United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
MARY M. HORVATH, Plaintiff,
URBAN REDEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY OF PITTSBURGH, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Bissoon United States District Judge
matter is before the Court upon a Motion for Summary Judgment
(Doc. 37) filed by Defendant Urban Redevelopment Authority of
Pittsburgh (“URA”). For the reasons that follow,
URA's Motion will be granted.
Mary M. Horvath (“Horvath”) was hired by URA as
an Accounting Manager on January 7, 2008. Compl. (Doc. 1) at
¶¶ 5, 12. Following a promotion in November 2008,
Horvath served as URA's Assistant Director of Finance
until her termination on March 25, 2015. Id. At the
time of her termination, her immediate supervisor was Tom
Short (“Short”). Def.'s Stmt. of Facts (Doc.
39) at ¶ 5. Horvath, Short and the rest of the finance
department ultimately reported to Robert Rubinstein,
URA's Acting Executive Director. Id. at ¶
2, 2012, Horvath commenced legal proceedings with the
Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations (“PCHR”)
claiming that she was being paid a substantially lower salary
than her male counterparts. Id. at ¶ 35.
Horvath and URA settled her PCHR claim in December 2014.
Id. ¶ 37. Horvath received the proceeds from
that settlement in January 2015. Horvath Depo. (Doc. 40-1) at
continued to perform her job responsibilities during the
pendency of her PCHR claim. Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶
38. In late 2014, URA's outside auditor, Maher Duessel
CPAs, began performing an annual financial audit for the 2014
calendar year. Id. at ¶ 39. At various times
between December 2014 and March 2015, Horvath complained to
Maher Duessel and Short about perceived billing improprieties
and instances of allegedly mishandled funds. Id. at
¶¶41-44, 47-49. These allegations form the basis
for Horvath's Pennsylvania Whistleblower Law claim.
Compl. ¶¶ 57-66.
March 25, 2015, Rubinstein terminated Horvath's
employment with URA. Def.'s Stmt. of Facts ¶ 87;
Termination Letter (Doc. 45-8) at 1-2. By letter, Rubinstein
informed Horvath that there were three reasons for her
termination: she had “intentionally interfered with the
URA's administration of its FMLA policy” as it
applied to another employee who had requested and been
granted an FMLA-qualifying leave of absence; she had
“unnecessarily, and without authority, inject[ed]
herself into another personnel situation having absolutely
nothing to do with [her] job responsibilities”
involving an investigation into the unauthorized printing of
another employee's paystubs; and she had been the subject
of “consistent complaints from various departments
regarding [her] uncooperative and unprofessional
attitude.” Termination Letter (Doc. 45-8) at
first alleges that she was terminated in retaliation for
filing a disparate pay claim with the PCHR in violation of
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000
et seq. (“Title VII”), and the
Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 P.S. § 951 et
seq. (“PHRA”). To state a prima facie
case of retaliation, a plaintiff must show that: (1) she
engaged in a protected activity; (2) she suffered an adverse
employment action; and (3) there was a causal connection
between the participation in the protected activity and the
adverse action. Moore v. City of Philadelphia, 461
F.3d 331, 340-41 (3d Cir. 2006). The United States Supreme
Court has emphasized that Title VII retaliation claims
ultimately must be proven according to “traditional
principles of but-for causation.” Univ. of Texas
Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, __ U.S. __, 133
S.Ct. 2517, 2533 (2013). However, in the context of a
plaintiff's burden at the prima facie stage, the
Third Circuit Court of Appeals recently clarified that a
plaintiff must only produce evidence “sufficient to
raise the inference that her protected activity was the
likely reason for the adverse employment
action.” Carvalho-Grevious v. Delaware State
University, __ F.3d __, 2017 WL 1055567, at *6 (3d Cir.
Mar. 21, 2017) (quoting source omitted) (emphasis in
original). As explained by the Court:
[T]he Supreme Court has made clear that “Title VII
retaliation claims must be proved according to traditional
principles of but-for causation.” [Nassar, 133
at 2533]. Understanding the retaliation[-]plaintiff's
ultimate burden, we turn to the question of whether that
burden differs at the prima facie stage of the case.
We hold that it does. See Marra v. Phila. Hous.
Auth., 497 F.3d 286, 302 (3d Cir. 2007) (“In
assessing causation, we are mindful of the procedural posture
of the case.”); see also Farrell v. Planters
Lifesavers Co., 206 F.3d 271, 279 n.5 (3d Cir. 2000)
(“[T]he relative evidentiary impact of [causal
evidence] may vary depending upon the stage of the
McDonnell Douglas proof analysis and the procedural
circumstance, ” i.e., if proffered to satisfy
a plaintiff's prima facie case for the purpose
of summary judgment or if proffered to reverse a verdict).
Consistent with our precedent, a plaintiff alleging
retaliation has a lesser causal burden at the prima
facie stage. See e.g., Doe v. C.A.R.S.
Prot. Plus, Inc., 527 F.3d 358, 365 (3d Cir. 2008)
(“[T]he prima facie requirement for making a
Title VII claim ‘is not onerous' and poses ‘a
burden easily met.'” (quoting Texas Dep't
of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253, 1011089,
67 L.Ed.2d 207 (1981))).
Some circuits have found, albeit without much in the way of
explanation, that a plaintiff must prove but-for causation as
part of the prima facie case of retaliation. See
EEOC v. Ford Motor Co., 782 F.3d 753, 770
(6th Cir. 2015) (en banc); Ward v.
Jewell, 772 F.3d 1199, 1203 (10th Cir. 2014). We decline
now to heighten the plaintiff's prima facie
burden to meet her ultimate burden of persuasion. That is
because we agree with the Fourth Circuit that to do so
would be tantamount to eliminating the McDonnell
Douglas framework in retaliation cases . . . . If
plaintiffs can prove but-for causation at the prima
facie stage, they will necessarily be able to satisfy
their ultimate burden of persuasion without proceeding
through the pretext analysis. Had the Nassar Court
intended to retire McDonnell Douglas and set aside
40 years of precedent, it would have spoken plainly and
clearly to that effect.
Foster, 787 F.3d at 251. We conclude that at the
prima facie stage the plaintiff must produce
evidence “sufficient to raise the inference that her
protected activity was the likely reason for the adverse
[employment] action.” Kachmar v. SunGard Data
Systems, Inc., 109 F.3d 173, 177 (3d ...