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Hall v. Seneca Area Emergency Services, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

May 13, 2015

ANTOINETTE HALL, Plaintiff,
v.
SENECA AREA EMERGENCY SERVICES, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Mark R. Hornak United States District Judge

This is a case brought pursuant to Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1), and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”), 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 955(a) et seq. The Plaintiff, Antoinette Hall, worked as an Emergency Medical Technician (“EMT”) for the Defendant, Seneca Area Emergency Services, Inc. (“Seneca”). She alleges that, after she told her employer she was pregnant, her employer reduced her hours, passed her over for full time employment, and ultimately terminated her. The Defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that (1) Ms. Hall’s hours actually increased after she notified her employer of her pregnancy, (2) no full-time EMT opening ever existed during Ms. Hall’s employment and she therefore could not have been passed over, and (3) Ms. Hall was terminated during a probationary period for endangering patient welfare and that Ms. Hall has failed to put forth evidence of pretext. Because there are genuine issues of material fact present here that preclude the entry of judgement in favor of the Defendant, the Court will deny the Motion and set the matter for trial.[1]

I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is proper “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). An issue is genuine only if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (1986). “In considering a motion for summary judgment, a court must draw all reasonable inferences from the underlying facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” Emerson Radio Corp. v. Orion Sales, Inc., 253 F.3d 159, 162 (3d Cir. 2001). “When there is a disagreement about the facts or the proper inferences to be drawn from them, a trial is required to resolve the conflicting versions of the parties.” Am. Eagle Outfitters v. Lyle & Scott Ltd., 584 F.3d 575, 581 (3d Cir. 2009) (alteration and internal quotation marks omitted). “To defeat a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must raise more than some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, and the court must determine that a fair-minded jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party on the evidence presented.” Doe v. Luzerne Cnty., 660 F.3d 169, 175 (3d Cir. 2011) (internal citations, alterations, and quotation marks omitted).

II. BACKGROUND

The essential facts of this case are pretty simple.[2] Antoinette Hall volunteered as an EMT with Seneca for about a month before being hired as a part-time EMT on November 2, 2012. ECF No. 52-2 at ¶ 5. Hall was subject to a 180-day probationary period. Id. On November 20, 2012, Hall told Seneca that she was pregnant. After that, according to Hall, Seneca (and its employees) said or did a number of things that may have violated Title VII and the PHRA. For instance, shortly after Hall told Seneca of her pregnancy, Seneca hired another employee, Dave Behrman, as a part-time EMT. ECF No. 47-2 at 4. Seneca then gave Behrman more shifts than it gave Hall: when he was hired in December 2012, Behrman was working two to three shifts per week, id. at 6, but a few months later, in March 2013, Behrman was getting scheduled for 4.75 shifts per week while Hall was only being scheduled for 2.5 shifts per week, ECF No. 52-9 at 18–22, and between April 1, 2013 and April 13, 2013, Behrman worked ten shifts and Hall worked only five, id. at 23–24. On numerous occasions, Hall asked Assistant Chief Alexander for more shifts but was told that she (Hall) should not be working so many hours when pregnant. ECF No. 50-1 at 8, 9, 14. In the first week of April 2013, Seneca hired two part-time EMT employees, both male. ECF No. 52-2 at 4. Hall was terminated by a letter dated April 15, 2013 from Sheri Carricato stating the reason for termination as “[her] work performance in jeopardizing the welfare of patient care . . . and the other on duty staff member on April 13, 2013.” ECF No 52-3.

III. DISCUSSION

A. The PDA

Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on an individual's sex. Doe v. C.A.R.S. Prot. Plus, Inc., 527 F.3d 358, 364 (3d Cir. 2008) order clarified, 543 F.3d 178 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 2000e–2(a)).[3] Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”), discrimination on the basis of pregnancy is likewise prohibited as discrimination based on sex. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k). “There is employment discrimination whenever an employee's pregnancy is a motivating factor for the employer's adverse employment decision.” In re Carnegie Ctr. Associates, 129 F.3d 290, 294 (3d Cir. 1997) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 2000e–2(m)).

To establish a prima facie case of pregnancy discrimination, a plaintiff must allege four elements: (1) she is or was pregnant and that her employer knew she was pregnant; (2) she was qualified for her job; (3) she suffered an adverse employment decision; and (4) there is some nexus between her pregnancy and her employment termination that would permit a fact-finder to infer unlawful discrimination. Doe, 527 F.3d at 366. “Once the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the defendant to articulate a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for the plaintiff's termination.” In re Carnegie Ctr. Associates, 129 F.3d at 295 (citing Texas Dep't of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 252–53 (1981)). “If the defendant articulates such a reason, the plaintiff then must prove that the facially legitimate reason was a pretext for a discriminatory motive.” Id.

Our Court of Appeals has explained that a plaintiff may defeat a summary judgment motion by “‘discrediting the proffered reasons’ for [the adverse action].” Roney v. Allegheny Intermediate Unit, 568 F.App'x 172, 173 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Fuentes v. Perskie, 32 F.3d 759, 764 (3d Cir. 1994)). “To discredit the employer's proffered reason, ” a plaintiff “must demonstrate such weaknesses, implausibilities, inconsistencies, incoherencies, or contradictions in the employer's proffered legitimate reasons for its action that a reasonable factfinder could rationally find them unworthy of credence, and hence infer that the employer did not act for the asserted non-discriminatory reasons.” Id. (quoting Fuentes, 32 F.3d at 765).

B. This Case

The parties agree (both in their briefs, see ECF Nos. 40, 53, & 56, and on the record at oral argument) that this case hinges on the third or “pretext” stage of the burden-shifting analysis. Seneca argues that it has presented a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for terminating Ms. Hall (i.e., that Ms. Hall’s poor work performance and jeopardizing of patient welfare was the cause of her termination) and that Ms. Hall has failed to adequately demonstrate that such reason was pretextual. See ECF No. 40 at 9–10. The Court disagrees. Ms. Hall has pointed to plenty of record evidence from which a rational jury could conclude that Seneca’s stated reason for terminating her was pretextual and that her pregnancy was a motivating factor in that termination.

Here are some examples: (1) According to Hall, Chief Allison told Hall that Seneca was considering hiring Behrman as a full-time EMT (instead of Hall) because Hall was pregnant.[4]ECF No. 50-1 at 32. (2) When Hall asked Assistant Chief Alexander for more shifts, Alexander told her that she should not be working so many hours when pregnant. ECF No. 50-1 at 8, 9, 14. (3) In March and April 2013, Behrman, a male EMT who was hired after Hall, was getting nearly twice as many shifts as Hall.[5] ECF No. 52-9 at 18–24. (4) In the first week of April 2013, Seneca hired two part-time EMT employees, both male. ECF No. 52-2 at 4. (5) Chief Allison felt Hall was being “pretty optimistic” to think she could keep working shortly before having her baby. ECF No. 47-1 at 24. Chief Allison said this because she believed that “for most women there ...


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