United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
JOY FLOWERS CONTI, Chief District Judge.
Pending before the court are motions for summary judgment filed by defendants City of Pittsburgh (the "City") and Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1 (the "FOP"). (ECF Nos. 48, 45.) The City filed a brief (ECF No. 49) and a concise statement of material facts (ECF No. 50) in support of its motion. The FOP also filed a brief and a concise statement of material facts in support of its motion. (ECF Nos. 46, 47.) Plaintiff Cathy Thomas-Taylor ("plaintiff") filed responses in opposition to the motions (ECF Nos. 54, 55) and briefs in opposition (ECF Nos. 57, 60.) The City and the FOP filed respective replies to those briefs. (ECF Nos. 65, 63.) The parties filed a joint statement of undisputed facts. (ECF No. 77.)
Plaintiff alleges the FOP retaliated against her when it declined to file grievances on her behalf, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2000e-17. Plaintiff asserts four counts against the City. Plaintiff brings a breach of contract claim (count one). Plaintiff alleges the City interfered with her pension eligibility in retaliation for discrimination charges she previously filed against them, in violation of Title VII (count two) and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001-1461 (count three). Plaintiff also brings a claim for unlawful interference under ERISA (count four).
II. Factual Background
Plaintiff, an African-American female, began her employment with the City on September 25, 1989, as a police officer. (Joint Statement of Undisputed Facts ¶ 1, ECF No. 77.) Through her employment, plaintiff was a member of the FOP. The FOP is the collective bargaining representative for union members. ( Id. ¶¶ 2, 3.)
In May 2001 and June 2002, plaintiff suffered work-related back injuries resulting in ongoing medical treatment and periods of leave from work. ( Id. ¶ 4.) As a result of these injuries, plaintiff was placed on benefits pursuant to the Heart and Lung Act ("HLA"), 53 PA. STAT. § 637. ( Id ¶ 5.) HLA benefits are available to state and municipal employees who suffer temporary work-related injuries during the performance of their job duties, and extend full compensation and employee benefits for the duration of the injury. 53 PA. STAT. § 637. While plaintiff was receiving HLA benefits, the City continued to contribute to her pension plan from HLA benefits as required by the working agreement between the FOP and the City. (ECF No. 77, ¶ 7.) The working agreement outlines the compensation, benefits, and obligations of the City to FOP union members. (ECF No. 46-4.)
On January 14, 2008, plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") against the City, claiming she was denied seniority status in selecting shifts and pass days for the coming year, known as "job-pick" status, based upon her disability and race. (ECF No. 32, ¶ 34.)
In June 2009, the City filed a petition to discontinue plaintiff's HLA benefits on account of her impairment no longer being temporary in nature. (ECF No. 58-6.) An arbitrator issued an order on June 6, 2009, granting the petition to terminate HLA benefits and indicating plaintiff would be converted to worker's compensation benefits, pursuant to the Worker's Compensation Act, 77 PA. STAT. § 411. (ECF No. 58-7.) Plaintiff was informed of this decision via a letter from the Policeman's Relief and Pension Fund of the City of Pittsburgh ("Pension Fund") dated August 17, 2010. (ECF No. 58-12.) This letter advised the plaintiff that her automatic pension contributions ceased as of June 7, 2009, and that she should contact the Pension Fund to discuss her retirement options as a result of the conversion. ( Id. )
In December 2009, plaintiff filed suit against the City in the District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania at Civil Action No. 09-1648 for discrimination based upon disability and race, relating to her loss of "job-pick" status. In December 2010, plaintiff and the City settled the dispute by executing a settlement agreement and general release. (ECF No. 58-14.) Under the settlement agreement, inter alia, plaintiff received a $95, 000 payment, and she was required to resign on or before February 28, 2011. ( Id. ) The settlement agreement included an extensive general release of claims against the City. ( Id. ) The scope of this release is now disputed by plaintiff and the City as it pertains to plaintiff's ability to bring claims against the City.
On January 11, 2011, prior to her designated resignation, plaintiff applied for disability pension benefits. (ECF No. 58-17.) She was examined by a physician, who was unable to diagnose her pain and could not state that she was physically disabled. ( Id. ) Shortly after her application, plaintiff was informed by the Pension Fund that her claim was denied. (ECF No. 77, ¶ 29.) On June 9, 2011, plaintiff filed a second charge of discrimination against the City with the EEOC, alleging the denial of her request for disability pension was discriminatory and retaliation for her previous charge of discrimination. (ECF No. 58-16.)
On January 9, 2012, plaintiff was informed by the Pension Fund that she was ineligible to receive her regular pension at age 50, because she lacked the requisite twenty years, or 240 months, of pension contributions. (ECF No. 77, ¶ 33.) The Pension Fund calculated plaintiff's contribution time at nineteen years and five months. ( Id. ¶ 34.) In a letter to plaintiff's attorney, the Pension Fund stated its records showed "no [pension contributions] for March 1998, only six months in 2009 and one for 2010." (ECF No. 46-10.) The letter raised the possibility of plaintiff being able to "purchase this time back" to qualify for pension benefits. ( Id. )
On March 26, 2011, plaintiff filed suit against the FOP at Civil Action No. 11-399. On February 22, 2012, plaintiff amended the complaint to assert a breach of contract claim against the City, citing failure to make pension contributions on her behalf as required by the working agreement. On January 31, 2013, plaintiff filed a new complaint against the City claiming breach of contract, Title VII Retaliation, ERISA retaliation, and ERISA interference relating to pension eligibility. These claims were filed in this action.
Throughout the discourse between plaintiff and the City, plaintiff turned to the FOP for representation in matters pertaining to her "job pick" status, pension, and longevity pay. Plaintiff alleges the FOP acted in bad faith and retaliated against her by refusing to file her grievances against the City.
On January 14, 2008, plaintiff filed an EEOC charge of discrimination against the FOP because it refused to file a grievance she wished to bring against the City concerning her "job pick" privileges. (ECF No. 77, ¶ 8.) At the FOP's next meeting, in February 2008, membership passed a motion that if a member brings a complaint or suit against the FOP and the FOP "is found of no wrongdoing, the member then must reimburse [the FOP] for the cost of the defense." (ECF No. 62-7.)
In September 2009, unrelated to her first charge of discrimination, plaintiff attempted to file another grievance against the City, this time relating to her longevity pay, which is a benefit paid to employees based upon length of service. (ECF No. 47, ¶ 7; ECF No. 61, ¶ 7.) The FOP refused to file the grievance. ( Id. ) The FOP asserts the grievance is meritless because plaintiff's worker's compensation status precluded her from receiving benefits and alternatively, the claim was premature, as benefits would not come due until the following February. (ECF No. 46, at 7.)
On January 25, 2010, plaintiff filed a second charge of discrimination with the EEOC against the FOP, claiming its refusal to file her longevity pay grievance was retaliation for her prior charge of discrimination against the FOP. (ECF No. 47, ¶ 8; ECF No. 61, ¶ 8.) On March 26, 2011, plaintiff filed suit against the FOP at Civil Action No. 11-399, claiming she was retaliated against for her ...