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Demeo v. Vanguard Group, Inc.

United States District Court, Third Circuit

January 21, 2014

CHRISTOPHER J. DEMEO, Plaintiff,
v.
THE VANGUARD GROUP, INC., d/b/aVANGUARD, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

CYNTHIA M. RUFE, District Judge.

Before the Court are a motion for summary judgment by Defendant The Vanguard Group, Inc. ("Vanguard"), and Plaintiff Christopher DeMeo's response thereto. For the reasons below, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background[1]

DeMeo worked for Vanguard from 1997 until 2012. Starting in December 2009, he began to have problems at work with his team leader, Walt Schultz, and Schultz's supervisor, Clint Lodise. DeMeo alleges that Schultz and Lodise began to treat DeMeo unprofessionally in December 2009 after DeMeo declined to accept a position within his department at Vanguard in the communications field. This bad treatment intensified after DeMeo returned from leave he took pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act[2] ("FMLA") in September 2010.

On June 23, 2010, DeMeo received a mid-year performance appraisal. This appraisal rated his performance in three categories, with thirteen total sub-categories called "competencies."[3] In a given category or competency, an employee can receive a rating of "Development Area, " "Proficient, " or "Towering Strength." Based on the assessment of his performance in each of the three categories, two were identified as Development Areas, and DeMeo was ranked as Proficient in one. DeMeo's competencies included five Development Areas, seven Proficients, and one Towering Strength. The mid-year appraisal also contained a narrative assessment that identified DeMeo's strengths and weaknesses as an employee.

In September 2010, De Meo was facing significant mental health problems related to challenges in his personal life and the health of his family members.[4] His difficulties with Schultz and Lodise had not improved, and on September 2, 2010, he requested and was granted FMLA leave.

DeMeo returned from FMLA leave on November 29, 2010. Schultz assigned DeMeo two new projects. Schultz conducted DeMeo's annual appraisal on December 21, 2010. Unlike the mid-year appraisal, the annual one included an overall rating in addition to the category and competency ratings. The overall determination was that DeMeo "Did Not Meet Expectations, " the lowest of four possible ratings. The comments on the annual appraisal were similar to those on the mid-year evaluation.

In January 2011, the department DeMeo worked in undertook an initiative to have team leaders like Schultz meet with their subordinates in one-on-one formal coaching sessions. Schultz and DeMeo never had such a session. On January 27, 2011, DeMeo complained to Tammy Virnig, the Vanguard Principal responsible for the Retail division and Schultz's superior in the corporate hierarchy, that Schultz had not been conducting formal coaching sessions with DeMeo. Virnig responded that she would contact Schultz about the sessions.

On January 27 or 28, Schultz prepared a "Written Alert, " cataloging several problems with DeMeo's performance related to the projects that had already been reviewed in DeMeo's mid-year and annual appraisals as well as the projects Schultz had assigned to DeMeo on his return from leave.[5] He drafted this alert even though shortly before writing it, a Vanguard employee who had worked with DeMeo on one of the new projects assigned to him after his leave sent Schultz an email glowing with positive assessments of DeMeo's contributions to the team.[6] The draft Written Alert was not issued to DeMeo.

On January 28, Schultz came to DeMeo's desk for a meeting, and led DeMeo outside their building where, according to DeMeo, Schultz became "aggressive, " "lean[ed] in towards" DeMeo, "had his hands up in the air, " "was breathing heavily and stuttering a bit[, ] and was clearly upset with [DeMeo] for having spoken with Tammy [Virnig]."[7] After the confrontation, DeMeo suffered from a forty-five minute long panic attack.[8] Later that day DeMeo sought from Virnig a transfer to a position where he would not report to Schultz; she offered him one immediately, but DeMeo did not accept it because taking the position would have resulted in a demotion.

DeMeo took non-FMLA[9] leave starting January 31, 2011. On the same day, a Vanguard employee who had worked with DeMeo on one of the projects that the Written Alert criticized sent an email to Schultz praising DeMeo's contributions to the team's efforts.[10] DeMeo never returned to work at Vanguard.

DeMeo has sued Vanguard arguing that it has violated the FMLA, the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA").[11] He alleges retaliation in violation of the ADA and FMLA and harassment in violation of the FMLA. Vanguard has moved for summary judgment on all of DeMeo's claims.

II. Standard of Review

A court will award summary judgment on a claim or part of a claim where there is "no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."[12] A fact is "material" if resolving the dispute over the fact "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing [substantive] law."[13] A dispute is "genuine" if ...


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