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Anderson-Strange v. National Railroad Passenger Corporation

United States District Court, D. Delaware

June 11, 2019

ADRIANE R. ANDERSON-STRANGE, Plaintiff;
v.
NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORPORATION, t/d/b/a AMTRAK, Defendant. Station Passenger Total Passenger Rank Revenue Total Revenue Rank Positions Reporting Plaintiff Webber McHugh Plaintiff Pereira Edwards

          David B. Anthony, BERGER HARRIS LLP, Wilmington, DE; Sean A. Meluney (argued), BENESCH, FRIEDLANDER, COPLAN & ARONOFF LLP, Wilmington, DE, attorneys for Plaintiff.

          Lindsay M. Neinast (argued) and Alison N. Davis, LITTLER MENDELSON P.C., Washington, DC, attorneys for Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ANDREWS, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Currently pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (D.I. 58). The parties have fully briefed the issues. (D.I. 59, 64, 67). I heard helpful oral argument on May 17, 2019. (Hr'g Tr.). For the following reasons, I grant Defendant's motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Adriane R. Anderson-Strange filed this suit against Defendant National Railroad Passenger Corporation ("Defendant" or "Amtrak") on December 27, 2017, alleging that Defendant violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. (D.I. 1). After Plaintiff retained counsel, she filed a First Amended Complaint setting out two specific causes of action: (1) violation of Title VII through unlawful discrimination based on Plaintiffs gender and (2) violation of Title VII through unlawful retaliation. (D.I. 13 ¶¶ 46-59). The parties have completed discovery and Defendant has moved for summary judgment on all counts. (D.L 58).

         Plaintiff began her employment with Amtrak in 1986. (D.I. 59 at 2; D.I. 64 at 2). Until 2014, Plaintiff worked in a variety of non-management positions where her jobs and pay rate were governed by the collective bargaining agreement between Amtrak and Plaintiffs union. (D.I. 59 at 2; D.L 64 at 2). Though Plaintiff was not employed in an official management role, she had some supervisory experience from periodically filling in for her predecessor. (D.L 59 at 4; D.L 64 at 2). The parties agree that before the relevant time period, Plaintiff had been disciplined once during her employment with Amtrak. (D.L 59 at 2 n. 1; D.L 64 at 2).

         On February 24, 2014, Plaintiff applied for the position of District Manager of the Wilmington Station. (D.L 59 at 3; D.L 64 at 2). After Plaintiff applied, the job posting was cancelled, and the position was reclassified to Station Manager I, which is the lowest management . tier. (D.L 59 at 3; D.L 64 at 2). Plaintiff re-applied and was hired for the position, effective on May 9, 2014. (D.I. 59 at 3; D.I. 64 at 3). Plaintiffs annual salary after her promotion was $62, 700. (D.I. 59 at 3; D.I. 64 at 3). In September 2014, Plaintiff received a raise, which increased her salary to $64, 894. (D.I. 59 at 4). The parties agree that Plaintiff earned a lower salary than her male predecessor and other male Station and District Managers. (Id.; D.I. 64 at 3).

         On January 14, 2015, Plaintiff filed a Career and Compensation Structure Appeal form, appealing the zone and title of her position, but not the salary band. (D.I. 65-1, Ex. 13). The appeal did not allege that Plaintiff believed that her current zone, title, or salary was the result of gender discrimination. (Id.). Specifically, the appeal identified the following complaints'. (1) the duties of the position had not changed from when her predecessor held it, (2) the Wilmington station was ranked tenth in the country in revenue and had a high volume, (3) the position had sixteen direct reports, (4) requests relating to the unstaffed Newark, Delaware station were common and she had to use her personal vehicle to handle such requests, (5) "VIP moves" were common, and (6) according to the criteria for job categorization, "there seem[ed] to be a few discrepancies that [we]re questionable." (Id.). Plaintiff also identified four comparator positions by title and stations along with some relevant information about those positions. (Id.). Three of the identified comparator positions in Plaintiffs appeal were held by men, while one was held by a woman. (D.I. 60[1] at 12-13).

         Amtrak denied the appeal on March 9, 2015. In its response, Amtrak stated that the "job duties of [Plaintiffs] position are consistent with a C-2 band and zone under Amtrak's new Career & Compensation structure." (D.I. 65-1, Ex. 15). After the appeal, Plaintiff contacted the office of United States Senator Chris Coons. On July 21, 2015, Senator Coons' office sent a letter to Barry Melnkovic, an Amtrak Executive Vice President and Chief Human Capital Officer. (D.I. 65-1, Ex. 16). The letter stated that the Plaintiff felt her current classification was wrongly calculated and requested an explanation of the metrics for job classification. (Id.). The letter nowhere explicitly referenced a belief that the classification was based upon gender. (Id.). In Amtrak's September 30, 2015 response, it provided a direct comparison of Plaintiffs position and the Baltimore/Aberdeen Station Manager II position. (D.I. 65-1, Ex. 17).

Station
Passenger Total
Passenger Rank
Revenue Total
Revenue Rank
Positions Reporting

Wilmington

704, 523

11

$63.8 million

11

16

Newark

12, 418

316

$0.9 million

270

-

Total

716, 941

-

$64.7 million

-

16

Baltimore

1, 032, 527

7

$91.4 million

6

40

Aberdeen

42, 345

176

$2.5 million

146

-

Total

1, 074, 872

-

$93.9 million

~

40

         (Id.).

         Throughout 2015, Plaintiffs supervisor, Lauren Anderson, identified and documented performance problems, including insubordination. (D.I. 65-1, Exs. 19, 20). On February 24, 2016, Plaintiff was placed on a performance improvement plan. (Id. at Ex. 19). Plaintiff completed the performance improvement plan on May 6, 2016 but was informed that there were still areas where improvement was needed. (Id. at Ex. 22). On September 20, 2016, Ms. Anderson forwarded Plaintiff an email which instructed "that no one is approve[d] to order items for [Employee] Appreciation day.... Any charges that are received ... will be denied." (Id. at Ex. 27). Plaintiff repeatedly objected to this instruction. (Id.). Ms. Anderson sent a follow-up email stating "these tokens of our appreciation will be the only acknowledgement of Employee Appreciation Day this year." (Id.). Despite this instruction, Plaintiff decided to host a luncheon for Employee Appreciation Day and sought reimbursement for the expenses. (Id.; D.I. 60 at 202-10). Plaintiffs request was rejected. (D.I. 60 at 203-05). After being told that her request would not be approved because it was not consistent with the instructions for Employee Appreciation Day, Plaintiff resubmitted the request anyway. (Id. at 208-10).

         On October 11, 2016, Plaintiff was terminated by her supervisor and held out of service from returning to a union position. (D.I. 65-2, Ex. 28; D.I. 60 at 113). Despite being held out of service, Plaintiff attempted to "displace" back into a union position three days later, on October 14, 2016, and entered a restricted area to do so. (D.I. 65-2, Ex. 29). After a disciplinary hearing under the collective bargaining agreement, Plaintiff was terminated from all capacities, including any union position. (Id.).

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A. Summary Judgment

         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). The moving party has the initial burden of proving the absence of a genuinely disputed material fact relative to the claims in question. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986). Material facts are those "that could affect the outcome" of the proceeding, and "a dispute about a material fact is 'genuine' if the evidence is sufficient to permit a reasonable jury toreturn a verdict for the nonmoving party." Lamont v. New Jersey, 637 F.3d 177, 181 (3d Cir. 2011) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). The burden on the moving party may be discharged by pointing out to the district court that there is an absence of evidence supporting the non-moving party's case. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323.

         The burden then shifts to the non-movant to demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986); Williams v. Borough of West Chester, Pa., 891 F.2d 458, 460-61 (3d Cir. 1989). A non-moving party asserting that a fact is genuinely disputed must support such an assertion by: "(A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations..., admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials; or (B) showing that the materials cited [by the opposing party] do not establish the absence ... of a genuine dispute ...." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1).

         When determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007); Wishkin v. Potter, 476 F.3d 180, 184 (3d Cir. 2007). A dispute is "genuine" only if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-49. If the non-moving party fails to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of its case with respect to which it has the burden of proof, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322.

         B. Title VII

         Title VII discrimination and retaliation claims are governed by the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-05 (1973). First, the plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of the complained-of discrimination or retaliation. Id. at 802. Once a prima facie case has been established, the burden shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for the alleged adverse employment action. Id. at 802-03. After the employer proffers a reason for the action, the burden shifts back to Plaintiff to establish that the employer's articulated rationale is pretext. Id. at 804. "To avoid summary judgment, the plaintiffs evidence rebutting the employer's proffered legitimate reasons must allow a factfinder reasonably to infer that each of the employer's proffered nondiscriminatory reasons was either a. post hoc fabrication or otherwise did not actually motivate the employment action." Fuentes v. Perskie, 32 F.3d 759, 764 (3d Cir. 1994) (cleaned up).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Pay Discrimination Claim

         Plaintiff alleges that she was paid a lower salary than other employees doing the same or similar work because of her gender. When alleging pay discrimination under Title VII, courts have imported the test from the Equal Pay Act. Thus, to establish a prima facie case of pay discrimination under Title VII, Plaintiff must show that "(1) [f]he work of the employees of one sex required the exercise of substantially equal skill, effort, and responsibility and was performed under working conditions similar to that of employees of the opposite sex; and (2) the pay to men and women was unequal." Ferguson v. E.I. duPont de Nemours & Co., 560 F.Supp. 1172, 1195 (D. Del. 1983). At step two of the McDonnell Douglas framework, Defendant must articulate one of the following rationales for the pay differential: (1) a seniority system, (2) a merit system, (3) a system measuring earnings by quantity or quality of production, or (4) any factor other than sex, which may include education, experience, prior salary, or any other factor related to performance of the job. Puchakjian v. Twp. of Winslow, 804 F.Supp.2d 288, 294-95 (D.N.J. 2011), aff'd 520 Fed.Appx. 73 (3d Cir. 2013). If Defendant meets its burden of production, Plaintiff must show that the proffered reason is pretextual by demonstrating such "weaknesses, implausibilities, inconsistencies, incoherencies, or contradictions in the employer's proffered legitimate reasons for its action that a reasonable factfinder could rationally find them unworthy of credence and hence infer that the employer did not act for the asserted non-discriminatory reasons." Fuentes, 32 F.3d at 765 (cleaned up).

         1. Prima Facie Case

         Plaintiff has established a prima facie case of pay discrimination under Title VII. She has identified male employees in her same position-Ron Edwards, her predecessor,[2] and Leon Pereira, her successor-with the same responsibilities and work conditions. (D.I. 64 at 16). She has also provided undisputed ...


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