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Baughman v. Cheung Enterpruses, LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 9, 2014

JUNE K. BAUGHMAN, Plaintiff,


SYLVIA H. RAMBO, District Judge.

In this employment discrimination action, Plaintiff, a former employee of Defendant, alleged that she was discriminated against because of her age and disability when her employment was terminated, which she contends was in violation of both the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. Presently before the court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 22), wherein Defendant contends that Plaintiff can neither establish that she had a covered disability nor that the legitimate non-discriminatory basis for her termination was a pretext. For the following reasons, Defendant's motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

The claims in this case are based largely upon the events underlying Defendant's decision to terminate Plaintiff's employment, which was supposedly based upon Plaintiff's poor performance. The following facts are undisputed or, where disputed, reflect Plaintiff's version of facts in the record, pursuant to this court's duty to view all facts and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).

A. Facts

Plaintiff, June Baughman, who at all times relevant to this litigation was a member of the class of individuals protected against age-based discrimination in the workplace, became employed as a crew trainer by Defendant, Cheung Enterprises, [1] in 2005 after Defendant assumed ownership of the McDonald's restaurant located on the Harrisburg Pike in Middletown, within the Middle District of Pennsylvania. (Doc. 24, ¶¶ 5-7.) Plaintiff was employed in this capacity until her employment was terminated on April 2, 2012. ( See id. at ¶¶ 51, 52.) In addition to her responsibility to act as a resource for newly hired employees, Plaintiff washed dishes and assembled much of the food sold at the McDonald's restaurant including hamburgers, sandwiches, salads, and parfaits. (Doc. 26-1, pp. 18-19 of 183.) These tasks required Plaintiff to stand and lift certain items, including boxes of frozen burger patties. ( Id. at pp. 19-20 of 183; see also Doc. 24, ¶¶ 8-9.) Plaintiff had been able to perform the functions of her job at the time Defendant took control of the restaurant. ( See Doc. 24, ¶ 11.) Plaintiff preferred to work the overnight shift, which was typically from 11:00 p.m. until 7:00 a.m. ( See Doc. 26-1, pp. 23, 27 of 183.) The overnight shift was comprised of one manager and two crew members. (Doc. 26-1, p. 27 of 183.)

In 2008, Plaintiff slipped in the freezer and broke her wrist while at work. (Doc. 24, ¶ 10; Doc. 26-1, pp. 20-21 of 183.) While Plaintiff was recovering, another employee worked the night shift. (Doc. 24, ¶ 12.) Once Plaintiff returned to work, she was able to fully use her wrist and resumed working close to forty hours per week. ( Id. at ¶¶ 13-14.) Plaintiff also suffered from arthritis in her knee throughout her employment with Defendant, which prohibited her from easily traversing stairs at the restaurant; however, she testified that it was easy to request help from another employee when she needed to go into the basement to get supplies. (Doc. 26-1, pp. 24-25 of 183.) In July 2010, Plaintiff underwent knee replacement surgery, for which she was in recovery until November 2010. ( Id. at pp. 25-26 of 183.) Plaintiff resumed her position on the overnight shift following her surgery, albeit she was working between sixteen and thirty hours per week due to another employee being in the same position. ( Id. at p. 31 of 183; Doc. 24, ¶ 23.) Plaintiff, although still unable to traverse steps immediately following the surgery, testified that she never had difficulty getting assistance and was eventually able to walk up and down the stairs. ( Id. at pp. 28, 31 of 183.)[2] Indeed, Plaintiff admitted in her deposition that she was able to physically perform the essential functions of her job as crew trainer. (Doc. 26-1, pp. 31, 65-66, 105 of 183.)[3]

Dora Matei ("Matei") became manager of the McDonald's restaurant in October 2011. (Doc. 24, ¶ 25.) Soon after Matei became manager, she met with staff to discuss store needs and employee performance, which included reports that the overnight shift was not fulfilling its cleaning and restocking duties. ( Id. at ¶ 26; Doc. 26-3, p. 11 of 40.) Specifically, Matei testified as follows regarding managers' reports of Plaintiff's performance issues, which she initially hesitated to act upon:

[W]henever I went to the store, the store wasn't ready. It wasn't clean. It wasn't stocked. So, I used to go into the managers and demand an explanation like why the job wasn't done, why wasn't it clean, you know. We're dealing with food, we're dealing with people, food safety.
And they will say to me that, you know, sometimes it was because [Plaintiff] couldn't finish the job or couldn't do it fast enough and they had to come and help her out or, you know, be in the kitchen while she was doing something else until she was done.

(Doc. 26-3, pp. 11, 13 of 40.) Andrew Cheung ("Mr. Cheung"), a co-owner of Cheung Enterprises, acknowledged that "speed is a criteria that some of the older employees cannot keep up, " which he acknowledged is "one of the drawback[s] of... having older employees on the employment." (Doc. 26-5, p. 9 of 34.) Matei did not understand Plaintiff's inability to complete her duties because the overnight shift was generally less busy than the weekday shift. ( See Doc. 26-3, p. 15 of 40.) This prompted Matei to give Plaintiff a verbal performance warning and move Plaintiff from the overnight shift to the morning weekend shift. ( See Doc. 26-1, p. 84 of 183; Doc. 26-3, p. 14 of 40.) Matei recounted a meeting during which she told Plaintiff of the shift change:

I told her that I was going to put her in the morning, that maybe it would be better for her to work the morning shift like weekends like Friday, Saturday[, ] and Sunday 6 to 1 or 6 to 2. You know, that way it would be better for her because of all of the complaints that she couldn't do this or she couldn't do that.
And I was like, okay, so then let's make it easier for her then if it's too much for her then we tried to help her out. And that's when I told her, you know, we're going to put you in the morning. All you have to do is just come in at 6, from 6 to 10 do salads, parfaits, burritos, and then go on your break, come back, do the dishes and all that, make sure everything is clean, you know, prep, pull the next day breakfast stuff out ready for the next day and do some fries and that's it and then after that you go home. And if we need you in overnight one day or two days, we will put you in.

(Doc. 26-3, p. 14 of 40.) Matei testified as follows regarding her rationale for the scheduling move:

[T]hings wasn't getting done. Cleaning wise it wasn't getting done. And for a store that was just finishing an FOR, a business review, where like once a year, once every two years they will go and have like a little inspection to see how the store looks inside, outside cleaning wise.
They check the service times and the service in the kitchen, how friendly we are, and we get an average. It's either 100 or you got 80 percent. And you have to have like 80 or above, something like that, to pass. If not, then they have to go back again and do it.
So for a store that already had one and they did good, you know, the store shouldn't be the way it was, you know, getting dirty and filthy.

( Id. at p. 15 of 40.)

Unfortunately, the evidence of record demonstrates that this schedule change failed to correct the problems Matei attributed to Plaintiff's performance. In this regard, Matei testified as follows regarding her observations of Plaintiff following the scheduling change:

Even though [Plaintiff] was switched from overnight to morning, she still - like she did okay in the beginning. So I was like, okay, maybe we did the right thing and we made the right choice. But then after a little bit she was like slacking a little bit.
* * *
She would mess up the salads or put the wrong cheese in the wrong salad or make burritos without cheese or put too much parfait like yogurt, or she would go in there and do dishes and dishes wasn't done right. It wasn't clean. It was always messy. She would go in fries and it would still be messy.
Like she couldn't do it, like she couldn't keep up. We constantly had to like tell her like, come on, [Plaintiff], are you okay? Can you keep up? You need help?.... And she should have done that on her own. And the managers was like I can't work with her.

( Id. at p. 17 of 40.) Matei testified that she told Plaintiff that her employment would be terminated if her performance did not improve. ( Id. at p. 17 of 40.) Plaintiff testified that she never received any written warning for her performance, and Plaintiff disputes each issue deemed unsatisfactory on her performance review, although she admittedly never challenged or expressed any disagreement with her "below standards" ratings. (Doc. 26-1, pp. 66-67 of 183; Doc. 24, ¶ 40.)

Plaintiff testified that she heard from Ester Beher, a manager at the McDonald's, that there was a "hit list" of five or six of the older employees that Defendant directed Matei to "get rid of." (Doc. 26-1, p. 55 of 183.) Plaintiff testified that she heard that she was included on this list. ( Id. at p. 56 of 183.) At the time of Plaintiff's deposition, at least four of those allegedly included on the hit list were no longer employed by Defendant. ( Id. at p. 56 of 183.) Plaintiff's unsatisfactory performance was brought up during a meeting with several managers regarding the restaurant's needs for improvement, and several other managers voiced concerns similar to those of Matei. (Doc. 26-3, p. 18 of 40.[4]) Based on Plaintiff's failure to improve, Matei decided that Plaintiff needed to be disciplined in the form of being suspended. ( Id. at p. ...

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