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Hileman v. Penelec/First Energy Corp.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 27, 2017

ROSALYN A. HILEMAN, Plaintiff
v.
PENELEC/FIRSTENERGY CORPORATION, Defendants

          MEMORANDUM

          CHRISTOPHER C. CONNER, CHIEF JUDGE

         Plaintiff Rosalyn A. Hileman (“Hileman”) commenced this action against her former employer asserting claims of gender and race discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to 2000e-17. (See Doc. 1). Defendants seek summary judgment on each of Hileman's claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. (Doc. 29).

         I. Factual Background & Procedural History[1]

         Hileman began her employment with defendant Penelec (“Penelec”) in 1982, when she was hired as a teller at its Lewistown, Pennsylvania facility. (Doc. 30 ¶ 1; Doc. 37 ¶ 1).[2] In 1986, Hileman transferred to Penelec's Huntingdon, Pennsylvania location, where she assumed the role of “utility worker.” (Doc. 30 ¶ 3; Doc. 37 ¶ 3). At all times relevant to this matter, Thomas Bolinger (“Bolinger”) was Hileman's direct supervisor. (See Doc. 30 ¶ 4; Doc. 37 ¶ 4).

         A. Hileman's Initial Employment

         Hileman was a member of the Utility Workers Union of America Local 180 (“the Local 180”) throughout her tenure with Penelec. (Doc. 30 ¶ 24; Doc. 37 ¶ 24). A collective bargaining agreement negotiated between Penelec and the Local 180 governed employee pay rates. (Doc. 30 ¶¶ 25-27; Doc. 37 ¶¶ 25-27). In 1985, Penelec and the Local 180 established the utility worker position by merging then-existing crew clerk, operating clerk, and district storekeeper job descriptions. (Doc. 30 ¶ 28; Doc. 37 ¶ 28). A memorandum of understanding executed between Penelec and the Local 180 set compensation for employees hired to the new position at a lower rate than those working as operating clerks. (Doc. 30 ¶ 30; Doc. 37 ¶ 30; see also Doc. 31-13). Penelec planned to replace operating clerks with lower-paid utility workers as operating clerks retired. (Doc. 30 ¶ 31; Doc. 37 ¶ 31).

         Hileman took objection to Penelec's practice in this regard. Hileman believed that Penelec should have posted a “hybrid” utility worker position upon each operating clerk's retirement to be compensated at a rate higher than utility workers but lower than operating clerks (Doc 30 ¶ 32; Doc 37 ¶¶ 31-32) Hileman alternatively believed that at minimum utility workers should be compensated at the operating clerk rate when performing operating clerk job duties (Doc 30 ¶ 33; see Doc 37 ¶ 33) Hence when an operating clerk at the Huntingdon facility retired in 2005 Hileman began modifying her timesheets to reflect a higher pay rate when performing the retired clerk's duties (Doc 30 ¶¶ 33 35-36; Doc 37 ¶¶ 33 35-36) Hileman submitted these timesheets until approximately January of 2008 when management discovered her unauthorized practice and ordered her to stop unilaterally upgrading her pay rate (Doc 30 ¶ 37; Doc 37 ¶ 37)

         Hileman filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (“PHRC”) on July 8 2008 alleging that Penelec discriminated against her on the basis of race when it required her to reduce her pay to the utility worker rate for all work performed and failed to post the “hybrid position” she anticipated (Doc 30 ¶¶ 39-40; Doc 37 ¶¶ 39-40) She dual-filed her complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) (Doc 31-15 ¶ 25; see also Doc 30 ¶ 43; Doc 37 ¶ 43) Hileman received right-to-sue letters from both agencies but did not file suit (Doc 30 ¶ 43; Doc 37 ¶ 43)

         On February 10 2010 Hileman filed an internal complaint with Penelec's human resources department raising an assortment of claims (Doc 30 ¶ 44; Doc 37 ¶ 44) Hileman contended that she suffered race and gender discrimination on four occasions: first when Robbie Spencer (“Spencer”) a Caucasian woman received a raise to Hileman's pay rate without receiving proper training; second when Penelec disciplined Hileman for changing a timesheet to reflect paid sick leave instead of unpaid sick leave; third when management failed to remove a “sexually oriented” calendar posted by male employees; and fourth when management failed to post a “hybrid position” or authorize increased pay rates for utility workers performing operating clerk duties (a reprise of the 2008 PHRC complaint) (Doc 30 ¶ 44; Doc 37 ¶ 44) The record is vague as to whether or how the internal complaint resolved Except for the dispute appertaining operating clerk duties Hileman did not pursue this complaint with the PHRC or EEOC (Doc 30 ¶ 53; Doc 37 ¶ 53)

         B. Hileman's Termination

         Throughout the course of her employment Hileman worked in the same office area as Spencer who was employed as a utility worker-floater and Lea Ann Wray (“Wray”) a Caucasian woman employed as a customer service clerk (Doc 30 ¶ 5; Doc 37 ¶ 5) The office space included a radio which connected to the facility's public announcement system (Doc 30 ¶ 54; Doc 37 ¶ 54).

         On December 2 2010 Hileman returned to her desk after lunch and was preparing to take medication with a cup of juice (See Doc 30 ¶¶ 56 62; Doc 37 ¶¶ 56 62) When Hileman arrived at her desk she discovered that the radio had been turned off (Doc 30 ¶ 56; Doc 37 ¶ 56) Hileman asked Spencer why the radio was off and Spencer said that Bolinger (their mutual supervisor) turned it off to concentrate on his work (Doc 30 ¶ 57; Doc 37 ¶ 57) Spencer added that she too had difficulty concentrating with the radio turned on (Doc 30 ¶ 58; Doc 37 ¶ 58) Hileman rejoined by suggesting that Spencer and other employees disturbed her concentration by “carrying on” and “laughing loud” in the shared office space. (Doc 30 ¶ 59; Doc 37 ¶ 59) Wray joined the conversation and concurred with Spencer's opinion (Doc 30 ¶ 60; Doc 37 ¶ 60) Bolinger witnessed the dispute unfold from his office doorway (Doc 37 ¶ 60).

         Hileman attempted to deescalate the situation by walking away (Doc 30 ¶ 61; Doc 37 ¶ 61) Wray then taunted Hileman stating “you think you can just walk away from everything” as Hileman walked off (Doc 30 ¶ 61; Doc 37 ¶ 61) The parties dispute what transpired next According to defendants Hileman turned around and “threw her cup of juice all over Spencer” (Doc 30 ¶ 63) Hileman denies throwing the cup “directly at Spencer” (Doc 37 ¶ 63) She insists that she threw the cup toward the floor and that the juice “splattered up and onto Spencer” (Id.) In any event the parties agree that juice ended up on Spencer (Doc 30 ¶ 63; Doc 37 ¶ 63; see Docs 31-19 to -21) Spencer shouted that she had been “assaulted” by Hileman and Bolinger intervened before the situation could further devolve (Doc 30 ¶¶ 64-65; Doc 37 ¶¶ 64-65) Bolinger Hileman Spencer and Wray each drafted written statements describing the incident before Bolinger dismissed Hileman for the day (Doc 30 ¶¶ 66-67; Doc 37 ¶¶ 66-67) Spencer thereafter informed Bolinger that she feared for her “personal safety” as a result of the altercation (Doc 30 ¶ 68; Doc 37 ¶ 68).

         Bolinger and a representative from the Local 180 interviewed Hileman concerning the incident the following day (Doc 30 ¶ 69; Doc 37 ¶ 69) Randy Parson (“Parson”) Bolinger's supervisor and manager of the Huntingdon facility also participated in the interview (Doc 30 ¶ 69; Doc 37 ¶ 69) Hileman expressed that she became anxious during her conversation with Wray and Spencer and that she reached a “breaking point” (Doc 30 ¶ 69; Doc 37 ¶ 69) Penelec suspended Hileman without pay pending the results of its internal investigation (See Doc 30 ¶ 72; Doc 37 ¶ 72) By letter dated December 9 2010 Parson advised Hileman of defendants' decision to terminate her employment effective immediately (Doc 30 ¶ 75; Doc 37 ¶ 75) In his letter Parson cited Penelec's workplace violence policy as the basis for Hileman's termination (See Doc 30 ¶ 75; Doc 37 ¶ 75) That policy broadly proscribes violence by Penelec employees (Doc 31-27 at 20) Parson's letter also cited a workplace safety meeting Hileman attended two weeks prior to the altercation[3] (Doc 30 ¶ 75; Doc 37 ¶ 75).

         Hileman filed a grievance with the Local 180 contesting her termination (Doc 30 ¶ 77; Doc 37 ¶ 77) Hileman also dual-filed a complaint with the PHRA and EEOC on May 10 2011 claiming discriminatory and retaliatory discharge (Doc 30 ¶ 78; Doc 37 ¶ 78; see Doc 31-31 ¶ 44) Hileman's grievance thereafter proceeded to arbitration (Doc 30 ¶ 79; Doc 37 ¶ 79) In a written decision issued February 20 2012 the arbitrator sustained Hileman's grievance in part (See Doc 30 ¶ 81; Doc 37 ¶ 81) Specifically the arbitrator reinstated Hileman's employment but found that she was not entitled to back pay because of the seriousness of her misconduct (Doc 30 ¶¶ 81-82; Doc 37 ¶¶ 81-82) The arbitrator also found that Hileman was an “unknowing target” who had been “ganged up on” by her coworkers (Doc 31-32 at 20)

         C. Hileman's Reinstatement

         Penelec reinstated Hileman's employment on March 5 2012 (Doc 30 ¶ 89; Doc 37 ¶ 89) Hileman returned to work on March 12 2012 (Doc 30 ¶ 89; Doc 37 ¶ 89) Bolinger Parson and regional manager Sally Simmons (“Simmons”) decided to conduct workplace violence training on the day Hileman returned to work (Doc 30 ¶ 87; see also Doc 37 ¶ 87) Management intended the training at least in part to address Hileman's altercation with Spencer (Doc 30 ¶ 88; see also Doc 37 ¶ 88)

         Penelec hired a new utility worker-floater Vicki Kauffman (“Kauffman”) during Hileman's year-plus absence (See Doc 30 ¶ 98; Doc 37 ¶ 98) Management assigned Hileman's then-vacant workspace to Kauffman (See Doc 30 ¶ 98; Doc 37 ¶ 98) Prior to Hileman's return Bolinger Parson and Simmons discussed where to locate Hileman's new workspace to ensure that both she and Spencer would be “comfortable” (Doc 30 ¶ 101; see also Doc 37 ¶ 101) They chose to assign Hileman to a workspace located between Bolinger's and Wray's offices (Doc 30 ¶ 101; see Doc 37 ¶ 101) Hileman's new office space was separated from the reception area where she previously worked by “a few steps and a doorway” (Doc 30 ¶ 102; see eg Doc 31-35 at 1) Hileman found the new space to be “a cluttered mess ” likening it to a “storage closet” rather than an office (Doc 37 ¶¶ 101-02)

         The new workspace at first did not contain a computer or the requisite internet connection to support Hileman's job duties (See Doc 30 ¶¶ 107-08; Doc 37 ¶¶ 107-08) Bolinger requested a computer hook-up for Hileman and once alerted to the issue Simmons assigned an employee to resolve Hileman's computer issues as soon as possible (Doc 30 ¶¶ 111-12; Doc 37 ¶¶ 111-12) While Hileman waited for a computer system in her new workspace she used a computer in a storeroom office near the facility's garage (See Doc 30 ¶¶ 114-15; Doc 37 ¶¶ 114-15) The room had no air conditioning and poor ventilation (Doc 30 ¶ 116; Doc 37 ¶ 116) Kauffman eventually left the Huntingdon facility and Hileman asked to relocate to her former desk (Doc 30 ¶¶ 120-21; Doc 37 ¶¶ 120-21) Bolinger denied Hileman's request citing the proximity of her old workspace to Spencer's desk (Doc 30 ¶ 121; Doc 37 ¶ 121) When Hileman complained of rising temperatures in the storeroom office Bolinger moved the computer from that office to Hileman's new workspace (Doc 30 ¶ 117; Doc 37 ¶ 117)

         In April of 2012 Bolinger asked Hileman to work three shifts at Penelec's Lewistown facility to cover for a utility worker on sick leave (Doc 30 ¶ 122; Doc 37 ¶ 122) Spencer a utility worker-floater covered an additional 19 shifts (Doc 30 ¶ 127; Doc 37 ¶ 127) Bolinger testified that he assigned employees to cover the shifts based on availability and qualifications (Doc 30 ¶¶ 131-32; Doc 37 ¶¶ 131-32) Kauffman lived nearest to the Lewistown facility at the time but Bolinger did not assign shifts to her because as a new hire she was not qualified to perform the work (See Doc 30 ¶ 132; Doc 37-55 at 2) Bolinger stopped assigning Hileman to Lewistown shifts after she complained about the assignments to the Local 180 (Doc 30 ¶ 129; Doc 37 ¶¶ 122 129)

         Hileman also sought a pay increase for certain work performed after her reinstatement. At that time, both Hileman and Spencer shared duties for a vacant district storekeeper position. (Doc. 30 ¶¶ 133-34; Doc. 37 ¶¶ 133-34). Hileman and Spencer believed they should have been paid at the higher storekeeper rate when performing these duties. (Doc. 30 ¶ 135; Doc. 37 ¶ 135). When Penelec denied their requests for a pay increase, Hileman and Spencer filed grievances with the Local 180. (Doc. 30 ¶¶ 136-37; Doc. 37 ¶¶ 136-37). The union declined to pursue the grievances, finding that Hileman's and Spencer's job descriptions (and thus their pay rates) included the storekeeper duties they performed. (Doc. 30 ¶¶ 138-39; Doc. 37 ¶¶ 138-39).

         Hileman did not receive any negative performance reviews or discipline following her reinstatement. (Doc. 30 ¶ 118; Doc. 37 ¶ 118). She continued working at the Huntingdon facility until its closure in November of 2012. (Doc. 30 ¶ 118; Doc. 37 ¶ 118). From 2009 until the facility closed, Hileman and Spencer ...


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