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Howell v. Raymours Furniture Co., Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 12, 2014

RAYMOURS FURNITURE CO., INC., individually and t/d/b/a RAYMOUR & FLANIGAN, Defendant

For Rebecca C. Howell, Plaintiff: Bruce J. Phillips, Wetzel, Caverly, Phillips & Rodgers, Wilkes-Barre, PA.

For Raymours Furniture Company, Inc., invididually and t/d/b/a Raymour & Flanigan, Defendant: Edward T. Groh, LEAD ATTORNEY, Raymour & Flanigan, Phillipsburg, NJ.

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Robert D. Mariani, United States District Judge.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Rebecca C. Howell filed a two-count Complaint against Defendant Raymours

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Furniture Company, trading as Raymour and Flanigan. (Doc. 1). This case involves claims of wrongful termination pursuant to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (" ADEA" ), 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq. , and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (" PHRA" ), 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 951, et seq. Presently before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 21). For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny Defendant's motion.

II. Statement of Undisputed Facts

Defendant is a retail furniture company. (Def.'s Statement of Material Undisputed Facts (" Def.'s Stmt." ), Doc. 21-2, at ¶ 1). In 1998, Defendant hired Plaintiff as an at-will employee to perform the duties of a Visual Merchandiser. ( Id. at ¶ ¶ 7, 12-13). Visual Merchandisers are responsible for maintaining " the overall appearance of the showroom" and ensuring that it is " updated, professional, inviting and pleasing to the buying public[.]" ( Id. at ¶ 4). Specifically, the Visual Merchandiser's responsibilities include: (1) developing showroom display plans within Defendant's guidelines, (2) working with the sales agents and warehouse employees to ensure furniture is placed on the showroom consistent with those display plans, (3) " [c]hecking in all new merchandise arriving at the showroom" and (4) tagging accessories. ( Id. at ¶ 16). After working as a Visual Merchandiser in several of Defendant's locations, Plaintiff became the Visual Merchandiser exclusively for the Scranton showroom. ( Id. at ¶ ¶ 14-15).

Plaintiff testified that her " direct supervisor" was the Regional Director of Sales (" RDS" ), who oversaw all the Visual Merchandisers in her region. ( See id. at ¶ 20, see also Howell Dep., Dec. 18, 2012, Doc. 21-3, Def.'s Ex. 1, at 35:16-23).[1] As the Scranton Visual Merchandiser, Plaintiff also worked with the Scranton Store Manager. (Def.'s Stmt. at ¶ 22). From July 2008 to October 2010, the RDS was Angela Miller [2] (" Miller" ). ( Id. at ¶ 21). The Scranton Store Manager between October 2008 and September 2010 was Diane Wondoloski (" Wondoloski" ). ( Id. at ¶ 23).

In 2010, Defendant had several personnel changes affecting its Scranton store. In mid- to late September, Lee Soto (" Soto" ) replaced Wondoloski as Scranton Store Manager. ( Id. at ¶ 58; Soto Dep., Doc. 21-3, Def.'s Ex. 4, at 76:15-16). In December 2010, Lawrence Haring (" Haring" ) replaced Miller as RDS. (Def.'s Stmt. at ¶ 44). Haring reported to Robert Resnik (" Resnik" ), who became Vice President of Sales for Defendant's Philadelphia market in August 2010. ( Id. at ¶ ¶ 43-44). Plaintiff believes that Haring and Resnik, like Miller and Wondoloski, generally treated her fairly and never discriminated against her. ( Id. at ¶ ¶ 41-42, 46-47). In contrast, Plaintiff believes Soto treated her unfairly and discriminated against her on the basis of her age.

In the roughly four-month period Soto worked with Plaintiff, he routinely and roundly criticized her performance. ( See Soto Dep., Def.'s Ex. 4, at 76:15-16; Def.'s Stmt. at ¶ ¶ 62-64, 68-69, 77, 88, 99). Soto criticized the amount of time it took her to complete assigned tasks. ( Id. at ¶ 63). He criticized the way she set up furniture displays. (Def.'s Stmt. at ¶ 64). Further, Soto told Plaintiff that the showroom was

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not up to par and that she was not doing a good job. ( Id. at ¶ 62).

In December 2010, Soto criticized Plaintiff for leaving work without ensuring that an open space on the showroom floor had been filled. ( Id. at ¶ 68). After censuring Plaintiff in person for the incident, he reiterated his disappointment to Plaintiff in an email with an attached photo of the open space. (Doc. 21-3, Def.'s Ex. 1F). Soto again met with Plaintiff two days later to discuss Plaintiff's performance. (Def.'s Stmt. at ¶ 77). Soto documented the discussion in a subsequent email, which he simultaneously sent to Haring as well as Plaintiff. (Doc. 21-3, Def.'s Ex. 1H). Ultimately, this email was forwarded to be placed in Plaintiff's personnel file. ( Id. ).

Sometime between late-December 2010 and early-January 2011, Soto sought the assistance of the Visual Merchandiser for Defendant's Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania store, Jennifer Conklin (" Conklin" ), to help improve the appearance of the Scranton showroom. (Def.'s Stmt. at ¶ 85; see also Howell Dep., Dec. 18, 2012, at 128:2-9). Conklin spent about a day in the showroom providing " fresh eyes" and a " new perspective" as to how it might be rearranged. (Howell Dep., Dec. 18, 2012, at 126:25-127:19, 129:15-21).

On Saturday, January 15, 2011, Soto sent Plaintiff another email requesting that " [f]irst thing Monday morning" she " plan on addressing" several specific " concerns . . . regarding merchandise placement on the floor." (Doc. 21-3, Def.'s Ex. 1I). In the email, which was simultaneously sent to Haring, Soto instructed Plaintiff to refrain from making any further merchandise moves until he " was satisfied with [their] placement." ( Id. ). Soto also instructed Plaintiff to seek his approval only via e-mail going forward. ( Id. ).

At 11:48 AM the following Monday, January 17, 2011, Soto resent the email to Haring. ( Id. ). In the forwarded email, Soto including the following message for Haring:

. . . I was not satisfied with the walk thru [sic] early this morning. [Plaintiff] Becky was deflecting and making excuses. . . . It is more of the same that has led me to have no confidence in her and her abilities as a visual [merchandiser]. I will document the walk thru [sic] this morning in an email and include you. My recommendation moving forward is ...

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