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Mikula v. West Shore Window & Door, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

October 29, 2019

JEFFREY MIKULA, Plaintiff,
v.
WEST SHORE WINDOW & DOOR, INC. d/b/a WEST SHORE HOME, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          J. Nicholas Ranjan United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Jeffrey Mikula brings claims for retaliation and sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (the “PHRA”) and negligent/intentional infliction of emotional distress as the result of Defendant West Shore Window & Door, Inc.'s decision to terminate his employment. West Shore contends that it terminated Mr. Mikula for “insubordination.” Mr. Mikula claims that this proffered reason is pretextual, and that he was really terminated as retaliation for reporting an inappropriate and harassing comment made by one of his supervisors and for not conforming to the “sexist and male chauvinistic gender stereotype” that prevailed at West Shore.

         West Shore has moved for summary judgment on all of Mr. Mikula's claims. [ECF 36]. The Motion is fully briefed and ripe for disposition. For the reasons below, the Motion will be DENIED with respect to the retaliation claims and GRANTED with respect to the sex discrimination and emotional distress claims.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         A. Mr. Mikula's Begins His Employment at West Shore.

         West Shore is a home improvement business focusing on window and door replacements and bathroom remodeling. [ECF 37, at 1].

         In May 2017, Mr. Mikula began working for West Shore as a Field Sales Manager in West Shore's Oakmont office. [ECF 38, at ¶ 1]. As a Field Sales Manager, Mr. Mikula supervised approximately six Field Service Representatives and managed the Field Sales Department. [Id. at ¶¶ 4-5]. Initially, Mr. Mikula reported directly to West Shore's President and CEO, William Werzyn. [Id. at ¶ 2].

         West Shore contends that Mr. Mikula failed to meet expectations in this role. [ECF 38, at ¶ 11]. Mr. Mikula does not dispute that he failed to meet certain performance benchmarks, but argues that he was not “expected” to meet those benchmarks due to the “disarray” of his department when he assumed the role. [ECF 44, at ¶ 6].

         B. Mr. Mikula Is Transferred to Another Job.

         In October 2017, West Shore transitioned Mr. Mikula to the position of In-Home Sales Representative, under Neil Parker. [ECF 38, at ¶ 13]. According to West Shore, it made this move because of Mr. Mikula's “unsatisfactory performance” [id. at ¶ 13] and the transition was “not a promotion within [its] system” [id. at ¶ 15]. Mr. Mikula, on the other hand, argues it was a promotion because he would have received a significant salary increase as a result of the change. [ECF 44, at ¶ 13].

         Unlike his role as the Field Sales Manager, as an In-Home Sales Representative, Mr. Mikula would have been solely responsible for selling West Shore's products to potential customers with no direct reports and no management responsibilities. [ECF 38, at ¶¶ 14-15]. Mr. Mikula would also no longer have a guaranteed salary; instead, his compensation would be based purely on commissions. [ECF 39-1, at 126:25-127:4].

         As a condition of his transition, West Shore required Mr. Mikula to undergo three weeks of training. [ECF 38, at ¶¶ 20-21]. West Shore also claims that Mr. Mikula agreed to accept West Shore's proven sales techniques and processes in “blind faith” and fully support its products for a period of 90 days. [Id. at ¶ 16]. West Shore imposed this added condition “due to [Mr. Mikula's] prior history of confrontational conduct and questioning West Shore's processes.” [Id. at ¶ 17]. Mr. Mikula denies that he ever agreed to a period of “blind faith” acceptance of West Shore's sales processes and policies. [ECF 44, at ¶ 16].

         C. West Shore Terminates Mr. Mikula.

         West Shore contends that during his training period, Mr. Mikula repeatedly violated the “blind faith agreement, ” despite numerous warnings. [ECF 38, at ¶¶ 22-33]. As a result, on the recommendation of Mr. Parker, West Shore terminated Mr. Mikula on October 24, 2017 for “insubordination.” [Id. at ¶¶ 38-39]. Mr. Parker's recommendation was “reviewed and approved” by the Director of Human Resources, Josh Wood. [ECF 39-4, at ¶ 14]. Mr. Mikula also offers affidavit testimony that Mr. Werzyn and Mr. Leary were involved in the termination decision. [ECF 43, at 14-15].

         Mr. Mikula argues that this reason was pretextual and that West Shore actually fired him in retaliation for reporting “harassing sexual comments by his training supervisor” [ECF 43, at 4] and for failing to conform to “the sexist and male chauvinistic gender stereotype to which [West Shore's] management team adhered, fostered, and preferred” [ECF 13, at ¶ 44].

         D. Mr. Mikula Reports Alleged Harassing Comment.

         The alleged harassing comment was an attempted joke made by Mr. Parker at a staff meeting on October 11, 2017. Approximately 12 people attended this meeting, including at least two women. [ECF 39-1, at 97:22-98:7]. Mr. Mikula described the joke as follows:

A. So the meeting was supposed to start at 8:30 or whatever time it was and Neil asked Mike Plumbee and myself to remain outside the meeting for the first part. And we were out there for maybe an hour, and they asked us to rejoin the meeting. And whenever we first came in, he was introducing us and he said this is Jeff Mikula and this is Mike what's your last name? What is it? It's-Mike Hunt-no, no. That's right, Plumbee.

[Id. at 99:24-100:7]. Mr. Mikula reported the comment to Mr. Wood later that same day. [Id. at 101:14-19].

         Mr. Wood stated that he found this “joke” to have violated West Shore's policies and immediately addressed the incident with Mr. Parker. [ECF 39-4, at ¶ 19]. Mr. Wood further stated that he “did not disclose the identity of the person who made the report to Mr. Parker.” [Id.]. Mr. Parker, for his part, also stated that he “did not know which employee had reported [his] comment to the Human Resources Department and had no reason to suspect that it was [Mr. Mikula].” [ECF 39-2, at ¶ 18]. Mr. Parker stated that Mr. Mikula's “report played no role whatsoever in my decision to terminate his employment.” [Id. at ¶ 19]. Mr. Wood also claims that Mr. Mikula's “report of Mr. Parker's comment was not a factor in the decision to terminate his employment.” [ECF 39-4, at ¶ 24].

         Mr. Mikula disputes this version of events and claims that his supervisors disapproved a “prior complaint about sexually harassing/offensive statements to his female staff.” [ECF 44, at ¶ 62].

         E. Alleged Gender Stereotype.

         Mr. Mikula does not provide the precise contours of the alleged gender stereotype to which he claims he did not belong. To support his claim regarding the existence of the stereotype, Mr. Mikula simply cites a general “corporate culture of disapproval of complaints about inappropriate sexist comments towards West Shore's female employees.” [ECF 43, at 12]. As evidence of this “corporate culture, ” Mr. Mikula offers the comment made by Mr. Parker, management's response to an incident that occurred at the Hookstown Fair in August 2017, and allegedly fewer opportunities available to the women at West Shore. [Id. at 11-12].

         At the Hookstown Fair, some of Mr. Mikula's female team members reported that a third-party vendor made sexist comments towards them. [ECF 39-1, at 112:15-113:14]. Mr. Mikula reported it to the event's organizers and when that failed to remedy the situation, he pulled West Shore's employees from the event. [Id.]. Mr. Mikula admits, however, that he was not disciplined for this decision and that his supervisor at the time, Mr. Leary, never told him he made the wrong decision. [Id. at 115:2-9]. Mr. Mikula asserts that Mr. Leary later expressed disapproval to one of his colleagues, Jaime Bader. [Id. at 115:12-17; ECF 45-3, at ¶ 4].

         Mr. Mikula also claims that West Shore gave female employees fewer opportunities, especially as design consultants. [ECF 39-1, at 107:23-108:7]. But his own testimony directly contradicts this claim, as he acknowledged that, while he worked at West Shore, there were three female design consultants. [Id. at 108:25-109:9]. He further acknowledged that there were women in management positions, women who reported directly to Mr. Weczyn, and that a woman replaced him in his old job. [Id. at 109:15-110:1, 115:15-22, 116:9-11, 116:15-24].

         As additional proof, Mr. Mikula alleges that he had to request a “more diverse candidate pool” for hiring new employees to his team when he was the Field Sales Manager. [ECF 39-1, at 112:17-124:11]. He admits, however, that when he did, Mr. Wood promptly complied and provided the requested diverse candidates. [Id. at 124:1-6].

         Finally, relevant to this Motion, Mr. Mikula conceded that he never heard Mr. Weczyn, Mr. Wood, or Mr. Leary make discriminatory or harassing remarks about women. [Id. at 104:7-105:6]. Mr. Mikula further acknowledged:

• West Shore had an anti-harassment policy in place [id. at 46:24-27:2];
• West Shore promoted an “open door” complaint procedure [id. at 48:13-19];
• He felt comfortable bringing complaints during his brief employment at West Shore [id. ...

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