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Reutzel v. Answer Pro, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

August 5, 2019

ANSWER PRO, LLC, Defendant.



         On July 18, 2017, Plaintiff Marlene Reutzel filed a Complaint alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 P.S. § 951 et seq. (ECF No. 1). Defendant Answer Pro, LLC filed its Answer on October 18, 2017. (ECF No. 8). Following discovery, Answer Pro filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, seeking judgment in its favor on all claims, on December 14, 2018. (ECF No. 40). The parties provided Concise Statements of Material Facts and relevant appendices, (ECF Nos. 42-44, 50, 52, 56-57), and briefed the issues, (ECF Nos. 41, 48-49, 55). The Court heard oral argument on the Motion on May 29, 2019. (ECF No. 59). The Motion is now ripe for decision.

         For the following reasons, the Motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background

         In 1994, Marlene Reutzel began working for Pittsburgh Telephone Answering Service (PTAS). ECF No. 42, at ¶ 5. During Ms. Reutzel's employment with PTAS, she worked as the sole employee in the sales and marketing department, cultivating new clientele through a variety of sales techniques. Id. at ¶¶ 9-10. In addition to her responsibilities in sales and marketing, Ms. Reutzel, along with a handful of other PTAS employees, supervised and trained operators, attended weekly management meetings, answered calls at peak hours, and engaged in collections. Id. at ¶¶ 13-14, 16-19. Her compensation consisted of hourly wages and sales commissions. Id. at ¶ 10. After about two years at PTAS, Ms. Reutzel was given the title of Vice President of Sales and Marketing. Id. at ¶ 11. The change in title affected neither Ms. Reutzel's job duties nor her compensation. Id.

         Ms. Reutzel was subsequently diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in 1997, and she shared this news with two coworkers, Cheryl Holden and Vicki Bassler, shortly thereafter. Id. at ¶¶ 97-98. Ms. Reutzel's healthcare providers did not place, and have not since placed, any restrictions related to her MS diagnosis on Ms. Reutzel's work activity. Id. at ¶ 104.

         Nearly fifteen years after her diagnosis, in October 2012, Answer Pro acquired PTAS. Id. at ¶ 6. Answer Pro retained PTAS's employees, but it made changes to the business operations and structure. Id. at ¶¶ 7, 26. First, although Ms. Reutzel's job duties, including supervisory duties, remained mostly the same, Ms. Reutzel and others, who also held Vice President titles at PTAS, did not maintain their titles following Answer Pro's acquisition of the business. Id. at ¶¶ 20, 29. Second, around late November or early December 2012, Answer Pro's then-Executive Vice President, Thomas Halton, asked for weekly reports of certain sales data prior to the weekly management meetings. Id. at ¶¶ 40-41; ECF No. 44-1, at 15; ECF No. 44-4, at 11. To facilitate this, site manager Joseph Dickinson created an Excel spreadsheet for Ms. Reutzel to enter the weekly information. ECF No. 42, at ¶ 42. Third, Mr. Halton began running the weekly management meeting, and around January 2013, he decided to divide it into two meetings. Id. at ¶¶ 31, 33; ECF No. 44-3, at 7. One weekly meeting focused on sales activity, which Ms. Reutzel was asked to attend. ECF No. 42, at ¶¶ 33, 35. The second meeting focused on business operations, which other supervisors, who were responsible for the day-today operations of the call center, were asked to attend. Id. at ¶¶ 33, 38.

         In addition, around January or February 2013, Answer Pro implemented two new marketing initiatives targeting potential clients through the company's website and postcard mailers. Id. at ¶ 50; ECF No. 44-3, at 7. The owner of Answer Pro, George Otte, and Mr. Halton decided to keep these new marketing initiatives separate from the existing marketing activities. ECF No. 42, at ¶ 55. In order to track the results from those initiatives, inquiries from those initiatives were funneled to Mr. Halton, or to site manager Joseph Dickinson, or to employee Jonathan Dickinson. ECF No. 42, at ¶ 51. According to Answer Pro, if a caller indicated interest in engaging Answer Pro's services, that caller's information would then be forwarded to Ms. Reutzel to make the sale. Id. at ¶ 53.

         As to Mr. Halton's request that Ms. Reutzel report certain sales data in an Excel spreadsheet, Ms. Reutzel, who was not familiar with spreadsheets, had difficulty entering the requested information. Id. at ¶ 43; ECF No. 44-1, at 15. Ms. Reutzel would accidentally delete columns of information, and other information that she entered "would kind of disappear" from the spreadsheet. ECF No. 44-1, at 15-16, 18. After Ms. Reutzel submitted her first spreadsheet report, in or around November or December 2012, site manager Joseph Dickinson discussed these problems with her. Id. at 16; ECF No. 44-4, at 11. In response, she explained that she did not know how to use Excel, and asked Answer Pro to pay for her to take a class. ECF No. 42, at ¶ 44; ECF No. 44-1, at 16. Rather than agree to pay for her to take a class, Joseph Dickinson showed Ms. Reutzel how to use the spreadsheet and asked her to continue to "work on it on [her] own for a while." ECF No. 44-1, at 16-17. Shortly thereafter, Ms. Reutzel again had difficulty with the spreadsheet entries, resulting in a second conversation between Ms. Reutzel and Joseph Dickinson to address the issue. Id. at 16-18. Ms. Reutzel again asked if Answer Pro would pay for her to take a class on spreadsheets. Id. at 17. Joseph Dickinson directed Ms. Reutzel to provide the relevant data to employee Jonathan Dickinson, who would then enter the information into the spreadsheet. ECF No. 42, at ¶ 47. According to Joseph Dickinson, while Mr. Halton needed the sales information for the weekly management meeting, the process by which the information was provided was not a significant issue. ECF No. 44-4, at 11.

         On March 6, 2013, Ms. Reutzel was called into a meeting with Joseph Dickinson, Ms. Bassler, and Mr. Otte's secretary. ECF No. 42, at ¶ 63. At this meeting, Joseph Dickinson presented Ms. Reutzel with a memorandum, prepared in consultation with Mr. Halton, that listed several items concerning her job performance. Id. at ¶¶ 64-65. First, the memorandum addressed customer accounts for which Ms. Reutzel entered incorrect information into Answer Pro's software system. ECF No. 44-2, at 1. The incorrect data entry caused billing errors, and it had a negative impact on Answer Pro's ability to professionally serve those customers. Id. Next, the memorandum stated that customer order forms were not being filled out completely or correctly, and that names on new account forms did not match the names entered in the software system. Id. The memorandum also addressed a concern that Ms. Reutzel was not reporting phone calls for a specific customer account. Id. Finally, it noted that she was not timely turning in the weekly sales information. Id. Consequently, the memorandum advised Ms. Reutzel that she was expected to turn in sales reporting "on time and accurately," and that she was expected to make and report the necessary calls on a specific customer account. Id. Ms. Reutzel was also informed that she was no longer allowed to enter customer information into the software system. Id. Ms. Reutzel's "supervisor access"-the software function that allowed data entry-was thus removed. ECF No. 42, at ¶¶ 72, 78-79. Additionally, according to Ms. Reutzel, Joseph Dickinson informed her that the sales commissions for the accounts would be split between her and the data entry person. ECF No. 44-1, at 27. However, by the time Ms. Reutzel quit her job with Answer Pro three months later, commission-splitting had not occurred. Id. According to Answer Pro, the reallocation of data entry duties did not result in any change to Ms. Reutzel's compensation. ECF No. 42, at ¶ 77.

         On March 20, 2013-two weeks after the March 6 meeting and memorandum-during a conversation with Joseph Dickinson after a weekly sales meeting, Ms. Reutzel informed him that she has Multiple Sclerosis (MS).[1] ECF No. 42, at ¶ 99; ECF No. 44-1, at 31. Ms. Reutzel told no other Answer Pro employees about her diagnosis. ECF No. 42, at ¶ 100.

         In addition to her job performance-related issues and the changes to Answer Pro's business operations, Ms. Reutzel claims that throughout her employment with PTAS and later with Answer Pro, her fellow supervisors, Vicki Bassler and Cheryl Holden, harassed her. ECF No. 1, at ¶ 22; ECF No. 49, at 4. According to Ms. Reutzel, Ms. Bassler and Ms. Holden, in the presence of other employees, accused Ms. Reutzel of breaking office equipment. ECF No. 42, at ¶ 94. Ms. Holden testified, however, that Ms. Reutzel "breaking" things around the office was a friendly running joke in which Ms. Reutzel participated. ECF No. 44-6, at 5. Ms. Reutzel also claims that she was harassed on two other occasions. First, an employee complained that Ms. Reutzel had logged that employee out of the computer system and Ms. Holden confronted Ms. Reutzel about it. ECF No. 42, at ¶ 95. Second, in front of other employees, Ms. Bassler incorrectly accused Ms. Reutzel of not timely submitting a time slip and then required Ms. Reutzel to open the time slip box to see if it was there. Id. at ¶ 96.

         In April 2013, according to Ms. Reutzel, the "final straw" occurred "when she learned that she would no longer be getting any leads to turn into sales." ECF No. 49, at 4; see also ECF No. 50, at ¶¶ 56-58, 61. Ms. Reutzel concluded that this would negatively impact her sales commission. ECF No. 49, at 4. Answer Pro disputes that Ms. Reutzel stopped receiving sales leads. ECF No. 55, at 5. Additionally, although Ms. Reutzel's testimony as to the timeline of events is not clear, she claims that, sometime between March 20, 2013 and April 2013, Joseph Dickinson told her that the reason why some of her responsibilities, including sales leads, were given to Jonathan Dickinson, was to try "to remove some of [Ms. Reutzel's] stress" because of her MS diagnosis. ECF No. 52-1, at 27. Answer Pro disputes that this conversation ever occurred. ECF No. 56, at ¶ 111.

         Two months later, on June 21, 2013, Ms. Reutzel submitted her resignation, effective June 19, 2013, because she had secured employment elsewhere. ECF No. 42, at ¶¶ 106-07; ECF No. 44-2, at 4. She testified that had she not obtained other employment, she would have continued to work for Answer Pro. ECF No. 42, at ¶ 109. In October 2013, Ms. Reutzel filed charges of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. ECF No. 42, at ¶ 110. It was only when Mr. Halton and Mr. Otte were informed of the EEOC charges that they learned for the first time ...

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