basic task that he should know how to perform as the director of food security," and plaintiff "came yelling." (Id.) Affognon further stated in his e-mail that, "[a]s previously communicated to you and Alfred, I was and still am shocked that [plaintiff], our Director of Food Security[,] is unable to do any basic quantitative task using Excel. I know that months ago we made the decision to recruit a new person for that position and based on the technical deficiency he confirmed to me last Friday, I think we should carefully proceed." (Id.)

Another OICI employee, Michelle Frain Muldoon, wrote a two-page memorandum to Kilcrest and Roth ("8/18/08 Muldoon Memorandum"), setting forth an account of the incident. Muldoon was able to hear the altercation through the wall of her office, which was located next to plaintiff's. (8/18/08 Muldoon Mem., Pl. Opp'n Ex. K, at 1--2.) According to Muldoon, the dispute arose because "[plaintiff] did not understand some technical aspect of the spreadsheet they were developing." (Id.) Affognon "eventually lost control and completely snapped at [plaintiff], yelling so loud that the entire office could hear him verbatim through the walls." (Id.)

F.Aftermath of August 15, 2008, Affognon Incident

When he returned to work, plaintiff gave Roth and Vanessa Kilcrest, the OICI human resources officer, a three-page "grievance" letter regarding the Affognon incident ("8/17/08 Grievance Letter"). (Pl. Dep. 100; Def. SOF ¶ 18; see also 8/17/08 Grievance Letter, Def. Mot. Ex. 4.) The letter is dated August 17, 2008, but plaintiff stated at his deposition that he gave it to Roth "about six days" after the incident. (Id.) Plaintiff spoke to Roth when giving her the letter, "repeated what [was] written," and said that he "want[ed] some justice." (Pl. Dep. 99.) Roth responded that she "felt sorry" and would "follow the procedure for a grievance letter." (Id. at 99--100.) Plaintiff had a similar exchange with Kilcrest. (Id. at 100--01.)

The account in the 8/17/08 Grievance Letter is similar to the one plaintiff gave at his deposition, although some details differ. For example, the 8/17/08 Grievance Letter did not state that Affognon said "You're not even familiar with the latest way of doing things." (8/17/08 Grievance Letter 1--3.) In the 8/17/08 Grievance Letter, plaintiff further asserted:

I could not believe that a 63-year-old man with more than 35 years of professional experience of which 13 years have been spent with OICI can be treated in such a brutal way and subjected to this sort of verbal aggression, abuse, defamation and disrespect. It is a total violation of the fundamental human rights and I cannot believe that it can happen in a country like USA.

As a result of this ordeal, I want to file defamation charges and grievances against [Affognon] . . . . I want this matter to be referred to the Board of Directors of OICI. . . . . I also want your assurance that there will be no retaliation or retribution . . . . (Id. (paragraph breaks modified).)

On September 12, 2008, Affognon sent an e-mail to plaintiff, copied to Roth, with the subject "FOLLOW UP." (Sept. 12, 2008, E-mail from Affognon to Plaintiff, Def. Mot. Ex. 7.) The e-mail stated: "Dear Gandhi: I write to let you know that I had no intention to offend you in any way during the recent exchange we had on the Ghana Prep Budget. I sincerely apologize for that occurrence. Thank you[,] Joel." (Id. (emphasis in original).)

Plaintiff sent a letter to Edmund Cooke, the chairman of defendant's Board of Directors, on September 30, 2008, in which he stated that he wanted to be told "the position of the Board" and "what action the [Board of Directors] plan[ned] to take" regarding Affognon. (9/30/08 Cooke Letter 1--2.). Plaintiff wrote that he was "perturbed to note that a senior person in age, in experience and in association with OICI can be treated with contempt by a new comer [sic.] who does not have even 4 years experience with OICI." (Id. at 2.) On October 17, 2008, plaintiff sent Cooke an additional letter, stating that he had "heard nothing from OICI [Board of Directors] or from OICI management" despite Roth telling him that the Board would be "acting soon." (Oct. 17, 2008, Letter from Plaintiff to Edmund Cooke ("10/17/08 Cooke Letter"), Pl. Opp'n Ex. O, at 1--2.)

G.OICI's Response to Affognon Incident

Roth investigated the 8/17/08 Grievance Letter by conducting a series of interviews and collecting written statements over a period of several months. (Def. SOF ¶ 22; Roth Dep. 18-- 28.) Roth then provided a report to Cooke, dated February 9, 2009,*fn3 containing a summary of Affognon incident and her recommendations for the OICI Board of Directors. (Id. at 19--20; see also Investigation Into Grievance Communicated by Dr. Gandhi Selvanathan, August 17, 2008 ("2/9/09 Roth Memorandum"), Def. Mot. Ex. 5.) In the 2/9/09 Roth Memorandum, Roth wrote: "I find that although Mr. Affognon may not have intended harm or offense to Dr. Selvanathan and did not consider his behavior outside the boundaries of acceptable office discourse, his actions were in violation of OIC International's Standards of Conduct. It is clear that Dr. Selvanathan felt himself to be disrespected and was considerably shaken . . . ." (Id. at 2.) Around March 11, 2009, Roth gave plaintiff a memorandum dated September 22, 2008 ("9/22/08 Roth Letter"), setting forth in ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.