IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
September 12, 2012
LSI CORPORATION AND AGERE SYSTEMS, INC., DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Eduardo C. Robreno, J.
Janis Stacy ("Plaintiff") brings this employment discrimination action against her former employer, Agere Systems, Inc., and its parent company, LSI Corporation (collectively, "Defendants"). Plaintiff moves for partial summary judgment on whether the Allentown Human Relations Act applies in this case. Defendants move for summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims of unlawful discrimination. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and deny Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment as moot.
In 1998, Lucent Technologies, which later became Agere Systems, hired Plaintiff. Stacy Decl. ¶ 2. When she was hired, Plaintiff had a traditional masculine appearance, wore male clothing, and went by the name "Jim." Id. ¶ 3. In 2002, however, Plaintiff was diagnosed with gender identity disorder ("GID"). Id. ¶ 4. Following her diagnosis with GID, Plaintiff underwent psychological counseling and began receiving hormone therapy.
Id. ¶ 5.
In February 2005, Plaintiff revealed to Agere Human Resources Business Partner Christine Sostarecz that she suffered from GID and would be transitioning from male to female. Stacy Dep. 104:24-11, Sept. 13, 2011. Sostarecz educated herself about GID and worked with Plaintiff to prepare a presentation to her co-workers regarding her gender transition. Sostarecz Dep. 51:5-56:24, Oct. 26, 2011. In March 2005, Plaintiff made a presentation to her co-workers, including her manager, Dave Sotak, and the director of her current workgroup, George Stasak. Stacy Dep. 110:20-111:13. Thereafter, Norm Lawrence, the director of another workgroup, invited Plaintiff to give her presentation to his workgroup. Id. at 111:16-112:9. During her presentation, Lawrence introduced Plaintiff to his group and "made the statement that yesterday he would have been considered a bigot and today knowing [Plaintiff] he is rethinking things." Id. at 113:12-25. Sostarecz observed Lawrence make the comment. Id. at 116:15-23. By mid-2005, Plaintiff transitioned her appearance at work from male to female and began using the name "Janis." Stacy Decl. ¶ 6.
Despite Agere's written policy prohibiting gender-identity discrimination, Plaintiff testified that her supervisors treated her differently after she disclosed her GID diagnosis. Pl's Resp. Ex. P-19; Sostarecz Dep. 19:4-20:16. Specifically, Plaintiff testified that Stasak "changed his behavior to [Plaintiff]" and "stopped calling [her] into his office." Stacy Dep. 43:22-24. Plaintiff further testified that on at least one occasion Stasak appeared "visibly nervous" around Plaintiff. Id. at 173:13-18. Plaintiff testified that Sotak referred to her using male pronouns. Id. at 50:7-14, 62:19-63:2, 123:21-23; Stacy Decl. ¶ 10. And Plaintiff testified that two non-supervisor co-workers made negative comments regarding her transition: one co-worker commented that Plaintiff was violating "God's will and [she] need[s] to go to religious organizations to seek counsel," and another co-worker expressed concern over which bathroom Plaintiff would use.*fn2 Stacy Dep. 118:7-123:5.
In 2006, after her return from a GID-related surgical procedure, Defendants reassigned Plaintiff to Lawrence's workgroup, and Bob Radaker became her immediate supervisor. Id. at 140:9-19. Plaintiff performed well within her new workgroup and provided valued contributions. Pl.'s Resp. Ex. P-26; Radaker Dep. 13:14-16:6, 19:7-23:11, 40:3-42:12, 51:19-52:19, Oct. 17, 2011. Nevertheless, Plaintiff complained to Lawrence that her performance was unfairly rated and she was unfairly compensated in 2005. Compl. ¶ 50; Lawrence Dep. 222:8-224:1; Garcia Dep. 187:1-12, Oct. 18, 2011. Lawrence investigated and learned that Plaintiff received the exact same performance rating in 2004, before she disclosed her GID diagnosis, and that she was in the top ten percent of the highest paid engineers in the entire company. Lawrence Dep. 227:1-229:4; Stacy Dep. 134:1-21, 136:2-137:23. Lawrence reported his findings to Plaintiff, who admitted to Lawrence that she had no other evidence of any perceived unfair treatment. Lawrence Dep. 228:2-229:24.
In 2007, Agere merged with LSI Corporation.*fn3 Stacy Decl. ¶ 2. In December 2007, Plaintiff recorded that during a meeting with Lawrence wherein she asked what she needed to do to succeed at the new company, "Norm [Lawrence] mentioned how Chris Kribel had just left the company for a better position in another company and how now that I had completed my changes and now I could start someplace fresh. He said he couldn't tell me anything wonderful as a reason to stay." Pl.'s Resp. Ex. D-48.
Following the merger, LSI engaged in a series of layoffs known as the Force Management Program ("FMP") in response to the declining economy.*fn4 Bento Aff. ¶¶ 6-8. Pursuant to the FMP, Defendants eliminated approximately 3,770 positions between April 2007 and December 2007.*fn5 Id. ¶ 11.
In December 2007 or January 2008, Vice President of Product Engineering Scott Keller instructed Lawrence to reduce his workforce by eight employees. Lawrence Dep. 18:9-20:24, 22:1-23:24. Keller instructed Lawrence to terminate four employees from his Austin, Texas, team but gave Lawrence sole discretion to select the other four employees to terminate pursuant to the FMP. Id. at 23:22-24. In making his decision, Lawrence first determined which job positions and functions would be impacted by the FMP. Id. at 30:8-21. Lawrence consulted with Human Resources Business Partner Bonnie Kline regarding the universe of employees that would be affected by the FMP. Id. Kline provided Lawrence with the universes and the members of each universe so that Lawrence could conduct a skills assessment. Id. at 30:8-31:7. Lawrence considered Defendants future needs in determining which universes would be affected by the January 2008 FMP. Id. at 35:15-36:11, 73:24-74:14.
One of Lawrence's universes was Level 12 Principle Product Engineers
in Allentown, Pennsylvania. That universe consisted of three
employees: Nancy Fang, Robert Kistler, and Plaintiff.*fn6
Lawrence Dep. 67:11-68:21. Plaintiff, as lead engineer, supported a certain product line in which Defendants decided
to no longer invest. Id. at 77:22-79:17, 78:6-16; Radaker Dep.
67:8-17, 70:7-71:5, 182:4-7.
Lawrence selected five particular skills critical for the functioning of his team moving forward: execution, teamwork, communication, technical versatility, and customer focus. Lawrence Dep. 38:10-23, 40:1-41:19. When Lawrence assessed Fang, Kistler, and Plaintiff, he ranked Plaintiff lowest of the three, specifically assessing her lower than Kistler and Fang in the critical skills of technical versatility and teamwork.*fn7 Id. at 116:4-122:21. Lawrence presented his assessment to his first-level managers, Bob Radaker, Larry Wall, James Velopolcak, and Lester Kostolanci. Id. at 104:10-106:19; Radaker Dep. 69:1-71:5. Lawrence discussed the rationale for his skills assessment of the three Level 12 Principle Product Engineers and the business needs of the organization moving forward, and most of the managers agreed with his assessment that Plaintiff was the appropriate employee to terminate.*fn8 Lawrence Dep. 109:1-122; Radaker Dep. 73:1-74:19, 77:2-16. Lawrence decided to terminate Plaintiff based on the skills assessment. Id. at 10:5-13.
On January 16, 2008, Lawrence notified Plaintiff that she was terminated pursuant to the January 2008 FMP. Stacy Dep. 165:2-24; Lawrence Dep. 161:13-162:3. Plaintiff testified that Lawrence provided as a reason for her termination that she "was being freed from [her] negative history with George [Stasak] and the corporation." Stacy Dep. 161:1-4.*fn9 Plaintiff's termination became effective on March 15, 2008.*fn10 Id. at 160:11-12.
On September 14, 2010, Plaintiff filed a complaint that alleges Defendants committed unlawful discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") (Counts I and II); sex and disability discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA") (Counts III, IV, and V); and unlawful gender-identity, sex, and disability discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Allentown Human Relations Act ("AHRA") (Counts VI, VII, VIII, and IX). The parties stipulated to, and the Court approved of, partial dismissal of Plaintiff's claims relating to certain allegations of "post-termination discrimination." Order 1, Jan. 12, 2012, ECF No. 49. Thus, the Court dismissed Counts II, V, and IX. Id.
At the conclusion of the discovery period, Plaintiff moved for partial summary judgment on the issue of whether the AHRA applies in this case. Defendants moved for summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims. The Court has reviewed the parties' briefing and the matter is now ripe for disposition.
III.STANDARD OF REVIEW
Summary judgment is appropriate if there are no genuine disputes 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, 247-48 (1986)). A fact is "material" if proof of its existence or nonexistence 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.
The Court will view 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). While the moving party bears the initial burden of showing the absence of a genuine dispute 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.
Defendants move for summary judgment on Plaintiff's claims of unlawful sex, disability, and gender-identity discrimination. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant Defendants' Motion and deny Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment as moot.
Plaintiff brings the following claims: sex discrimination in violation of Title VII; sex and disability discrimination in violation of the PHRA; and sex, disability, and gender-identity discrimination in violation of the AHRA.*fn11
Absent direct evidence of discrimination, a plaintiff may prove claims of unlawful discrimination under the McDonnell Douglas framework.*fn12 See Sarullo v. U.S. Postal Serv., 352 F.3d 789, 797 (3d Cir. 2003) (citing McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973)). Plaintiff bears the initial burden to establish a prima facie case of unlawful discrimination. See id. The burden then shifts to Defendants to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for terminating Plaintiff. See id. Finally, Plaintiff must establish that Defendants' proffered reason is a pretext and the real reason Defendants selected Plaintiff for termination was unlawful discrimination. See id. This case turns on whether Plaintiff satisfied her burden at the final stage of the McDonnell Douglas analysis.*fn13
Plaintiff may defeat the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment "by either (i) discrediting the proffered reasons, either circumstantially or directly, or (ii) adducing evidence, whether circumstantial or direct, that discrimination was more likely than not a motivating or determinative cause of the adverse employment action." Fuentes v. Perskie, 32 F.3d 759, 764 (3d Cir. 1994). "[Plaintiff's] evidence rebutting [Defendants'] proffered legitimate reasons must allow a factfinder reasonably to infer that each of the employer's proffered non-discriminatory reasons was either a post hoc fabrication or otherwise did not actually motivate the employment action (that is, the proffered reason is a pretext)." Id. (citations omitted). Finally, Plaintiff will not discredit Defendants' proffered reason by showing it is "wrong or mistaken" but must, instead, "demonstrate such weaknesses, implausibilities, inconsistencies, incoherencies, or contradictions in the employer's proffered legitimate reasons for its action that a reasonable factfinder could rationally find them unworthy of credence." Id. at 765 (citations omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Plaintiff attempts to demonstrate Defendants' proffered reason is a pretext based on three arguments.*fn14 All three arguments fail to demonstrate such weaknesses, implausibilities, or inconsistencies in Defendants' proffered reason that a reasonable factfinder could rationally find them unworthy of credence. Based on the evidence of record, therefore, Plaintiff fails to show Defendants' proffered reason is a pretext.
First, Lawrence's comment that Plaintiff would have a "fresh start" away from her negative history with Stasak does not discredit Defendants' proffered reason. To begin with, Lawrence did not expressly refer to Plaintiff's gender, gender-identity, gender-transition, or disability. Nor does Lawrence's comment necessarily indicate an intent to discriminate. Instead, the evidence of record indicates that Lawrence made this comment in an attempt to maintain a forward-looking, positive attitude. In other words, Plaintiff attempts to cast Lawrence's comment in a light unsupported by the evidence of record.
Second, Plaintiff's argument that Lawrence materially changed his explanation for Plaintiff's termination is without record support.*fn15 In fact, Lawrence provided consistent explanations for Plaintiff's termination. Plaintiff's notice of termination indicated that Defendants chose her for layoff pursuant to the FMP. In August 2008, during an interview of Lawrence triggered by Plaintiff's administrative charge of discrimination, Lawrence explained that he chose Plaintiff based on a skills assessment. Pl.'s Resp. Ex. P-21. That Lawrence also explained that Mike Savo assumed Plaintiff's responsibilities because he was rated higher in the skills assessment does not necessarily contradict Lawrence's explanation -- especially considering that Savo was not in Plaintiff's universe relating to the January 2008 FMP. And in his 2008 performance review, Lawrence provided:
I demonstrated my composure during tough times. An example of this is my handling of the January downsizing in which we eliminated the Austin team and cut Gus's team by half. I demonstrated maturity and decisiveness in taking out the lowest performers from my team and moving Gus's folks into my orb.
Pl.'s Resp. Ex. P-94. Plaintiff argues that Lawrence's use of the term "lowest performers" instead of "lowest skilled" indicates a contradiction in the proffered reason. The Court cannot reasonably infer discriminatory intent based on such a de minimis inconsistency in Lawrence's 2008 performance evaluation.*fn16 Therefore, Lawrence has not provided such inconsistent explanations for terminating Plaintiff that a reasonable factfinder could rationally find Defendants' proffered reason unworthy of credence.
Third, Plaintiff's remaining arguments that Defendants' proffered reason is a post hoc fabrication fail.
Plaintiff argues that Lawrence did not complete the skills assessment before selecting her for termination, that he did not complete the assessment in "good faith," that Defendants' decision to discontinue a certain product line is immaterial to the skills assessment, and that Defendants fail to provide an explanation for terminating Plaintiff and not her replacement, Mike Savo. First, Plaintiff's arguments are not supported by the evidence of record which demonstrates that, based on the skills Lawrence (and other managers) believed would be most beneficial to Defendants going forward, Lawrence ranked Plaintiff the lowest in her universe. Lawrence selected a universe for the January 2008 FMP and assessed Plaintiff's skills against Kistler and Fang. No evidence of record indicates that Lawrence chose to terminate Plaintiff before the January 2008 FMP or that he ranked Plaintiff based on her gender, gender identity, disability, or any other reason apart from the relevant skills he identified. Plaintiff's attempt to demonstrate that Savo initially struggled in Plaintiff's position ignores the evidence demonstrating that Defendants were discontinuing the product line on which Plaintiff worked and made their decision based on Defendants' future business. And Savo was not among the engineers in Plaintiff's universe in the January 2008 FMP skills assessment. Whether Defendants made an unwise decision in terminating Plaintiff based on the company's future business is not for the Court to decide. In other words, the Court will not second guess Lawrence's skills assessment or Defendants' decision to discontinue investment in a product line for which Plaintiff was a lead engineer. Nevertheless, Plaintiff fails to demonstrate such inconsistencies or implausibilities in Defendants' proffered reason that a reasonable factfinder could rationally find the reason unworthy of credence. Therefore, Plaintiff fails to demonstrate Defendants' proffered reason is a pretext and the real reason Defendants terminated Plaintiff was unlawful discrimination. Furthermore, because Plaintiff fails to demonstrate Defendants' decision to terminate her was motivated by unlawful discrimination, Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment is moot.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court will grant Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and deny Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment as moot. An appropriate order will follow.