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Steward v. Altoona First Savings Bank

United States District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania

September 8, 2014




I. Introduction

Plaintiff Patricia Steward ("Plaintiff") has filed this civil action against her former employer, Defendant Altoona First Savings Bank ("Defendant" or the "Bank"), alleging violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621 et seq., and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 Pa. C.S.A. §951, et $ec.[1]Pending before the Court is a motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 30) filed by Defendant. For the reasons that follow, Defendant's motion for summary judgment will be denied.

II. Jurisdiction and Venue

The Court has jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and § 1367. Venue is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(2).

III. Factual Background[2]

Plaintiff was born in 1945 and began working for Defendant in 1999 as a mortgage originator at the age of 54. (PL's Dep. at 58, ECF No. 36-1). She remained in that position until approximately 2004, when she was made branch manager of Defendant's Duncansville office. (ECF No. 34 ¶ 2; ECF No. 43 ¶¶ 1, 3).

While serving as the Duncansville branch manager, Plaintiff continued to perform loan and mortgage origination duties similar to those she had previously performed. (ECF No. 34 ¶¶ 2-3; ECF No. 43 ¶ 3). Plaintiff was told that her job as branch manager would still require her to be out in the public generating business for Defendant and that the assistant branch manager, Shannon Lobello, now Shannon Block, ("Block"), would be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the branch. (ECF No. 34 1! 3-4).

At the time that Plaintiff was serving as manager of the Duncanville branch office, there were five tellers. (ECF No. 34 ¶ 5). Some of these tellers, along with Block, maintain that, as manager, Plaintiff was difficult to get along with and caused office conflict and discord. (Id.). Among other things, they claim that Plaintiff gossiped frequently, referred to other employees as "bitches" or "back-stabbers, " pitted the tellers against one another, and told them that they could not trust each other, board members, or managers. (ECF No. 34 ¶ 6, 8-9, 12-14, 17). Block testified that Plaintiff refused to assist with or be trained to do certain teller functions — such as running the teller line, ATM, and balancing of the vault—because she felt these tasks were "beneath" her. (ECF No. 34 ¶ 6). One of the tellers, Deborah Sackett, similarly testified that Plaintiff refused to help with these duties. (Id. ¶ 13). Sackett, Block, and another teller, Mary Ann Hughey, all testified that they complained about Plaintiff's conduct to the Bank's management. Sackett maintains that she complained about Plaintiff to Gary Pfahler, the Bank's President, and Troy Campbell, the Bank's Executive Vice President. (ECF No. 34 ¶ 13). Block contends that she likewise complained to Campbell and Pfahler; however, Block admits that she asked Pfahler not to approach Plaintiff about her complaints because she did not want to cause more "friction" in the office. (Block Dep. 24-27, ECF No. 38-2). Hughey maintains that, at one point, she complained to Block and Campbell following an incident in which Plaintiff made complaints about her that were unsubstantiated. (ECF No. 34 ¶ 11). Campbell acknowledged that "things were communicated from branch personnel" which led him to conclude that the Duncansville branch "wasn't a cohesive unit." (Campbell Dep. 73, ECF No. 37-2). Although Pfahler denies having had any direct communication with employees from the Duncansville branch, he claims to have learned of their complaints from Campbell. (Pfahler Dep. 69-70, ECF No. 39-1). Both Campbell and Pfahler agree that the perceived problems at the Duncansville branch office were not discussed with Plaintiff. (Campbell Dep. 74, ECF No. 37-2; Pfahler Dep. 69-70, ECF No. 39-1).

In 2008, Defendant created a business development team (the "Business Development Team" or "Team"). (ECF No. 34 ¶ 20). Plaintiff, who was 63 years-old at the time, was transferred from her position as branch manager to a position on the Team, while still working out of the Duncansville office. (ECF No. 34 ¶¶ 21-22). In connection with this transfer, Plaintiff assumed the title of Assistant Vice President of Business Development and was given a $3, 000 raise. (Pfahler Dep. 16, ECF No. 39-1; Steward Aff. ¶5, ECF No. 36-2). According to Pfahler, Plaintiff was placed in this new position because she was "very personable, " was known in the community, had contacts in the community, and was better suited to working outside of the office. (Pfahler Dep. 17, ECF No. 39-1). Allen Harr, who had served as manager of Defendant's Bedford branch office, was also transferred to the Business Development Team and given the title of Assistant Vice President of Business Development. (ECF No. 34 ¶ 21). Harr was born in 1966 and is twenty-one years younger than Plaintiff.

Initially, the Business Development Team consisted of Louisa Lobre-Riley (who supervised the Team), Plaintiff, Harr, and Patrick Nagle. (PL's Dep. 30, ECF No. 36-1). Plaintiff continued to work out of the Duncansville branch with Lobre-Riley, while Nagle worked in the Altoona office and Harr continued to work out of the Bedford branch. (Steward Dep. 31-33; Nagle Dep. 72; Harr Dep. 60-61; Campbell Dep. 53). Plaintiff's job duties as a member of the Business Development Team included generating all types of business for the Bank, including loans, deposits, and credit card services. (ECF No. 40-5; ECF No. 43 ¶ 9).

In February or March of 2009, Lobre-Riley resigned her position, and Nagle, the Bank's Vice President of Lending, became the head of the Business Development Team with direct supervisory authority over Plaintiff and Harr. (Nagle Dep. 17-21, ECF No. 38-3; PL's Dep. 34-35, ECF No. 36-1; see also ECF No. 34 ¶¶ 26, 28). On October 3, 2009, Nagle issued individual performance evaluations for Plaintiff and Harr. Nagle found that both Plaintiff and Harr knew the Bank's products well and worked hard for their customers. (ECF No. 40-4 at 1; ECF No. 40-6 at 1). Nagle gave both employees "exceptional" marks in terms of their respective involvement and representation of the Bank in the community. (ECF No. 40-4 at 2; ECF No. 40-6 at 2). In addition, both Plaintiff and Harr received "generally satisfactory" ratings in the category of work volume, but they were each advised to focus on obtaining more commercial loans and to be more "effective" with their sales calls. (ECF No. 40-4 at 1-2; ECF No. 40-6 at 1-2). Nagle observed on each of their forms that evaluating performance was very difficult in the absence of sales goals or standards. (ECF No. 40-4 at 2; ECF No. 40-6 at 2).

Plaintiff continued to work on the Defendant's Business Development Team until January 2011, when, at age 66, her position was eliminated.[3] (ECF No. 43 ¶ 57). There is no dispute that Pfahler, as the Bank's president, had sole authority to make hiring and firing decisions and that he was the individual responsible for eliminating Plaintiff's job. (ECF No. 43 1 26). There is disagreement, however, with respect to the circumstances that led to Plaintiff's removal from the Business Development Team.

According to Defendant, Pfahler began to develop concerns around June 2009 that the Bank needed to cut expenses due to a decline in earnings. (ECF No. 34 ¶ 32). Based on monthly production reports showing the number of loans generated, the dollar amount of loans generated, and the fees generated by the loans, Pfahler determined that he needed to eliminate a position in the Business Development Team. (Id. ¶ 33). Pfahler testified that he continued to monitor the situation over the course of the ensuing year by watching the monthly loan production numbers. (Id. ¶ 34). In June 2010, he decided to eliminate Plaintiff's position. (Id. ¶¶ 35-38). He testified that his reasoning in this regard was two-fold: first, Nagle had generated substantially more loans that Plaintiff in the Altoona market and could remain in that market; second, Harr had higher loan numbers than Plaintiff and was established in the Bedford market. Accordingly, Pfahler felt it was prudent to keep Harr in the Bedford market where he could continue to generate loans for the Bank. (Id. ¶ 40). Although Pfahler made the decision in June 2010 to eliminate Plaintiff's position, he states that he delayed doing so until January 2011 so that Plaintiff could have the benefit of a full year's salary and could maximize her 401(k) distribution. (Id. ¶ 39).

Plaintiff disputes that there was any financial need to eliminate her position, as she maintains the Bank was doing well financially in 2010 and there was enough business to support three members of the Business Development Team. In addition, Plaintiff contests the notion that members of the Business Development Team had assigned "territories" or particular sales quotas. She claims that, like Harr, she had ties to the Bedford community and had previously been responsible for loan origination in that area. She maintains that her loan numbers were not substantially lower than Harr's and that, in any event, the Bank preached a philosophy of teamwork as opposed to a focus on individuals' sales numbers. (ECF No. 34, Plaintiff's responses to ¶¶ 32-36, 40, 47).

In the one or two months prior to Plaintiff's termination, a vacancy arose with respect to the position of branch manager in the Defendant's Altoona office. (ECF No. 34 ¶ 50; PL's Dep. 43, ECF No. 36-1). It is undisputed that Plaintiff expressed an interest in this position but was not selected for the job. (ECF No. 34 ¶ 50-51 and Plaintiff's responses thereto). The parties are in disagreement as to the reasons why Plaintiff was not selected.

Defendant contends that it never received any formal application from Plaintiff relative to the branch manager position and, in any event, Plaintiff would not have been a good fit for that job. According to Pfahler, the Altoona branch office was suffering from morale problems and the Bank was looking for a special person to fill that position in order to rebuild a team. (ECF No. 34 ¶¶ 50-51). Ultimately, Pat Labriola was hired as the Altoona branch manager and began working in that capacity in June of 2011. (Id. ¶¶ 52-53). Defendant maintains that it hired Labriola because he had prior experience in banking and as an elementary school principal, and Pfahler believed Labriola had strong communication and morale building skills that would be a good fit for the Altoona office. (Id. ¶54).

Plaintiff disputes Defendant's assertion that she never applied for the branch manager position. Plaintiff contends that, in addition to expressing interest in the job verbally during her termination meeting, she sent an employment application to the attention of Pfahler, who had the ultimate hiring authority. (ECF No. 34, Plaintiff's response to ¶ 51). Moreover, Plaintiff claims that, shortly before she was fired, she inquired whether Pfahler had hired a branch manager for the Altoona office. According to Plaintiff, Pfahler responded, "[N]o. The only applications I got were from old people, and I don't want them." (PL's Dep. 56, ECF No. 36-1).

In December of 2010, the month prior to Plaintiff's termination, the Bank also had a vacancy with respect to the assistant branch manager position in the Altoona office. (ECF No. 34 1 57). There is no dispute that Plaintiff did not apply for this position because she was not aware in December 2010 that she would soon be eliminated from the Business Development Team, and the open assistant branch manager position was filled that same month. Plaintiff nevertheless contends that she should have been considered for this position because it was known, as of December 2010, that she would be losing her job and it was the Bank's general practice to place its employees in alternative jobs in lieu of terminating them. Defendant contends that it selected Terry Drass, a 49 year-old employee, to be the assistant branch manager because Drass had been filling that position on a temporary basis for the previous year and had performed her duties "admirably." (ECF No. 34 ¶57).

Following the termination of her employment, Plaintiff commenced administrative proceedings with the EEOC. Plaintiff appears to have properly exhausted her administrative remedies, and Defendant does not contend otherwise.

Plaintiff subsequently filed this lawsuit on September 18, 2012. Defendant filed its pending motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 30) and supporting materials (ECF Nos. 28, 29, 31) on November 15, 2013.[4] Plaintiff filed her memorandum, appendix, and counterstatement of facts in opposition to Defendant's motion (ECF Nos. 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41) on December 16, 2013. Thereafter, Defendant filed its reply brief (ECF No. 44) and response to Plaintiff's counterstatement of facts (ECF No. 43) on December 30, 2013. Plaintiff filed her sur-reply brief (ECF No. ...

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