Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
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.

Jo Ann Gottschall v. Reading Eagle Company

March 12, 2013

JO ANN GOTTSCHALL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
READING EAGLE COMPANY, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff brings claims pursuant to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA")*fn1 (Count I) and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA")*fn2 (Count II) alleging that Defendant improperly terminated her because of her age. Defendant has moved for summary judgment on all counts. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant Defendant's motion and enter summary judgment in its favor.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The following facts are either undisputed or viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff.

Defendant Reading Eagle Company ("REC") is a media company, with its primary business being the operator and publishor of a daily newspaper, the Reading Eagle, in Reading, Pennsylvania.*fn3 Plaintiff Jo Ann Gottschall began working in REC's Accounting Department in 1974, immediately after graduating from high school.*fn4 She continued to work in the Accounting Department, performing administrative and clerical functions, until 2000, when she applied for and obtained a position as an administrative assistant in REC's Executive Offices.*fn5 In or around March 2002, a representative in REC's Executive Office told Ms. Gottschall that her employment in the Executive Office was not "'working out' and that she could no longer work there."*fn6 Though REC's Accounting Department did not have an open position, Ms. Gottschall was permitted to return to the Department and work as a "floater," helping other members of the Department complete their work.*fn7 Ms. Gottschall thereafter assumed a position doing billing for transit advertisements, a position that became available when one employee retired and another moved out of state.*fn8

In 2006, REC was faced with declining circulation and advertising revenue in its newspaper business, and as a result, REC laid off 21 employees company-wide.*fn9 According to Richard Auman, REC's Director of Circulation, the average age of all REC employees before and after the 2006 layoffs was approximately 48 years of age, and both before and after the 2006 layoff, approximately 76% of the workforce was 40 years of age or older.*fn10 REC's financial woes continued in 2008, and the Company terminated another 18 employees.*fn11 Among these employees were two General Clerks in REC's Accounting Department, Cheryl Bigaman, who was 58 years of age at the time of her termination, and Robin Hackman, who was 50 years of age at the time.*fn12 Aside from Ms. Gottschall, who was 52 at the time of the 2008 layoffs, these two women were the oldest non-supervisory employees in the Accounting Department.*fn13 The average age of all REC employees before and after the 2008 layoffs was approximately 47 years of age, and both before and after the 2008 layoff, approximately 76% of the workforce was 40 years of age or older.*fn14

Throughout her tenure with REC's Accounting Department, Ms. Gottschall's supervisor was Benjamin Coco, who is 23 years Ms. Gottschall's senior.*fn15 Mr. Coco was responsible for deciding whose position would be terminated in the Accounting Department during the company-wide reduction in force ("RIF").*fn16 To reach his decision, Mr. Coco used a matrix format as directed by REC executives.*fn17 The matrix evaluation assigned employees points (from 0-6) in the following categories: (1) Work Quality; (2) Versatility; (3) Inter-Personal/Teamwork Skills; (4) Productivity; (5) Disciplinary Record (last 24 months only); and (6) Performance evaluations.*fn18 Additionally, employees were given points for tenure with REC, one point for every five years with the Company with a maximum of 6 points awarded.*fn19 Based on his calculations, Mr. Coco selected Ms. Bigaman's and Ms. Hackman's positions for termination in 2008 because their employee matrix scores were the lowest in the Accounting Department.*fn20

In 2009, REC, facing continued decline in revenue and increasing operational costs, determined that additional layoffs were necessary.*fn21 Mr. Coco was again directed to rank Accounting Department employees using the matrix.*fn22 At the time Mr. Coco completed his evaluations, the employees of the Accounting Department were: Plaintiff Gottschall (53 years of age); Mary Ernesto (49 years of age); Christine Heckman (47 years of age); Lynn Schitler (42 years of age); Geri Lynn Liszcz (41 years of age); and Jessica Thomas (30 years of age).*fn23 These

employees received the following matrix scores: Gottschall (36 points); Ernesto (41 points); Heckman (37 points); Schitler (40 points); Licszc (39 points); and Thomas (38 points).*fn24 Ms.

Gottschall, the oldest non-supervisory employee in the Accounting Department, received the lowest matrix score. As such, her position was selected for termination.*fn25 Mr. Coco states that Ms. Gottschall's age was not a factor in her ranking, or in her selection for layoff.*fn26

Ms. Gottschall was informed of Mr. Coco's decision in March 2009 by Mr. Auman and Mr. Coco.*fn27 Ms. Gottschall did inquire of Mr. Auman why she had been selected for termination out of everyone in the Department;*fn28 he responded that he "couldn't tell [her]."*fn29 Ms. Gottschall claims that Mr. Auman's failure to tell her about the matrix scores at that time is evidence that the claimed matrix system was not the true reason for Ms. Gottschall's termination, but was "concocted" as an after-the-fact explanation. Ms. Gotschall stresses that even though she never received a performance evaluation, she was the only member of the Accounting Department to receive a five in the matrix category of performance evaluations; all other employees received a six in this category.*fn30

Mr. Auman maintains that he gave all employees who asked why they were selected for termination essentially the same answer: "that [he] was not in a position to provide specific details, but that REC was forced to make difficult decisions due to poor business conditions."*fn31

He further explains that he gave this answer because he did not want to insult employees by mentioning that they were selected for termination because they were ranked lower than other employees.*fn32 A total of 55 employees were "released" (six voluntarily) during REC's 2009 layoffs; the average age of all REC employees before and after the 2009 layoffs was approximately 47 years of age, and both before and after the 2009 layoff, approximately 76% of the workforce was 40 years of age or older.*fn33

There are two reasons Ms. Gottschall believed she was terminated because of her age: (1) she was the oldest employee in the Accounting Department; and (2) she believed she was one of the higher paid employees in the Department.*fn34 As to the latter, the parties have not presented any evidence about the salaries of REC Accounting Department employees with the exception of Ms. Gottschall, and in the Stipulated Statements of Material Facts, Ms. Gottschall admits she had no actual knowledge of the salaries of other Accounting Department employees.*fn35 As to the former, following the 2008 layoffs, Ms. Gottschall was the oldest nonsupervisory employee in the Accounting Department.*fn36 However, at the time of Ms. Gottschall's termination, her manager, ...


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.