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Brugh v. Mount Aloysius College

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

January 7, 2020




         I. Introduction

         This case arises from the termination and alleged demotion of Plaintiff Larry Brugh ("Larry") and the termination of his wife, Plaintiff Suzanne Brugh ("Suzanne") (collectively, the "Brughs"), allegedly in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (the "PHRA"), from and by Defendant Mount Aloysius College (the "College") and the College's former President, Thomas Foley ("President Foley"). Presently before the Court is Defendants' Mount Aloysius College and Thomas Foley's (collectively, "MAC") Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 44). The Motion is fully briefed (ECF Nos. 45, 46, 47, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 62, 63) and ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, this Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART MAC's Motion.

         II. Jurisdiction and Venue

         The Court has jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' Title VII claim as it arises under federal law. 28U.S.C. § 1331. The Court has supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' PHRA claim because the claim forms part of the same case or controversy. 28 U.S.C. § 1367. Venue is proper because a substantial portion of the events giving rise to the claims occurred in the Western District of Pennsylvania. 28 U.S.C. § 1391.

         III. Factual Background

         The Court derives the following facts from MAC's Concise Statement of Material Facts[1] (ECF No. 46), the Brughs' Response in Opposition (ECF No. 56), the Brughs' Concise Statement of Disputed Material Facts (ECF No. 58), and MAC's Response (ECF No. 63). These facts are undisputed unless noted otherwise.

         A. The Brughs Begin Working at The College and Larry Witnesses Alleged Racial Discrimination by The College

         In 1985, Larry began working at the College as its Assistant Resident Director Intern. (ECF No. 46 ¶ 3.) Throughout the rest of the decade, Larry held the titles of Assistant Director of Career Services and Assistant Dean of Student Services. (Id. ¶¶ 7, 11, 12.) By 1997, Larry held the title of Director of Career Services. (Id. ¶ 31.) In 1988, Larry hired Suzanne (nee Bryja) as the College's Assistant Director of Resident Life. (Id. ¶ 17.) Larry and Suzanne began dating within a few months and married on July 1, 1989. (Id. ¶¶ 17, 21, 23.)

         According to Larry, in 1992, he witnessed the College discriminate against a men's basketball coach candidate and objected to this discrimination. (ECF No. 58 ¶¶ 4, 5). The alleged discrimination apparently took the form of refusing to hire an African American man as a head men's basketball coach because his wife was Caucasian. (ECF No. 56 ¶ 186.) When the College allegedly retaliated against the Brughs for Larry's objection, the Brughs filed charges of employment discrimination with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ("PHRC") against the College in 1997 and 1998. (Id. ¶ 6; ECF No. 46 ¶¶ 34, 40.) The first complaint charged that the College's then-President, Sister Mary Ann Dillon, refused to appoint Larry to the post of Acting Dean of Students in retaliation for being identified as a witness in a PHRC proceeding against the College.[2] (ECF No. 58 ¶ 6; ECF No. 46 ¶ 35.) The second complaint alleged that the College had given Larry a negative performance evaluation because of both his identification as a witness in the PHRC discrimination proceeding and because of his prior PHRC complaint. (Id. ¶ 41.) The Brughs and the College settled the charges in 2000. (ECF No. 58 ¶ 7.)

         B. Larry Gets Angry at Female Employees Working at the College

         The College has records describing several incidents throughout the 1990s of altercations between Larry and various female employees of the College. (ECF No. 46 ¶¶ 302-09.) A report authored by Veil Griffith, the College's Comptroller, covers her relationship with Larry between 1989 and January of 1991: in one instance, Larry apparently became outraged after Griffith asked him about receipts; in another he entered her office without permission, became loud and offensive, and refused to leave. (Id. ¶ 302.) According to the report, on multiple occasions, Larry raised his voice to Griffith's secretary, Emily. (Id.)

         On August 8, 1997, Joyce Neibauer, the College's Director of Student Activities, wrote a letter to Leonard Volk, Acting Dean of Student Affairs, and copied it to President Dillon (Id. ¶ 303.) The letter documented Ms. Neibauer's concerns about Larry's personality and temperament, stated that Larry told her that she "had better respect his position and authority," and noted that Larry was interfering with her ability to work. (Id. ¶ 304.) Ms. Neibauer wrote that Larry had harassed, threatened, and intimidated her, and that she had obtained a radio so that she could call security if she needed to safely retreat from him. (Id. ¶¶ 305-06.) Ms. Neibauer also expressed her belief that she was not the only employee of the College who was on the receiving end of Larry's temper. (Id. ¶ 307.)

         In 1996, Larry disputed a performance evaluation that stated that his "unacceptable behavior" had hindered his effectiveness in his job; Larry sought removal of this portion of his evaluation. (Id. ¶ 228.) This behavior had occurred when the College asked him to perform duties that were outside the scope of his routine duties. (Id.) The evaluation also included a statement that "in the future, [Larry needed to learn] acceptable and professional ways of dealing with differing opinions from that of the [D]ean of [S]tudents." (Id.)

         A few days after Larry disputed his review, he brought concerns about his relationship with his supervisor, Dr. Judy Newton, the Dean of Students, to the College in a letter to its then-President, Dr. Edward Pierce. (Id. ¶¶ 8, 46, 224, 230.) Larry complained of incidents between 1992 and 1996 where Dr. Newton was disrespectful of, and exhibited unprofessional behavior towards, him and other male employees of the College. (Id. ¶ 231.) These incidents allegedly involved a failure to reprimand public displays of disrespect towards Larry by Dr. Newton's secretary and Dr. Newton's diminishment of his responsibilities. (Id. ¶ 232.) Larry also stated that he had considered filing a grievance against Dr. Newton but that he had refrained from doing so after the PHRC mentioned him as a possible witness in a matter in which Newton was involved. (Id. ¶ 230.) Ultimately, the College found that Larry's claims against Dr. Newton were unsubstantiated and did not discipline her. (Id. ¶¶ 242, 245.) The College also determined that no justification existed for removing the language that Larry objected to in his performance evaluation. (Id. ¶ 245.)

         C. The Brughs Move Out of Campus Housing

         As part of her compensation, Suzanne received campus housing and Larry lived with her in campus housing for approximately thirteen years. (Id. ¶¶ 25, 30, 68, 69.) The Brughs left campus housing after Suzanne accepted the position of the College's Director of Student Involvement, [3] a job that did not come with campus housing as part of its compensation. (Id. ¶¶ 62, 65.) The Brughs were upset that the College no longer provided campus housing for them, and Larry went to President Dillon to complain in September of 2001. (Id. ¶¶ 31, 69, 75.) There is a dispute over how upset the Brughs were over the loss of their campus housing and how strongly Larry complained to President Dillon. (See ECF No. 46 ¶¶ 74-79; ECF No. 56 ¶¶ 74-79.) Following Larry's visit to President Dillon, she issued a written reprimand to Larry regarding his conduct. (ECF No. 46 ¶ 84.) Larry avers that he has no recollection of ever receiving the reprimand. (ECF No. 56 ¶ 84.) On October 1, 2001, Larry filed a grievance with the College, alleging that the reprimand was not warranted, and that the College should remove it from his file. (Id. ¶ 85; ECF No. 46 ¶ 85.) The parties ultimately resolved the grievance and the College allowed the Brughs to stay in campus housing while the Brughs built a permanent home and the College kept the reprimand in Larry's file until June of 2002. (ECF No. 46 ¶ 88.) In 2008, Suzanne left the College on good terms, having obtained a job at Pennsylvania Highlands Community College. (Id. ¶¶ 109-10.)

         The Brughs filed no further formal employment grievances against the College until 2012. (See ECF No. 46.)

         D. Thomas Foley Becomes President of the College and the Brughs Again Report Employment Grievances to the College

         On August 1, 2010, Thomas Foley became President of the College. (ECF No. 46 ¶¶ 127-28.) At that time, Larry was serving as Director of Career Services and as Assistant Dean of Student Affairs; Suzanne was no longer an employee of the College. (Id. ¶ 140.) In December of 2011, the Brughs invited Suzanne Campbell, the College's Senior Vice President for Administration, to lunch, so that Larry could inform Campbell about his grievances with the College. (Id. ¶¶ 137, 148.) At that lunch, the Brughs informed Campbell that the College had subjected them to a hostile work environment during the 1990s as a result of Larry's objections to discrimination and told Campbell about the harms that that hostile environment had caused them. (Id. ¶ 150.) Larry also accused his current supervisor, Dr. Jane Grassadonia, of making disparaging statements about him.[4] (Id. ¶ 151.)

         A few months later, Larry contacted Campbell again and reiterated his past concerns with the College. (Id. ¶¶ 153-54.) In April of 2012, Larry filed a formal complaint with Human Resources against Dr. Grassadonia, including various instances where he felt that Dr. Grassadonia had slighted or disrespected him, going as far back as 2006. (Id. ¶¶ 158, 163.) Larry alleged that Dr. Grassadonia was diminishing his job as "number two" in Student Affairs. (Id. ¶ 156.) Larry's allegations of disrespectful conduct by Dr. Grassadonia included: (1) redesigning the Student Affairs Department; (2) two occasions where Dr. Grassadonia gave Larry postings for jobs at other institutions; (3) a change in the process of conducting interviews; (4) the handling of a student suicide; and (5) the fact that Dr. Grassadonia changed Larry's previously weekly meetings with her to a biweekly basis without consulting him. (Id. ¶ 163.) Following Larry's filing of the complaint, the College's Director of Human Resources, Tonia Gordon, opened an investigation into his allegations. (Id. ¶ 163, 177.) After several months of investigation and attempted mediation, Gordon contacted President Foley and stated that the relationship between Larry and Dr. Grassadonia was fractured and that the mediation process was not working. (Id. ¶ 176.) In response, President Foley convened a committee of several top officials at the College: Campbell; Tim Fulop, Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs; Sister Helen Marie, Vice President for Mission Integration; and Gordon. (Id. ¶ 177.) President Foley requested that the committee review Larry's file and provide him with a recommendation on how to move forward in resolving the dispute. (Id.) The parties dispute whether President Foley had previously viewed the materials in Larry's file before asking the committee to review them. (Id. ¶ 180; ECF No. 56 ¶ 180.)

         E. The College Rearranges Larry's Reporting Structure, Then Ultimately Terminates His Employment

         The committee met in July of 2012 and discussed three possible options: (1) reassigning Larry to another department to alleviate conflicts between him and Dr. Grassadonia; (2) redesigning Larry's job description to more accurately reflect his current responsibilities, though the committee worried that Larry might perceive an alteration to his title to be disrespectful; and (3) termination. (ECF No. 46 ¶ 187.) The parties dispute whether the committee settled on a recommendation and made that recommendation to President Foley. (Id. ¶¶ 187-89; ECF No. 56 ¶ 187-89.)

         President Foley decided to reassign Larry to work for Fulop in Academic Affairs and remove Larry's title as Assistant Dean of Student Affairs. (ECF No. 46 ¶¶ 192-95.) President Foley met with Larry at the start of August and informed him that he would be reporting to Fulop and that he was no longer Assistant Dean of Student Affairs, but that he would remain Director of Career Services and that his salary would not change. (Id. ¶¶ 207, 209.) President Foley told Larry that he wanted Larry to focus his energies on students; Larry appeared to agree. (Id. ¶ 208.) On August 1, 2012, President Foley announced Larry's new position to the rest of the College. (Id. ¶ 212.) At some point after Larry began reporting to Fulop, President Foley reviewed the file he had given to the committee, which contained records of Larry's past grievances with the College.[5] (Id. ¶ 214.)

         On August 30, 2012, the Brughs' attorney, James Carroll, [6] sent a letter to Daniel Rullo, Chairperson of the College's Board of Trustees on behalf of Larry. (Id. ¶ 283.) In the letter, Attorney Carroll informed the College of his conclusion that Larry's reassignment constituted a demotion and that the College had unlawfully retaliated against Larry by demoting him.[7] (Id. ¶ 284.) One week later, on September 6, 2012, Chairperson Rullo responded to Attorney Carroll's letter and requested details about Larry's claims. (Id. ¶ 288.) The next day, President Foley held a mandatory meeting with the staff of the Student Affairs Department to discuss Larry's transition. (ECF No. 58 ¶¶ 11, 13.) President Foley informed staff that Larry had retained an attorney and would argue that the College had discriminated against him. (Id. ¶ 14.) President Foley also stated that when someone hires an attorney and claims discrimination, that raises the temperature of the dispute. (Id.) President Foley stated that Larry's claim of discrimination was false because the College had not demoted him and also noted that his would not be the first time that Larry had sued the College. (Id. ¶¶ 16-17.)

         On September 21, 2012, Attorney Carroll sent a second letter to Chairperson Rullo, this one expressing his "overriding concern" that the College was retaliating against Larry as a result of his objections to racial discrimination in 1992.[8] (ECF No. 56 ¶ 292; ECF No. 59-1 at 41-44.) Chairperson Rullo forwarded this letter to President Foley. (ECF No. 46 ¶ 293.) After President Foley received the letter, he reviewed Larry's file which described Larry's employment history at the College, including the various grievances the Brughs had filed. (Id. ¶¶ 295, 298, 302-09.) At some point following President Foley's review of Larry's file, and the incidents it documented, he determined that the College should terminate Larry's employment; the parties dispute when this decision occurred. (Id. ¶ 328; ECF No. 58 ¶ 22; ECF No. 63 ¶ 22.) President Foley brought this decision to the College's Board for its opinion, though the parties dispute whether the Board approved President Foley's recommendation to terminate Larry. (ECF No. 46 ¶¶ 329-30; ECF No. 56 ¶¶ 329-30.) MAC maintains that the College did not decide to terminate Larry until December of 2012; the Brughs contend that the College made that decision on September 27, 2012, three days after Chairperson Rullo received Attorney Carroll's second letter. (ECF No. 63 ¶ 22; ECF No. 58 ¶22.)

         On December 10, 2012, President Foley and Chairperson Rullo joined Fulop in a meeting with Larry, the purpose of which was his termination. (ECF No. 46 ¶¶ 338-39.) Upon informing Larry that the College was terminating his employment, President Foley offered Larry the option to resign in lieu of termination. (Id. ¶ 340.) The parties dispute what President Foley said during this meeting, but Larry maintains that President Foley told him that the College was terminating his employment because of Attorney Carroll's letters to the College on Larry's behalf. (ECF No. 58 ¶ 26; ECF No. 63 ¶ 26.) Fulop's testimony also supports this allegation. (ECF No. 58 ¶ 26.)

         Prior to his termination, in his last four performance reviews, Larry received strong marks in the category of relationships, defined as "ability to get along with others [and] facilitate communication." (ECF No. 58 ¶¶ 2-3.) Larry began a new job at Pennsylvania Highlands Community College in March of 2013. (ECF No. 46 ¶ 344.)

         F. Suzanne Operates the Game Clocks at the College's Basketball Games

         Although Suzanne departed the College in 2008, the College continued to utilize her services by hiring her to operate the game clocks for the College's basketball games. (ECF No. 46 ¶¶ 117-18.) The College paid game clock operators $25 per-game, and when necessary, issued the operators a Form 1099 for tax purposes.[9] (Id. ¶ 118.) Game clock operators worked on a per-game basis, and Suzanne signed a separate contract for each game she worked -she did not agree to operate the clock for every game, she had control over her schedule as to the games for which she would operate the clock, and she received no consequences if she was unable to operate the clock for a certain game. (Id. ¶¶ 119-22.) In 2011 and 2012, the College paid Suzanne a total of $800: $425 in 2011 and $375 in 2012, for operating the game clocks. (Id. ¶¶ 123-24.)

         In 2010, President Foley attended a College basketball game, asked Ryan Smith, the College's Athletic Director, who was operating the game clocks, and questioned Smith about why the College was not using its own employees to operate the clocks. (ECF No. 46 ¶¶ 352-53; ECF No. 58 ¶¶ 352-53.) The parties dispute whether President Foley then instructed Smith to replace the non-employee clock operators with College employees. (ECF No. 46 ¶ 352; ECF No. 566 ¶ 352.) MAC contends that President Foley directed Smith to replace the clock operators in 2010 and that Smith replied that he had no one with whom he could replace the operators; the Brughs maintain that President Foley directed the replacement of the clock operators in retaliation after Larry's termination. (ECF No. 46 ¶¶ 352-53; ECF No. 58 ¶¶ 352-53.) At some point during the 2012-13 basketball season, the College replaced Suzanne with a College employee, and Smith informed her that it was not his decision to replace her; neither the Brughs nor the College specified a date on which Suzanne's dismissal occurred. (ECF No. 46 ¶ 361; ECF No. 566 ¶ 361.) The College did not terminate Steve Shuniak, the second clock operator, [10] at the same time; the College maintains that it retained him until Shuniak could train another operator.[11] (ECF No. 46 ¶ 363.)

         IV. Procedural Background

         The Brughs filed the Complaint on April 28, 2017 (ECF No. 1). After the case proceeded through discovery, MAC filed for summary judgment on July 1, 2019 (ECF No. 44.) In response to MAC's 68-page, 381-paragraph, Concise Statement of Material Facts (ECF No. 46), on July 11, 2019, the Brughs filed an Emergency Motion to Strike (ECF No. 49), requesting that this Court strike MAC's Motion for Summary Judgment and Concise Statement of Material Facts. (ECF No. 49.) This Court granted the Motion in part, striking the statements contained in MAC's Concise Statement of Material Facts that MAC did not cite to in its brief in support of its Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 53.) The Brughs then responded to MAC's Motion for Summary Judgment on September 20, 2019, (ECF No. 57) to which MAC filed a Reply on October 18, 2019. (ECF No. 62.) The Brughs' Complaint includes two counts: (1) retaliation for Larry's opposition to racial discrimination in hiring and Attorney Carroll's letters to the college in 2012, including both Larry's termination and alleged demotion and Suzanne's termination, in violation of Title VII; and (2) those same acts of retaliation in violation of the PHRA. (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 47-58.)

         V. Legal Standard

         This Court will grant summary judgment only "if the movant shows 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); Melrose, Inc. v. Pittsburgh, 613 F.3d 380, 387 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Ruehl v. Viacom, Inc., 500 F.3d 375, 380 n.6 (3d Cir. 2007)); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). There is a genuine issue of fact whenever "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); see also McGreevy v. Stroup, 413 F.3d 359, 363 (3d Cir. 2005). Material facts are those that affect the outcome of the trial under governing law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. The Court's role is "not to weigh the evidence or to determine the truth of the matter, but only to determine if the evidence of record is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Am. Eagle Outfitters v. Lyle & Scott Ltd., 584 F.3d 575, 581 (3d Cir. 2009). In deciding a summary judgment motion, this Court "'must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all inferences in that party's favor.'" Farrell v. Planters Lifesavers Co., 206 F.3d 271, 278 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Armbruster v. Unisys Corp., 32 F.3d 768, 777 (3d Cir. 1994)).

         The moving party bears the initial responsibility of stating the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. If the moving party meets this burden, the party opposing summary judgment "may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials" of the pleading, but "must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 232 (3d Cir. 2001) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 n.11 (1986)). "For an issue to be genuine, the nonmovant needs to supply more than a scintilla of evidence in support of its position-there must be sufficient evidence (not mere allegations) for a reasonable jury to find for the nonmovant." Coolspring Stone Supply v. Am. States Life Ins. Co., 10 F.3d 144, 148 (3d Cir. 1993); see also Podobnik v. U.S. Postal Serv., 409 F.3d 584, 594 (3d Cir. 2005) (noting that a party opposing summary judgment "must present more than just bare assertions, conclusory allegations or suspicions to show the existence of a genuine issue").

         VI. Discussion

         A. Title VII ...

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