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Kim Ryans v. Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia

February 27, 2013

KIM RYANS
v.
FEDERAL RESERVE BANK OF PHILADELPHIA



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Juan R. Sanchez, J.

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff Kim Ryans brings this employment discrimination action against her former employer, Defendant Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia (FRB), alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA), 43 Pa. Stat. Ann. §§ 951-963. Ryans alleges she was unlawfully terminated because of her race and her disability, and in retaliation for filing an internal "EEO complaint." She also alleges FRB failed to accommodate her disability and failed to engage in the interactive process. Prior to discovery, FRB filed a motion for summary judgment with supporting affidavits and other documents. Ryans filed a brief in opposition to the motion, but filed no supporting materials despite an Order from this Court directing her to supplement her brief with such materials. Because there are no disputes as to any material facts and because FRB is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, FRB's motion will be granted.

FACTS*fn1

Ryans began working for FRB on March 27, 1989. In 2005, she was promoted to manager of the Paying and Receiving Division in the Cash Services Department. On February 18, 2009, Ryans began a leave of absence due to a shoulder injury and requested it be designated as leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). FRB's FMLA Leave Policy requires the employee requesting FMLA leave to submit medical certification of her condition to FRB's Medical Division. FRB reserves the right to check with the employee as it deems necessary to ascertain her condition and the date of expected return. On March 5, 2009, FRB retroactively approved Ryans's request for FMLA leave from February 18, 2009, to March 3, 2009. FRB informed Ryans she had already exhausted 50 of her available 60 days of FMLA leave and thus any absence after March 3, 2009, would not be covered under FMLA. Despite having been informed on March 5 that her FMLA leave had expired, Ryans did not return to work the following day or submit medical documentation regarding her anticipated return date.

FRB held Ryans's job open and attempted to contact her regarding her medical status and possible return date. On March 27, 2009, more than three weeks after Ryans was due to return to work, her physician submitted documentation stating she was able to return to work without limitations on April 1, 2009. On April 1, however, Ryans did not return to work; rather, the FRB's Medical Division received a handwritten note from Ryans's physician stating she was suffering from migraine headaches and her return to work date was "not certain." Def.'s Ex. C, at 10. FRB's Medical Director, Dr. Natalie Hartenbaum, was unable to read the handwritten note in its entirety and determined the note failed to demonstrate a medical necessity for ongoing absence and no anticipated return date. Dr. Hartenbaum sent a letter to Ryans requesting she either authorize her physician to contact Dr. Hartenbaum or have her physician complete an Attending Physician's Work Recommendations form. Dr. Hartenbaum also stated in the letter Ryans's absence was outside the normally recommended guidelines for the condition listed, and without the requested information from her physician, her continued absence was not supported.

By April 2009, the Cash Services Department had been without Ryans, one of its three managers, for several weeks and the department was struggling. Michelle Scipione, Vice President of Cash Services, and Ryans's supervisor, assigned critical duties ordinarily performed by Ryans, including vault alarms project oversight, management of coin inventory flow, staffing decisions, and vault budget projections, to other officers within the department. She was forced to delegate duties including management of daily work flows, participation in multiple systems work groups, and coordination of changes to contaminated currency processing to the Division coordinator. The changes were disruptive to the department's operation and presented risks to FRB because important duties were being split among several parties. Scipione communicated her concerns to Kim Taylor, Manager of Employee Relations, whom the Medical Division had been keeping apprised of Ryans's status. Scipione informed Taylor that if Ryans did not return to work in the near future, she would recommend Ryans's termination.

On April 17, 2009, after repeated requests, Ryans's physician submitted a completed Attending Physician's Work Recommendations form, which listed Ryans's return to work date as unknown. According to FRB, upon consideration of this April 17 submission, FRB decided to terminate Ryans's employment because her FMLA leave had expired and because neither she nor her doctor could provide any indication as to when she would be able to return to work. On Monday, April 20, 2009, Taylor and Scipione held a telephone conference with Ryans to advise her of her termination. Taylor informed Ryans that because the Cash Services Department could no longer hold her position open, and because she could not provide a date for her return, she was terminated effective immediately. After being informed of her termination, Ryans stated she could return to work that day. When asked in response if anything had changed since her physician last stated in the April 17 recommendation that her return to work date was unknown, such as a recent doctor visit or updated prognosis, Ryans stated nothing had changed but she could still return to work immediately. As Ryans was unable to submit medical documentation to demonstrate her condition had changed, FRB proceeded with her termination. Ryans position was later filled by an African-American man.*fn2

On September 22, 2009, Ryans dual filed a complaint against FRB with the Pennsylvania Humans Relations Commission (PHRC) and the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC), alleging racial discrimination, disability discrimination, and failure to accommodate. The PHRC dismissed Ryans's complaint for lack of jurisdiction and transferred the case to the EEOC. On August 16, 2009, the EEOC issued Ryans a right to sue letter. On November 15, 2011, Ryans filed the instant lawsuit.

FRB subsequently filed a motion to dismiss and a motion to disqualify Ryans's counsel. A hearing on the disqualification motion was held on February 24, 2012, and Ryans's counsel ultimately withdrew. On April 20, 2012, Attorney Alston B. Meade entered an appearance on behalf of Ryans. On May 8, 2012, this Court dismissed Ryans's Complaint for failure to state a claim but granted her leave to file an amended complaint. Although Attorney Meade had entered his appearance, Ryans filed a pro se Amended Complaint on May 29, 2012. On June 6, 2012, Attorney Meade filed a motion to withdraw as counsel. On June 12, 2012, FRB filed the instant motion for summary judgment. Ryans filed a pro se response without any accompanying affidavits or documentary evidence. On August 24, 2012, after a hearing on Attorney Meade's motion to withdraw, this Court denied the motion to withdraw and ordered Ryans to submit affidavits, declarations, or other materials in opposition to FRB's motion for summary judgment by September 10, 2012. To date, Ryans has not filed any such materials.

DISCUSSION

A motion for summary judgment shall be granted "if the movant shows there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). "Material" facts are those facts "that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is "genuine" if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. The court "must view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and must make all reasonable inferences in that party's favor." Hugh, 418 F.3d at 267. To defeat a summary judgment motion, the non-moving party "must rely on affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories, or admissions on file" to show there is a genuine issue of material fact. Advantage Fund, Ltd. v. Colkitt, 272 F.3d 189, 199 (3d Cir. 2001)(quotation omitted). "Speculation, conclusory allegations, and mere denials are insufficient to raise genuine issues of material fact." Boykins v. Lucent Technologies, Inc., 78 F. Supp. 2d 402, 408 (E.D. Pa. 2000) (citing Sterling Nat'l Mortg. Co. v. Mortg. Corner, Inc., 97 F.3d 39, 45 (3d Cir. 1996), Groman v. Twp. of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 633 (3d Cir. 1995), and Trap Rock Indus., Inc. v. Local 825, Int'l Union of Operating Eng'rs, AFL-CIO, 982 F.2d 884, 890 (3d Cir. 1992)). "Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is 'no genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

Ryans's Title VII racial discrimination claim is reviewed under the McDonnell Douglas burden shifting framework. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). Under this framework, Ryans must first establish a prima facie case of racial discrimination. Id. at 802. To establish a prima facie case of race discrimination under Title VII, Ryans must establish: (1) she belongs to a protected class; (2) she was qualified for the position; (3) she suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) under circumstances raising an inference of racial discrimination, FRB continued to seek out individuals with qualifications similar to Ryans's to fill the position. See id.; see also Sarullo v. U.S. Postal Serv., 352 F.3d 789, 797-98 (3d. Cir. 2003). Ryans has not established a prima facie racial discrimination claim because there are no facts in the record that raise an inference of racial discrimination. Ryans merely argues that similarly situated white managers and officers were allowed to remain on leave after their FMLA expired but were not terminated. Ryans provides no evidence to support this allegation. Without more, this factually unsupported and conclusory assertion is insufficient to support an inference of a racially discriminatory animus behind Ryans's termination. See Solomon v. Soc'y of Auto. Eng'rs, No. 00-2144, 2001 WL 866974, at *4 (W.D. Pa. July 6, 2001) (granting defendant summary judgment on plaintiff's sex discrimination claim where plaintiff cited only his own deposition testimony that women were given operable computers while he was given an inoperable computer because a plaintiff cannot rely on unsupported assertions, speculation, or conclusory allegations to avoid summary judgment (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986))). Additionally, Ryans's position was filled by an African-American.

Even if Ryans could establish a prima facie case of racial discrimination, her claim would still fail. Under the McDonnell Douglas framework, if a plaintiff can establish a prima facie case of discrimination, the burden shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. McDonnell Douglas Corp., 411 U.S. at 802; Makky v. Chertoff, 541 F.3d 205, 214 (3d Cir. 2008). Once an employer articulates a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason, the burden shifts back to the employee to show the employer's stated reason is a pretext for discrimination. McDonnell Douglas Corp., 411 U.S. at 804; Sarullo, 352 F.3d at 797. A plaintiff can then defeat summary judgment only by showing "some evidence, direct or circumstantial, from which a factfinder would reasonably either: (1) disbelieve the employer's articulated legitimate reasons; or (2) believe that an invidious discriminatory reason was more likely than not a motivating or determinative cause of the employer's action." Jones v. School Dist. of Phila., 198 F.3d 403, 413 (3d Cir. 1999) (quoting Fuentes v. Perskie, 32 F.3d 759 (3d Cir. 1994)).

FRB asserts it terminated Ryans because she had used up all of her FMLA leave, she could not provide a return date, and her department was struggling without someone performing her duties. FRB provided affidavits of two FRB supervisors, as well as an internal FRB "Recommendation for Termination of Employment" document created on April 20, 2009, stating Ryans's absence had become ...


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