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Mingo v. Magic Hat Consulting

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 30, 2015



John R. Padova, J.

Plaintiff, Aaron Mingo, has brought this action against his former employer, Magic Hat Consulting, asserting claims for racial discrimination in employment and hostile work environment in violation of both Title VII of the Civil rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”) and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 951 et seq. (“PHRA”). Before the Court is Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons that follow, we grant the Motion.


Plaintiff, who is an African American man, began working as an Account Executive for Magic Hat on February 20, 2013. (Compl. ¶ 2; Def.’s Statement of Material Facts (“SMF”) ¶ 12; Def. Ex. B2 at 1; Mingo Dep. at 193.) He was paid an annual salary of $50, 000.00 plus commissions, with a promise that his salary would increase after six months if he met certain performance goals. (Def. Ex. B2 at 1; Mingo Dep. at 106-07.) Magic Hat provides consulting and recruiting services for its clients. (Lyon Aff. ¶ 2.) Plaintiff’s primary responsibility at Magic Hat was bringing in new business in the areas of staff augmentation and strategic delivery partnerships. (Mingo Dep. at 112.) He was employed by Magic Hat for six months, during which he “never brought in any new business, never made any sales, and never produced any revenue.” (Lyons Aff. ¶ 16; see also Mingo Dep. at 173-74.) On August 29, 2013, Magic Hat terminated Plaintiff’s employment. (Lyons Aff. ¶ 17; Compl. ¶ 21; Def.’s SMF ¶ 14.)

The Complaint asserts three grounds for relief. Count I alleges that Magic Hat discriminated against Plaintiff on the basis of his race in violation of Title VII. (Compl. ¶¶ 30-31.) Count II alleges that Magic Hat subjected Plaintiff to a hostile work environment on the basis of his race in violation of Title VII. (Id. ¶¶ 36-37.) Count IV alleges that Magic Hat discriminated against Plaintiff on the basis of his race in violation of the PHRA.[1] (Id. ¶ 52.)


Magic Hat has moved for summary judgment as to all of Plaintiff’s claims. Summary judgment is appropriate “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” if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby. Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is “material” if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Id.

“[A] party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Where the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof on a particular issue at trial, the movant’s initial Celotex burden can be met simply by “pointing out to the district court” that “there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party’s case.” Id. at 325. After the moving party has met its initial burden, the adverse party’s response “must support the assertion [that a fact is genuinely disputed] by: (A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record . . .; or (B) showing that the materials [that the moving party has] cited do not establish the absence . . . of a genuine dispute.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). Summary judgment is appropriate if the nonmoving party fails to respond with a factual showing “sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.


A. Racial Discrimination

In Counts I and IV of the Complaint, Plaintiff contends that Magic Hat discriminated against him in violation of Title VII and the PHRA by failing to provide him with the same business opportunities as Caucasian employees, paying him less than Caucasian employees, and firing him without warning or the opportunity to correct his work.[2] Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer to “fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). The PHRA provides that it is “an unlawful discriminatory practice . . . [f]or any employer because of . . . race, color, religious creed, . . . age, [or] sex, . . . to refuse to hire or employ or . . . discharge from employment such individual . . . or to otherwise discriminate against such individual . . . with respect to compensation, hire, tenure, terms, conditions or privileges of employment.” 43 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 955(a). We analyze claims brought pursuant to Title VII and the PHRA pursuant to the same standard. See Verma v. Univ. of Pa., Civ. A. No. 11-611, 2012 WL 1835727, at *7 (E.D. Pa. May 18, 2012) (“Discrimination claims under the PHRA are subject to the same standards as Title VII for purposes of summary judgment.” (citing Jones v. Sch. Dist. of Phila., 198 F.3d 403, 409 (3d Cir. 1999))).

The parties agree that Plaintiff’s discrimination claims should be analyzed pursuant to the burden shifting framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). (Def.’s Mem. at 6; Pl.’s Resp. at 6.) “Under McDonnell Douglas, the plaintiff bears the initial burden of demonstrating a prima facie case of unlawful discrimination . . . .” Dellapenna v. Tredyffrin/Easttown Sch. Dist., 449 F. App’x 209, 213 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802). In order to establish a prima facie case of discrimination, Plaintiff must establish: “(1) he is African American; (2) he was qualified for the position; (3) he experienced an adverse employment action; and (4) similarly situated persons who are not African American were treated more favorably.” Hall v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., 586 F. App’x 860, 863 (3d Cir. 2014) (citing Jones, 198 F.3d at 410-11).

If Plaintiff succeeds in establishing a prima facie case of discrimination, “the burden of production shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its decision.” Dellapenna, 449 F. App’x at 213 (citing McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802). If Magic Hat is able to meet its “‘relatively light burden, ’ the burden of production returns to . . . [P]laintiff, who can defeat summary judgment only by showing by a preponderance of the evidence that [Magic Hat’s] stated reason is pretextual.” Id. (quoting and citing Fuentes v. Perskie, 32 F.3d 759, 763 (3d Cir. 1994)). Consequently, if Magic Hat is able to state a legitimate and nondiscriminatory reason for its treatment of Plaintiff, Plaintiff “must produce evidence that either ‘(1) casts sufficient doubt upon each of the legitimate reasons proffered by the defendant so that a factfinder could reasonably conclude that each reason was a fabrication; or (2) allows the factfinder to infer that discrimination was more likely than not a motivating or determinative cause of’” the adverse employment action. Id. (quoting Fuentes, 32 F.3d at 762). Plaintiff cannot meet his burden at this last step simply by showing that Magic Hat was wrong, rather, he “must uncover ‘weaknesses, implausibilities, inconsistencies, incoherencies, or contradictions’ in [Magic Hat’s] explanations that would permit a reasonable factfinder to believe that [Magic Hat] did not actually act for its stated reasons.” Id. (quoting Fuentes, 32 F.3d at 765).

Magic Hat argues that it is entitled to summary judgment with respect to Counts I and IV because Plaintiff cannot establish a prima facie case of racial discrimination and cannot show that its legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for its actions are pretextual. Magic Hat agrees, for the purposes of this Motion only, that Plaintiff has met the first two elements of a prima facie case of discrimination, i.e., that he is a member of a protected class and that he was qualified for his job. (Def.’s Mem. at 8.) However, Magic Hat contends that Plaintiff cannot establish that he was subject to an adverse employment action or that he was treated differently than his Caucasian coworkers with respect to his assertions that the company ...

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