United States District Court, D. Delaware
ADRIANE R. ANDERSON-STRANGE, Plaintiff;
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
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.
ANDREWS, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.
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.
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
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).
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
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.
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).
1, 032, 527
1, 074, 872
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).
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.).
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.
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.
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.
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).
Pay Discrimination Claim
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).
Prima Facie Case
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, and Leon Pereira,
her successor-with the same responsibilities and work
conditions. (D.I. 64 at 16). She has also provided undisputed