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Ashton v. Sci-Fayette

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

June 13, 2018

CHRISTY ASHTON, Plaintiff,
v.
SCI-FAYETTE, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, and JOSEPH TREMPUS, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Nora Barry Fischer United States District Judge.

         I. Introduction

         Pending before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants, SCI-Fayette, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (“SCI-Fayette”), Joseph Trempus (“Trempus”) and Brian Coleman (“Coleman”)[1] (collectively, “Defendants”). (Docket No. 29). For the reasons that follow, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted.

         II. Background

         On December 1, 2016, Christy Ashton (“Plaintiff”) filed suit against her employer, SCI-Fayette, along with Coleman, who was the former Superintendent at SCI-Fayette, and Trempus, who was the Intelligence Captain at SCI-Fayette. Plaintiff originally asserted claims against all Defendants for subjecting her to a sexually hostile work environment (Count I) and retaliating against her (Count II) in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as well as the same under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”) (Count III). Plaintiff also asserted an invasion of privacy claim against Trempus (Count IV).

         In response to Defendants' Partial Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim, Plaintiff withdrew the Title VII claims against Coleman and Trempus, the PHRA claim against SCI-Fayette and the invasion of privacy claim against Trempus. (Docket No. 10). The Court entered an Order on March 20, 2017, dismissing Counts I and II against Coleman and Trempus, dismissing Count III against SCI-Fayette and dismissing Count IV in its entirety. (Docket No. 11).

         On February 16, 2018, Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment as to Plaintiff's remaining claims. (Docket No. 29). Plaintiff indicated in her Opposition Brief that she was withdrawing her sexual harassment claim set forth in Counts I and III as to all Defendants. (Docket No. 37 at 3). The Court entered an Order on April 17, 2018, dismissing Count I in its entirety and dismissing Count III as it relates to sexual harassment. (Docket No. 40).

         On May 31, 2018, the Court held oral argument on Defendants' summary judgment motion as to Plaintiff's only remaining claim for retaliation (Count II against SCI-Fayette and Count III against Coleman and Trempus). (Docket No. 42). At that time, Plaintiff's counsel confirmed that she had abandoned all claims asserted against Coleman. (See infra at 9, n.7). The Court subsequently entered an order dismissing the retaliation claim against Coleman (Count III) and dismissing Plaintiff's complaint against him in its entirety with prejudice. (Docket No. 43).

         Defendants have argued in briefing and at oral argument that summary judgment should be entered in their favor because Plaintiff has failed to establish a prima facie case of retaliation. (See Docket No. 30 at 13-16). Even if Plaintiff had done so, Defendants contend that they had legitimate, non-retaliatory reasons for their employment actions, which Plaintiff has failed to rebut. (See id. at 16-17). Plaintiff counters that she has met her prima facie burden, and Defendants' stated reasons for their employment actions were nothing more than a pretext for retaliation. (See Docket No. 37 at 3-7).

         The parties indicated at oral argument that they did not wish to submit any supplemental briefing on the issues raised by Defendants' summary judgment motion. Accordingly, the matter is now ripe for disposition.

         III. Relevant Facts[2]

         In 2001, Plaintiff began working at the Department of Corrections (“DOC”) as a clerk typist, a position she still holds at present. (Defs.' Concise Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (hereinafter, “Defs.' SUMF”) (Docket No. 31) ¶ 1; Pl.'s Counter Statement of Material Facts (hereinafter, “Pl.'s CSMF”) (Docket No. 36) ¶ 1). As relevant here, Plaintiff worked at SCI-Greene from 2005 to 2009, and she has worked at SCI-Fayette from September 14, 2013, to the present. (Defs.' SUMF ¶ 2; Pl.'s CSMF ¶ 2). Coleman was the Deputy Superintendent at SCI-Greene until March 2008, and then he became Superintendent at SCI-Fayette, where he remained until July 2015. (Defs.' SUMF ¶¶ 3, 4; Pl.'s CSMF ¶¶ 3, 4). Trempus was the Intelligence Captain at SCI-Fayette in 2015, when the events at issue took place. (Defs.' SUMF ¶ 6; Pl.'s CSMF ¶ 6).

         Plaintiff alleges that Coleman made unwanted sexual advances toward her when she worked at SCI-Greene years earlier, but she admits that she never complained about Coleman's conduct at any time. (Compl. (Docket No. 1) ¶ 13; Defs.' SUMF ¶ 11; Pl.'s CSMF ¶ 11). Nevertheless, after Plaintiff transferred to SCI-Fayette's Education Department in 2013, Plaintiff alleges that she was reprimanded for tardiness in retaliation for previously refusing Coleman's sexual advances. (Compl. ¶¶ 18, 20, 24). Plaintiff admits, however, that she was tardy on five occasions, and there was no change in her employment as a result of the reprimand. (Defs.' SUMF ¶¶ 27, 28, 30; Pl.'s CSMF ¶¶ 27, 28, 30).

         Plaintiff further alleges that Corrections Officer (“CO”) Dan Gregg made unwanted sexual advances toward her in January 2015. (Compl. ¶ 25). After Plaintiff declined CO Gregg's advances, she alleges that an unknown employee of SCI-Fayette called the wife of CO William Zosky, claimed that Plaintiff was having a sexual relationship with CO Zosky, and provided the personal telephone number for Plaintiff's husband, Pennsylvania State Police (“PSP”) Trooper Jason Ashton. (Compl. ¶¶ 26, 31; Defs' SUMF ¶ 31; Pl.'s CSMF ¶ 31). Plaintiff asserts that her husband's personal telephone number was disclosed to the unknown employee in retaliation for her previous refusal of Coleman's sexual advances. (Compl. ¶ 34).

         On February 4, 2015, Plaintiff submitted to Trempus a written statement alleging sexual harassment against CO Gregg. (Defs.' SUMF ¶ 37; Pl.'s CSMF ¶ 37). Plaintiff claims that she subsequently was reassigned to the Medical Department, yet CO Gregg was not disciplined, and Trempus did not investigate her complaint in retaliation for her previous refusal of Coleman's sexual advances, filing the complaint against CO Gregg and cooperating in the internal investigation of another employee's sexual harassment claim. (Compl. ¶¶ 38, 39, 42, 43).

         Despite Plaintiff's claim that no investigation occurred, Trempus took statements from her and CO Gregg relative to the complaint. (Trempus Dep. (Docket No. 32-3, Ex. 4) at 58-60; Pl.'s Stmt. of 2/4/15 (Docket No. 32-4, Ex. 9); CO Gregg's Stmt. of 2/5/15 (Docket No. 32-4, Ex. 26)). In addition, on February 12, 2015, Plaintiff met with Tina Walker, who was SCI-Fayette's Field Human Resources Officer. (Defs.' SUMF ¶ 58; Pl.'s CSMF ¶ 58). Plaintiff stated that she did not feel threatened or feel that she faced a hostile work environment, but Walker told Plaintiff to contact her if that changed. (Defs.' SUMF ¶¶ 59, 62; Pl.'s CSMF ¶¶ 59, 62). SCI-Fayette subsequently turned over the investigation of Plaintiff's complaint against CO Gregg to the DOC's Office of Special Investigations and Intelligence (“OSII”) as part of a larger ongoing investigation of misconduct in the Education Department.[3] (Defs.' SUMF ¶ 64; Trempus Dep. at 60-61, 85). OSII ultimately was unable to substantiate Plaintiff's claim against CO Gregg. (Defs.' SUMF ¶ 70; Pl.'s CSMF ¶ 70).

         After Plaintiff was transferred to the Medical Department, [4] her supervisor removed the telephone from her desk because she frequently used it for personal calls. (Defs.' SUMF ¶¶ 80, 81; Pl.'s CSMF ¶ 80). Plaintiff disputes this, claiming that the telephone was removed in retaliation for previously refusing Coleman's sexual advances, filing the complaint against CO Gregg and cooperating in the other internal investigation. (Compl. ¶¶ 44, 46). Nevertheless, there was a telephone available for Plaintiff's use outside of her office door, and her desk telephone was subsequently restored. (Defs.' SUMF ¶¶ 82, 85; Pl.'s CSMF ¶ 85).

         On March 25, 2015, Plaintiff sent an email to Trempus, with a copy to her husband's PSP email address, complaining about the investigation of her claim against CO Gregg and asking her husband to inquire at his barracks in case she wanted the PSP to get involved in the investigation. (Defs.' SUMF ¶¶ 89, 90, 93; Pl.'s CSMF ¶¶ 89, 90, 93). Trempus then called Trooper Ashton's PSP supervisor to tell him that the DOC was handling the investigation and that Trooper Ashton should not be involved in it.[5] (Defs.' SUMF ¶ 96; Pl.'s CSMF ¶ 96). Although Trempus testified that he called Trooper Ashton's supervisor to prevent outside meddling in the OSII investigation, (see Trempus Dep. at 128-134, 138), Plaintiff claims that he did so in retaliation for her filing the complaint against CO Gregg. (Compl. ¶ 50).

         In August 2016, Plaintiff applied for a mail inspector job at SCI-Fayette, but she was not hired for it. (Defs.' SUMF ¶¶ 114, 117; Pl.'s CSMF ¶ 114). Plaintiff claims that a less qualified candidate was hired for the job, but she admits that her only prior experience was filling in at another mailroom fifteen years earlier and her work as a clerk typist. (Compl. ¶ 52; Defs.' SUMF ¶ 119; Pl.'s CSMF ¶ 119). Plaintiff contends that she was not awarded the position in retaliation for previously refusing Coleman's sexual advances, filing the complaint against CO Gregg and cooperating in the other internal investigation. (Compl. ¶ 54).

         Plaintiff is still employed as a clerk typist in SCI-Fayette's Medical Department, her salary and benefits have not been reduced, and she has not received any discipline other than the reprimand for tardiness in 2013. (Defs.' SUMF ¶¶ 121-123; Pl.'s CSMF ¶¶ 121-123). However, Plaintiff alleges that her work performance is overly scrutinized and she is assigned more work than other similarly situated employees in retaliation for previously refusing Coleman's ...


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