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Meky v. Jetson Specialty Marketing Services, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

March 6, 2017

LAMIA MEKY, Plaintiff,
v.
JETSON SPECIALTY MARKETING SERVICES, INC., D/B/A JSM, Defendant.

          OPINION DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, ECF NO. 24 - GRANTED IN PART, DENIED IN PART

          JOSEPH F. LEESON, JR. United States District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Lamia Meky brought this action against her former employer, Defendant Jetson Specialty Marketing Services, Inc., alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e - e-17, for sexual harassment, hostile work environment, and retaliation, of the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601-2654 (“FMLA”), for retaliation and interference, and of Pennsylvania's Wage Payment and Collection Law, 43 Pa. Stat. §§ 260.1-260.45 (“WPCL”). Because Jetson has satisfied its obligations under the WPCL, summary judgment is granted in its favor as to that claim. Summary judgment is also granted in part as to Meky's FMLA interference claim, to the extent that it is based on Jetson's alleged failure to provide paperwork, because there is no evidence that Meky was prejudiced by the alleged violation. The Motion is denied in all other respects.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Undisputed Facts

         In 2012, Jetson entered into an agreement for temporary staffing with Hobbie Personnel Services. Through Hobbie, Meky began working for Jetson on January 27, 2014. On July 2, 2014, Meky became a permanent employee with Jetson.

         In October 2014, Meky complained of sexual harassment by her supervisor Robert Billings, who resigned from employment shortly thereafter.

         Toward the end of 2014, Meky requested to take four weeks of leave the following summer because her mother needed surgery, but Meky was subsequently informed that she was not eligible for FMLA leave.

         In early 2015, Meky had an incident with another employee in which the other employee was alleged to have threatened her with a pair of scissors. Weeks later, on February 27, 2015, Meky reported feeling uncomfortable working around this employee and left work early. An investigation was conducted into her decision to leave work before the end of her shift and, on March 9, 2015, Meky was terminated.

         B. Procedural History

         Meky filed the instant action on March 3, 2016. Compl., ECF No. 1. On November 21, 2016, Jetson filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 24. Jetson contends that summary judgment should be awarded on the Title VII sexual harassment and hostile work environment claims because the record establishes that it promptly investigated Meky's sexual harassment complaint, and the alleged violator quit three days later. Jetson further argues that the Title VII retaliation claim should be dismissed because there is no evidence of a causal link between Meky's complaint of harassment and her termination six months later, and also that there were non-discriminatory reasons for her termination. Next, Jetson contends summary judgment should be granted on the FMLA interference claim because Meky would not have been eligible for FMLA benefits during the period for which she sought leave. Jetson further argues that to the extent the interference claim is based on its alleged failure to provide FMLA paperwork, Meky was not prejudiced. As to the retaliation claim under the FMLA, Jetson asserts that there is no evidence of a causal link between Meky's request for FMLA leave in late 2014 and her termination in March 2015 and, as with her Title VII retaliation claim, that there were non-discriminatory reasons for the termination. Finally, Jetson contends that it has paid Meky for all unused vacation hours, and therefore the WPCL claim should be dismissed. Meky filed a response in opposition to the Motion on December 9, 2016, Pl.'s Resp., ECF No. 27, and Jetson filed a reply on December 16, 2016, Defs.' Reply, ECF No. 29.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         “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.'” Heard v. Waynesburg Univ., 436 F. App'x 79, 79 n.1 (3d Cir. 2011) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)). A disputed fact is “material” if proof of its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the case under applicable substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue of material fact is “genuine” if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id. at 257.

         The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue as to any material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once such a showing has been made, the non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings with affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories or the like in order to demonstrate specific material facts which give rise to a genuine issue. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986) (stating that the non-moving party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts”). The party opposing the motion must produce evidence to show the existence of every element essential to its case, which it bears the burden of proving at trial, because “a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The court must consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         A. Title VII - Sexual Harassment and Hostile Work Environment

         To establish a hostile work environment claim against an employer based on sexual harassment, an employee must prove that: (1) she suffered intentional discrimination because of her sex; (2) the discrimination was pervasive and regular; (3) the discrimination detrimentally affected her; (4) the discrimination would detrimentally affect a reasonable person of the same sex in that position; and (5) the existence of respondeat superior liability. Huston v. P&G Paper Prods. Corp., 568 F.3d 100, 104 (3d Cir. 2009). To prove the existence of respondeat superior liability under the last element, a plaintiff must “demonstrate that the employer failed to provide a reasonable avenue for complaint, or, if the employer was aware of the alleged harassment, that it failed to take appropriate action.'” Weston v. Pennsylvania, 251 F.3d 420, 427 (3d Cir. 2001).

         Focusing on the fifth element, Jetson argues that it should be granted summary judgment because the undisputed evidence shows that Meky has failed to establish the existence of respondeat superior liability. Specifically, Jetson contends that its prompt and remedial action eliminates its liability for Billings's conduct.[1] See Young v. Temple Univ. Hosp., 359 F. App'x 304, 309 (3d Cir. 2009) (affirming the grant of summary judgment in an employer's favor on hostile work environment and constructive discharge claims because the employer “took prompt and adequate remedial actions to address [the] harassment”).

         Whether Jetson's actions were “prompt, ” however, depends on the timing of Meky's complaint against Billings, which is contested.

         It is undisputed that on October 31, 2014, Meky emailed the Director of Human Resources Heather Horvath about needing to address an “imperative issue, ” which Horvath forwarded to Human Resources Generalist Caleb Spess an hour later. Emails dated Oct. 31, 2014, R. 284, ECF No. 24-6. Spess testified that within hours of receiving the email, he began investigating the allegations by interviewing both Meky and Billings. Spess Dep. 124:6-11, ECF No. 24-11. Specifically, Spess interviewed Meky on Friday, October 31, 2014, and Billings on Monday, November 3, 2014. Id. A second meeting with Billings was scheduled for Tuesday, November 4, 2014, but he quit before the meeting concluded, which ended the investigation. Horvath Dep. 138:9-140:13, ECF No. 24-9.

         Spess testified that Meky had not previously complained to him about Billings, see Spess Dep. 98:11-20; however, Meky asserts that the October 31 email was not her first complaint. Meky testified that on October 4, 2014, she sent an email to Horvath detailing Billings's physical contact “with young girls” at work and her increasing feelings of discomfort around him, but that nothing was done. Meky Dep. 53:12-54:12, 118:15-20; Email dated Oct. 4, 2014, ECF No. 28-6. Meky further testified that prior to October 31, 2014, she had spoken with her managers Melissa Kline and Rudolph Preletz about the problems she was having with Billings. Meky Dep. 46:10-21, 53:12-25, 56:24-57:8. Kline, however, testified that Meky never brought any concerns to her about Billings. Kline Dep. 75:13-76:4, ECF No. 24-12.

         In light of the disputed issues of fact as to whether Jetson was aware of Meky's sexual harassment complaint prior to October 31, 2014, its request for summary judgment on the sexual harassment and hostile work environment claims is denied. See Neely v. McDonald's Corp., 340 F. App'x 83, 89 (3d Cir. 2009) (“Any dispute regarding the promptness and adequacy or appropriateness of management's remedial action is a factual issue for the jury to decide.”); Andreoli v. Gates, 482 F.3d 641, 644 (3d Cir. 2007) (explaining that it would be proper for a court to grant summary judgment where the employer undertook an investigation of an employee's complaint within a day of being notified, but that a jury should decide whether the actions of an employer that waited three months before taking action were prompt and adequate); Lawrence v. Schuylkill Med. Ctr. E., No. 3:11-CV-1339, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 114344, at *48-49 (M.D. Pa. Aug. 14, 2012) (concluding that the case presented a jury question as to whether the employer's action was prompt because the employer did not respond to an initial sexual harassment complaint for two weeks, after additional complaints were made).

         B. Title VII - Retaliation

         1.There is sufficient evidence for a jury to find that Meky has made a prima facie case of retaliation.

         “To establish a prima facie case of retaliation under Title VII, a plaintiff must show that: ‘(1) she engaged in activity protected by Title VII; (2) the employer took an adverse employment action against her; and (3) there was a causal connection between her participation in the protected activity and the adverse employment action.'” Selvato v. SEPTA, 658 F. App'x 52, 56 (3d Cir. 2016) (quoting Nelson v. Upsala Coll., 51 F.3d 383, 386 (3d Cir. 1995)). Jetson argues that Meky has not satisfied the third element of a prima facie case of retaliation because more than four months passed between her sexual harassment complaint on October 31, 2014, and her termination on March 9, 2015, and there is no other evidence linking the events. This argument fails.

         Meky testified that when she received her termination letter, she asked the Human Resources Director, Horvath, who was aware that Meky had lodged a sexual harassment complaint against Billings a few months earlier, why she was being terminated. Meky Dep. 89:8-90:13. According to Meky, Horvath informed her that she had “been so annoying, ” “complain[ed] too much, ” and asked for “too many personal” days off. Id. A jury could infer from this testimony that Horvath was referring to the sexual harassment complaint when she told Meky that she complained too much, which is direct evidence of a causal link. See Jackson v. University of Pittsburgh, 826 F.2d 230, 236 (3d Cir. 1987) (‚ÄúThere is simply no rule of law that provides that a discrimination plaintiff may not testify in his or her ...


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