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Veal v. American Hearing Aid Associates, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 30, 2018

RONDELL VEAL, Plaintiff,
v.
AMERICAN HEARING AID ASSOCIATES, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM

          Schiller, J.

         Rondell Veal was fired from his job at American Hearing Aid Associates, Inc. (“AHAA”) several months after he began to complain of racial discrimination and shortly after several coworkers reported that Veal had engaged in harassing behavior. After withdrawing his racial discrimination and hostile work environment claims, Veal's only remaining claims are retaliation under: (1) Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.; (2) 42 U.S.C. § 1981; and (3) the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 P.S. § 951 et seq. (“PHRA”). AHAA moves for summary judgment. For the following reasons, the motion is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Veal began working at AHAA as a sales representative in June 2016 following a strong interview with Stephanie Scott-Boyes, who became his supervisor. (See Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ¶¶ 5-9, 17.) Scott-Boyes is Caucasian. (Id. ¶ 4.) Veal is African-American. (Id. ¶ 2.)

         After initially performing well, Veal became embroiled in several disputes with coworkers. (See, e.g., Pl.'s Counter Statement of Material and Disputed Facts ¶¶ 6, 9, 31-33, 37.) On August 25, 2016, Veal confronted Scott-Boyes over an error in promotional materials he had been using. (Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ¶¶ 36-37.) Rather than speak with Veal in the open office area, Scott-Boyes asked to talk with Veal privately in the lunch room. (Id. ¶¶ 39-40.) There, according to Veal, Scott-Boyes began a “verbal bombardment.” (Pl.'s Counter Statement of Material and Disputed Facts ¶ 9.) In response to being yelled at, Veal “started putting [his] head down.” (Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. A (“Veal Dep.”) at 119:11-12.) Scott-Boyes then told Veal, “You need to watch how your face looks, ” and asked, “Did you get knocked upside your head a lot as a kid?” (Pl.'s Counter Statement of Material and Disputed Facts ¶ 10.)

         Veal explained at his deposition that he thought Scott-Boyes' treatment of him was “racist” because “I've been a manager before and you don't talk to people that way.” (Veal Dep. at 133:15-18.) He characterized Scott-Boyes as acting “like a young white woman in a room with a black man by herself” and having “a hissy fit.” (Id. at 133:20-22.) Veal claims that he had not seen Scott-Boyes treat non-African-American coworkers in the same way. (Pl.'s Counter Statement of Material and Disputed Facts ¶ 11.)

         On August 29, 2016, Veal asked to speak with Scott-Boyes about the confrontation. (Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ¶ 53.) He told Scott-Boyes that her comments on August 25 were “unprofessional” and “absurd.” (Id. ¶ 54.) Scott-Boyes then consulted Ernie Paolini, the director of human resources, and asked him to supervise the rest of their conversation. (Id. ¶¶ 55-56.) Veal repeated his belief to Paolini that Scott-Boyes had acted unprofessionally, but did not attribute her behavior to any bias. (Id. ¶¶ 57-58.) Paolini reprimanded Veal for his “insubordinate” behavior. (Id. ¶ 61.) From that point on, Veal felt ostracized by his coworkers.[1] (Id. ¶¶ 62-63.)

         On September 15, 2016, Veal complained of racial discrimination for the first time. Referencing the August 25 altercation with Scott-Boyes and subsequent meeting, he wrote to Paolini and Jodi Bryan, a human resources manager:

I have not received any follow up from either Stephanie [Scott-Boyes] or Ernie [Paolini] since our meeting. What I have instead received since said meeting has been very blatant and deliberate isolation techni[que]s coinciding with “whiteboard messages” that encouraged more isolation and other discriminative words and tactics. After Stephanie's actions and words on 8/25/16 along with much thought and weeks now of going through several discriminative actions and comments, from coworkers that should not have any knowledge of our meeting, I now see and feel my race and background are playing part in my current treatment at AHAA. I feel that after the comments that were made to me by Stephanie on 8/25/16 that were very offensive, discriminative and inexcusable especially in a work environment from your supervisor, and the support I did not receive when I expressed how uncomfortable I felt that day when I repeated them to Ernie on 8/29/16, my work environment has now become unprofessional and hostile towards me. I am asking HR for a prompt response and proper support in regards to correcting these current discriminations. Thank you!

(Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. M.)

         Bryan and Tina Soika, the president of AHAA, met with Veal shortly after he sent the email to discuss the alleged discrimination. (See Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ¶ 84; Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. O.) Soika told Veal that AHAA did not condone discrimination and that Bryan would investigate his claims. (Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ¶¶ 86-87.) Veal left the meeting feeling reassured, but he continued to feel ostracized by his coworkers. (See Id. ¶¶ 88-89.) After interviewing the employees involved, Bryan concluded that Scott-Boyes had acted unprofessionally during the August 25 meeting. (Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. P.) She counseled Scott-Boyes on appropriate workplace conduct and told Veal that a human resources representative would participate in any future meetings between Veal and Scott-Boyes. (Id.) Bryan could not confirm Veal's other complaints. (Id.)

         Veal continued to feel shunned by his coworkers, which he attributed to his race and gender. (See, e.g., Veal Dep. at 216:14-217:14 (stating that as a man in a sales role, he would “get certain looks” and that his female coworkers “had . . . less respect” for him).) In early November 2016, Veal and a coworker had a loud disagreement that prompted a manager to send them to human resources to resolve the dispute. (Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ¶¶ 119-20.) Veal did not attribute that dispute to racial bias. (See Id. ¶ 126.)

         On November 11, 2016, Veal confronted a different coworker, who he believed was “gossiping” about him. (Id. ¶ 128.) Veal did not know why the coworker, who is African-American, was talking about him, but he did not attribute the issue to bias or discrimination. (Id. ¶¶ 65, 136.) He told the coworker, “don't be cowardly, ” and suggested that his coworker's wife would disapprove of him “walking around, palling around with a bunch of women laughing at another man.” (Id. ¶¶ 129-31.) The coworker apologized and then sent an email to Bryan, the human resources manager, to report the incident. (Id. ¶¶ 135, 137.) He wrote that he “just had a very disturbing conversation with Rondell [Veal]” that “concern[ed] me very much.” (Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. S.) He recounted being cornered by Veal and wrote, “I can't say I was threatened but I did not feel exactly safe.” (Id.) Less than an hour later, another employee emailed Bryan to report the incident. (See Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. T.) She described Veal as “speaking and acting very aggressively” and “being very threatening.” (Id.) She noted that she “actually waited around the corner to listen if anything physical would happen.” (Id.)

         That same day, a third employee told Bryan about an incident from months earlier in which Veal seemed “erratic” and “enraged.” (Def.'s Statement of Material Facts ¶ 141.) Bryan told her to write down any complaints and send them to her by email. (Pl.'s Counter Statement of Material and Disputed Facts ¶ 43.) The employee reported “a pattern of . . . very erratic aggressive behavior, ” including ...


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