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Boykins v. Clbw Associates

United States District Court, Third Circuit

December 11, 2013

RALPH BOYKINS, et al, Plaintiffs,
v.
CLBW ASSOCIATES, et al, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

RONALD L. BUCKWALTER, Senior District Judge.

Pending before the Court are four Motions for Summary Judgment by Defendants Gulph Creek Partners L.P. and Gulph Creek Associates, Inc. (collectively "Gulph Creek"). For the following reasons, each of Defendant Gulph Creek's Motions is granted and judgment shall be entered in favor of Gulph Creek Partners, L.P. and Gulph Creek Associates, Inc. and against Plaintiffs Ralph Boykins, Michael Fuller, Gloria Holland, and Denise Taliaferro.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY[1]

A. Facts pertaining to all Plaintiffs

Plaintiffs Ralph Boykins ("Boykins"), Michael Fuller ("Fuller"), Gloria Holland ("Holland"), and Denise Taliaferro ("Taliaferro) are each residents of Pennsylvania. (Compl. ¶¶ 4-8.) Defendant Gulph Creek is a hotel management company that operates hotels in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland, with its principal place of business in Pennsylvania. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. against Taliaferro, Ex. 3, Dep. of Amy Gancasz, ("Gancasz Dep."), 11:8-9, 14:7-17, Jan. 31, 2013.)

Plaintiffs were each employed at the hotel property located at the corner of Presidential Boulevard and City Avenue on the border between Philadelphia and Montgomery County, Pennsylvania ("the Hotel"). (Compl. ¶¶ 62, 69, 78, 88; Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. against Taliaferro, Ex. 17, Crowne Plaza-Philadelphia City Avenue 2009 Marketing Plan ("Marketing Plan"), 3.) Prior to 2008, Plaintiffs each worked at the Hotel while it operated as a Holiday Inn. (Compl. ¶¶ 34, 62, 69, 78, 88.) In 2008, the Hotel was re-branded from a Holiday Inn to a Crowne Plaza, in a move that constituted moving from "a middle-class family brand to a business person brand." ( Id. ¶ 34; Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. against Taliaferro, Ex. 6, Dep. of Kurt Strauss ("Strauss Dep."), 47:16-17, Mar. 21, 2013.) As part of that transition, on May 4, 2009, the ownership group of the Hotel entered into a contract with Defendant Gulph Creek to manage and operate the Hotel. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. against Taliaferro, Ex. 18, "Management Agreement.") When Gulph Creek assumed management of the Hotel, it replaced Kurt Strauss with Russell Peskin as the general manager of the Hotel. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. against Taliaferro, Ex. 2, Dep. of Russell Peskin ("Peskin Dep."), 37:7-24, April 4, 2013.) Beginning in May 2009, Defendant Gulph Creek conducted performance evaluations of the personnel then working at the Hotel to determine whether they would be kept on as employees of Gulph Creek. (Id.)

B. Facts pertaining to Plaintiff Ralph Boykins

Plaintiff Ralph Boykins, who is African-American, began working for the Hotel in 2007 as a bellman. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. against Boykins, Ex. 1, Dep. of Ralph Boykins, Jan. 22, 2013 ("Boykins Dep.") 104:22-105:5.) In February 2008, he became a concierge. (Boykins Dep. 125:6-8.) After a year as a concierge, and after the Hotel's transition from a Holiday Inn to a Crowne Plaza, Boykins received a promotion to become the Hotel's restaurant manager in March 2009. (Defs.' Mot. Summ J. against Boykins, Ex. 24, Restaurant Manager Promotion Letter.) As restaurant manager, Boykins was responsible for overseeing the restaurant's staff and bartenders as well as assisting with the Hotel's banquet, catering, and other food and beverage offerings. (Boykins Dep. 69:5-71:24.) Boykins remained the Hotel's restaurant manager and continued to perform the same duties after Gulph Creek assumed management of the Hotel in May 2009. ( Id. at 181:15-23.) Gulph Creek retained Boykins as an employee upon his submission of a formal application on August 19, 2009. ( Id. at 178:15-179:18.)

International Hotel Group (IHG), parent company of Crowne Plaza, asked guests of the Hotel to rate their restaurant dining experience in guest satisfaction surveys. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. against Boykins, Ex. 26, Guest Satisfaction Scores.) From the time Gulph Creek assumed management of the Hotel in May 2009 through October 2009, the average restaurant dining experience scores ranged between 50.00 and 69.23 on a scale of 100. (Id.) IHG's official minimum acceptable score for restaurant dining experience is 84.00. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. against Boykins, Ex. 27, Letter from Derek Sylvester on Nov. 17, 2009 ("Sylvester Letter").) Additionally, Gulph Creek documented numerous criticisms it had of Boykins's performance in a series of "Disciplinary Notice Forms." (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. against Boykins, Ex. 33, Disciplinary Review Forms.) In October 2009, Gulph Creek general manager Peskin decided to replace Boykins and begin searching for a restaurant manager with more experience. (Peskin Dep. 78:18-22.)

On December 4, 2009, Gulph Creek hired Adam Friedman, who is white, to be its new restaurant manager. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. against Boykins, Ex. 19, Crowne Plaza Management Directory.) General manager Peskin testified that he hired Friedman in part because he had extensive food and beverage experience, including managing restaurants in hotels. (Peskin Dep. 82:19-21.) On or about Friedman's first day, Gulph Creek terminated Boykins's employment. (Boykins Dep. at 235:5-236:17.) However, Gulph Creek also terminated Friedman on that date when it was alleged that he "groped one of the servers at the hotel." (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. against Boykins, Ex. 4, Deposition of Aditya Maini, ("Maini Dep.") 18:13-20, Feb. 5, 2013; Peskin Dep. 80:11-14.)

At that time, Gulph Creek re-advertised the position, seeking a candidate with "[a]t least one year supervisory position held in restaurant or hotel[.]" (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. against Boykins, Ex. 30, Restaurant Manager Advertisement.) On January 11, 2010, Gulph Creek hired Jeffrey Webb, who is African-American, with "more than 15 years experience in full service restaurants and hotels." (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. against Boykins, Ex. 32, Jeffrey Webb Resume; Peskin Dep. 92:9-14.)

C. Facts pertaining to Plaintiff Michael Fuller

Plaintiff Michael Fuller, who is African-American, began working at the Hotel in 2002 as a security officer. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. against Fuller, Ex. 1, Deposition of Michael Fuller, ("Fuller Dep."), 59:22-61:8, Jan. 18, 2013.) Prior to his employment at the Hotel, Fuller worked at one time for the Philadelphia Private Police Force. ( Id. at 47:18-49:6.) Fuller was promoted to be a security supervisor in 2004, and, in 2006, he was promoted to the position of director of security. ( Id. at 61:4-8.) As director of security, Fuller was responsible for hiring, training, and supervising a team of security officers. ( Id. at 61:13-63:15.) Fuller remained the Hotel's director of security and continued to perform the same duties after Gulph Creek assumed management of the Hotel in May 2009. ( Id. at 156:5-6.) Gulph Creek retained Fuller as an employee upon his submission of a formal application on August 18, 2009. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. against Fuller, Ex. 21, Fuller Application for Employment ("Fuller Application").)

From the time Gulph Creek assumed management of the Hotel in May 2009 through December 2009, the Hotel received many reports from guests of thefts of their personal property and break-ins into their vehicles. In July 2009, a guest reported that "another guest had their [car] broken into, and a second car was set on fire[.]" (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. against Fuller, Ex. 26, Online Guest Feedback Forms.) Also in July 2009, another guest informed the Hotel that "my GPS device got stolen in the parking lot[.]" (Id.) In October 2009, a guest relayed to IHG that a $400 dress had been stolen from her room. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. against Fuller, Ex. 29, E-mail from Guest.) Oftentimes the security department did not document these incidents and, if it did, it did not report the incidents to the Hotel's insurance company. (Peskin Dep. 207:20-23; Maini Dep. 45:5-17.) Finally, in November 2009, three iPods were stolen from the Hotel's housekeeping department and a television was stolen from the Hotel's engineering department. (Peskin Dep. 195:3-196:1; Fuller Dep. 160:7-171:19.) Gulph Creek documented numerous criticisms it had of Fuller's performance in a "Disciplinary Notice Form." (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. against Fuller, Ex. 30, Disciplinary Notice Form.)

On December 7, 2009, Gulph Creek began to search for someone to replace Fuller as director of security for the Hotel by placing an advertisement on a jobs website seeking applications. (Peskin Dep. 231:15-232:6.) Gulph Creek sought candidates that had "[a]t least 5 year[s'] Law Enforcement" experience. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 24, Director of Security Job Descrption.) On December 16, 2009, Gulph Creek hired John Navarez, a retired FBI agent, as its new director of security. (Defs. Mot. Summ. J. against Fuller, Ex. 35, Offer Letter to John Navarez.) On December 18, 2009, Gulph Creek terminated Fuller's employment. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 30, Fuller Termination Notice.)

D. Facts pertaining to Plaintiff Gloria Holland

Plaintiff Gloria Holland, who is African-American, began working at the Hotel in 1989 as guest service supervisor. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. against Holland, Ex. 1, Dep. of Gloria Holland, ("Holland Dep."), 52:23-53:20, Mar. 18, 2013.) About two years later, Holland became a front office manager. (Id.) In 1993, Holland made a transition into the Hotel's accounts payable department, and, about one year later, she became an accounting manager. ( Id. at 53:18-54:7.) As an accounting manager, Holland was responsible for ensuring that reports of the Hotel's revenues were accurate. ( Id. at 56:20-58:5.) After Gulph Creek assumed management of the Hotel in May 2009, Gulph Creek retained Holland as an employee upon her submission of a formal application on August 18, 2009. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. against Holland, Ex. 21, Holland Application for Employment ("Holland Application").)

When Gulph Creek assumed control of the Hotel in 2009, Gulph Creek transferred much of the Hotel's accounting work from Holland and the Hotel's accounting department to Gulph Creek's own corporate accounting department, including responsibility for "profit and loss statements, " "balance sheets, " payment of bills, and receipt of invoices. (Peskin Dep. 52:11-18, 59:19-23; Holland Dep. 68:19-69:18.) In light of this transfer of duties from the Hotel accounting department to Gulph Creek's corporate accounting department, by the end of May 2009, Gulph Creek had eliminated every position in the Hotel's accounting department except Holland's. (Holland Dep. 84:9-87:2.)

From the time Gulph Creek assumed management of the Hotel in May 2009 through October 2009, Gulph Creek documented numerous criticisms it had of Holland's performance in a series of Disciplinary Notice Forms. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. against Holland, Ex. 25, Disciplinary Notice Forms.) In June 2009, Peskin noted that the Hotel did not have standardized procedures or efficient communication between various departments responsible for coordinating billing for the Hotel's banquet services. (Id.) Ultimately, after hearing little to no response from Holland, Peskin found Holland "unwilling to develop the plan" and implemented the changes himself. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. against Holland, Ex. 26, Peskin-Holland e-mail correspondence; Peskin Dep. 225:14-20.) Additionally, an audit performed by International Hotel Group found that the Hotel had $39, 030 in undocumented revenue. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. against Holland, Ex. 27, e-mail correspondence from IHG Auditor Lydia Louis.) As a result of the audit's findings, IHG issued a $3, 317 assessment against the Hotel. (Id.)

Finally, Gulph Creek documented numerous instances in which Holland's co-workers complained about Holland's behavior toward them. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. against Holland, Ex. 28, Holland Employee Documentation.) These complaints centered on Holland's "unwillingness to help with tasks" and "inability to effectively communicate and work together" which "created an uncomfortable work environment" for her co-workers. (Id.)

At some point on or before September 23, 2009, Gulph Creek advertised an open position for an "Accounting Clerk" on a jobs website. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. against Holland, Ex. 29, Accounting Clerk Advertisement.) On October 2, 2009, Gulph Creek offered the position of "Accounting Clerk" to Donna Faith, who is white. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. against Holland, Ex. 30, Faith Offer Letter; Pls.' Resp. Opp'n Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 13, Dep. of Laura Williams ("Williams Dep."), 52:5-13, Jan. 29, 2013.) Faith accepted Gulph Creek's offer, and on October 20, 2009, Gulph Creek terminated Holland's employment at the Hotel. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. against Holland, Ex. 32, Holland Separation Letter.)

E. Facts pertaining to Plaintiff Denise Taliaferro

Plaintiff Denise Taliaferro, who is African-American, began working at the Hotel in 1990 as a switchboard operator. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. against Taliaferro, Ex. 1, Dep. of Denise Taliaferro, ("Taliaferro Dep."), 60:15-61:11, Jan. 11, 2013.) As a switchboard operator, Taliaferro was responsible for answering incoming phone calls to the Hotel, transferring phone calls to the proper department, and assisting callers with questions about the Hotel. (Id.) Beginning in 1991, Taliaferro worked for the Hotel as a "reservationist." ( Id. at 62:19-22.) In that capacity, Taliaferro worked at the front desk and took reservations, prepared reports for staff meetings, collaborated with the sales department about group reservations, and coordinated with the housekeeping, restaurant, and security departments. ( Id. at 64:16-66:21.) When Taliaferro began working at the Hotel, she took reservations by completing handwritten reservation cards. ( Id. at ...


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