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Armstead v. Executive Cleaning & Supply, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 17, 2014



THOMAS M. BLEWITT, Magistrate Judge.

I. Background

On December 7, 2012, Plaintiff Shauntay Armstead, residing in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, brought this action in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania against Defendant Executive Cleaning & Supply, Inc. ("Executive Cleaning"), Defendant Scott "Houston, "[1] Defendant Shannon Doe (last name unknown), and Defendant Lorraine Doe.[2] Plaintiff is represented by counsel. Plaintiff had previously filed a claim with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ("PHRC") prior to filing the current action.

Plaintiff states that she became employed by Executive Cleaning in or about July 2008 as a cleaning person. ( Id., p. 4). Plaintiff was assigned to perform cleaning services at E & B Giftware, a client of Executive Cleaning, on or about September 2008. ( Id. ). Plaintiff avers that on or about March and April 2009, she reported to Defendant Shannon and then to Defendant Lorraine that she felt harassed and was being treated differently because of her race while assigned to work at E & B Giftware. ( Id. ). Plaintiff also claims she complained to Defendant Huston at an unspecified time and requested to be transferred out of E & B Giftware because she was being discriminated against. ( Id., p. 5). Plaintiff states that Defendant Huston refused to transfer or remove her because Executive Cleaning could not afford to lose the contract with E & B Giftware. ( Id. ). Finally, Plaintiff contends that shortly after complaining to Defendant Huston about the discrimination, Plaintiff was terminated by Executive Cleaning on or about "May 13, 2009."[3] ( Id. ). Plaintiff claims she "was discharged as a direct consequence of her discrimination complaints and reports." ( Id. ).

As stated, Plaintiff alleges that the staff at E & B Giftware harassed her and discriminated against her due to her race and that Defendants retaliated against her by terminating her shortly after her complaints about the discrimination. Specifically, in Count I of her Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Executive Cleaning retaliated against her "for exercising her rights under Title VII in violation... of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1991, as amended, and 42 U.S.C. §2000e[, ] et seq. " (Doc. 1, p. 6). In Count II of her Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Executive Cleaning's unlawful actions "constitute a violation of Title 43 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 951[, ] et seq. [, ] of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act." Plaintiff avers that Defendant Executive Cleaning treated her "in a retaliatory and discriminatory manner solely because of [her] race" and that all Defendants fostered and perpetuated" a hostile and offensive work environment, retaliat[ed] against her because of her expressed opposition to offensive racially related conduct in the work place, subjecting [her] to more onerous working conditions and treating [her] in a disparate manner." ( Id., p. 7). Thus, Count I, Title VII retaliation, and Count II, hostile work environment and retaliation under the PHRA, are asserted against only Defendant Executive Cleaning.

In Count III of her Complaint, Plaintiff raises an aiding and abetting claim under the PHRA against the three individual Defendants, Huston, Lorraine Shenyo and Shannon Cara, and she alleges "[t]he unlawful actions of the individual Defendants acting as aforesaid, constitutes an aiding and abetting violation pursuant to Title 43 Pa. Stat. Ann. §951[, ] et seq. [, ] of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act." Plaintiff also avers that the individual Defendants, as her supervisors, "are personally liable pursuant to the [PHRA] for aiding and abetting the unlawful race discrimination and retaliation" alleged in her Complaint. ( Id., p. 8).

Thus, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants, who were her employer and supervisors, were aware of the racial discrimination and harassment against her at E & B Giftware and, that Defendants retaliated against her for complaining about it. In particular, Plaintiff alleges that soon after she complained about the discrimination at E & B to Defendants, she was terminated by Defendant Executive Cleaning. Plaintiff claims that as a result of Defendants' alleged conduct, "Plaintiff has suffered damages due to pain, suffering, mental anguish, fear, anxiety, sleeplessness, humiliation and severe emotional, psychological and physical stress." ( Id., p. 5).

As relief in her Complaint, Plaintiff requests damages due to the loss of income, benefits and earnings in excess of $100, 000, due to Defendants' alleged discriminatory actions. ( Id., p. 6). Further, Plaintiff requests damages due to loss of future income, benefits, earnings and earnings capacity in excess of $100, 000 due to Defendants' alleged discriminatory and retaliatory actions. ( Id. ). Plaintiff also requests punitive damages. ( Id. ). Additionally, Plaintiff requests declaratory and injunctive relief. ( Id., pp. 8-9).

On June 2, 2014, after the close of discovery, Defendants jointly filed a Motion for Summary Judgment under Rule 56 with respect to all of Plaintiff's claims. (Doc. 24). Defendants simultaneously filed a Statement of Material Facts ("SMF") in accordance with Local Rule 56.1, M.D. Pa. (Doc. 25). Defendants attached Exhibits to their SMF which include the deposition transcripts of Plaintiff Shauntay Armstead, Defendant Lorraine Shenyo, and Defendant Scott Huston, as well as a March 2012 Statement by Scott Huston, President of Executive Cleaning, to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ("PHRC"). (Docs. 25-1 to 25-4, respectively). In his Statement to the PHRC, Defendant Scott Huston states that only Plaintiff was removed at the request of a client of Defendant Executive Cleaning during May 13, 2007 and May 13, 2009. On June 19, 2014, after being granted an extension of time, Defendants filed their support brief along with an Exhibit, namely, a copy of Plaintiff's Complaint she filed against Defendant Executive Cleaning with the PHRC. (Docs. 28 & 29). On June 30, 2014, Plaintiff filed her opposition brief and answer to Defendants' SMF with one attached Exhibit (Defendants' Answer to Plaintiff's Interrogatories). (Docs. 30, 30-1 & 31). Defendants filed a reply brief on July 17, 2014. (Doc. 34). As such, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is ripe for review.[4]

Plaintiff correctly asserts that this Court has federal question jurisdiction over her case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1331, as the case is substantively based on 42 U.S.C. §2000e, et seq. Plaintiff also requests this Court to invoke its supplemental jurisdiction, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367, to consider her state law claims arising under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 Pa.C.S.A. §951, et seq.

II. Motion for Summary Judgment Standard.

In Allen v. Fletcher, 2009 WL 1542767, *2 (M.D. Pa.), the Court outlined the applicable standard to apply when considering a summary judgment motion as follows:

Summary judgment is appropriate if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A fact is material if proof of its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).
Where there is no material fact in dispute, the moving party need only establish that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Where, however, there is a disputed issue of material fact, summary judgment is appropriate only if the factual dispute is not a genuine one. Id. An issue of material fact is genuine if "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id.
Where there is a material fact in dispute, the moving party has the initial burden of proving that: (1) there is no genuine issue of material fact; and (2) the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure: Civil 2D § 2727 (2d ed.1983). The moving party may present its own evidence or, where the nonmoving party has the burden of proof, simply point out to the Court that "the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing of an essential element of her case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).
All doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact must be resolved against the moving party, and the entire record must be examined in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. White v. Westinghouse Elec. Co., 862 F.2d 56, 59 (3d Cir.1988). Once the moving party has satisfied its initial burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to either present affirmative evidence supporting its version of the material facts or to refute the moving party's contention that the facts entitle it to judgment as a matter of law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57.
The Court need not accept mere conclusory allegations, whether they are made in the complaint or a sworn statement. Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888, 110 S.Ct. 3177, 111 L.Ed.2d 695 (1990). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, "the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

"Material facts" are those which might affect the outcome of the suit. Justofin v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 372 F.3d 517, 521 (3d Cir. 2004).

III. Material Facts.

We consider the following material facts with respect to Plaintiff's discrimination, harassment, and retaliation claims under Title VII and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. Further, we consider material facts as they relate to Plaintiff's aiding and abetting claim against the three individual Defendants under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.

Plaintiff began employment with Defendant Executive Cleaning in July 2008 and she was assigned by Defendant to E & B Giftware (a client of Executive Cleaning) in September of 2008 to perform cleaning services.[5] (Doc. 25-1, pp. 24 & 34 & Doc. 29). As an employee of Executive Cleaning, Plaintiff's job duties included sweeping, mopping, wiping tables, cleaning bathrooms, and vacuuming. (Doc. 25-1, p. 24). Plaintiff complains of a number of incidents where she alleges that she was being treated in a discriminatory fashion by E & B. Plaintiff also claims that after she complained to her Executive Cleaning supervisors Defendants Shannon Cara, and Defendant Lorraine Shenyo in February 2009 and March 2009, respectively, about being treated differently and about being subjected to harassment at E & B due to her African-American race she was discharged by Executive Cleaning owner Defendant Scott Huston on May 12, 2009. (Doc. 29).

First, Plaintiff claims she was being treated unfairly as it relates to where she was parking when working at E & B. (Doc. 25-1, pp. 35-37). Plaintiff testified in her deposition:

Q. Okay. Now, Ms. Arnstead, do you recall having any type of problem or dispute with E & B Giftware as it relates to parking?
A. Yes.
Q. And what was that?
A. Um, there was (sic) several occasions that there was (sic) I guess issues with where I was parking. First - the first one was, um, I guess where I was parking next to the door that I left that night, they [E&B personnel] didn't want me parking there. I'm not sure why. So then I changed my parking space.
And then there was an issue that they wanted me to enter through the back door where the trucks enter, so I parked in the back. And then he told me that I couldn't park my truck back there because of insurance reasons.
So then I called them and I told them - I called Executive Cleaning and I let them know like where was I supposed to park. I wasn't sure what was going on. And then he told me that he wanted me to park in the front and walk to the back to enter around the warehouse, which is maybe about a half a mile from where I would park to where I would enter through the back door.
Q. A half a mile?
A. Yeah, around the warehouse, yeah.
Q. Okay. And is that how you continued to walk to get into the place [E&B] until you left the employment?
A. No, I didn't do that because I explained to them that there's trucks driving around there and it's nighttime, because it was fall so it would get dark at 4:00, 5:00. So if I'm checking in that time it's dark, and I'm not going to walk around a warehouse to enter through a back door.
Q. Why do you believe that they were asking you to take that route to get into the building?
A. I'm not sure, but I was the only one that they were telling to do that to.
Q. Did you ask them why there were - did you ask them why they were requiring you to do that?
A. The supervisor at E&B, he just would say, oh, it's because of insurance purposes or you people don't know where to park. Like just random, um, answers he would give me when I asked him where I should park or why I couldn't park there.

Additionally, Defendant Lorraine Shenyo testified that she had heard from Plaintiff's supervisor Defendant Shannon Cara that E & B was complaining about Plaintiff using the computers and phones at E & B during her work hours and Shenyo thought that E & B staff had called the owner of Executive Cleaning about this matter. (Doc. 25-2, p. 13).

With respect to the parking dispute between Plaintiff and E & B, Defendant Shenyo testified at her deposition:

Q. Go ahead.
A. And I think they may have even called but I'm not sure. I didn't hear that, but I'm sure that they might have called the owners about it too [regarding Plaintiff using the computers and phones at E & B during her work hours].
And that the Claimant [Plaintiff] was parking in a no parking zone [at E & B], and she was asked not to park there and did again.
Q. In a no parking zone?
A. No parking zone.
Q. Okay. Did you ever have any conversations with Ms. Armstead about this parking issue?
A. No.

(Doc. 25-2, p. 13).

Defendant Huston also testified about the progressive problems between Plaintiff and E & B, and stated:

A. Well, it started off with [Plaintiff] parking in the handicapped spots [at E & B], where she was told about that. The supervisor addressed that issue with the thing. And then it happened a second time where [Plaintiff] was still parking in [the handicapped spots] after she was told. Then it progressed to the telephone [ i.e., Plaintiff using the phone to make personal calls during her work time with E & B], and then that's when I was made aware from E & B. And then the final thing was [Plaintiff] being on their [E & B's] computers.
Q. Do you have any idea how it came to be that your records reflect that the issue with parking [ i.e., Plaintiff parking at E & B] was parking in a no parking zone?
A. Well, however they - it was stated. It was a handicapped spot. They don't actually have a no parking zone.
Q. Okay. So to the extent your records indicate it was a no parking zone, that would not be correct?
A. Well, if you're not handicapped and you're parking, it's general knowledge that would be no parking.
Q. Would you agree with me there's a difference between a handicapped zone and a no parking zone?
A. Um...
Q. One typically says no parking, one says ...

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