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Marconi v. Moon Area Sch. Dist.

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

May 8, 2015

LISA L. MARCONI, Plaintiff,
v.
MOON AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant

For LISA L. MARCONI, Plaintiff: Colleen Ramage Johnston, LEAD ATTORNEY, Nikki Velisaris Lykos, Rothman Gordon, P.C., Pittsburgh, PA.

For MOON AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant: Teresa O. Sirianni, LEAD ATTORNEY, Marshall, Dennehey, Warner, Coleman & Goggin, Pittsburgh, PA.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Nora Barry Fischer, United States District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This is an age discrimination case wherein Plaintiff Lisa Marconi (" Marconi" ) contends that Defendant Moon Area School District (" Moon" or the " District" ) unlawfully denied her employment applications for entry level teaching positions in three successive school years, (i.e., 2010-2011; 2011-2012; and 2012-2013), in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (" ADEA" ) and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (" PHRA" ). (Docket No. 1). Marconi further avers that Moon retaliated against her after she filed three separate charges against the District with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (" EEOC" ) complaining of unlawful discrimination in 2010, 2011 and 2012, each of which she also filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (" PHRC" ). ( Id. ). Presently before the Court are cross motions for summary judgment filed by the parties which have been exhaustively briefed in accordance with Local Rule 56, argued to the Court at a motion hearing held on January 9, 2015, and supplemented through additional briefing subsequent to the hearing. (Docket Nos. 23-29, 30-34, 38-50, 53-59, 61-62, 65, 68).

After careful consideration of the parties' positions and having evaluated all of the evidence of record in light of the appropriate standard governing motions for summary judgment, and for the following reasons, Marconi's Motion for Summary Judgment [23] is denied and Moon's Motion for Summary Judgment [31] is granted, in part and denied, in part. In short, Moon's Motion is granted only to the extent that Marconi claims in her Complaint that Moon retaliated against her after she filed her third EEOC charge in October of 2012 but is denied in all other respects.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Moon School District and its Hiring Procedures

Moon is a large public school district located northwest of Pittsburgh. Moon employs approximately 293 permanent teachers and also hires additional day-to-day and long-term substitute teachers on an as-needed basis. (Docket No. 39 at ¶ 9). Long-term substitute teachers are non-bargaining employees and are hired on a contract basis to cover the class schedule of a permanent teacher who is out on an extended leave. (Pl. Ex. 39, Docket No. 47-19). Day-to-day substitute teachers are also non-bargaining employees and are hired at a daily rate to cover for a full-time teacher who is out for a shorter period of time, such as a day or a few weeks. ( Id. ). Moon maintains a substitute list from year-to-year which contains all of the individuals who are able to work as a day-to-day substitute teacher during the school year. (Pl. Ex. 43, Docket No. 58-1).

The number of open permanent and long-term substitute teaching positions varies from school-year to school-year. (Docket No. 39 at ¶ ¶ 10-15). The process utilized by the District to fill those positions is also slightly different. ( Id. at ¶ ¶ 20, 38). Pursuant to Moon's collective bargaining agreement with the teachers' union, the Moon Education Association, permanent teaching positions are initially open to a bidding process restricted to current union members and if the position is not filled during the bidding process, it is opened to outside candidates, including substitute teachers. ( Id. at ¶ ¶ 17-18). Open permanent teaching positions are posted on the PA Educator website which is a system used by many school districts throughout the Commonwealth to accept applications from interested teaching candidates. ( Id. at ¶ 21). Outside candidates submit applications according to the instructions of these postings. ( Id. ). Moon also has an established practice of considering individuals on its substitute list and other applications it has " on file" from individuals who also meet the qualifications for the particular opening. ( See Brown Depo at 22-25, Pl. Ex. 2). An administrative assistant compiles the applications of candidates who meet the minimum requirements and forwards them to the assistant superintendent in charge of human resources. ( Id. ).

The evaluation of candidates for permanent teaching positions is a multi-step process. (Docket No. 39 at ¶ 20). The first step involves school administrators reviewing the applications forwarded by the administrative assistant and then conducting first round interviews. ( Id. at ¶ 22). At this initial step, administrators are looking for strong reference letters, quality grade point average, certifications in the discipline associated with the opening and prior teaching experience. ( Id. at ¶ 23). Candidates who are interviewed are asked the same questions and scored on a scale of 1-5 by all of the interviewers. ( Id. at ¶ 24). The second round involves the candidates teaching a mock lesson. ( Id. at ¶ 25). The administrators then recommend three or four candidates to be granted final interviews. ( Id. at ¶ 26). The final interviews are conducted by the superintendent, who is sometimes accompanied by another administrator. ( Id. at ¶ 26). The same questions which were utilized in the initial round are posed to the candidates by the superintendent and/or other administrator and are then scored on the same scale. ( Id. at ¶ ¶ 26-27). These final interviews typically last approximately 30 minutes. ( Id. at ¶ 28).

The hiring of long-term substitute teachers is often less formal, depending on the type and length of the particular opening. (Docket No. 39 at ¶ ¶ 37-38). This process typically involves the school principal and the assistant superintendent assigned to human resource matters conducting interviews and making the recommendation for hire. ( Id. at ¶ ¶ 37-39). Occasionally, the superintendent becomes more involved and participates in the interview process to fill the long-term substitute position. ( See Milanovich Depo at 41-42, Pl. Ex. 10). But, in some instances, formal interviews are not conducted and the administrators make a recommendation directly to the superintendent. (Docket Nos. 39 at ¶ 37; 55 at ¶ 19). When interviews are held, the same questions and scoring system are utilized as for permanent positions. (Docket No. 39 at ¶ ¶ 29, 31). The assessments reflected in the scores on the interview sheets are then used by the administrators to make a recommendation to the superintendent. ( Id. ). Moon concedes that the interview ratings assigned to candidates on the interview forms are subjective. (Docket No. 55 at ¶ 7).

It is the superintendent's responsibility to recommend the preferred candidates for both permanent and long-term substitute positions to the School Board and such individuals are subject to a yes or no vote at the School Board meeting. (Docket No. 39 at ¶ ¶ 36, 39). The School Board routinely accepts the recommendation of the superintendent and authorizes the hiring of the recommended individual by the District. ( Id. at ¶ ¶ 40-43). Given this process, the School Board members are typically unaware of the unsuccessful candidates when they vote on the recommended individuals. ( Id. ).

Dr. Donna Milanovich was the superintendent at Moon during all relevant times and was involved in all of the challenged hiring decisions. It is also undisputed that " Milanovich has the final say in recommendations for hire to the School Board." (Docket No. 55 at ¶ 167). The other administrators involved in the hiring process changed during this period and are noted below to the extent that their involvement in the particular hiring is material to the hiring decisions.

B. Lisa Marconi's Background and Experience

Marconi is presently 49 years old. (Pl. Ex. 40, Docket No. 47-20). She did not initially pursue teaching as a profession. (Docket No. 47-1). Rather, she earned a Bachelor of Arts from Gannon University in 1987 in communications/English. ( Id. ). She worked in communications for many years at a local television station in Ohio and then left the workforce around 1991 to raise her children. ( Marconi Depo at 13-14, Pl. Ex. 8, Docket No. 43-1). Marconi returned to the workforce in 2003 as an instructional aide training at-risk students. ( Id. ). At that point, she decided to return to school in order to pursue a career as a teacher. ( Id. at 15-16). She also moved to the Pittsburgh area around this time, residing in Moon. ( Marconi Depo at 14-15).

Marconi earned a Master of Arts in Teaching from the University of Pittsburgh in 2006, achieving a 4.0 grade point average (" GPA" ) in the program. (Docket No. 47-1). As part of her studies, she completed an internship at Chartiers Valley School District during the 2005-2006 school year. ( Id. ). Marconi is dual-certified in Pennsylvania as a Secondary English teacher in grades 7-12 and as a librarian. (Docket No. 39 at ¶ ¶ 2-3). After earning her Masters' degree, Marconi worked as a substitute teacher for a number of different school districts from 2006-2011. ( Id. at ¶ ¶ 5-6). In particular, Marconi worked as a long-term substitute teacher at Moon for periods during the 2006-2007, 2007-2008, 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 school years. ( Id. at ¶ 5). At various time throughout this period teaching at Moon, Marconi had additional duties including: working as the faculty sponsor for the student newspaper; instructing homebound students; conducting SAT preparation courses; and acting as a reading remediation program facilitator. (Docket No. 55 at ¶ ¶ 17, 23, 67).

Marconi was recommended highly by a number of individuals, including Moon administrators and fellow teachers, a former professor at Pitt and an administrator from Chartiers Valley, where she completed her internship. (Pl. Exs. 34, 35, Docket Nos. 47-14; 47-15). Her teaching was also rated as " proficient" and " satisfactory" by the District in reviews conducted during her service as a long-term substitute. (Docket No. 32-7; Pl. Ex. 38, Docket No. 47-18).

C. Hiring Decisions for 2010-2011 School Year

In July of 2010, Marconi was a finalist for two permanent teaching positions and a long-term substitute position for the following school year, all of which were in the High School English Department. (Docket No. 39 at ¶ ¶ 44-45). Marconi was 44 years old. ( Id. at ¶ 55). She was recommended by the High School principal, Michael Hauser, and was not required to make the second round teaching demonstration because she had taught in the District as a long-term substitute during the prior school year. (Docket Nos. 39 at ¶ 46; 55 at ¶ 44; Hauser Depo at 77, Pl. Ex. 4). Three other candidates, Nicole Wilson, James Mangan and Brittany Tonio, were also finalists for the positions. (Docket No. 39 at ¶ ¶ 48; 55). Wilson, Mangan and Tonio were all 24 or 25 and had only recently graduated from college and/or graduate school. (Pl. Ex. 41 at 1-2). Wilson and Mangan both had undergraduate degrees and completed internships but had less than one year of substitute teaching experience. (Docket No. 55 at ¶ ¶ 65-66; Def. Ex. 32-8 at 9-11). Tonio had recently completed the same Masters of Arts program at Pitt that Marconi had finished years earlier. (Docket No. 32-8 at 12-13). Tonio did an internship during her graduate studies at Pitt and had a few months of substitute teaching experience. ( Id. ).

All four of these candidates were subject to interviews with Milanovich and Ronald Zangaro in July of 2010. (Docket No. 39 at ¶ ¶ 48; 55). Zangaro had recently retired and was acting as a consultant but he was the assistant superintendent assigned to human resources functions until the end of June. (Pl. Ex. 18, Zangaro Depo at 116-118, Docket No. 46-3). The District maintained the interview sheets which outline the questions posed to the candidates and contain contemporaneous notes taken by the Milanovich and Zangaro during the interviews. (Def. Ex. E, Docket No. 32-7 at 5-16). Milanovich scored the interviewees in the relevant categories but Zangaro did not fill out scores on the sheets. ( Id. ). Milanovich assessed Marconi with the lowest scores of these four candidates (i.e., Wilson 30/30; Mangan 28/30; Tonio 28/30; Marconi 22/30), and Marconi was not offered a position. ( Id. ; Docket No. 39 at ¶ ¶ 50, 55). Instead, Milanovich recommended Wilson and Mangan for the permanent positions and Tonio for the long-term substitute position. (Docket No. 39 at ¶ ¶ 51, 55). At their depositions, neither Milanovich nor Zangaro recalled any specifics from the interviews they conducted. ( See Milanovich Depo, Pl. Ex. 10; Zangaro Depo, Pl. Ex. 18). However, they each confirmed that the interview sheets maintained by the District contained their handwriting and were filled out contemporaneously during the interviews. ( Id. ). Milanovich testified as to her general practices in utilizing the scoring system during interviews, explaining how a candidate would need to perform during the interview to earn a certain score in each of the categories. ( See Milanovich Depo ).

After the final interviews but before the recommendations were made to the Board to hire Wilson and Mangan, Hauser intervened and spoke to Milanovich on Marconi's behalf, hoping to get her to reconsider the decision not to offer her a permanent position. (Docket No. 55 at ¶ ¶ 47-51). Per Hauser, Milanovich told him that there was a problem with Marconi's interview but he believed that he successfully advocated on her behalf and convinced Milanovich to reconsider and extend her the offer. ( Id. ). Hauser and Marconi provided contradictory testimony regarding their conversations. ( Id. ). Marconi appeared convinced that Hauser told her she would be getting one of the permanent positions while Hauser admitted that he misinterpreted Milanovich and told Marconi that she was the candidate but did not guarantee her the position. ( Id. ) Marconi admitted during her deposition that Hauser told her that Milanovich felt that she was very nervous during the interview and had not performed well. (Pl. Ex. 8, Marconi Depo at 70-72). Marconi also added that Hauser expressed dissatisfaction with the decision to hire the other candidates, commenting that the District didn't know these candidates and they were less qualified than she was. (Docket No. 55 at ¶ ¶ 50-51).

Milanovich recommended these three candidates to the Board and they were all hired. (Docket No. 39 at ¶ ¶ 51, 55). Tonio started the school year in the long-term substitute position but resigned shortly thereafter. (Docket No. 34 at n.3). On September 27, 2010, Moon hired another younger individual, Danelle Ciafre, to replace Tonio. (Docket Nos. 1 at ¶ ¶ 15, 16; 6 at ¶ ¶ 15, 16; Def. Ex. E, 32-8 at 3, 7). There is no evidence in the record indicating that Marconi was considered to replace Tonio after her resignation or the process, if any, which was utilized by the District to hire Ciafre. To the extent that Ciafre was a candidate during the July 2010 interviews, no record of her scores has been presented to the Court. It is undisputed that the teachers at Moon went on strike for a period of approximately three weeks in November of 2010. (Def. Ex. E, Docket No. 32-7 at 4). Another long term substitute teaching position opened up when teacher Jordan Galino announced that she was going on leave. (Def. Ex. E, Docket No. 32-8 at 3). Because Marconi had taught Galino's classes as a long-term substitute in the 2009-2010 school year, Hauser recommended that Marconi be hired to Milanovich, who carried the recommendation forward to the School Board for approval. (Pl. Ex. 8, Marconi Depo at 40-45). Marconi then served as a long term substitute teacher in Ms. Galino's class for the balance of the 2010-2011 school year, starting at the conclusion of the strike. ( Id. ).

D. Marconi's Experience as Long-Term Substitute in 2010-2011 School Year

Marconi filed her first EEOC charge on December 14, 2010 alleging age and gender discrimination with respect to the failure to hire her for the permanent and long-term substitute positions. (Pl. Ex. 12, Docket No. 29-4). Milanovich was aware that this discrimination complaint was filed against the District, although she could not recall when she was alerted of this fact. (Docket No. 55 at ¶ 168). She advised that the assistant superintendent in charge of human resources, Zangaro and/or Cynthia Zurchin also would have been aware of the EEOC charge. ( Milanovich Depo ). However, there was no superintendent in charge of human resources at the time of the filing of the charge as Zangaro had left the District in August of 2010 and Zurchin did not join the District as an assistant superintendent until February 2011.

Barry Balaski was hired as the high school principal in April of 2011. (Docket No. 55 at ¶ 77). Hauser remained with the District until the end of the 2010-2011 school year. ( See Hauser Depo at 81-85). Hence, there was a period of overlap of their tenures as principal of approximately two months. The parties agree that there was an incident in Marconi's class during the spring of 2011 which involved a student making a negative posting about Marconi on a website, www.ratemyteacher.com. (Docket No. 55 at ¶ 79). The parties dispute the core facts of what occurred during this incident: Marconi testified that it was handled professionally while the District, primarily through Balaski, claims that she made a spectacle out of a student in class for which she was reprimanded. ( Id. at ¶ ¶ 80-85, 91). They agree, however, that the student and his parents complained about Marconi's handling of the situation and principals, including Hauser and Balaski, became involved. ( Id. ). A performance evaluation completed by Hauser on June 11, 2011 notes that " [a]ll student and parent complaints were investigated and culminated in a meeting between teacher and administrators to discuss the issues. The outcome of the discussion was positive and productive. No further problems were reported." (Docket No. 32-7 at 1).

Some of the administrators also perceived problems with Marconi's dress; others denied having issues any with her dress. (Docket No. 55 at ¶ ¶ 98-109). Balaski testified that students expressed concerns to him about Marconi's dress and he states that he observed her wearing low cut, form fitting tops that were inappropriate for a female teacher to be wearing in a high school setting. (Docket No. 55 at ¶ 98). He recalled discussing her style of dress with Hauser; although Hauser denied any recollection of such a conversation with anyone at the District. ( Hauser Depo at 85, Docket No. 42-11 at 22). Zurchin testified that she did not remember Marconi at all and believed the only time that she may have seen her at the school was on an occasion when another District employee, possibly Milanovich, pointed out what was felt to be Marconi's improper short skirt or dress to her while they were walking through the halls of the school near the lunch room around this time. ( Zurchin Depo at 83). Yet, Milanovich denies ever having a discussion with anyone about Marconi's dress. ( Milanovich Depo at 195). Moon admits that no one ever communicated these concerns about her style of dress to Marconi, who denied that she ever dressed inappropriately while teaching. ( Marconi Depo at 144-145; Docket No. 55 at ¶ ¶ 99-100, 110-111). Balaksi also testified that Marconi had an issue with establishing relationships with students and her delivery of the curriculum; other administrators denied having such concerns with her performance. (Docket No. 55 at ¶ ¶ 87-96, 112-117). It is undisputed that these concerns were never brought to Marconi's attention prior to her filing this lawsuit. ( Id. at ¶ ¶ 97, 118).

Marconi's long-term substitute position teaching Galino's classes ended at the conclusion of the 2010-2011 ...


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