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Schreiber v. Moon Area School District

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh.

July 23, 2019

LORA L. SCHREIBER, Plaintiff,
v.
MOON AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant,

          OPINION

          MARILYN J. HORAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff, Lora L. Schreiber, ("Schreiber") brings claims of discrimination and retaliation under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and discrimination and retaliation under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA). (ECF No. 53). Her claims arise from allegations that Defendant, Moon Area School District ("District"), disparately treated her based upon age when it failed to hire her for certain positions, and it retaliated against her after she filed EEOC complaints and this lawsuit.

         Pending before the Court is the District's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 57). Upon Consideration of the Third Amended Complaint (ECF No. 53); the District's Answer and Affirmative Defenses (ECF No. 56); the District's Motion for Summary Judgment, Brief in Support, and Concise Statement of Material Facts with Appendix (ECF Nos. 57-62); Schreiber's Brief in Opposition, Counter Statement of Facts, and Appendix to Brief in Opposition (ECF Nos. 63-66); the District's Reply Brief and Response to Counter Statement of Facts (ECF No. 69-70); Schreiber's Sur-Reply Brief in Opposition and Supplement (ECF Nos. 74 and 75); and the arguments of counsel, the District's Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment may only be granted where the moving party shows that there is no genuine dispute about any material fact, and that judgment as a matter of law is warranted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, the court must enter summary judgment against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish an element essential to his or her case, and on which he or she will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In evaluating the evidence, the court must interpret the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, drawing all reasonable inferences in his or her favor. Watson v. Abington Twp., 478 F.3d 144, 147 (3d Cir. 2007).

         In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court's function is not to weigh the evidence, make credibility determinations, or determine the truth of the matter; rather, its function is to determine whether the evidence of record is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150-51 (2000) (citing decisions); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986); Simpson v. Kay Jewelers, Div. of Sterling, Inc., 142 F.3d 639, 643 n. 3 (3d Cir. 1998). The mere existence of a factual dispute, however, will not necessarily defeat a motion for summary judgment. Only a dispute over a material fact-that is, a fact that would affect the outcome of the suit under the governing substantive law-will preclude the entry of summary judgment. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 248.

         II. Standards for Discrimination and Retaliation Claims

         A. ADEA and PHRA Discrimination Claims

         Schreiber argues that the District discriminated against her based upon her age for several different permanent and long-term substitute teaching positions during the school years, 2013/2014, 2015/2016, 2016/2017, and 2017/2018. The Third Circuit has stated that the same standards should apply under both the ADEA and PHRA. See Kautz v. Met Pro Corp., 412 F.3d 463, 465 (3d Cir. 2005). Under the burden shifting framework of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973), Schreiber has the initial burden to establish a prima facie case of age discrimination. See Burton v. Teleflex Inc., 707 F.3d 417, 425-26 (3d Cir.2013). To establish a prima facie case of age discrimination, based on a failure to hire, a plaintiff must show that: (1) she is forty years of age or older; (2) the defendant failed to hire [her]; (3) [she] was qualified for the position in question; and (4) conditions giving rise to an inference of discrimination accompanied the failure to hire [her]. Landmesser v. Hazleton Area Sch. Dist., 574 Fed.Appx. 188, 189 (3d Cir.2014) (citing Sarullo v. U.S. Postal Serv., 352 F.3d 789, 797 (3d Cir.2003)). For the purposes of summary judgment, the District concedes that Schreiber will be able to meet her prima facie burden.

         Thus, the burden of production shifts to the District "to offer a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason" for its employment decisions, and, if the District meets this "relatively light" burden, the burden shifts back to Schreiber to present sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that the employment decision was a pretext for discrimination. Id.; see also Fuentes v. Perskie, 32 F.3d 759 (3d Cir.1994). Despite the burden-shifting procedure, Schreiber retains the burden of persuasion to prove that she was not hired by the District "but for" or "because of" her age. Smith v. City of Allentown, 589 F.3d 684, 691 (3d Cir.2009).

         Next, the plaintiff has the burden of persuasion to prove "that the alleged reasons proffered by the defendant were pretextual and that the defendant intentionally discriminated against the plaintiff." Mil v. Avdel Corp., 873 F.2d 701, 706 (3d Cir. 1989) (citing Texas Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 252-53, 101 S.Ct. 1089, 67 L.Ed.2d 207 (1981)). To survive summary judgment, the plaintiff "must point to some evidence, direct or circumstantial, from which a factfinder could reasonably either (1) disbelieve the employer's articulated legitimate reasons; or (2) believe that an invidious discriminatory reason was more likely than not a motivating or determinative cause of the employer's action," Fuentes v. Perskie, 32 F.3d 759, 764 (3d Cir. 1994) (citations omitted). To discredit the employer's articulated reason, the plaintiff need not produce evidence that necessarily leads to the conclusion that the employer acted for discriminatory reasons nor produce additional evidence beyond her prima facie case. Sempier v. Johnson & Higgins, 45 F.3d 724, 732 (3d Cir.1995); Fuentes, 32 F.3d at 764. The plaintiff must, however, point to "weaknesses, implausibilities, inconsistencies, incoherencies, or contradictions in the employer's proffered legitimate reasons [such] that a reasonable factfinder could rationally find them 'unworthy of credence'" and hence infer that the proffered nondiscriminatory reason "did not actually motivate" the employer's action. Id. at 764-65 (quoting Ezold, 983 F.2d at 531). To show that discrimination was more likely than not a cause for the employer's action, the plaintiff must point to evidence having sufficient probative force that a factfinder could conclude by a preponderance of the evidence that age was a motivating or determinative factor in the employment decision. Keller v. Orix Credit Alliance, Inc., 130 F.3d 1101, 1111 (3dCir.1997).

         B. ADEA and PHRA Retaliation Claims

          Schreiber contends that the District retaliated when it failed to hire her for the three school years after she filed her EEOC charges. Under the McDonnell Douglas framework, a plaintiff asserting a retaliation claim first must establish a prima facie case by showing "(1) [that she engaged in] protected employee activity; (2) adverse action by the employer either after or contemporaneous with the employee's protected activity; and (3) a causal connection between the employee's protected activity and the employer's adverse action." Marra v. Phila. Hous. Auth, 497 F.3d 286, 300 (3d Cir.2007) (quoting Fogleman v. Mercy Hosp. Inc., 283 F.3d 561, 567-68 (3d Cir.2002)). If the plaintiff makes these showings, the burden of production of evidence shifts to the employer to present a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for having taken the adverse action. Id. If the employer advances such a reason, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to demonstrate that "the employer's proffered explanation was false, and that retaliation was the real reason for the adverse employment action." Id. (quoting Moore, 461 F.3d at 342). Although the burden of production of evidence shifts back and forth, the plaintiff has the ultimate burden of persuasion at all times. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 143, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 2106, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000).

         The District concedes that Schreiber engaged in protected activities by filing EEOC charges, Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) charges, and in filing this lawsuit, and that she suffered an adverse action by the District. However, the District contends that Schreiber is unable to present evidence of any causal links between the filings of the administrative complaints and/or of this lawsuit and the District's decisions to not hire her. Schreiber argues that this element is demonstrated by the pretextual nature of the District's rationale for denying her the positions. Further, Schreiber argues that the District's decisionmakers knew of her charges and the lawsuit when the District did not hire her for the subsequent positions. The District admits that its purported decisionmakers knew of Schreiber's EEOC charges and of this lawsuit prior to the interviews at issue. (ECF No. 65 at ¶¶ 191-204).

         As to causation, the Third Circuit has stated that it considers "a broad array of evidence in determining whether a sufficient causal link exists [for a plaintiff] to survive a motion for summary judgment." Daniels v. Sch Dist of Philadelphia, 776 F.3d 181, 196 (3d Cir. 2015) (citations omitted). To demonstrate a link between protected activity and an employer's adverse action, a plaintiff may rely on the temporal proximity between the two if "unusually suggestive." Id. If there is no temporal proximity, the Court considers "the circumstances as a whole, including any intervening antagonism by the employer, inconsistencies in the reasons the employer gives for its adverse action, and any other evidence suggesting that the employer had a retaliatory animus when taking the adverse action." Id. As in Marconi, the temporal proximity in this case is less straightforward because the time between the protected activities and subsequent interviews was a function of the District's cyclical hiring schedule, based upon the nature of school staffing needs. Thus, the Court must consider each hiring decision in light of the circumstances as a whole in order to assess for a prima facie case.

         Once a prima facie case is shown, the burden shifts to consider the legitimate non-retaliatory reasons and pretext analysis. The same standards and analysis under the discrimination claims apply for the retaliation claims. The Court will evaluate both the discrimination and ...


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