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Tillman v. Redevelopment Authority of City of Philadelphia

United States District Court, Third Circuit

October 11, 2013

ANGELINA TILLMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
REDEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY OF THE CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM

ROBERT F. KELLY, Sr., District Judge.

Presently before the Court is Defendant, Redevelopment Authority of the City of Philadelphia's ("PRA"), Motion for Summary Judgment filed against Plaintiff, Angelina Tillman ("Tillman"), Tillman's Response, and PRA's Reply. For the reasons stated below, the Motion is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

Tillman filed the instant Complaint on March 26, 2012, alleging unlawful age discrimination in violation of 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1), and a state claim of unlawful employment practice under 43 Pa. C.S. § 955(a). (Compl. ¶¶ 22-28.) At the time her Complaint was filed, Tillman was a sixty-two female. (Id. ¶ 3.) PRA is a "local public agency that assists in the planning and development of commercial and residential projects in the City of Philadelphia." (Id. ¶ 4.) PRA receives all of its funding though the City, and the City funds PRA's operations using money it receives from the federal government. (Defendant. Mot. Summ. J., Ex. B, Deposition of David Thomas ("Thomas Dep.") at 12.)

Prior to her employment with PRA, Tillman was employed by the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation ("PHDC") from 2001 to 2006. ( Id., Ex. A, Tillman Dep. at 25.) In December 2006, PHDC laid off Tillman due to a reorganization of PHDC's real estate department. (Id. at 29.) Tillman learned of an opening for a real estate specialist at the Office of Housing & Community Development ("OHCD"). (Id. at 33, 46.) OHCD hired Tillman and she worked there for four months from March 2007 until July 2007. (Id. at 42-43.) While she was employed at OHCD, David Thomas ("Thomas"), PRA's Associate Executive Director of Operations, approached her and asked her if she would be interested in being hired by PRA. (Id. at 17; Thomas Dep. at 161.) Thomas informed Tillman that she would be hired as a real estate specialist at a raise of $13, 000 from her employment at OHCD.[1] (Id.) At the time Tillman began working for PRA, there was one other real estate specialist employed there named Irma Gonzalez-Bowie ("Gonzalez-Bowie") who was fifty years of age.[2] (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. E.)

As an employee at PRA, Tillman was represented by Local 1971 (the "Union"). (Tillman Dep. at 70.) PRA and the Union are parties to a Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA") that governed the terms and conditions of Tillman's employment. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. D.) In 2008, Tillman was elected as a union steward for the Union, and held the position for two years until her term expired in June 2010. (Tillman Dep. at 71, 73.) In January 2010, Anthony Council ("Council") was elected president of the Union and, shortly thereafter, Council appointed Tillman to the Executive Board of the Union. (Id. at 73-74.)

Tillman asserts the following in her Complaint. On or about July 23, 2007, Tillman began her employment with PRA at age fifty-seven as a Real Estate Specialist. (Compl. ¶ 11.) She was laid off on July 22, 2011. (Id.) On that same day, Thomas met with Tillman after she received the layoff notice and, in that meeting, Thomas made age-related comments regarding her layoff. (Id. ¶¶ 12-14.) Thomas informed her that if she did not retire, she would not be eligible for medical benefits, and also stated that if she elected to receive unemployment compensation and retire later, she would lose her medical benefits. (Id. ¶¶ 14-15.) In the meeting, Thomas also asked Tillman her age, which Tillman answered was sixty-one. (Id. ¶ 16.) In response, Thomas stated that Tillman could "go right into Medicare." (Id.)

Tillman further asserts that she was a member of the Executive Board of the Union, and that under the CBA, as a union official, she had "superseniority" status which exempted her from layoff. (Id. ¶ 19.) However, Tillman claims that she was laid off in complete disregard of this status, while a younger employee was excluded from the reduction of the workforce. (Id. ¶¶ 20-21.)

PRA asserts that in early 2011, it learned that funding from the City of Philadelphia for the fiscal year 2012 would likely be significantly less than the funding for 2011. (Thomas Dep. at 58-59.) PRA states that at this time, PRA was instructed by the City's Deputy Mayor for Economic Development to begin to decide how to meet the funding reduction by conducting a preliminary analysis of vacant and filled positions that could be considered for elimination based on the impact their elimination would have on PRA's funded operations. (Id. at 61.) Ed Covington ("Covington"), Executive Director of PRA, and Thomas conducted this preliminary analysis. (Id. at 69-70.) Covington and Thomas met with PRA's senior management team[3] to discuss potential layoffs. (Id. at 71.) The senior management team also solicited input from Departmental Directors and consulted with Tillman's supervisor, Melvis Dunbar. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. E at 5.) PRA also notified the Union of potential layoffs. (Id.) On April 8, 2011, Thomas sent a letter to Council stating that layoffs may become necessary, and that the Union should begin considering alternatives to layoffs so that PRA and the Union could commence preliminary discussions regarding layoffs consistent with the CBA. ( Id., Ex. A-5.) Thomas testified that he did not receive a written response from Council, and in a later meeting with him discussing the reduction in funds, Council did not offer any feedback regarding layoffs. (Thomas Dep. at 104.)

On May 10, 2011, Covington sent a letter to Council informing him that PRA had been directed by the City to submit plans to reduce its expenses by 16.4%, which was in-line with the expected budget cuts, and also stating that "it would not be possible to avoid layoffs." (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. A-6.) Council relayed this message to the Union and met with members to discuss layoffs, but did not respond to Covington's letter. (Thomas Dep. at 105.) After an analysis of the positions that could be eliminated, PRA determined that it was necessary to eliminate nineteen filled and unfilled positions. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. A-7.) PRA also determined that its work volume required only one "Real Estate Specialist III" in the real estate department. ( Id., Ex. E at 14.) As noted, at that time, PRA employed two Real Estate Specialist III's - Tillman and Gonzalez-Bowie. (Tillman Dep. at 89-90.) Gonzalez-Bowie had twenty-nine years of service, and Tillman had four years of service. (Id. at 90, 137.) PRA asserts that in accordance with the layoff provisions of the CBA, which required that "[s]eniority shall prevail" in the situation when a position is to be eliminated and two or more employees hold that position, Tillman was laid off. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. D, at Art. III § (B)(3).)

Given her options, Tillman did not want to retire, and instead, elected to be laid off, placed on the layoff list, and receive medical benefits through COBRA. (Tillman Dep. at 113-114.) On June 23, 2011, Thomas sent Council a memorandum that provided a list of funded bargaining unit positions into which affected employees may be eligible to be demoted. (Def's Mot. Summ. J., Ex. E at 10.) In accordance with such, on June 28, 2011, Tillman requested a demotion in lieu of a layoff. ( Id., Ex. A-17.) Subsequently, Tillman was considered for three positions by a committee comprised of Union and management representatives, but was determined not to be qualified for any of these positions. ( Id., Ex. E at 15.)

The Union filed a grievance on behalf of Tillman regarding her layoff asserting that she was entitled to "superseniority" under the CBA due to her status as an officer in the Union. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. A-18.) A "Step II" grievance hearing was held on July 15, 2011. (Id.) On July 29, 2013, Thomas denied the grievance and found that under the CBA, management defined officers as only including President, Vice President, Treasurer, and Secretary. (Id.) In addition, chief stewards and shop stewards were entitled to this seniority. (Id.) On August 23, 2011, the Union filed a "Step III" grievance, but failed to take further action. ( Id., Ex. E at 8.) The Union also filed a Charge of Unfair Labor Practices with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board ("PLRB") on September 23, 2011. ( Id., Ex. H.) However, on June 4, 2012, the Union withdrew the charge before a scheduled hearing was held. ( Id., Ex. J.)

On November 2, 2012, Tillman was offered a position with PRA in the Property Management Division by Thomas. ( Id., Ex. A-19.) On December 3, 2012, Tillman began employment with the PRA as a property management coordinator in the Residential Services Department. (Tillman Dep. at 10-11.)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) states that summary judgment is proper "if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." See Hines v. Consol. Rail Corp. , 926 F.2d 262, 267 (3d Cir. 1991). The Court asks "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the jury or whether... one party must prevail as a matter of law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986). The moving party has the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for the motion and identifying those portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). "A fact is material if it could affect the outcome of the suit after applying the substantive law. Further, a dispute over a material fact must be genuine, ' i.e., the evidence must be such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party.'" Compton v. Nat'l League of Prof'l Baseball Clubs , 995 F.Supp. 554, 561 n.14 (E.D. Pa. 1998).

Summary judgment must be granted "against a party who 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 of proof at trial." Celotex , 477 U.S. at 322. Once the moving party has produced evidence in support of summary judgment, the non-moving party must go beyond the allegations set forth in its pleadings and counter with evidence that presents "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); see Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N. Am. Inc. , 974 F.2d 1358, 1362-63 (3d Cir. 1992). "More than a mere scintilla of evidence in its favor" must be presented by the non-moving party in order to overcome a summary judgment motion. Tziatzios v. United States , 164 F.R.D. 410, 411-12 (E.D. Pa. 1996). If the court determines that there are no genuine issues of material fact, then summary judgment will be granted. Celotex , 477 U.S. at 322.

III. DISCUSSION

1. McDonnell Douglas Analysis

Tillman's discrimination claim will be analyzed using the well-established McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework. See McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green , 411 U.S. 792 (1973). Briefly summarized, the McDonnell Douglas analysis proceeds in three stages. First, the plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of discrimination. If the plaintiff succeeds in establishing a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the defendant "to articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the employee's rejection." Id . Finally, should the defendant carry this burden, the plaintiff then must have an opportunity to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the legitimate reasons offered by the defendant were not its true reasons, but were a pretext for discrimination.[4] See Texas Dep't of Comty. Affairs v. Burdine , 450 U.S. 248, 252-53 (1981). While the burden of production may shift, "[t]he ultimate burden of persuading the trier of fact that the defendant intentionally discriminated against the plaintiff remains at all times with the plaintiff." Id.

A. Prima Facie Case

Under that framework, a plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case of age discrimination by demonstrating that the plaintiff: (1) is a member of the protected class, meaning, at least 40 years of age; (2) is qualified for the position; (3) suffered an adverse employment decision; and (4) in the case of a reduction in force, other similarly situated younger employees were retained sufficient to permit an inference of age discrimination. See Torre v. Casio, Inc. , 42 F.3d 825, 831 (3d. Cir. 1994). The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ("Third Circuit") has recognized in the case of a reduction in force, that the fourth element "is satisfied by showing that the employer retained a sufficiently younger' employee." Anderson v. Consolidated Rail Corp. , 297 F.3d 242, 249 (3d Cir.2002).

Here, PRA states that for the purposes of this Motion, it assumes that Tillman would be able to establish that she is a member of a protected class, is qualified for the position, and suffered an adverse employment action. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. at 21 n.14.) However, PRA argues that Tillman cannot establish the fourth element of a prima facie case of discrimination because she cannot show that her separation from employment occurred under circumstances that give rise to an inference of discrimination. (Id. at 21.) We agree.

As noted earlier, PRA determined that its work volume required only one Real Estate Specialist in its real estate department, and at the time of the layoff, employed two specialists - Tillman and Gonzalez-Bowie. PRA asserts that in accordance with the layoff provisions of the CBA, which required that "[s]eniority shall prevail" in the case where a position is to be eliminated and two or more employees hold that position, Tillman was laid off. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. D, at Art. III § (B)(3).) We first note that Gonzalez-Bowie had twenty-nine years of service to Tillman's four years of service, and Gonzalez-Bowie was a member of the protected class because she was age fifty at the time of the layoff. Indeed, Tillman, herself, testified at her deposition that she has no issue with Gonzalez-Bowie being retained over her regarding the layoff. (Tillman Dep. at 137.) Tillman testified that it ...


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