United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
Austin McHugh United States District Judge
an unusual Title VII case, both because it concerns a sex
discrimination claim by a male plaintiff, and because that
plaintiff was a manager who now alleges that he was fired
largely due to the actions of employees whom he supervised.
According to Plaintiff, these employees objected to working
for a male boss and therefore waged a campaign of
misinformation and insubordination in an attempt to get him
fired. Plaintiff further maintains that his employer,
Defendant COMHAR, was complicit in this effort, leading to
his termination. Alternatively, Plaintiff argues that
Defendant fired him because he filed a sex discrimination
complaint. Because the record contains marginal if any
evidence of discriminatory animus or retaliatory intent, and
because Plaintiff fails to rebut Defendant's
non-discriminatory rationale for his termination,
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is granted and
Plaintiff's claims are dismissed.
COMHAR is a nonprofit organization serving individuals with
mental illness and with mental and physical disabilities.
Among other things, Defendant provides Targeted Case
Management services for those with “severe and
persistent mental illness . . . who have overused psychiatric
emergency services and experienced psychiatric
hospitalization and/or homelessness.” MSJ at 3. In
April 2014, Plaintiff Orlando Smith was promoted to the
position of Targeted Case Management (TCM)
Supervisor. In this capacity, he oversaw a team of six
Case Managers, each of whom worked directly with around 30
clients. The decision to hire Plaintiff was made by Catina
Anastasiadis, who had previously served as TCM Supervisor
before being promoted to TCM Director. As TCM Director,
Anastasiadis was Plaintiff's boss.
tenure as TCM Supervisor got off to difficult start. Within
two weeks, he began having problems with two of his direct
reports: Tammy Hairston and Lori Mina. These problems first
arose in the context of daily morning team meetings. Because
Case Managers spend much of their time serving clients in the
field, these meetings were the only regular opportunities for
Plaintiff to interact with his entire team. Plaintiff used
the morning meetings to make announcements and to gather
information about his team members' clients.
early as his first week on the job, Plaintiff maintains that
Hairston was insolent and uncooperative at morning meetings.
By way of example, Plaintiff claims that during at least one
morning meeting, Hairston worked on an office computer
instead of listening to her co-workers, did not look up from
the computer screen when speaking to Plaintiff, and refused
to provide additional information about her clients when
Plaintiff requested it. According to Plaintiff,
Hairston's unpleasant and obstinate attitude carried over
from morning meetings to their individual encounters. For
instance, Plaintiff claims that during one-on-one meetings,
Hairston “sighed, eye rolled, and played with her cell
phone . . ., and grudgingly gave limited information as I
asked for a report on each client.” MSJ Ex. 4 at *81.
He also claims that Hairston routinely violated COMHAR
procedures by failing to provide Plaintiff with her notes
detailing client interactions, and that she delayed in
complying with Plaintiff's directives.
claims that he did nothing to warrant Hairston's
insubordination; rather, he says that Hairston defied him
because she harbored a general disdain for men. In support of
this theory, Plaintiff proffers testimony from Kelli Seibert,
a Case Manager at COMHAR, but not one of his direct reports.
According to Seibert, Hairston did not “like men. So
she treated all men like crap.” Resp. Ex. A at 13.
caused Hairtson's hostile demeanor, Plaintiff eventually
responded by admonishing her in front of her colleagues
during morning meeting. Mina took issue with Plaintiff's
public rebuke. In an e-mail to Plaintiff and his superior,
Anastasiadis, Mina claimed that Plaintiff's poor
facilitation resulted in chaotic morning meetings, and that
Plaintiff had unfairly singled out Hairston for a reprimand
when others were engaged in similarly disruptive behavior.
by Mina's e-mail and Plaintiff's complaints about
Hairston, Anastasiadis intervened. On May 5, 2014, she
mediated meetings both between Plaintiff and Hairston and
Plaintiff and Mina. Plaintiff describes Anastasiadis as a
passive participant in these meetings, but there is evidence
that she reiterated to Hairston and Mina that Plaintiff was
their supervisor, that the format and content of the morning
meetings were matters committed to Plaintiff's
discretion, and that Hairston was obligated to provide
Plaintiff with information on her clients.
improvement following the May 5 meeting was fleeting. Four
days later, during the morning meeting on May 9, Plaintiff
publicly reprimanded Mina for using her computer after he had
expressly requested that team members refrain from doing so.
This reproach prompted Mina to again e-mail Plaintiff and
Anastasiadis, and again accuse Plaintiff of selectively
doling out demerits while ignoring other unruly behavior.
Plaintiff's annoyance, Mina's habit of airing her
grievances with Plaintiff in e-mails to Anastasiadis
resurfaced less than three weeks later, on May 28. On that
day, Plaintiff was notified that one of Mina's clients
was having a medical emergency. Believing that Mina was in a
meeting and therefore unavailable, Plaintiff “proceeded
to seek coverage . . . based on the information available to
me, using my judgment and discretion as supervisor.”
Resp. Ex. F at *4. Unbeknownst to Plaintiff, Mina had already
arranged for another colleague to attend to her client. Later
that afternoon, Mina copied Anastasiadis on an e-mail to
Plaintiff in which she criticized him for failing to call her
before intervening with her client, and claimed that his
failure to communicate had caused panic and confusion.
around this time, Plaintiff claims that Anastasiadis revealed
to him that Hairston and Mina disagreed with her decision to
hire Plaintiff as TCM Supervisor. During his deposition,
Plaintiff remembered his conversation with Anastasiadis this
She said, I talked with the team before you were hired and
let -- and I tried to keep them in the loop about who we were
considering. And she said, the only two people that had any
problem were those two [(Hairston and Mina)] and it seemed to
be about the men. That was when gender came into it. I mean,
Q. What does that mean, it seemed to be about the men?
A. Well, from what I understood, about the men she was
considering for the job. She said . . . she was keeping the
team abreast of who she was considering for the position. . .
. And I assume she was giving names or -- I think there was
another gentleman that -- there was another case manager who
Resp. Ex. B at 40.
with what he perceived as insubordinate behavior by two
employees who had apparently objected to his hire, Plaintiff
attempted in late May to initiate more formal disciplinary
action against Hairston and Mina. At Anastasiadis's
recommendation, Plaintiff drafted “Memos of Concern,
” documenting his grievances with each. Also at
Anastasiadis's recommendation, Plaintiff shared these
memos with Tonica Lowe-Miller, Defendant's Assistant
Director of Human Resources, and asked for her permission to
send the memos to Mina and Hairston. Because Plaintiff had
only been a TCM Supervisor for short time, Lowe-Miller
withheld her permission and instead directed Plaintiff to
verbally communicate his concerns to his team members.
with Lowe-Miller's proposed approach, Plaintiff appealed
for help to Michelle Feeney, Division Director for Intensive
Behavioral Services and Anastasiadis's boss. In an e-mail
dated June 19, Plaintiff wrote to Feeney, apparently in
reference to Hairston: “I'm really sorry to bother
you with this but I don't know what else to do. I may
have to ask you to intervene in helping myself and Catina
with a personnel matter that we can't seem to fix.”
Resp. Ex. C. In response, Feeney directed Anastasiadis to
meet again with Plaintiff and Hairston.
growing sense of frustration was apparently shared by Mina
and Hairston. Around the time of Plaintiff's e-mail to
Feeney, both of them complained to Anastasiadis that
Plaintiff's management style was unprofessional and
domineering; Mina further alleged that Plaintiff's
failure to communicate effectively was adversely affecting
his team's ability to serve clients. MSJ Ex. 5 at 3.
response to Plaintiff's e-mail to Feeney, Anastasiadis
convened and mediated another meeting between Plaintiff and
Hairston on June 26. According to Plaintiff, at that meeting,
Anastasiadis told Plaintiff and Hairston that “she
expected us to be able to work together, ” and that
“if things didn't get better . . . it would go to
HR” and Hairston would likely be transferred off of
Plaintiff's team. MSJ Ex. 4 at *25.
performance at the June 26 meeting failed to satisfy
Plaintiff, who left feeling unsupported in his role as
supervisor. According to Anastasiadis, Plaintiff's
exasperation boiled over in a meeting she had with him the
next day, June 27. While it is unclear what was discussed at
that meeting,  Anastasiadis claims that Plaintiff behaved
inappropriately. More specifically, she claims he
“act[ed] in a condescending manner towards me, was
disrespectful and spoke in a very aggressive
manner”-observations that mirrored reports from Mina
and Hairston regarding Plaintiff's demeanor. MSJ Ex. 5 at
4. Plaintiff disputes Anastasiadis's account of their
June 27 meeting and claims that his demeanor was professional
at all times.
early July, with no signs of improvement in Plaintiff's
relationship with Mina and Hairston, Anastasiadis decided it
was time to enlist HR in the effort to broker peace.
Accordingly, Plaintiff, Lowe-Miller, and Anastasiadis met
once on July 8 and three times on July 14. At the first of
the three July 14 meetings, Anastasiadis, Lowe-Miller, and
Plaintiff discussed Plaintiff's perceived lack of support
and his behavior during the June 27 meeting with
Anastasiadis. At the second and third meetings, Lowe-Miller,
Anastasiadis, and Plaintiff met with Hairston and Mina,
respectively. Lowe-Miller described those meetings as
“counseling sessions” for Hairston and Mina, both
of whom were to “receive documentation . . . with
regards to what it is that was expected of them.” MSJ
Ex. 8 at *14. This documentation was to be based on written
feedback from Plaintiff.
and Plaintiff remember the July 14 meetings differently.
According to Anastasiadis, the meetings “seemed to be
positive . . . we agreed that we would work together as a
team in the future [and] seemed to be able to resolve the
issues.” MSJ Ex. 5 at 5. Where Anastasiadis saw a
productive discussion, Plaintiff saw another missed
opportunity to punish Hairston and Mina. Regarding the
documentation that was to come out of the meeting, Plaintiff
said “we were going to submit our feelings about the
meeting or what we thought needed to be heard to
[Anastasiadis]” who would then “draw up a memo or
something.” MSJ Ex. 4 at *44-45. Plaintiff described
this process as “kind of prolonging the issue and not
coming to a resolution.” Id. at *45. He
therefore decided to take a different approach.
evening of July 14, Plaintiff sent an e-mail to Barry
McLaughlin, Director of Human Resources, and copied
Anastasiadis. In that e-mail, he vented his frustration with
what he saw as a lack of support and alleged for the first
time that he was a victim of sex discrimination. As Plaintiff
put it: “This message is to inform you of my concern
that I am being discriminated against because I am a man. . .
. [E]veryone who is critical of my supervision of Ms. Mina
and Ms. Hairston are women.” Id. at *92.
Anastasiadis reacted to Plaintiff's e-mail with
exasperation, writing that night in an e-mail to Lowe-Miller,
“I have tried to work with Orlando to resolve these
issues and be supportive but now the accusations of
discrimination.” Resp. Ex. E at 75. McLaughlin replied
to Plaintiff the same evening and suggested he meet with H.R.
to discuss his concerns. The following day, Plaintiff
declined McLaughlin's offer, and, citing his recent
experience, expressed his belief that further discussion
would prove futile. McLaughlin offered to meet with Plaintiff
if he changed his mind and encouraged him to follow-up on the
July 14 meetings by “provid[ing] written
feedback” to Lowe-Miller and Anastasiadis. MSJ Ex. 4 at
*91. McLaughlin further advised Plaintiff to “[g]ive
Catina the opportunity to prepare the memo, then consider
your steps for resolution.” Id. Instead, on
July 16, Plaintiff filed a complaint with Pennsylvania Human
Relations Commission (PHRC) in which he alleged that Hairston
and Mina were treated better than he was because “I
received criticism and they were favored” by
“women in management positions . . . because they were
women.” MSJ Ex. 11 at 3.
around Wednesday, July 30,  Plaintiff had a tense meeting (or
meetings) with Mina in his office. Mina later described
“arguing back and forth” with Plaintiff after
trying to “state [her] side” of an issue. MSJ Ex.
2B at 1. According to Mina, this interaction “put me in
tears.” Id. Samuel Nelson, Mina's
co-worker and one of Plaintiff's direct reports,
overheard the aftermath of Mina's meeting with Plaintiff.
He claims that Mina was “furious” when she exited
Plaintiff's office, that she slammed the door, and
“ever so loudly” said “I'm going to get
that bastard fired, I promise I'm going to get him
fired.” Resp. Ex. D at 10.
1 marked the beginning of the end of Plaintiff's tenure
as TCM Supervisor. The previous evening, in anticipation of a
two-day absence from work the following week, Mina sent an
e-mail to Plaintiff and her teammates in which she provided
an update on four of her more challenging clients. Regarding
one of those clients, KM, Mina wrote:
She has been using PCP a lot. Stopped going to D&A program
and swears she is fine. I will be meeting her on Friday
[August 1]. Only concern with her is an overdoes [sic] or
getting into legal trouble. I will inform her tomorrow that I
will be gone and give her the office number.
MSJ Ex. 4 at *93.
acts as a representative payee for some of its clients,
including KM. In this capacity, it receives clients'
entitlement benefits and disburses funds to those clients
over the course of the month. Per a previous agreement that
Mina had reached with KM, KM was to have received a portion
of her monthly benefits payment on August 1. On the morning
of August 1, KM came to Defendant's office and asked for
her money. This happened some time before 9:15, when Mina
arrived at work. Maggie Wiernicki, a clerical worker,
notified Plaintiff of KM's presence and asked Plaintiff
if, in Mina's absence, he would be willing to bring KM
her funds. Plaintiff agreed and handed over KM's benefits
allotment without first contacting Mina. When Mina arrived a
short time later, she expressed dismay at Plaintiff's
actions, faulted him for not calling her before surrendering
funds to a client who had recently relapsed, and ...