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Ortiz v. Cedar Crest College

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

December 18, 2017

MICHAEL ORTIZ, Plaintiff,
v.
CEDAR CREST COLLEGE, Defendants.

          OPINION DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, ECF NO. 31 - GRANTED

          JOSEPH F. LEESON, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Michael Ortiz initiated this action on December 30, 2016, alleging that he was terminated by his former employer, Defendant Cedar Crest College, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1), and of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-634. Ortiz alleges that he was unlawfully terminated based solely on his age and national origin. Currently pending is the College's Motion for Summary Judgment, which asserts that Ortiz has failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination and that, regardless, the College had legitimate, non-pretextual reasons for his termination. Because Ortiz has not offered any evidence to establish a prima facie case of discrimination or to rebut the College's showing of legitimate non-discriminatory reasons, the motion is granted.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is appropriate “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). A disputed fact is “material” if proof of its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the case under applicable substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue of material fact is “genuine” if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id. at 257.

         The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue as to any material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once such a showing has been made, the non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings with affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories or the like in order to demonstrate specific material facts which give rise to a genuine issue. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986) (stating that the non-moving party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts”). The party opposing the motion must produce evidence to show the existence of every element essential to its case, which it bears the burden of proving at trial, because “a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The court must consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007).

         III. UNDISPUTED FACTS

         In support of its Motion for Summary Judgment, the College filed a Statement of Undisputed Material Facts. See Def.'s Stmt. Mat. Facts, ECF No. 33. Each fact is properly supported by a citation to the record. See Id. Ortiz, however, did not file a statement of material facts in opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment, as required by this Court's scheduling Order dated June 2, 2017, and by its Policies and Procedures, both of which outline the required content for briefs and responses to dispositive motions. See Policies and Procedures Section II(F), http://www.paed.uscourts.gov/documents/procedures/leepol.pdf; Order 2-3, ECF No. 14. The Order dated June 2, 2017, warned the parties that “[a]ll facts set forth in the moving party's statement of material facts may be taken by the Court as admitted unless controverted by the opposing party.” Order 3. Similarly, this Court's Policies and Procedures advise that “[a]ll facts set forth in the moving party's statement of undisputed facts shall be deemed admitted unless controverted.” Policies and Procedures Section II(F)(9). Thus, consistent with Rule 56(e)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the College's statement of material facts are deemed undisputed for purposes of this Opinion, subject to the qualification discussed below. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2) (providing that “[i]f a party . . . fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact as required by Rule 56(c), the court may . . . consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion”); Robinson v. N.J. Mercer County Vicinage - Family Div., 562 F. App'x 145, 147, 149 (3d Cir. 2014) (holding that the district court did not err in concluding that the defendants' material facts were undisputed where the plaintiff failed to oppose the defendants' statement of material facts); Schuenemann v. United States, No. 05-2565, 2006 U.S. App. LEXIS 4350, at *15 n.7 (3d Cir. 2006) (holding that the district court properly deemed the defendants' statement of facts as undisputed for purposes of deciding the motion for summary judgment where the plaintiff failed to respond to each numbered paragraph of the defendants' statements of fact). Although not required, this Court has considered Ortiz's unsworn declaration, which was attached to the response to the summary judgment motions, and to the extent that any of the averments made therein contradict any statement of material fact by the College, the statement will not be deemed unopposed.

         IV. ANALYSIS

         Disparate treatment claims brought under Title VII and the ADEA are analyzed using the three-step framework of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). Rabinowitz v. AmeriGas Partners, L.P., 252 F. App'x 524, 527 (3d Cir. 2007). “Under the McDonnell Douglas paradigm, an employee must first establish a prima facie case of discrimination, after which the burden shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its adverse employment decision.” Fasold v. Justice, 409 F.3d 178, 184 (3d Cir. 2005). “If the employer articulates one or more such reasons, the aggrieved employee must then proffer evidence that is sufficient to allow a reasonable finder of fact to find by a preponderance of the evidence that the employer's proffered reasons are false or pretextual.” Id. “It is important to note that although the burden of production may shift during the McDonnell Douglas inquiry, the ultimate burden of persuading the trier of fact that the [employer] intentionally discriminated against the [employee] remains at all times with the [employee].” Id.

         A. Events that occurred outside the time period for Ortiz to file an EEOC complaint are admissible to support his timely claim, which is based solely on his alleged unlawful termination.

         Because a plaintiff must file an EEOC complaint before bringing an action in federal court for employment discrimination, “events that occurred more than 300 days prior to the filing of an EEOC Charge are [generally] time-barred.” Elmarakaby v. Wyeth Pharm., Inc., No. 09-1784, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 41300, at *13-14 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 30, 2015). Hostile work environment claims are an exception to this general rule because “[t]heir very nature involves repeated conduct.” AMTRAK, 536 U.S. at 115. Thus, “[p]rovided that an act contributing to the claim occurs within the filing period, the entire time period of the hostile environment may be considered by a court for the purposes of determining liability.” Id. at 117. Another exception to the general rule, which is not limited to hostile work environment claims, is the continuing-violation doctrine. See McCann v. Astrue, 293 F. App'x 848, 850-51 (3d Cir. 2008) (holding that the continuing violations doctrine “applies when the alleged discriminatory acts are not individually actionable, but when aggregated may make out a hostile work environment claim”). This doctrine “provides that when a defendant's conduct is part of a continuing practice, an action is timely so long as the last act evidencing the continuing practice falls within the limitations period.” Tearpock-Martini v. Borough of Shickshinny, 756 F.3d 232, 236 (3d Cir. 2014) (internal quotations omitted). The “doctrine is understandably narrow.” Id.

         Ortiz does not argue that the continuing violation doctrine applies to his claim. Further, Ortiz is not pursuing a hostile work environment claim, [1] as he alleges only that his unlawful termination caused harm. Am. Compl. ¶ 25, ECF No. 7; Resp. Opp. Defs.'s Mot. Summ. Jdgmt. 1-3 and Ortiz Aff., ECF No. 36. Therefore, no discrete acts that occurred prior to November 20, 2015, see EEOC complaint, Ex. N, ECF No. 33-2, are actionable. Nevertheless, “the statute [does not] bar an employee from using the prior acts as background evidence in support of a timely claim.” AMTRAK v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 113 (2002); Elmarakaby, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 41300, at *13-16 (concluding that the prior discrete discriminatory acts alleged by the plaintiff colored the events surrounding his termination and could be used as background evidence to support his timely Title VII claims); Davis v. Gen. Accident Ins. Co. of Am., No. 98-4736, 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17356, at *8 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 1, 2000) (determining that even without the continuing violations theory, the discriminatory acts were admissible to support the plaintiff's timely allegations of adverse employment actions).

         B. Summary judgment is granted in favor of the College on ...


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