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Tann v. United States Steel Corp.

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

June 8, 2015

JAMON TANN, Plaintiff,


ROBERT C. MITCHELL, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Jamon Tann, brings this action against Defendants, his former employer, United States Steel Corporation ("U.S. Steel") and four U.S. Steel managers (Deborah Grabe, Kathleen Spray, Tiffany Demos and Matthew Penney), alleging claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to 2000e-17 (Title VII), and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 P.S. §§ 951-63 (PHRA). Plaintiff asserts that he was subjected to acts of racial and religious discrimination, a hostile work environment and incidents of retaliation, both at U.S. Steel's headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and later at U.S. Steel's sales office in Detroit, Michigan, ultimately culminating in his termination from employment on March 13, 2013.

Presently pending before the Court is a motion to dismiss, brought by Demos and Penney, who contend that personal jurisdiction cannot be asserted over them because they are residents of the state of Michigan.[1] For the reasons that follow, the motion will be denied.


Plaintiff began working as a Management Associate ("MA") in the Customer Service/Sales Department at U.S. Steel's Headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on May 9, 2011. (Compl. ¶¶ 14, 19.)[2] Of the incoming class of MAs, he was the only Asiatic, black, Muslim man of Asian, African, and Middle Eastern descent. (Id. ¶ 21.)

During his employment in Pittsburgh, he allegedly did not receive the same amount of responsibility as his white, non-Muslim counterparts, and was not able to deal directly with U.S. Steel's customers as quickly as those counterparts. (Id. ¶¶ 22-33.) After requesting more responsibilities from his supervisor in September of 2011, he was assigned a "trial account." (Id. ¶¶ 29, 33-34.) Plaintiff performed well on his "trial account" and received an assignment over three accounts in the Sheet Converter group by December of 2011. (Id. ¶ 34.) Soon thereafter, he was promoted to the next managerial level in the Customer Service/Sales Department as Account Representative Level 1. (Id. ¶ 45.) Plaintiff alleges that Department Manager Tony DeVito and another manager made discriminatory comments to him about Muslims after his promotion. (Id. ¶¶ 7, 51, 54.)

On August 23, 2012, Deborah Grabe, the General Manager of Customer Service, requested that Plaintiff relocate to Troy, Michigan, to manage automotive accounts at the U.S. Steel's Detroit sales office. (Id. ¶ 55.) Plaintiff was hesitant about moving from Pittsburgh, but agreed to the transfer after allegedly being told that the relocation would only last 18 to 24 months. (Id. ¶¶ 56-60.) At a going-away party in Plaintiff's honor, Grabe allegedly made racist comments to him about his family attending the party, and was critical of him wearing earrings at work. (Id. ¶¶ 67-76.)

Plaintiff alleges that, after relocating to Detroit on September 12, 2012, he found the office to be a poor place for minorities to work with U.S. Steel. (Id. ¶¶ 63-64.) His new supervisor, Andrew Palmer, allegedly refused to train him for his new position and gave him meaningless assignments. (Id. ¶¶ 77-92.) Approximately 3 weeks after Plaintiff's transfer to the Detroit office, Grabe visited from Pittsburgh and advised him to stop telling people that his assignment there was temporary. (Id. ¶¶ 93-99.)

Shortly thereafter, Tiffany Demos became Plaintiff's supervisor at the Detroit office and allegedly expressed her disappointment to him about his lack of training. (Id. ¶¶ 10, 104, 106.) Demos assigned Plaintiff to two Honda accounts based out of Canada in December of 2012. (Id. ¶ 109.) He was concerned by his new assignment and viewed the Canadian accounts as less prestigious than the American accounts. (Id. ¶¶ 109-11.) He alleges that, when he explained that he wanted to keep his American accounts, Demos became extremely angry and stated that account assignment was not optional. She then transferred the accounts to a Caucasian man named Colin Richter. (Id. ¶¶ 113-14.)

Plaintiff also alleges that working conditions for minorities worsened under Demos' supervision, and references a group meeting where she allegedly mimicked an Asian accent when discussing an Asian customer. (Id. ¶¶ 117-20.) After Plaintiff was reassigned from the American accounts, Danielle Cull, a close friend of Demos, began training him on the Canadian accounts. (Id. ¶ 124.) He alleges that Cull discriminated against him through inappropriate comments, substandard training, and unprofessional behavior. (Id. ¶¶ 125-31.)

Plaintiff reported the behavior to Matthew Penney, Director of the Detroit office, and requested to be transferred to a team away from Demos and Cull, or a transfer back to the Pittsburgh office. (Id. ¶¶ 12, 131-34.) Penney allegedly refused to address the reported behavior, and Plaintiff consequently contacted Kathleen Spray, Director of Human Resources in Pittsburgh, to raise his concerns. (Id. ¶¶ 135-49.)

Plaintiff contends that Demos, Penney, and Cull immediately began retaliating against him minutes after he sent an email to Spray documenting his report. Specifically, he states that Demos, Penney, Cull and a Caucasian employee named Nathan Campbell, an "Outside Sales Rep." whom he worked closely with, held a lengthy telephone conference during which Plaintiff could hear Penney yelling through the speaker phone, after which Penney approached his cubicle and attacked him over an insignificant matter (sending an email to a customer without sending it to Cull first) and refused to accept his apology. In addition, after this phone call, Campbell ceased to speak to Plaintiff (even though, as the outside sales rep., he needed to work closely with him) and two other upper-level managers with whom Plaintiff previously had a cordial relationship suddenly refused to interact with him at all. Then, within a week of Plaintiff's report to Human Resources, he was called into a meeting with Demos and Penney, and Penney threatened that "if anyone reports anything else, things will get ugly very quickly" and that he would "not tolerate any dissension" and that no one would be changing groups. Plaintiff understood from this meeting that if he reported any further instances of discrimination, he would be fired immediately. (Id. ¶¶ 148-74.)

On February 5, 2013, Spray met with Plaintiff and Penney in Detroit to inform Plaintiff that he would be suspended for one week due to his unfounded report against Demos concerning the comment she made against Asians. (Id. ¶¶ 175-81.) Spray also advised Plaintiff that he would be placed on a Performance Improvement Plan ("PIP") when he returned from suspension. (Id. ¶ 182.)

Plaintiff contends that his suspension and placement on a PIP were in retaliation for his report of discrimination to Human Resources. (Id. ¶¶ 175, 183.) He also alleges that Demos and Cull sabotaged his attempts to follow the PIP to retaliate against him for his report to Human Resources. (Id. ¶¶ 194-203.)

Immediately upon his return to work on February 12, 2013, Plaintiff was pulled by Demos and Penney into a conference call with Spray in Pittsburgh; another Human Resources representative was also on the call. (Id. ¶¶ 185-86.) Over the phone, Spray presented Plaintiff with the PIP, and explained that the purpose of it was to improve his performance while his training continued in the "background." She stated that his duties during these 30 days would be limited to those outlined in the PIP. Plaintiff notes that the duties were significantly reduced from his typical workload, limited to compiling and submitting only three reports relating to the Canadian accounts and learning how to forecast production for his new accounts. (Id. ¶¶ 187-89.)

The PIP also contained allegations of poor performance by Plaintiff, which he asserts were untrue. Therefore, he refused to sign the PIP because he did not agree with its contents. He was also concerned that the people responsible for overseeing his improvement on the PIP were the very people who he had just reported to Human Resources for discriminatory conduct, namely Demos and her close friend, Cull. (Id. ¶¶191-93.)

On February 25, 2013, Demos met with Plaintiff to discuss his performance on the PIP. (Id. ¶ 204.) As the meeting concluded, Plaintiff heard Demos refer to him as a "little towel head." (Id. ¶ 205.) Plaintiff alleges that, a few weeks later, Demos forced him to work on a report that had a looming deadline after he returned from an illness. (Id. ¶¶ 207-22.) Finally, on March 13, 2013, Demos, Spray, and Penney met with Plaintiff to advise him that he was discharged. (Id. ¶ 237.)

Procedural History

Plaintiff filed this action on January 5, 2015. Federal question jurisdiction is invoked based upon the Title VII claims and supplemental jurisdiction is asserted over the related PHRA claims.

On March 6, 2015, Defendants U.S. Steel, Deborah Grabe and Kathleen Spray filed an answer to the Complaint (ECF No. 12). On that same date, Grabe, Spray, Demos and Penney also filed the pending motion, seeking dismissal of the Title VII claims alleged against all four of them and the dismissal of the PHRA claims alleged against Demos and Penney on the basis of lack of personal jurisdiction. After conducting limited discovery, on May 15, 2015, Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to the motion with respect to the personal jurisdiction issue (ECF No. 24), but not the individual liability claim under Title VII. Demos and Penney filed a reply brief on May 20, 2015 (ECF No. 27).

Individual Liability

The Court of Appeals has held that "Congress did not intend to hold individual employees liable under Title VII." Sheridan v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 100 F.3d 1061, 1078 (3d Cir. 1996) (en banc). As noted above, Plaintiff concedes this point in his response and therefore the motion to dismiss the Title VII claims alleged against the individual defendants will be granted.

However, the PHRA states that it is an unlawful employment practice:

For any person, employer, employment agency, labor organization or employe, to aid, abet, incite, compel or coerce the doing of any act declared by this section to be an unlawful discriminatory practice, or to obstruct or prevent any person from complying with the provisions of this act or any order thereunder, or to attempt, directly or indirectly, to commit any act declared by this section to be an unlawful discriminatory practice.

43 P.S. § 955(e). Thus, the individual supervisors could still be liable under the PHRA for aiding and abetting discrimination by U.S. Steel. See Dici v. Commonwealth of Pa., 91 F.3d 542, 553 (3d Cir. 1996). However, Penney and Demos contend ...

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