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Haluska v. Advent Communications, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

November 10, 2014

MARK HALUSKA, Plaintiff,
v.
ADVENT COMMUNICATIONS, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF COURT

TERRENCE F. McVERRY, District Judge.

Pending before the Court is a MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF No. 31) filed by Defendant Advent Communications, Inc. ("Advent") with a brief in support (ECF No. 32). Plaintiff Mark Haluska has filed a brief in opposition (ECF No. 35); Advent has filed a reply brief (ECF No. 38). The summary judgment record has been fully developed via the submission of Advent's Concise Statement of Material Facts ("CSMF") (ECF No. 33) and Appendix (ECF No. 34); Plaintiff's Response to Advent's CSMF (ECF No. 36) and Appendix (ECF No. 37); and Advent's Response to Plaintiff's Additional Material Facts (ECF No. 39). The Court heard oral argument on October 7, 2014 at which Advent presented a Bench Memorandum (ECF No. 50) regarding the "computer professional" exemption. No response has been filed. The issues have nevertheless been fully briefed. Accordingly, the motion is ripe for disposition.

I. Background

The following background is taken from the Court's independent review of the motion for summary judgment, the filings in support and opposition thereto, and the record as a whole. As the law requires, all disputed facts and inferences are resolved in favor of Plaintiff, the non-moving party.

Co-owned by Gregory Sinnamond and Kenneth Eglberger, Advent is in the business of installing, upgrading, and maintaining voice and data systems for commercial clients. The installation of the products sold by Advent ( e.g., Avaya telephone systems) requires knowledge, experience and skills in computer networks, programming, and the manipulation of software.[1]

Around mid-2010, Advent IT Director William Weisser recommended to Eglberger that he consider his friend, Mark Haluska, for employment. Haluska had previously worked as a Telecom Administrator at AmWINS and as an IP Office Engineer at Voda One and earned two Associates Degrees from Pittsburgh Technical Institute: one in Specialized Technology, with a focus in Computer Networking Systems Technology; and another in Computer and Network Security & Forensics. Weisser apparently endorsed Haluska because of his experience installing Avaya telephone systems rather than his technical training or proficiency with computer systems. From Eglberger's perspective, Advent ultimately decided to employ Haluska because of his advanced computer skills and his experience in installing voice and data systems.

1. Job Responsibilities

Haluska was hired as a "senior" or "lead" technician in August 2010. On August 30, 2013, Haluska signed an employment contract which provided him with a set salary of $73, 000, moving expenses of $1, 500.00, four months of paid rent at $450.00 per month, and commission on any work received form his previous employer AmWINS.[2] Haluska later received an increase in his salary to $75, 250 per year in December 2012 and another raise to $85, 000 per year in March 2013 after he negotiated with then-Advent General Manager Gregory Pack.[3] Throughout his employment, Haluska was interchangeably referred to as a "voice engineer, " "lead engineer, " "senior engineer, " "senior technician, " "lead tech, " and "voice engineer."

As a "lead technician, " Haluska would first meet customers along with Advent project managers at "precut meetings" during which he would gather information, discuss phone system programming, estimate the scope and timing of the job, and make recommendations regarding call flows and hardware integration of voice and data systems. See Dep. of Haluska, Def.'s Ex. D at 161-64, ECF No. 34-4; Dep. of Pack, Def.'s Ex. G at 25, ECF No. 34-7; Dep. of Lemley, Def.'s Ex. I at 45-46, ECF No. 34-9; Dep. of Miller at 25, Def. Ex. J at 25, ECF No. 34-10. In addition, Haluska would work alone on occasion during which he would also interface with customers to solve various software issues.

At the jobsite, Haluska's primary duties were to install and program software for voice and data networking systems, to modify the communications systems to meet the customers' specific needs, and to train the customers on how to use the product.[4] See Dep. of Weisser, Def.'s Ex. C at 55-59, 64-66, 87-88, ECF No. 34-3; Dep. of McKinney, Def.'s Ex. F at 70-71, ECF No. 34-6; Dep. of Pack, Def.'s Ex. G at 26-33; Dep. of Miller at 25-28, Def. Ex. J at 25, ECF No. 34-10; Dep. of Jouver, Def.'s Ex. K at 57-60, ECF No. 34-11. Haluska was also responsible for the completion of the installation as the "lead technician" on a complex job, although a project manager would oversee the work. See Dep. of Miller at 25-28, Def. Ex. J at 25, ECF No. 34-10. In such situations, Haluska would customize the software while his fellow engineers/technicians would physically install the wiring and cables. See Dep. of Galla, Def.'s Ex. H at 13-14, 21-22; Dep. of Jouver, Def.'s Ex. K at 57-60, ECF No. 34-11; Dep. of Reed, Def.'s Ex. L at 19-21, ECF No. 34-12. Additionally, Haluska had some limited involvement in maintaining Advent's local and wide area computing systems. See Dep. of Haluska, Def.'s Ex. D at 73-74, 164-65, Pl.'s Ex 1 at 137-38, ECF No 37-1. As Director of Technology, Weisser acted as the supervisor for the (Senior) Engineers, including Haluska.[5]

2. The Litigation

While still employed by Advent, Haluska commenced this lawsuit on July 30, 2013 by filing a two-count Complaint in which he alleged that Advent misclassified him as an exempt employee in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") and the Pennsylvania Wage Payment and Collection Law ("WPCL"). Haluska filed an Amended Complaint on December 31, 2013 to add a retaliation claim under the FLSA. The original Complaint was served on Advent on August 2, 2013. Thereafter, Eglberger approached Haluska on at least one occasion to discuss and resolve his concerns in an attempt to retain him as an employee.

After Haluska filed the original Complaint, his work schedule varied until he ultimately resigned several weeks later. Haluska first scheduled off on August 1-2, 2013 for unknown reasons; he returned to work the week of August 5-10, 2013; he then left again for a vacation; and he arrived back at Advent on Monday, August 19, 2013-the day on which he submitted his written resignation letter to Eglberger thanking him "for the opportunities for professional and personal development that [he has] provided [him] over the years." Def.'s Ex. E at ADV-00064, ECF No. 34-5 at 14.

3. The Alleged Adverse Employment Action(s)

Haluska claims that Advent retaliated against him after he filed the original Complaint. At this point in the narrative, certain facts (actually) became disputed.

Haluska first contends that Advent employees began to avoid him and stopped typical social and necessary work-related communications during the week of August 5, 2013 which created a hostile work environment. Among the alleged adverse employment actions, Haluska claims that "[w]hoever sends out the e-mail" scheduling service meetings omitted him from the distribution list after he filed suit.[6] See Dep. of Haluska, Pl.'s Ex. 1 at 169-72, ECF No. 371. Haluska also maintains that an unidentified coworker informed him that "they were instructed to watch what they say around me and to keep their noses clean." Id. at 172. And yet another unidentified coworker (or perhaps an AmWINS employee) apparently told Haluska that Advent "was looking to replace him."[7] See id. at 176; Am. Compl. at 16, ΒΆ 40, ECF No. 16.

The next so-called adverse employment action stems from an August 7, 2013 e-mail from Service Supervisor Mike Jouver to all "Techs." See Def.'s Ex. M at ADV-00301, ECF No. 34-13. The email states: "[a]nyone on vacation for a week at a time needs to leave their company vehicle in the office. Brad, Mike Lemley and myself have been trying to get the cars better maintained and it[']s a good time to do so." Id. Jouver also sent an e-mail directly to Haluska (which the latter calls a "cover-up") in which he explained the reasons that he made his service request. See id. at ADV-000538. Those e-mails were the first and last of their kind, leading Haluska to suggest that it was a directive from Advent's owner(s) to deprive Haluska of his company vehicle which was in for repairs just two months earlier.

Additionally, Haluska claims that Advent denied him access to its Virtual Private Network ("VPN") when he was on vacation. Haluska similarly contended that Advent disabled his laptop and other devices, but he has since acknowledged that he was mistaken. The record is unclear as to whether (or why) he was denied access to the VPN.

The final alleged adverse employment action which Haluska cites is his supposed removal from two projects shortly after this litigation commenced: one with commission-generating AmWINS and another with IMortgage. Advent denies that it removed Haluska from the IMortgage job. As for the AmWINS project, Eglberger testified that Haluska was removed from that job because Advent could no longer trust him to show up for work. Advent also submits that Haluska's job performance toward the end of his employment jeopardized installations because he was not communicating, became difficult to track down, and walked off one job in June 2013. Notably, Advent began to document Haluska's purported infractions on August 5, 2013, apparently ...


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