United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
EDUARDO C. ROBRENO, J.
Dargeeling Leonard brings this case against her former
employers, TJUH System, Thomas Jefferson University
Hospitals, Inc., and TJU Hospitals, Inc. (collectively,
“TJUH”), alleging she was discriminated against
because of her race and age, retaliated against for
complaining about the discrimination, and subjected to a
hostile work environment. TJUH has moved for summary judgment
on all claims. Leonard has failed either to make out a prima
facie case or to show pretext. The Court will grant
TJUH's motion for summary judgment as to all counts.
FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
was employed by TJUH in the Sleep Center as a polysomnography
technician for approximately eleven years before she was
terminated on April 11, 2016. During that time, Leonard was
formally disciplined numerous times, including once for
failing to record certain data properly, which resulted in a
safety violation (incident on October 24, 2015, disciplinary
action on January 28, 2016), and once for failing to appear
for a scheduled shift (incident on December 29, 2015, action
on January 7, 2016). Leonard was placed on a first
Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”) in February
2014, which she successfully completed. An annual performance
evaluation ending in June 2015 noted a decline in her work
quality, including incorrect orders and inaccurate or missing
documentation. Leonard was placed on a second PIP in August
2015. TJUH claims that it terminated Leonard for failing to
complete the second PIP successfully.
alleges that TJUH discriminated against her, retaliated
against her, and subjected her to a hostile work environment.
In particular, Leonard alleges that other younger, white
employees were not held to the same performance standards, as
demonstrated by a March 2015 statistical analysis of the
errors made by Sleep Center workers. Leonard also alleges
that a comment made by her supervisor, Robert Tavella, about
people who are 55 years old shows that she was discriminated
against on the basis of her age. She alleges that she was
retaliated against for reporting instances of discrimination,
as shown by her termination less than a year later. Finally,
she alleges a hostile work environment based on the same
conduct that supports her other claims, and other incidents
involving her co-workers, including sabotage and being
isolated by them.
timely filed charges of race and age discrimination and
retaliation against TJUH with the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) and The
Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. The EEOC issued
Leonard a right-to-sue letter on February 3, 2017. Leonard
timely filed her complaint in this matter, bringing claims
under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C.
§ 2000e et seq.), the Age Discrimination in Employment
Act of 1967 (“ADEA”) (29 U.S.C. § 621 et
seq.), and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (43 Pa. Cons.
Stat. § 951 et seq.). With leave of the Court, Leonard
filed a Second Amended Complaint, which added the claim of
hostile work environment. Pending before the Court is
TJUH's motion for summary judgment on all claims.
judgment will be granted where there is no genuine dispute as
to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is
“material” if it affects the outcome of a case.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
(1986). A dispute is “genuine” if a reasonable
factfinder looking at the evidence could decide in favor of
the nonmoving party. Id. “A motion for summary
judgment will not be defeated by ‘the mere
existence' of some disputed facts, but will be denied
when there is a genuine dispute of material fact.” Am.
Eagle Outfitters v. Lyle & Scott Ltd., 584 F.3d
575, 581 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at
Court analyzes the record in the light most favorable to the
nonmoving party. Pignataro v. Port Auth. of N.Y. &
N.J., 593 F.3d 265, 268 (3d Cir. 2010). The moving party
carries the initial burden of demonstrating no genuine issue
of material fact. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. If this
requirement is met, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party
who must “set forth specific facts showing that there
is a genuine issue” and that the case should proceed to
Title VII and ADEA Claims at Summary Judgment
plaintiff who lacks direct evidence of race or age
discrimination may prevail under the three-part
burden-shifting framework established by McDonnell
Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-03 (1973). See
Burton v. Teleflex Inc., 707 F.3d 417, 425-27 (3d
Cir. 2013). The burden-shifting framework concerns burdens of
production. Id. The burden of persuasion, however,
remains with the plaintiff at all times. St. Mary's
Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 507 (1993).
a plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of
discrimination or retaliation. Burton, 707 F.3d at 426.
“To establish a prima facie case at summary judgment,
‘the evidence must be sufficient to convince a
reasonable factfinder to find all of the elements of [the]
prima facie case.'” Id. (alteration in
original) (quoting Duffy v. Paper Magic Grp., 265
F.3d 163, 167 (3d Cir. 2001)). “If a plaintiff fails to
raise a genuine dispute of material fact as to any of the
elements of the prima facie case, she has not met her initial
burden, and summary judgment is properly granted for the
defendant.” Id. (citing Geraci v.
Moody-Tottrup, Int'l, Inc., 82 F.3d 578, 580 (3d
Cir. 1996)). A plaintiff “has established a prima facie
case when sufficient evidence is offered such that the court
can infer that if the employer's actions remain
unexplained, it is more likely than not that such actions
were based on impermissible reasons.” EEOC v. Metal
Serv. Co., 892 F.2d 341, 348 (3d Cir. 1990).
plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the burden of
production shifts to the defendant to proffer a legitimate
non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment action.
Burton, 707 F.3d at 426. “This burden is
‘relatively light' and is satisfied if the employer
provides evidence, which, if true, would permit a conclusion
that it took the adverse employment action for a
non-discriminatory reason.” Id. (quoting
Tomasso v. Boeing Co., 445 F.3d 702, 706 (3d Cir.
defendant provides a legitimate non-discriminatory reason,
the burden of production then shifts back to the plaintiff
“to provide evidence from which a factfinder could
reasonably infer that the employer's proffered
justification is merely a pretext for discrimination.”
Id. (citing Fuentes v. Perskie, 32 F.3d
759, 764-65 (3d Cir. 1994)). A plaintiff can show pretext by
adducing “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.” Id. at 427 (citing Fuentes, 32 F.3d
challenge an employer's proffered reason and allow a
factfinder to disbelieve the defendant, the plaintiff must
produce evidence that shows “such weaknesses,
implausibilities, inconsistencies, incoherencies, or
contradictions in the employer's proffered legitimate
reasons for its action that a reasonable factfinder could
rationally find them ‘unworthy of credence.'”
Id. (quoting Fuentes, 32 F.3d at 765).
allow a factfinder to believe an invidious discriminatory
reason, the plaintiff must show that “(1) the defendant
previously discriminated against the plaintiff; (2) the
defendant discriminated against others within the
plaintiff's protected class; or (3) the defendant has
treated similarly situated . . . individuals more
favorably.” Willis v. UPMC Children's Hosp. of
Pittsburgh, 808 F.3d 638, 645 (3d Cir. 2015).
plaintiff fails to make a showing of pretext, summary
judgment is awarded to the defendant. Burton, 707 F.3d at
426-27 (citing Doe v. C.A.R.S. Prot. Plus, Inc., 527
F.3d 358, 364 (3d Cir. 2008)).
Time Bar on Actionable Incidents
threshold matter, only adverse employment actions that are
timely under Title VII, ADEA, and the PHRA may be considered.
In states where an agency may grant relief for federally
prohibited employment discrimination, such as Pennsylvania, a
plaintiff must file claims with the EEOC within 300 days of
the alleged unlawful employment practice. 42 U.S.C. §
2000e-5(e)(1); Watson v. Eastman Kodak Co., 235 F.3d
851, 854 (3d Cir. 2000); see also Koller v. Abington
Mem'l Hosp., 728 Fed.Appx. 136, 138 n.1 (3d Cir.
discriminatory acts “must be raised within the
applicable limitations period or they will not support a
lawsuit.” O'Connor v. City of Newark, 440
F.3d 125, 127 (3d Cir. 2006). Thus, Leonard is barred from
challenging incidents that happened before June 23, 2015 (300
days prior to Leonard's EEOC filing on April 18, 2016).
applied to Leonard's claims, she may only challenge the
following incidents: the second PIP (August 2015), the two
disciplinary actions in January 2016, and her termination in
Plaintiff has failed to establish a prima facie case
plaintiff can establish a prima facie case of race
discrimination under Title VII by showing: (1) she is a
member of a protected class; (2) she was qualified for the
position in question; (3) she suffered an adverse employment
action; and (4) that adverse employment action gives rise to
an inference of unlawful discrimination. Jones v. Sch.