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Grove v. Aramark Corp.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 12, 2019

REGINA GROVE, Plaintiff,
ARAMARK CORP., et al., Defendants.

          Mariani Judge.


          Martin C. Carlson United States Magistrate Judge.

         I. Introduction

         This case arises out of an allegation of employment discrimination brought by the plaintiff against the defendants. Regina Grove filed the instant suit against her employer, Aramark Corporation (“Aramark”), [1] and several of her supervisors, alleging racial discrimination, retaliation, and constructive discharge in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Grove claims that she was forced to leave her job due to the discrimination and retaliation she suffered at work, which she alleges was solely based upon her race.

         The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint (Doc. 14), and after review, we gave the parties notice of our intention to treat the motion as a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure since the motion invited consideration of some matters outside the pleadings. The defendants filed a supplemental brief in support of their motion, and the plaintiff has not filed any objections or supplemental brief. Relying upon a body of what are now undisputed facts that Grove has not chosen to challenge, the defendants contend that Grove's claims fail on their merits because she has not sufficiently alleged or shown any facts that support a claim of racial discrimination or retaliation and the uncontested facts defat her claims as a matter of law.

         We agree, and for the reasons set forth below, we will recommend that the defendants' motion be granted.

         II. Background

         Regina Grove was employed by Aramark as a food service employee in the Scranton School District in Scranton, Pennsylvania beginning in 2011. (Doc. 1, ¶ 15). Her complaint alleges that she began experiencing racial discrimination and retaliation at work in January 2017, when she held a food-prep position at Kennedy Elementary School. (Id., ¶¶ 16-17). This position was a part-time position, in which Grove worked about twenty hours per week and was paid at a rate of $11.25 per hour. (Id., ¶ 17). Grove contends that on January 30, 2019, she was informed by the Human Resources Director, Elaine Evans, and the General Manager, Precious Gillard, that she was being promoted to a supervisor position at Tripp Elementary School. (Id., ¶ 19). This position was a full-time position and offered health insurance refund and a pay raise. (Id.) She arrived at Tripp on January 31, 2017 and was introduced as the Kitchen Lead. (Id., ¶ 20). However, on February 2, James Castaldi informed her that she would no longer be working as the Kitchen Lead, but she continued working at Tripp until February 6. (Id., ¶¶ 21-23). It is alleged that on February 3, Grove, who is an African-American female, reported for work at Tripp to find that the Kitchen Lead was now a Caucasian female. (Id., ¶ 22). Ultimately, Grove was informed by Gillard that she was to report back to her food-prep position at Kennedy on or about February 7. (Id., ¶ 23). Grove then contacted the Aramark Employee Complaint Hotline concerning the job transfer. (Id., ¶ 24).

         The uncontested facts tendered by the defendants, however, present a useful and compelling factual context and rebuttal to these allegations. It seems that Grove's transfer to this position was understood by all to be a temporary, fill-in, measure pending the return of the incumbent Kitchen Lead, who was a Caucasian woman. Thus, Grove filled in at the position for several days, until the incumbent returned to work, a fact that was understood by all at the time of this temporary assignment.

         The complaint then alleges that on February 13, 2017, while Grove was working at Kennedy, she asked her supervisor, Jan Krushinski, if she could leave early. (Id., ¶ 26). Krushinski allegedly responded that Grove could “stand in the corner until her shift end[ed].” (Id.) Krushinski also allegedly told other employees to file grievances against Grove if Grove caused any problems. (Id., ¶ 27). Then, on February 14, Grove attended a meeting with other Aramark employees, including Gillard and Evans, during which she was reprimanded for her absenteeism in November 2016. (Id., ¶ 29). Grove alleges that she believed that her complaints concerning her alleged demotion and Krushinski's behavior were going to be addressed at this meeting but were not. (Id.) Thus, she reported Krushinski's behavior via the Complaint Hotline on February 15. (Id., ¶ 28). Grove then contacted the Aramark Building Manager at Kennedy on February 16 when she did not receive a response from the hotline. (Id., ¶ 30).

         Grove attended another meeting with Aramark employees, including Gillard, Castaldi, and Evans, on February 27, 2017 to address a complaint filed against her by Nathan Barrett, Principal of the Scranton School District. (Id., ¶ 31). Grove contends that Barrett filed a complaint alleging that there was a conflict of interest for Grove working at Kennedy because her son attended school there. (Id.) For their part, the defendants do not dispute that Barrett filed a complaint against Grove, but rather they elaborate on the complaint, stating that the complaint was filed because Grove was inappropriately addressing the staff at Kennedy concerning some behavioral issues that her son was having at school after she was explicitly told not to address the staff. (Doc. 15, at 8). Thus, at the conclusion of this meeting, Grove alleges that although other Caucasian employees were permitted to work in schools where their children attended, she was told that she could not return to the school while there was an investigation pending. (Id., ¶ 32).

         After a meeting on March 1, 2017 between Castaldi, Barrett, and the Union president, Grove was told that Aramark had to pay her for four weeks. (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 34-35). Additionally, rather than terminating her employment completely, Grove was told she could not return to Kennedy and was offered other positions at other schools, including a school where her other son attended. (Id., ¶ 37). At first, Grove accepted a position at Scranton High School, a six-hour position, but thereafter changed her mind and accepted a position at Williard Elementary School as a monitor, a three-hour position. (Doc. 14-23, at 2). Grove was employed in this position at the time she alleges she was constructively discharged in August 2017, as she was set to return to work but could not return due to the discrimination and retaliation she allegedly suffered. (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 38-39).

         Grove filed her complaint against the defendants on December 28, 2017. (Doc. 1). In this complaint she brought her claims against Aramark, as well as Evans, Gillard, Castaldi and Krushinski, alleging racial discrimination and retaliation, as well as constructive discharge as a result of a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII. Grove also brought a state law claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, which she has since abandoned. (See Doc. 18, at 10). The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint (Doc. 14), to which we gave notice of our intention to convert to a summary judgment motion. The defendants then filed a brief in support, analyzing the plaintiff's claims through the perspective of a summary judgment motion. (Doc. 31). The plaintiff did not file a response, and the deadline for filing any objections or supplemental briefs has passed.

         The defendants contend that the plaintiff's Title VII claims fail for several reasons. First, they argue that there is no individual liability under Title VII, and thus the claims against the individual defendants must fail. Additionally, they assert that the plaintiff has not sufficiently alleged facts to support her racial discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment claims. After a review of the record, we agree, and we will recommend that the defendants' motion be granted.

         III. Standard of Review

         The defendants originally moved to dismiss the plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Doc. 14). Upon review of the motion, we provided notice to the parties of our intention to treat the motion as a motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff has not filed a response, and the defendants filed a supplemental brief in support of their motion on August 26, 2019. (Doc. 31).

         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that the court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Through summary adjudication, a court is empowered to dispose of those claims that do not present a “genuine dispute as to any material fact, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), and for which a trial would be “an empty and unnecessary formality.” Univac Dental Co. v. Dentsply Int'l, Inc., No. 07-0493, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31615, at *4 (M.D. Pa. Mar. 31, 2010). The substantive law identifies which facts are material, and “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute about a material fact is genuine only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis that would allow a reasonable fact finder to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Id., at 248-49.

         The moving party has the initial burden of identifying evidence that it believes shows an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Conoshenti v. Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 364 F.3d 135, 145-46 (3d Cir. 2004). Once the moving party has shown that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's claims, “the non-moving party must rebut the motion with facts in the record and cannot rest solely on assertions made in the pleadings, legal memoranda, or oral argument.” Berckeley Inv. Group. Ltd. v. Colkitt, 455 F.3d 195, 201 (3d Cir. 2006); accord Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). If the nonmoving party “fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden at trial, ” summary judgment is appropriate. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. Summary judgment is also appropriate if the non-moving party provides merely colorable, conclusory, or speculative evidence. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. There must be more than a scintilla of evidence supporting the nonmoving party and more than some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. Id., at 252; see also, Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). In making this determination, the Court must “consider all evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion.” A.W. v. Jersey City Pub. Schs., 486 F.3d 791, 794 (3d Cir. 2007).

         Moreover, a party who seeks to resist a summary judgment motion by citing to disputed material issues of fact must show by competent evidence that such factual disputes exist. Further, “only evidence which is admissible at trial may be considered in ruling on a motion for summary judgment.” Countryside Oil Co., Inc. v. Travelers Ins. Co., 928 F.Supp. 474, 482 (D.N.J. 1995). Similarly, it is well-settled that: “[o]ne cannot create an issue of fact merely by . . . denying averments . . . without producing any supporting evidence of the denials.” Thimons v. PNC Bank, NA, 254 Fed.Appx. 896, 899 (3d Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). Thus, “[w]hen a motion for summary judgment is made and supported . . ., an adverse party may not rest upon mere allegations or denial.” Fireman's Ins. Co. of Newark N.J. v. DuFresne, 676 F.2d 965, 968 (3d Cir. 1982); see Sunshine Books, Ltd. v. Temple University, 697 F.2d 90, 96 (3d Cir. 1982). “[A] mere denial is insufficient to raise a disputed issue of fact, and an unsubstantiated doubt as to the veracity of the opposing affidavit is also not sufficient.” Lockhart v. ...

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