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Evans v. Gordon Food Services

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 29, 2015

KELLY EVANS, Plaintiff,
v.
GORDON FOOD SERVICES, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

KAROLINE MEHALCHICK, Magistrate Judge.

This is an action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e et seq., and under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This matter is before the Court on Defendant Gordon Food Services' motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 21). The motion has been fully briefed, and oral argument on the motion was held on June 4, 2015. For the reasons provided herein, Defendant's motion will be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Kelly Evans was hired by Defendant Gordon Food Services in July of 2010 as a custodian at Defendant's Pottsville, Pennsylvania distribution center. (Doc. 22-2). She claims that throughout her employment, she was subjected to a sexually hostile work environment created by the comments and actions of her co-workers. (Doc. 1). Her last day of employment was August 12, 2012. (Doc. 1).

Shortly before Plaintiff resigned from her custodial position, counsel retained by Plaintiff contacted the Pennsylvania Human Resources Commission ("PHRC") in order to pursue a complaint of discrimination. On July 31, 2012, the PHRC responded to Plaintiff's inquiry by letter and attached a PHRC questionnaire for Plaintiff to complete. (Doc. 22-4). The PHRC indicated that the questionnaire was designed to obtain information from Plaintiff to determine whether the PHRC retained jurisdiction over her concerns. (Doc. 22-4). The PHRC also advised Plaintiff that the completed questionnaire "is NOT considered a complaint." (Doc. 22-4, at 3). On August 5, 2012, Plaintiff's counsel replied to the PHRC by letter, representing that he enclosed the "HRC questionnaire for processing." (Doc. 22-5, at 2). However, rather than submitting the PHRC questionnaire that the PHRC originally forwarded to Plaintiff's counsel for completion, Plaintiff's counsel sent the PHRC a completed Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Intake Questionnaire ("EEOC"). (Doc. 26, at 16). On December 13, 2012, a human relations representative from the PHRC contacted Plaintiff's counsel requesting additional information that she claimed was needed in order to draft his client's complaint. (Doc. 22-6, at 2). Plaintiff's counsel was directed to submit to the PHRC the necessary information no later than December 27, 2012, and was warned that failure to respond within that timeframe would result in the PHRC suspending the processing of the complaint. (Doc. 22-6, at 2). Plaintiff's counsel did not respond to the PHRC's request for additional information until March 10, 2014, approximately one year and two months from the date the PHRC initially requested the additional information to aid in the drafting of a complaint. (Doc. 22-7, at 2).

In a letter dated April 7, 2014, a PHRC intake supervisor acknowledged receipt of the information that was requested in December of 2012, and requested that Plaintiff's counsel provide a reason for the delay in providing the requested information so that a determination could be made as to whether grounds existed for equitable tolling. (Doc. 22-8, at 2). It does not appear from the record that Plaintiff responded to the PHRC's request for equitable tolling arguments. On May 30, 2014, Plaintiff's counsel received a letter from the PHRC refusing to accept Plaintiff's complaint "because it [was] clearly untimely with no grounds for equitable tolling." (Doc. 22-9, at 2). The PHRC subsequently issued Plaintiff a right-to-sue letter. Plaintiff did not file a separate charge with the EEOC, and did not receive a right-to-sue letter under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e.

On June 26, 2014, Plaintiff initiated this civil action setting forth three causes of action: sex discrimination pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e (Count I); intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count II); and negligent infliction of emotional distress (Count III).

On February 18, 2015, Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment (Doc. 21), together with a brief in support of its motion and corresponding exhibits. (Doc. 22). Defendant's motion for summary judgment does not address the factual allegations of Plaintiff's complaint. Rather, with respect to Count I of the complaint, Defendant contends that Plaintiff failed to file a timely complaint with the EEOC, a prerequisite for an action in federal court. With respect to Counts II and III of Plaintiff's complaint, Defendant argues that Plaintiff failed to bring her state law claims within the six month contractual limitations period as set forth in her employment application.

Plaintiff filed a brief in opposition to Defendant's motion for summary judgment on March 20, 2015. (Doc. 26). In her brief, Plaintiff argues that her Title VII claims are timely because Plaintiff's counsel filed a charge with the PHRC on Plaintiff's behalf, and instructed the PHRC to dual file with the EEOC. According to the Plaintiff, that the PHRC failed to fulfill its work sharing obligations should not impinge on Plaintiff bringing a Title VII claim in federal court, as Plaintiff obtained a right-to-sue letter from the PHRC. Plaintiff submits the Court should apply the discovery rule and grant Plaintiff leave to file her claim with the EEOC. Plaintiff also argues that her state law tort claims are not barred by the six month contractual period of limitations because that provision contained within the employment application is unenforceable in that it is unsigned by both parties, lacks adequate consideration, is "extremely vague, " and is unreasonable. (Doc. 26, at 11). Defendant filed a reply brief on April 3, 2015. (Doc. 28).

Having been fully briefed, this matter is ripe for disposition.

II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

The Defendant moves for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56.Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment should be granted only if "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). A fact is "material" only if it might affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute of material fact is "genuine" only if the evidence "is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In deciding a summary judgment motion, all inferences "should be drawn in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and where the non-moving party's evidence contradicts the movant's, then the non-movant's must be taken as true." Pastore v. Bell Tel. Co. of Pa., 24 F.3d 508, 512 (3d Cir. 1994).

The party seeking summary judgment "bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, " and demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the movant makes such a showing, the non-movant must set forth specific facts, supported by the record, demonstrating that "the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the jury." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52. Bald assertions that genuine issues of material fact exist are insufficient. Indeed, where there is a complete failure of proof on an essential element of the nonmoving party's case, all other facts become immaterial, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

III. DISCUSSION

A. COUNT I: TITLE VII CLAIM

Defendant argues that Plaintiff's claims under Title VII are barred because Plaintiff did not file a timely charge of discrimination with the EEOC. Plaintiff contends that, although she never directly filed a complaint with the EEOC and the complaint was never cross-filed with the EEOC, she nonetheless may bring her federal civil rights suit because: (1) the right-to-sue letter issued to her by the PHRC constitutes final action by the EEOC, giving her the right to bring her Title VII claims in federal court; and, (2) administrative error on ...


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