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Novielli v. Trec Group, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

March 9, 2017

TREC GROUP, INC., Defendant.


          DuBois, J.


         This is an employment discrimination case. Plaintiff Jennifer Novielli worked as a “Civil Designer” for defendant Trec Group, Inc. (“Trec”) from April 14, 2014, to February 20, 2015. Plaintiff was placed in that job by Peak Technical Services, Inc. (“Peak”), a staffing agency. Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that she experienced gender discrimination and a hostile work environment, and that her employment was terminated in retaliation for complaining about that discrimination. Presently before the Court is Trec's Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons that follow, Trec's Motion for Summary Judgment is granted in part and denied in part.


         a. Factual Background

         The relevant facts as set forth in the evidence submitted by the parties are as follows. Plaintiff Jennifer Novielli signed an employment agreement with Peak on April 2, 2014, under which she was assigned to work for Trec. Trec's Mot. Summ. J. (“Trec's Mot.”) (Document No. 18, filed November 10, 2016), Ex. D-25; Trec's Mot., Deposition of Jennifer Novielli (“Novielli Dep.”) at 55:19-56:16. Plaintiff began working at Trec on April 14, 2014. Trec's Mot., Ex. D-25. Plaintiff's employment agreement provided that Peak was her employer, Peak directly compensated plaintiff, and Peak then billed Trec for plaintiff's services. Id. Plaintiff testified that during her employment at Trec, she worked at Trec's facility; used Trec's computer; was interviewed, supervised, and disciplined by Trec employees; and that the decision to terminate plaintiff's employment was made by a Trec employee. Novielli Dep. at 54:18-55:5, 136:10- 137:7.

         Domenic Vacanti, another temporary employee placed at Trec by Peak, also testified that he worked at Trec's facility; used Trec's computer and printer; was interviewed by a Trec employee; was supervised by a Trec employee who told him what to do, and who had the power to discipline and fire him. Trec's Mot., Deposition of Domenic Vacanti (“Vacanti Dep.”) at 64:5-65:16. Mr. Vacanti also testified that he believed Trec had more control over his daily activities than Peak. Vacanti Dep. at 65:17-65:19.

         Plaintiff testified that in August of 2014, she discussed her rate of pay with Mr. Vacanti. Novielli Dep. at 47:22-24. Mr. Vacanti testified that he was “shocked” to learn that he earned more than plaintiff because plaintiff had a college degree in engineering and Mr. Vacanti did not. Vacanti Dep. at 72:21-73:3. As a result of her conversation with Mr. Vacanti, plaintiff requested a pay increase from her supervisor, Richard Mannices, who told her to “go to Peak.” Novielli Dep. at 47:3-48:8. Plaintiff communicated with Peak, and Peak “said they would talk to Trec about it.” Novielli Dep. at 48:4-8. Eventually, plaintiff received a pay increase to match her male coworkers. Novielli Dep. at 133:11-15.

         After plaintiff's request for a pay increase, plaintiff testified that Mr. Mannices “stopped talking” to her and “purposefully ignore[d]” her in front of coworkers such that plaintiff felt “inferior.” Novielli Dep. at 134:12-135:7. Plaintiff also testified that Mr. Mannices allowed the male employees in the office to “bicker loudly, ” but told plaintiff that she “needed to soften [her] tone” during confrontations with coworkers. Novielli Dep. at 78:18-79:4.

         Plaintiff testified that she raised concerns about Mr. Mannices during a meeting with Barbara Tulskie, owner and president of Trec. Novielli Dep. at 78:18-80:8, 30:2-5. That meeting took place on October 15, 2014. Concise Statement of Material Facts ¶ 28 (Document No. 18, filed November 10, 2016). Specifically, plaintiff testified that she told Ms. Tulskie that Mr. Mannices “was treating [her] differently than the male employees. He would not address [plaintiff.] He would not speak to [plaintiff.]” Novielli Dep. at 80:1-8. Ms. Tulskie stated in her affidavit that “there was no type of gender discrimination alleged by the Plaintiff nor any other type of alleged discrimination alleged by the Plaintiff” at the October 15, 2014 meeting. Trec's Mot., Affidavit of Barbara Tulskie (“Tulskie Aff.”). Plaintiff admitted that she did not put into writing any allegations of unlawful discrimination during her time at Trec. Novielli Dep. at 80:17-82:21. According to plaintiff, after her complaints, in November of 2014, Mr. Mannices told plaintiff that she “needed to softer [her] tone and be less assertive, ” and that she considered this to be in retaliation for her various complaints. Id. at 92:17-93:16.

         Plaintiff's contract was terminated on February 20, 2015. Novielli Dep. at 53:21-54:1; Pl.'s Mem. in Opp., Ex. D. Peak's log of its communications with Trec reads “[l]etting Jen Novielli go as of 2/20 . . . Wants a replacement asap. Needs ADA experience.” Pl.'s Mem. in Opp., Ex. D. When asked about that log entry, Mr. Mannices testified that Trec did not plan to replace plaintiff immediately, and that Trec did not ultimately replace plaintiff. Trec's Mot., Deposition of Richard Mannices (“Mannices Dep.”) at 84:4-3. Rather, Mr. Mannices testified that by February of 2015, Trec “had planned to let [plaintiff] go because of the lack of work.” Id. at 72:15-24. Ms. Tulskie also stated by affidavit that plaintiff was terminated because her services “were no longer required due to lack of work.” Tulskie Aff. “Barbara and Joseph Tulskie made the final decision to terminate Plaintiff [sic] temp services after discussing with Rich Mannices.” Tulskie Aff; see also Mannices Dep. 72:10-14. Joseph Tulskie is Mr. Mannices' superior at Trec. Mannices Dep. at 9:5-8.

         According to plaintiff, her primary project at Trec was “the ADA project.” Novielli Dep. at 63:14-16. She further testified that at the time of her termination, the ADA project was not yet finished, and that the project would take “a few months” more to complete. Id. at 62:10-64:14. In May of 2015, or about three months after her termination, plaintiff received a text message from George Yenovkian, a male employee at Trec, asking for “assistance with an ADA diagram.” Id. at 60:22-61:12; 147:23-148:10. Mr. Yenovkian had never worked on the ADA project during plaintiff's time at Trec. Id. at 148:11-13. Mr. Vacanti testified in his deposition that Mr. Yenovkian began working on the ADA project after plaintiff's termination. Vacanti Dep. at 29:12-30:13.

         b. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff's Complaint was filed in this Court on March 17, 2016. The Complaint included five claims against both Trec and Peak: gender discrimination and hostile work environment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) (42 U.S.C. 2000e-2 et seq.) (Count One), retaliation under Title VII (Count Two), gender discrimination and hostile work environment under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“the PHRA”) (43 P.S. 951 et seq.) (Count Three), retaliation under the PHRA (Count Four), and a single claim for unequal and/or disparate pay under both the federal Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206, and the Pennsylvania Equal Pay Act, 43 P.S. 336 (Count Five). On July 22, 2016, plaintiff filed a Motion for Voluntary Dismissal as to all claims against Peak and Count Five of the Complaint in its entirety. The Court granted the Motion. What remains in the case are Counts one through four against Trec as the sole defendant. After discovery was completed, Trec filed the present Motion for Summary Judgment as to the four remaining Counts.


         a. Summary Judgment Standard

         The Court will grant summary judgment 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); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). A fact is material when it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.

         The Court's role at the summary judgment stage “is not . . . to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether . . . there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. In making this determination, “the court is required to examine the evidence of record in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment, and resolve all reasonable inferences in that party's favor.” Wishkin v. Potter, 476 F.3d 180, 184 (3d Cir. 2007). ...

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