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Nunan v. County of Chester

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

August 23, 2019

AIDEN FRANCIS NUNAN, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF CHESTER, Defendant.

          OPINION

          Slomsky, Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On June 30, 2015, Defendant County of Chester (the “County”) interviewed Plaintiff Aiden Francis Nunan for an open position for probation officer. At the time of the interview, Mr. Nunan was 55 years old. On July 15, 2015, the County informed Mr. Nunan that he had not been chosen for the position. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Nunan filed a series of Right-to-Know Requests with the County, attempting to discern who had been hired. Through those requests, Mr. Nunan learned that the County had hired two individuals for the position: Brian Hughes, who was 30 years old, and Nathan Reiser, who was 39 years old.

         On November 28, 2017, Mr. Nunan filed this suit against the County, alleging that the County did not hire him because of his age, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq., and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”), 43 Pa. C.S.A. §§ 951, et seq. (Doc. No. 1.) One year later, on November 28, 2018, he filed the Amended Complaint. (Doc. No. 19.)

         On April 25, 2019, the County filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 22.) On July 3, 2019, Mr. Nunan filed a Response in Opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 23.) Finally, on July 24, 2019, the County filed a Reply in Further Support of its Motion. (Doc. No. 24.)

         The County's Motion for Summary Judgment is now ripe for disposition. For reasons discussed infra, the Motion (Doc. No. 22) will be denied.

         II. BACKGROUND

          Plaintiff Aiden Francis Nunan currently lives at 1722 Simpson Avenue, Ocean City, New Jersey. (Doc. No. 22-1 at 15:19-24.) In 1984, he graduated from Muhlenberg College with a degree in business administration. (Id. at 18:8-11.) At some point after graduating, Mr. Nunan was hired as a probation officer in New Jersey, where he worked for twenty-five years. In 2014, he was named “Probation Officer of the Year” for the entire state of New Jersey. (Id. at 129.)

         In April of 2015, when he was 55 years old, Mr. Nunan decided to take an early retirement from his job as a probation officer for “economic reasons.” (Id. at 26:1-6.) That is, Mr. Nunan retired because “it was less beneficial for [him] to stay on the job economically than to leave the job and take [his] full benefits as an early retiree.” (Id.) Still, he looked for other job opportunities. Shortly after retiring, Mr. Nunan came across an online job posting, which advertised a probation officer position in Chester County, Pennsylvania (the “County”). The job posting stated the following:

Description
The Adult Probation Department has seeks [sic] an Adult Probation Officer I who will be responsible for the supervision of adult offenders that have been granted parole or probation by the Court. The purpose of this supervision is to prevent the client from re-offending and enforce compliance with court-mandated sanctions.
***
Qualifications/Requirements:
Bachelor's Degree with major coursework emphasis in Administration of Justice/Criminal justice or one of the Social Sciences. Minimum of one year experience in the Criminal Justice field or related experience.

(Id. at 61.) The job posting stated that applications should be submitted through the County's web portal by June 1, 2015. (Id.)

         Notwithstanding the posting's instructions, Mr. Nunan submitted his application on June 3, 2015 via fax. (Id. at 19:17-20.) Mr. Nunan testified that he tried to submit the application electronically, but that the application would not go through the web portal. (Id. at 27:20-28:4.) On his application, Mr. Nunan listed his address as 112 South High Street, West Chester, Pennsylvania. (Id. at 34:11-15.) He did not live at this address; rather, the property at 112 South High Street belonged to his cousin. (Id. at 35:1-13.)

         Based on Mr. Nunan's extensive experience as a probation officer in New Jersey, Christopher Pawlowski, a Section Director of the County's Adult Probation and Pretrial Services Department, called Mr. Nunan on June 29, 2015 to schedule an interview. (Doc. No. 22 ¶ 13; Doc. No. 22-2 at 6:23-24.) During the interview, Mr. Nunan told Mr. Pawlowski that he did not live in the County, but that he planned to move there in the event that he got the job. (Doc. No. 22-2 at 22:1-12; Doc. No. 22-1 at 46:17-47:5.) There is no residency requirement to work as a probation officer in the County. (Doc. No. 22-2 at 23:5-6.)

         On June 30, 2015, Mr. Nunan traveled to the Chester County Justice Center for his interview. He was interviewed by a three-person panel, which included Mr. Pawlowski, Richard Marinari, and Sandra Larson. (Doc. No. 22 ¶ 20.) Like Mr. Pawlowski, Mr. Marinari and Ms. Larson are Section Directors of the County's Adult Probation and Pretrial Services Department. During their depositions, each panelist recalled that Mr. Nunan arrived for the interview looking disheveled and unprofessional. They stated that Mr. Nunan was not wearing a suit and tie and that his shirt was wrinkled. (Doc. No. 22-2 at 25:10-13; Doc. No. 22-3 at 10:10-12; Doc. No.22-4 at 12:2-16.) Mr. Nunan disputes this testimony, and testified that he wore a suit and tie to the interview. (Doc. No. 23 ¶ 22.)

         To interview Mr. Nunan, the panelists used a standard form entitled “Probation Officer Interview Questions.” The form contains eighteen questions. After each question there is a space for the panelists to write comments or questions about the applicant's response. The form also instructs each panelist to score the applicant's response to each question on a scale from zero to two-a zero (0) denotes a poor response, a one (1) denotes an acceptable response, and a two (2) denotes a good response. (See Doc. No. 22-5.)

         One of the questions on the standard form asks the applicant to answer the following question:

10. Issuing warrants for arrest of offenders is a part of this job. What factors/decisions would you see yourself considering in determining whether or not arrest is an appropriate course of action for a given offender?

(Id. at 3.) Under this question on Mr. Nunan's interview form, Mr. Pawlowski made the following notation: “Violated terms, never considered other factors, issue bench warrant they violated.” (Doc. No. 22-6 at 3.) On her form, Ms. Larson wrote the following comment: “If they violated their terms and conditions, would not consider any other factors!!” (Doc. No. 22-5 at 3.) On his form, Mr. Marinari made the following note: “Violated terms and court order, wouldn't consider any other terms” and “not good??” (Doc. No. 22-7 at 3.) All three panelists gave Mr. Nunan a score of “0” on this question.[1]

         In his deposition, Mr. Pawlowski testified that Mr. Nunan's response to Question 10 concerned him:

Answer: . . . There was one question that still jumps out in my mind that he answered when we asked him how - the decision to make violations and issue warrants and things like that, Mr. Nunan was very clear that it was you violate probation you go to jail and you issue a warrant.
That is not what we do in Chester County. We are very, I guess I will say we are very open to working with people and helping them rehabilitate to keep them out of prison so their lives aren't disrupted from going to prison so we do everything we can at our disposal to work with people, and that was not what he had in mind as a provisional probation officer.

(Doc. No. 22-2 at 26:20-27:11.) In short, Mr. Pawlowski testified that Mr. Nunan's response to Question 10 did not align with the values and views of the Chester County Probation Office. Likewise, Ms. Larson testified that Mr. Nunan's response seemed “very punitive in nature” and that Mr. Nunan would allow “no wiggle room as far as helping a person rehabilitate.” (Doc. No. 22-4 at 14:5-13.) According to Mr. ...


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