United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
employment discrimination case, plaintiff Frank Johnson
alleges that he was terminated by defendants, Verizon
Services Corporation and Verizon Data Services LLC,
(collectively “Verizon”) because of his race.
Johnson, the only African-American employee in his
department, was terminated during a reduction-in-force after
a thirty-three year career at Verizon. Johnson asserts claims
of race discrimination and retaliation under 42 U.S.C. §
1981 and the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance, Phila.
Code §§ 9-1100. Verizon has filed a motion for
summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, Verizon's
Motion for Summary Judgment is denied.
relevant facts as set forth in evidence submitted by the
parties are as follows. Johnson's career at Verizon began
in May 1979 when he was hired as a Service Representative by
Verizon's predecessor. SOF ¶ 1. Johnson spent his
first twenty-eight years with Verizon filling various
positions, including systems analyst and, after promotion,
tech manager. Pl. SOF ¶ 9; Resp., Ex. A, Dep. of Frank
Johnson (“Johnson Dep.”), Nov. 21, 2016,
27:21-25. In 2009, Johnson began working in Verizon's IT
Data Security Department on the code review team, where he
was responsible for identifying errors and vulnerabilities in
computer applications, recoding, and performing other duties.
Pl. SOF ¶¶ 11, 16.
proficiency rankings of employees on the code review team
started with Member Technical Staff (MTS), progressed to
Senior Member Technical Staff (SMTS), and culminated in
Distinguished Member Technical Staff (DMTS). Pl. SOF ¶
13, fn. 2. Johnson was initially classified as an SMTS but
was promoted to DMTS, the highest ranking available in the IT
Department. Pl. SOF ¶ 13. To achieve this promotion,
Johnson's performance had to be rated “above
satisfactory.” Pl. SOF ¶ 14. Johnson was the
highest ranked member of the code review team. Pl. SOF ¶
approximately 2010 to 2013, Johnson worked under the
supervision of George Turrentine, manager of application
security. Pl. SOF ¶ 15. During this period, Johnson
claims that Turrentine treated and interacted with white
employees in a friendlier and more professional manner than
he did with non-white employees. Pl. SOF ¶ 29. In
Johnson's 2010 performance review, Turrentine commented
that Johnson produces “good solid work, ” and
that he was “beginning to share his wealth of
experience and skills-helping to grow the team. I believe he
downplays his involvement and expertise-his humbleness and
quiet strength of knowledge is refreshing.” Resp., Ex.
L. Two years later, in June 2012, Turrentine stated in
Johnson's performance review that “[Johnson] is a
very talented employee-with a wealth of knowledge and
experiences.” Resp., Ex. N.
these positive reviews, Johnson was notified on January 17,
2013, that he would be terminated, effective February 15,
2013, as part of a reduction-in-force (“RIF”).
Pl. SOF ¶¶ 35-36. While Turrentine states that he
considered all of the employees on the code review team for
termination, no other member was fired. Pl. SOF ¶¶
37-39. The five retained team members performed similar work
to Johnson, were supervised by Turrentine, had less
experience than Johnson, and were not African-American. Pl.
SOF ¶¶ 40-43. In determining who to terminate as
part of the RIF, Turrentine did not use any specific standard
because he “owned the department so [he] knew what was
required to do [the] job.” Turrentine Dep. 39:20-23.
Instead, he “put together a table of pros and cons on
all the employees.” Id. at 37:4-6. On that
list, Turrentine claims that he wrote Johnson “lack[ed]
knowledge of distributed systems and that include[d] their
languages.” Id. at 38:20-22. Turrentine
destroyed the list approximately six months after
Johnson's termination because Verizon's
“retention policy says that [employees] have to clear
out stuff after a certain period of time.” Id.
at 37:16-23. Accordingly, no physical record of why Johnson
was terminated exists.
January 31, 2013, days after Johnson was informed of his
imminent termination, Turrentine rated Johnson as
“performing, ” indicating that he met objectives,
requirements, and expectation, and periodically exceeded
them. Resp., Ex. O. He also commented that
Johnson “continues to be a very talented employee-and
has improved in his sharing of information.”
March 3, 2016, Johnson filed suit, alleging discrimination on
the basis of race and retaliation under 42 U.S.C. § 1981
and the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance. Verizon filed
its Motion for Summary Judgment on March 3, 2017. As stated
in his Response, Johnson “has decided not to proceed on
his retaliation claim.” Pl. SOF ¶ 6, fn. 1. Thus,
the Court will only consider Johnson's race
discrimination claim in this Memorandum.
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.
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.” Id. 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). However, the
party opposing summary judgment must identify evidence that
supports each element on which it has the burden of proof.
Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322.
claims of race discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and
the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance are governed by the
same legal standard applicable to claims brought under Title
VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Jones v. Sch. Dist.
of Phila., 198 F.3d 403, 410 (3d Cir. 1999); Joseph
v. Continental Airlines, Inc., 126 F.Supp.2d 373, 376
n.3 (E.D. Pa. 2000). Claims of race discrimination under
Title VII are evaluated using the McDonnell Douglas
three-step framework. Jones v. Se. Pa. Transp.
Auth., 796 F.3d 323, 325-26 (3d Cir. 2015). The Court
first evaluates “whether the plaintiff has stated a
prima facie case of discrimination or retaliation; if [the
plaintiff] has, [the Court] ask[s] whether the employer ...