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Blackwell-Murray v. PNC Bank

United States District Court, Third Circuit

August 8, 2013

PNC BANK, Defendant.



Currently pending before the Court is Defendant PNC Bank’s (“PNC”) Motion for Summary Judgment. For the following reasons, the Motion is granted in its entirety.


A. Plaintiff’s Employment with PNC

On April 30, 2008, Plaintiff, Christian Blackwell-Murray, an African American male, submitted an application (“Application”) for employment with Defendant PNC as a branch manager. (Def.’s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. A, Dep. of Christian Blackwell-Murray (“Blackwell- Murray Dep.”) 39:3–40:14, Apr. 4, 2013.)[2] On July 18, 2008, PNC’s Senior Vice President, Banking Sales Manager, Judy Bell, offered Plaintiff employment for the De Novo Branch Manager, Vice President position at PNC’s branch in East Bradford. (Blackwell-Murray Dep. 48:22–49:9 & Ex. 2.) Plaintiff accepted the offer and began work for PNC on August 4, 2008. (Id. at 49:7–9 & Ex. 2.)

The job description for Plaintiff’s position was as follows:

Lead and direct all new branch sales and service activities and business development/community activities to achieve profit, deposit growth, sales revenue, unit production, market share and customer/employee satisfaction goals for the office. Responsible for opening and managing a new branch with no initial customer and deposit base. In the initial period, until significant customer/deposit base is acquired, the focus will be on new business development by generating sales through working the market and interacting with the local community. In addition, key accountabilities include continuous development of branch staff, marketing events in the community and the development and implementation of a sales strategy to drive branch performance. The De Novo Branch Manager continuously works to directly lead, coach and performance-manage the staff, as well as ensure the successful development and performance of all employees in the office in the areas of customer experience, service excellence, sales management, leadership and results.

(Id., Ex. 4.)

Plaintiff, however, testified that he was not fully responsible for his employees’ performance in the branch. (Blackwell-Murray Dep. 155:4–7.) Rather, his only job was to check certain logbooks, which contain notations of what each employee did and when they did it, and to have morning huddles and scheduled operations meetings. (Id. at 155:11–18, 156:19–159:3, 169:19–169:5.) When he saw their signatures in the logbooks next to the notations, he knew that his staff did what they were supposed to do. (Id. at 155:14-118.) He commented that, if he had to go back and physically check everything, there would have been no point in having employees. (Id. at 155:19–24, 157:15–21.)

On June 9, 2009, Plaintiff’s supervisor, Judy Bell, issued Plaintiff a Corrective Action Form. (Blackwell-Murray Dep., Ex. 11.) The Form noted that a $48, 000 wire was given to Plaintiff by his Assistant Manager and Plaintiff called it in without verifying it. (Id.) While embezzlement was being investigated, several operational integrity/procedural violations were uncovered, including numerous teller violations in the teller envelopes, neglect of the audit binder for many months, numerous safe deposit violations, dual control keys in unsecured locations, and keys and combos in the vault being in complete disarray. (Id.) The Form also remarked that, “[a]s the Branch Manager of the East Bradford Branch, Christian is responsible for the operational integrity of the branch including insuring that PNC policies and procedures are adhered to.” (Id.) At the bottom, the Corrective Action Form stated, “These are very serious violations. Failure to resolve these issues or any additional violations will result in further disciplinary action up to and including termination.” (Id.) Plaintiff discussed these violations with Ms. Bell and signed off on the form. (Id.; Blackwell-Murray Dep. 147:11–154:24.) At his deposition, however, Plaintiff blamed these problems on at least four different employees. (Id. at 147:11–154:24.) He explained that the employees had signed the log book indicating they had done certain tasks when, in actuality, they had not. (Id.) Plaintiff then emphasized that he did not believe that the Corrective Action had anything to do with his improper oversight of the branch. (Id. at 148:12–15.) According to Plaintiff, Ms. Bell allowed the insubordination of his employees to persist despite his complaints and despite Defendant’s clear policy to “carry out supervisor’s work directions” in Defendant’s Employee Expectations Policy. (Pl.’s Resp. Statement Undisputed Facts ¶¶ 13–14.)[3]

B. Plaintiff’s Violations of PNC Policies and Code of Business Ethics

1. PNC Policies at Issue

At some point during Plaintiff’s employment, several of PNC’s policies were implicated by Plaintiff’s actions. First, PNC’s Code of Business Conduct and Ethics provides, in pertinent part, “As a PNC employee, you are responsible for understanding and adhering to this Code. Always act in a professional, honest, and ethical manner when conducting your activities with and on behalf of PNC.” (Blackwell-Murray Dep., Ex. 7.) It goes on to state that:

Violating relevant laws, regulations, or this Code, or encouraging others to do so, exposes PNC to risk, including risk to its reputation, and therefore may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment.
Business records should always be prepared honestly and accurately. We must never be dishonest or deceptive in creating or maintaining PNC records, or otherwise attempt to mislead PNC customers, management, auditors, or regulators.

(Id.) Plaintiff admits that he was trained on this Code and received an online copy of it. (Blackwell-Murray Dep. 126:12–129:20.)

PNC also maintains a Bonding Policy, which provides:

To be employed at PNC you must be covered under its fidelity bond at all times. If PNC has a reasonable belief that you have engaged in a dishonest act (whether or not it constitutes a crime), your coverage under the bond is suspended and you cannot continue working at PNC. You cannot return to work at PNC unless and until your bond coverage is reinstated. . . .
Expectations and Responsibilities You are expected to be truthful and honest at all times when working for and/or representing PNC. . . .
If PNC believes you may have committed a dishonest act, you automatically are not bonded and you cannot remain at work. Depending on the circumstances, you employment may immediately be terminated. . . .
Examples Some examples of dishonest acts that may suspend bond coverage and/or result in termination of employment include, but are not limited to: . . .
notarizing a document when the person does not sign the document in front of you
(Blackwell-Murray Dep., Ex. 17.)

Finally, PNC’s Notary Policy provides in pertinent part:

The law requires that when a notary attests to a signature, the person whose signature is being notarized must be present in front of the notary. This law protects not only the individual requesting the notarization, but also the notary and PNC. Violations of this law expose the notary and PNC to unnecessary risk.
It is also a violation of PNC’s Code of Business Conduct and Ethics for any employee to ask a notary to attest to the signature of someone who is not present.
Any employee who engages in any of the above misconduct may be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment.
What if documents require notarization and the branch employee notary is not available?
Every effort should be made to have a PNC notary present, especially for Home Equity Loan and Line of Credit closings. If a notary is unavailable, ask the customer to:
● Take the documents to another PNC location and have the documents notarized by that branch employee notary
● Take the documents to a notary outside of the bank. In either case, the customer(s) must be in front of the notary when any document is notarized.

(Blackwell-Murray Dep., Ex. 12.) Plaintiff indicated that he was familiar with these policies and was trained to know that (1) customers had to be present when getting a loan document notarized and (2) if a notary was unavailable, the customer had to take the documents either to another PNC branch or to a third-party notary outside the bank. (Blackwell-Murray Dep. 173:14-24, 176:7-16, 180:17-181:13.) Plaintiff testified, however, that he was told by “everyone at PNC” that he simply had to get the loan notarized, whether or not the customer was actually present. (Id at 174:12-185:11.)

2. Plaintiffs Alleged Violations of Policies

In early June 2009, PNC terminated the employment of the only notary working at the East Bradford Branch, meaning that for the remainder of Plaintiff s employment, there was no notary onsite. (Id at 90:11-20, 183:15-185:11.) Plaintiff was concerned that if he had customers take the loan documents out of the building to get notarized and they did not bring them back within the time allotted, the loan would be null and void requiring it to be done all over again. (Id at 180:21-181:6.) He went on to explain that, “you will receive loan errors which will go against your-it went against your customer service score. It went against your bonus for the quarter for the year. It went against your branch manager CIQ score. It affected basically all of your metrics if you got loan errors.” (Id at 181:7-13, see also id at 90:11-20.)

As such, between June 22, 2009 and September 5, 2009, Plaintiff, on at least five occasions, had loan documents notarized without the customer present. (Id at 202:3-209:11.) He explained that this was to “maintain PNC’s brand ease, confidence and achievement.” (Id at 209:12–15.) Plaintiff claimed that having documents notarized without the customer present was “industry standard everywhere.” (Id. at 176:17–177:24.) He also alleged that Market Manager Matthew Farnsworth and PNC Branch Manager Christopher DiBello—both of whom are Caucasian—also had loan documents notarized without the customer present. (Id. at 177:10–178:20.) Plaintiff did not know if anyone in management at PNC was aware that DiBello and Farnsworth had Dated this. (Id. at 178:21–179:8.) He also admitted that Farnsworth told him that PNC frowned upon this practice, but it probably would not do anything about it. (Id. at 177:15–179:8.) Finally, Plaintiff conceded that, although his supervisor, Bell, told him that he could take documents to another branch to have them notarized, she did not specifically say that he could do so without the customer present. (Id. at 185:2–11, 188:9–20.)

C. Plaintiff’s Termination from PNC

In early September 2009, PNC customer service representative Katherine Norton called the Employee Relations Information Center (“ERIC”) to report Plaintiff’s actions in having documents notarized without the customer present. (Id. at 137:11–140:13, 195:23–200:6.) An investigation was commenced by PNC to determine the truth of these allegations. (Id. at 139:1–140:18, 200:17–202:4.) On September 18, 2009, PNC investigators Rich Kilmon and Laurie Kane met with Plaintiff, who admitted to taking loan documents to a former colleague and notary at the Bank of American branch in Glenside, Pennsylvania, and asking her to notarize them without the customers being present. (Id. at 203:10–206:6.) This occurred on at least five occasions. (Id. at 214:2–218:23.) Plaintiff also signed a statement admitting as follows:

I have taken 5 loans to be notarized by an outside party. I have Dated this in order to maintain PNC’s Brand of Ease, Confidence, and Achievement. I put myself in the customer’s position and asked myself “How would I feel if my bank asked me to go to another establishment and get a document notarized.” Therefore, I took the documents to a 3rd party.
The 3rd party person is an ex co-worker of mine (I do not want anything to happen to her. She is an elderly woman that was doing me a favor. I will take full responsibility of any consequences that may follow).
I would take pages 2 & 3 of the “Open Ended Mortgage” to my contact. Page 2 would be used to verify my signature in the witness field, and the client’s signature would be verified by the signature line on a copy of the client’s Driver’s Licenses. If the signatures matched, my contact would notarize the documents.
I would like to state for the record that my intentions were good. I do not have the urge, nor the need, to cause any harm to my clients, or to my contact. I just wanted the loan closing process to be easy and non-stressful for my clients.

(Blackwell-Murray Dep., Ex. 15; see also Blackwell-Murray Dep. 206:10–207:5.)

On September 21, 2009, Kilmon called Plaintiff to inform him that he was being terminated from PNC employment. (Id. at 221:5–14.) Kilmon explained that the reasons were Plaintiff’s violation of the Notary Policy and the earlier incident with his assistant manager in June 2009. (Id. at 222:1–18.)

D. Alleged Unpaid Compensation

Plaintiff’s base salary for his first year of employment with PNC was $80, 000. (Blackwell-Murray Dep., Ex. 2.) He also had the opportunity to earn additional compensation both for his length of service and through the Branch Manager Incentive Plan. (Id.) Under the Third Year DeNovo for Growth Branch Management Incentive Plan, Managers could earn quarterly annual incentives based on their ability to grow their individual branch’s controllable contribution, which is essentially the branch’s customer revenue less controllable branch expenses. (Blackwell-Murray Dep., Ex. 6.) For the annual incentive, the branch manager serving in that role at the end of the branch’s three-year period was eligible for that award. (Id.) If, however, the Branch Manager at the end of the third year had only been at that branch for a portion of the year, the Branch Manager would be eligible for a prorated bonus based on total time spent managing the branch during the third year. (Id.) “Any prior Branch Managers of that branch would not be eligible for the bonus.” (Id.)

Under the Incentive Award Payment Schedule, “[a]ll quarterly incentive components are typically paid in the 2nd pay of the 2nd month of the following quarter.” (Id. (emphasis omitted).) The annual bonus is typically paid “in the 2nd pay of the 2nd month following the end of the three year period.” (Id. (emphasis omitted).) Further, it provides that “[e]mployees must be employed by Retail Banking and have an ‘active’ status on Compass (payroll system) as of the payroll processing date, generally the Thursday of the week prior to the incentive pay date, in order to receive an incentive award. . . . Employees inactive as of the payroll processing date will not receive an incentive payment.” (Id.) The Plan explicitly notes that “incentive considerations should never be a factor behind any customer conversation or transaction, ” and that “[u]nnecessarily processing or in any other way manipulating transactions for the purpose of personal incentive gain” is contrary to the purpose and spirit of the Plan. (Id.)

Pursuant to this Plan, Plaintiff claimed entitlement to both an annual bonus for 2009 and a third quarter incentive bonus. (Blackwell-Murray Dep. 116:11–117:5, 120:3–17.) Specifically, he alleged that by the time of his termination, he had already exceeded his goals for the third quarter, which was about to end in another two or three days, and he had already hit the yearly goals for 2009 at that point in time too. (Id. at 120:3–10.) Plaintiff admitted, however, that no one told him that he would be paid any bonus if he were no longer employed by the branch. (Id. at 116:3–10, 325:1–23.)

E. Plaintiff’s Racial Discrimination Claims

On September 23, 2009, shortly after his termination, Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) and the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission (“PHRC”) alleging race discrimination against PNC. (Blackwell-Murray Dep., Ex. 18.) As evidence of racial discrimination, Plaintiff first testified that he believed he was hired by his supervisor, Bell, to fulfill a diversity quota. (Blackwell-Murray Dep. 54:4–22, 72:1–19.) Notably, however, he did not know if there were any other candidates who were minorities that Bell interviewed and no one ever told him that he was hired only for diversity purposes. (Id. at 72:20–73:7.) Plaintiff went on to note that Bell subjected him to some discriminatory treatment towards the end of his employment by tracking his scheduled appointments, without good reason, so she would know his every move. (Id. at 74:6–75:14.) Plaintiff conceded, however, that all of his staff, comprised of about fifteen people, had raised issues about his hours and about him not being in the branch.[4] (Id. at 75:15–76:3, 146:1–14.)

Additionally, Plaintiff described discrimination against an African American girl—Tynika Stevens—who was hired to work in the branch. (Id. at 289:12–291:11.) When Bell would come into the office, she would always have something negative to say about the way Ms. Stevens dressed, while she did not make any comments to Kathryn Norton, who he described as similarly dressed. (Id.) Neither woman was ever disciplined for their dress. (Id.) In addition, Plaintiff indicated that he wanted to promote Ms. Stevens to a personal banker position that had opened up at the branch, but she did not get it. (Id. at 291:13–294:14.) He did not know who got the position because it was filled after his termination. (Id.)

Finally, Plaintiff complained that, after his termination, Ms. Bell spoke with other potential employers and, as a result, he did not get sought-after positions with other banks. (Id. at 294:15–301:14.) Notably, however, Plaintiff did not know what she said or even who exactly she spoke with. (Id.) Further, he was only able to speculate that his inability to obtain a new position was because of things said by Bell—as opposed to his former employers at Bank of America—because his interviews were great, but he was denied the positions after the background checks were completed. (Id. at 299:11–300:10.)

Ultimately, Plaintiff never heard Bell say anything about his race, make any racial slurs, or comment that she did not want to hire or work with African Americans. (Id. At 288:9–289:1.) Further, he never heard anyone complain of Bell discriminating against them because of either their race or ethnicity. (Id. at 289:2–5.) Nor did Plaintiff ever call ERIC to complain of any discrimination. (Id. at 130:9–20.)

F. Plaintiff’s Racial Discrimination Claims and Complaints Against Other Employers Both Pre- and Post-Employment with PNC

Plaintiff’s work history reflects other allegations of racial discrimination against employers. First, Plaintiff was employed as a store manager with Blockbuster from November 2003 until he was terminated in January 2005. (Blackwell-Murray Dep. 16:9–22.) Subsequently, on August 24, 2005, Plaintiff, along with others, filed a complaint alleging that Blockbuster had discriminated against them on the basis of race in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. (Def.’s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. C.) On June 30, 2008, Plaintiff’s intentional discrimination claims under § 1981 were dismissed on summary judgment because Plaintiff failed to establish that he was terminated under circumstances that gave rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination. Coleman v. Blockbuster, No. Civ.A.05-4506, 2008 WL 2622912, at *6 (E.D. Pa. June 30, 2008). His Title VII claims were dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Id. at *3.

Second, in June 2005, Bank of America hired Blackwell-Murray as a Banking Center Manager. (Blackwell-Murray Dep. 18:1–13.) Plaintiff failed a charge of discrimination against Bank of America in late 2007, while still employed, claiming that he was being discriminated against based on his race. (Id. at 26:13–27:12.) According to Plaintiff, the investigator at the EEOC dismissed the charges because “the people that were doing this to [him] . . . [were] all the same race.”[5] (Id. at 31:1–8.)

Finally, Plaintiff was employed by Dollar Tree from April of 2012 to September of 2012. (Id. at 10:21–24.) He was terminated and told it was because of “store appearance.” (Id. at 11:14–20.) Plaintiff indicated that he brought an internal complaint against his district manager for harassment. (Id. at 12:3–14, 27:17–28:24.)

G. Procedural History of Present Litigation

Following issuance of a right to sue letter from the EEOC, Plaintiff initiated the current lawsuit on September 19, 2012 alleging: (1) race discrimination under Title VII; (2) race discrimination under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 Pa. Cons. Stat § 951, et seq.; (3) a claim under the Wage Payment and Collection Law (“WPCL”), 43 P.S. 260.1, et seq.; and (4) a claim for tortious interference with prospective contractual relations. Following a course of discovery, Defendant PNC filed a Motion for Summary Judgment as to all counts of the Complaint on May 31, 2013. Plaintiff filed a Response on June 20, 2013, and Defendant submitted a Reply Brief on June 27, 2013. The Motion is now ripe for judicial consideration.


Summary judgment is proper “if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2). A factual dispute is “material” only if it might affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). For an issue to be “genuine, ” a reasonable fact-finder must be able to return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party. Id.

On summary judgment, the moving party has the initial burden of identifying evidence that it believes shows an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Conoshenti v. Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 364 F.3d 135, 145–46 (3d Cir. 2004). It is not the court’s role to weigh the disputed evidence and decide which is more probative, or to make credibility determinations. Boyle v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 139 F.3d 386, 393 (3d Cir. 1998) (citing Petruzzi’s IGA Supermkts., Inc. v. Darling-Del. Co. Inc., 998 F.2d 1224, 1230 (3d Cir. 1993)). Rather, the court must consider the evidence, and all reasonable inferences which may be drawn from it, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (citing United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962)); Tigg Corp. v. Dow Corning Corp., 822 F.2d 358, 361 (3d Cir. 1987). If a conflict arises between the evidence presented by both sides, the court must accept as true the allegations of the non-moving party, and “all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

Although the moving party must establish an absence of a genuine issue of material fact, it need not “support its motion with affidavits or other similar materials negating the opponent’s claim.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). It can meet its burden by “pointing out . . . that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party’s claims.” Id. at 325. Once the movant has carried its initial burden, the opposing party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to material facts.” Matsushita Elec., 475 U.S. at 586. “[T]he non-moving party must rebut the motion with facts in the record and cannot rest solely on assertions made in the pleadings, legal memoranda, or oral argument.” Berckeley Inv. Grp. Ltd. v. Colkitt, 455 F.3d 195, 201 (3d Cir. 2006). If the non-moving party “fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will bear the burden at trial, ” summary judgment is appropriate. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. Moreover, the mere existence of some evidence in support of the non-movant will not be adequate to support a denial of a motion for summary judgment; there must be enough evidence to enable a jury to reasonably find for the non-movant on that issue. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249–50.


A. Claims Under Title VII and the PHRA[6]

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides in relevant part that it is an “unlawful employment practice for an employer to . . . discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). To establish a claim of discrimination based on disparate treatment, a plaintiff must show that an employer had a racially discriminatory animus against an employee, and that the animus resulted in a challenged action, such as dismissal, failure to promote, or failure to hire. Lewis v. Univ. of Pittsburgh, 725 F.2d 910, 914 (3d Cir. 1983).

In McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), the United States Supreme Court set forth the precise framework for analyzing a claim based upon racial discrimination where, as here, there is no direct evidence of discrimination. First, the plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of evidence a prima facie case of discrimination. McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802. Next, if the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case of discrimination, a “presumption” of discrimination is created and the burden of production shifts to the defendant to articulate some legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. Id. at 802–03. To sustain this burden, “[t]he defendant need not persuade the court that it was actually motivated by the proffered reasons.” Texas Dept. of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine 450 U.S. 248, 254 (1981). The inquiry concerning whether the defendant has met its burden of production “can involve no credibility assessment, ” since “the burden-of-production determination necessarily precedes the credibility-assessment stage.” St. Mary’s Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 509 (1993) (emphasis in original). The defendant satisfies its burden of production, and rebuts the plaintiff's prima facie showing of discrimination, simply by introducing admissible evidence that, if taken as true, would permit a finding that the challenged employment action was taken for legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons. Id.

Finally, if the employer meets its burden of production, the presumption of discrimination created by plaintiff’s prima facie case “drops out of the picture.” Id. at 511 (citing McDonnell Douglas). In order to establish that the defendant is liable for illegal employment discrimination, the plaintiff must ultimately convince the trier of fact that a discriminatory animus was the real reason for the adverse employment action at issue. Fuentes v. Perskie, 32 F.3d 759, 765 (3d Cir. 1994). “Liability cannot be established upon a jury’s mere disbelief of the defendant’s proffered reasons for an adverse employment action, but rather upon the jury’s affirmative belief of the plaintiff’s contention that the action was taken on the basis of an impermissible discriminatory criterion.” Mitchell v. Miller, 884 F.Supp.2d 334, 370–71 (W.D. Pa. 2012) (emphasis in original) (citing St. Mary’s Honor Ctr., 509 U.S. at 519 (“It is not enough, in other words, to disbelieve the employer; the factfinder must believe the plaintiff’s explanation of intentional discrimination.”) (emphasis in original). “Nevertheless, evidence suggesting that an employer’s proffered reasons for an adverse employment action are false, when coupled with a plaintiff’s prima facie case, may sufficiently undermine the employer’s credibility to enable a reasonable trier of fact to conclude that illegal discrimination has occurred.” Mitchell, 884 F.Supp.2d at 371 (citing Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 147–48 (2000)).

In the case at bar, Plaintiff has no direct evidence of discrimination. As such, the Court must apply the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting analysis. Defendant asserts that, under this analysis, Plaintiff’s claim fails in two respects. First, it contends that Plaintiff cannot establish his prima facie case. Moreover, it argues that, even assuming the existence of the prima facie case, the claim fails because Plaintiff cannot show that Defendant’s articulated reason for terminating his employment was a pretext for engaging in race discrimination. The Court examines each argument individually.

1. Prima Facie Case

A plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case of race discrimination by showing that (1) he was a member of a protected class; (2) he was qualified for his position; (3) he had an adverse action taken against him; and (4) similarly situated individuals who were not members of the plaintiff’s protected class were treated more favorably. McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802; see also Kimble v. Morgan Props., 241 F. App’x 895, 897–98 (3d Cir. 2007). Because the prima facie inquiry in any case is fact-specific, “[t]he touchstone of the inquiry is whether the circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination are of evidentiary value, not whether they fit into a mechanical formula.” Cobetto v. Wyeth Pharms., 619 F.Supp.2d 142, 153 n.3 (W.D. Pa. 2007) (emphasis in original).

In the present case, it is undisputed that Plaintiff, as an African American, is a member of a protected class and that he suffered an adverse employment action in the form of termination from employment. Defendant now argues that Plaintiff has failed to establish either that he was qualified for his position or that similarly situated individuals who were not members of his protected class were treated more favorably.

a. Whether Plaintiff Was Qualified for the Position

“A court considering a discrimination claim must evaluate the question of the ‘plaintiff’s qualifications for purposes of proving a prima facie case by an objective standard.’” Sempier v. Johnson & Higgins, 45 F.3d 724, 729 (3d Cir. 1995) (citing Weldon v. Kraft, Inc., 896 F.2d 793, 798 (3d Cir. 1990)). “[W]hile objective job qualifications should be considered in evaluating the plaintiff's prima facie case, the question of whether an employee possesses a subjective quality, such as leadership or management skill, is better left to” consideration of whether the employer’s nondiscriminatory reason for discharge is pretext. Weldon v. Kraft, 896 F.2d 793, 798 (3d Cir. 1990). ‚ÄúThus, to deny the plaintiff an opportunity to move beyond the initial stage of establishing a prima facie case because he has failed to introduce evidence showing he ...

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