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McSparran v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 8, 2014

PATRICIA McSPARRAN, Plaintiff.
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION, KELLY HEFFNER, and JEFFREY LOGAN, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

WILLIAM W. CALDWELL, District Judge.

I. Introduction and Procedural History

Plaintiff is Patricia McSparran. Defendants are the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (the Commonwealth); the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (the DEP); Kelly Heffner, the DEP's Deputy Secretary for Water Management; and Jeffrey Logan, the DEP's Executive Deputy Secretary for Management and Administration.

Plaintiff was formerly the DEP's Director of the Bureau of Waterways Engineering and Wetlands. She brought this suit alleging she was given unequal pay, subjected to harassment and then fired from her job, all on the basis of her sex. She made the following claims: (1) a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim based on her federal right to equal protection; (2) a section 1983 claim based on her federal right to due process; (3) a claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq.; (4) a claim under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA), 43 Pa. Stat. Ann. §§ 951 et seq.; (5) a state-law claim for defamation; and (6) a state-law claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Defendants filed a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). We granted that motion. We dismissed the due-process claim and the state-law claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress without leave to amend. We gave Plaintiff an opportunity to amend her Complaint to set forth her other claims with greater factual support. McSparran v. Pennsylvania, 2013 WL 6631654, at *10 (M.D. Pa. Dec. 17, 2013).

Plaintiff has filed an Amended Complaint, reiterating her equal-protection claim, her Title VII claim, her PHRA claim and her defamation claim. We are considering Defendants' motion to dismiss that pleading.

II. Standard of Review

On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, "[w]e accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.'" Byers v. Intuit, Inc., 600 F.3d 286, 291 (3d Cir. 2010)(quoted case omitted).

A complaint need only contain "a short and plain statement of the claim, " Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), and detailed factual allegations are not required. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). Nonetheless, a complaint has to plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570, 127 S.Ct. at 1974. "The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009)(quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. at 1965). "[L]abels and conclusions" are not enough, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. at 1964-65, and a court "is not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.'" Id., 127 S.Ct. at 1965 (quoted case omitted).

The court is not limited to evaluating the complaint alone; it can also consider documents attached to the complaint, matters of public record, and indisputably authentic documents. Delaware Nation v. Pennsylvania, 446 F.3d 410, 413 n.2 (3d Cir. 2006).

The Third Circuit has described the Rule 12(b)(6) inquiry as a three-part process:

First, the court must take note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim. Second, the court should identify allegations that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Finally, where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief.

Connelly v. Steel Valley Sch. Dist., 706 F.3d 209, 212 (3d Cir. 2013)(quoted cases omitted). This is a "context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679, 127 S.Ct. at 1950.

With this standard in mind, we set forth the background to this litigation, as Plaintiff alleges it in her Amended Complaint.[1]

III. Background

Plaintiff is a member of a protected class based on her gender. (Doc. 18, Am. Compl. ¶ 11). She is "highly educated, experienced and accomplished in the field of environmental protection" with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering and a Master of Science in Civil Engineering. ( Id. ¶ 12). Before she worked for the Commonwealth, Plaintiff was a Water Resources Engineer for the Delaware River Basin Commission and an engineer for a private company doing environmental consulting. ( Id. ).

"On or about March 15, 2004, Plaintiff was hired as an Executive Assistant for the DEP in the Office of Water Management." ( Id. ¶ 13). As an executive assistant, "Plaintiff performed all duties related to operations, oversight, policy, legislation and management of the Water Management Deputate including acting as the Deputy Secretary's alternate when she was unavailable." ( Id. and Am. Compl. Ex. A, Job Description).

Almost two years later, on June 9, 2006, she "was promoted through the competitive process to Director of the Bureau of Waterways Engineering "[a]s a result of a national search and committee decision." ( Id. ¶ 14 and Am. Compl., Ex. B). At that time, the then Deputy Secretary of Water Management and Plaintiff's immediate supervisor, Cathleen Curran Myers, wrote: "With a strong background in engineering and water management programs, Ms. McSparran is well qualified to assume the responsibilities of this position." ( Id. and Am. Compl., Ex. B). "Except for her final weeks of employment, Plaintiff was the sole female Bureau Director in Water Management of DEP." ( Id. ¶ 15).

During her employment Plaintiff was subjected to "disparate treatment on the basis of her gender/sex." (Doc. 18, Am. Compl. ¶ 16). "Plaintiff was treated differently than the other male bureau directors who were similarly situated and had similar responsibilities and/or authority within the department and [who] reported to the same supervisor...." ( Id. ¶ 17).

Plaintiff complained to her supervisor, Cathleen Curran Myers, then the Deputy Secretary of Water Management, "that her salary was less than her male counterparts, " at that time "John Hines, Stuart Gansell, and Fred Marrocco." ( Id. ¶¶ 14 and 18). "Plaintiff was similarly situated at the same pay grade as John Hines and Stuart Gansell." ( Id. ¶ 18). "The Bureau Directors similar to Plaintiff had comparable authority and likewise reported to Cathleen Myers." ( Id. ).

"To minimize the disparity in salary compared to her male counterparts, " and to recognize "her exemplary performance with increased responsibilities" on July 3, 2007, Myers awarded Plaintiff "an exceptional pay increase of two (2) steps." ( Id. ¶ 20, Am. Compl., Ex. D, exceptional pay increase request).[2]

In recommending Plaintiff for the pay increase, Myers wrote: Plaintiff's "problem solving experience and leadership abilities... greatly served the Bureau"; Plaintiff "enhanced existing as well as implemented new initiatives"; Plaintiff "demonstrated excellence in communicating with the public in response issues in the Delaware River Basin related to the new York reservoirs"; and Plaintiff's efforts in that regard "helped to spawn an integrated study related to the flooding and reservoirs." ( Id. ¶ 19 and Am. Compl., Ex. D).

Nonetheless, the "exceptional pay increase did not equalize the pay disparity." ( Id. ¶ 21). "Plaintiff was denied equal wages earned by similarly situated male directors, " at the time, "John Hines and Stuart Gansell." ( Id. ). Hines "supervised a smaller office than the Plaintiff, " and Gansell "had about the same size bureau as Plaintiff." ( Id. ). When Gansell was replaced by Cedric Karper, Karper "earned more than the Plaintiff despite less seniority in the position of Bureau Director." (Doc. 18, Am. Compl. ¶ 21(a)). When Karper retired and was replaced by Hines as acting bureau director, Hines "earned more than the Plaintiff performing the comparable bureau director duties for Watershed Management." ( Id., ¶ 21(b)). When Glenn Rider was bureau director, Rider "earned more than Plaintiff when Rider "had less seniority as a bureau director compared to Plaintiff." ( Id. ¶ 21(c)).

In 2009, John Hines was promoted, replacing Myers as Deputy Secretary of Water Management. ( Id. ¶ 22). Hines supervised Plaintiff from 2009 through January 2011. ( Id. ¶ 23). During this time, Plaintiff complained to Hines that "he favored the male bureau directors." ( Id. ). Under Hines, male bureau directors Glenn Rider and Dana Aunkst "received higher wages for performing comparable director duties." ( Id. ). Hines "repeatedly placed the male directors in charge of the Deputate in his absence despite Plaintiff was the most senior Bureau Director, " and Hines "would put his male executive assistant in charge if the male bureau directors were unavailable, deliberately excluding the plaintiff despite her availability." ( Id. ). Hines "refused to act on her complaints of disparate treatment, " responding, Do not go there.'" ( Id. ¶ 24).

Further, "Hines subjected Plaintiff to sexual harassment including unwelcome touching, leering and sexual advances and innuendos that Plaintiff repeatedly rejected." ( Id. ¶ 25).

In January 2011, Hines was "again promoted, " ( id., ¶ 26), and Michael L. Krancer was appointed Acting Secretary. ( Id. ¶ 27). In an e-mail, dated February 16, 2011, Krancer thanked Plaintiff and another employee for their "terrific briefing paper on the H20 program and the two Montco projects" and said he appreciated their "workmanlike efforts." ( Id. ¶ 27, and Am. Compl., Ex. E). In an e-mail, dated February 18, 2011, Krancer thanked Plaintiff for information she supplied about a particular project, saying "it [was] exactly what I was looking for." ( Id. ).

In June 2011, defendant Kelly Heffner, a female, was promoted to the position of Deputy Secretary of Water Management, and became Plaintiff's direct supervisor. (Am. Compl. ¶ 28). "Plaintiff complained on multiple occasions to Defendant Heffner that Plaintiff was denied equal wages and unequal work conditions compared to the preferential treatment accorded Glenn Rider, then a ...


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