United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
Kathleen McCaffery was fired after just over thirty years of
employment at Hair Cuttery,  much of it as a manager. Hair
Cuttery says that it fired her because an internal
investigation revealed that she was abusive towards her
staff. Plaintiff, however, believes that comments made by
management, as well as flaws in Hair Cuttery's
investigation process and termination decision, suggest that
she was fired because of her age and despite her long tenure
with the company. She sued, bringing federal and state age
discrimination claims under the Age Discrimination in
Employment Act (“ADEA”) and Pennsylvania human
Relations Act (“PHRA”).
Cuttery now moves for summary judgment on all counts. It
argues that its investigation and subsequent decision to
terminate her were both sound, and that there is no evidence
of age-based animus. Plaintiff argues in opposition that
there is enough evidence for a reasonable factfinder to
conclude that Hair Cuttery's investigation and subsequent
decision were pretext for a discriminatory decision.
reasons stated below, Hair Cuttery's Motion for Summary
Judgment will be denied.
sued on November 21, 2018, ECF 1, and the case was assigned
to Judge Kelly. Hair Cuttery answered on February 1, 2019.
ECF 6. The parties conducted discovery until June II, 2019.
ECF 9 (scheduling order).
Cuttery filed for summary judgment on June 25, 2019. ECF 10.
Plaintiff responded on July 23. ECF 13. Hair Cuttery replied
on July 30. ECF 14. Plaintiff filed a surreply on August 2.
ECF 15. On November 7, upon Judge Kelly's retirement, the
case was reassigned. ECF 16. The Court held oral argument on
the Motion on December 16.
same legal standard applies to both the ADEA and the PHRA and
therefore it is proper to address them collectively.”
Kautz v. Met-Pro Corp., 412 F.3d 463, 466 n.1 (3d
discrimination claims in which the plaintiff relies on
circumstantial evidence proceed according to the three-part
burden-shifting framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas
Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973).” Willis
v. UPMC Children's Hosp. of Pittsburgh, 808 F.3d
638, 644 (3d Cir. 2015). That framework contains three steps.
First, the plaintiff has the burden to “establish a
prima facie case of discrimination.” Ross v.
Gilhuly, 755 F.3d 185, 193 (3d Cir. 2014). Second, once
the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the defendant
has the burden to “articulate a legitimate
nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment
action.” Willis, 808 F.3d at 644 (quoting
Jones v. Sch. Dist. of Phila., 198 F.3d 403, 412 (3d
Cir. 1999)). Third and finally, “[i]f the employer
satisfies th[e] second step, the burden shifts back once more
to the plaintiff to show, by a preponderance of the evidence,
that the employer's proffered legitimate,
nondiscriminatory reason was pretextual.” Id.
(quoting Burton v. Teleflex, Inc., 707 F.3d 417, 426
(3d Cir. 2013)).
plaintiff may show pretext either by “point[ing] to
evidence that would allow a factfinder to disbelieve the
employer's reason for the adverse employment
action” or “point[ing] to evidence that would
allow a factfinder to believe that an invidious
discriminatory reason was ‘more likely than not a
motivating or determinative cause' of the employer's
action.'' Id. at 645 (quoting Fuentes v.
Perskie, 32 F.3d 759, 764-65 (3d Cir. 1994)).
establish pretext by providing grounds to disbelieve the
defendant's proffered rationale, the plaintiff's
“evidence must indicate ‘such weaknesses,
implausibilities, inconsistencies, incoherencies, or
contradictions in the employer's proffered legitimate
reasons' to satisfy the factfinder that the
employer's actions could not have been for
nondiscriminatory reasons.” Id. at 644-45
(quoting Fuentes, 32 F.3d at 765). However, it is
only “at trial [that] the plaintiff must convince the
factfinder that not only was the employer's proffered
reason false, but the real reason was impermissible
discrimination.” Id. at 645 (citing
Fuentes, 32 F.3d at 763); see Bulifant v. Del.
River & Bay Auth., 698 Fed. App'x 660, 665 (3d
The Parties' Contentions
parties agree that Plaintiff has made out her prima facie
case under McDonnell Douglas, and that Hair Cuttery
has responded with a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason
that Plaintiff was terminated. They disagree about whether
Plaintiff has provided sufficient evidence of pretext to
survive summary judgment.
seeking summary judgment, Hair Cuttery essentially rests on
the integrity of its investigation. It argues that its
grounds for terminating Plaintiff were “beyond
reproach, ” and any inquiries about when Plaintiff
would retire were mere “stray remarks”
insufficient to provide evidence of discrimination.
Defs.' Mem. Law in Supp. of Summ. J. (“Def. MSJ
Mem.”) at 9-10 (citing Hook v. Ernst &
Young, 28 F.3d 366 (3d Cir. 1994)).
opposition, Plaintiff argues that there were many problems
with the problem leading up to her termination, and that a
fact-finder could take the inquiry about retirement into
account. Pl.'s Mem. Law in Opp'n to ...