Johnson v. Federal Express Corporation
MEMORANDUM (Order to follow as separate docket entry) re: deft's motion for reconsideration 108 . (See memo for complete details.) Signed by Chief Judge Christopher C. Conner on 4/22/14. (ki)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
CIVIL ACTION NO. 1:12-CV-444
(Chief Judge Conner)
Plaintiff Cathalene Johnson (“Johnson”) filed the above-captioned action
against defendant Federal Express Corporation (“FedEx”), alleging race and sex
discrimination in violation of (1) Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 2000e et seq., as amended (“Title VII”), (2) the Civil Rights Act of 1991, 42 U.S.C.
§ 1981 (“Section 1981”), (3) the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d) (the “EPA”), and
(4) the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 PA . CONS. STAT . §§ 951 et seq. (the
“PHRA”). Presently before the court in the above-captioned matter is FedEx’s
motion for reconsideration (Doc. 108), arising from the court’s memorandum and
order granting in part and denying in part FedEx’s motion for summary judgment.
(Docs. 105, 106). FedEx challenges the court’s partial grant of summary judgment
on Johnson’s Section 1981 claim on the basis of the applicable statute of limitations.
For the reasons that follow, the court will deny the motion for reconsideration.
Factual Background and Procedural History
In the context of a motion for reconsideration, the court will only summarize
the factual background and procedural history. A more detailed account is set forth
in the court’s memorandum and order dated February 10, 2014 on the parties’
cross-motions for summary judgment, familiarity with which is presumed.
Plaintiff Cathalene Johnson, an African-American female, was employed by
defendant FedEx, an international package delivery company, as a Senior Service
Agent in FedEx’s York, Pennsylvania station for over 17 years. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 12-14;
Doc. 73 ¶¶ 1, 7-8; Doc. 92 ¶¶ 1, 5-8). On May 2, 2011, Johnson filed a charge of
discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”)
and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (“PHRC”), alleging that
FedEx allowed Craig Pooler, a Caucasian male, to receive higher courier pay while
working as a service agent. (Doc. 73 ¶ 14; Doc. 92 ¶ 14). On March 12, 2012, Johnson
filed the instant action against FedEx for race and sex discrimination in violation of
Title VII, Section 1981, the EPA, and the PHRA. (Doc. 1). In a memorandum and
order dated February 10, 2014, the court granted partial summary judgment in
favor of FedEx and against Johnson on (1) the Title VII and PHRA claims for any
discriminatory acts prior to July 6, 2010, (2) the Section 1981 claim for any
discriminatory acts prior to March 12, 2008, and (3) the EPA claim. (Docs. 105, 106).
On February 24, 2014, FedEx filed the instant motion for reconsideration pursuant
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e). (Doc. 108). FedEx contends that the court
improperly applied the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 (the “FPA”) in
concluding that Johnson’s Section 1981 claim falls within the applicable statute of
limitations. (Id.) The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.
Motions for reconsideration under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e)
serve primarily to correct manifest errors of law or fact in a prior decision of the
court. See United States v. Fiorelli, 337 F.3d 282, 288 (3d Cir. 2003); Harsco Corp. v.
Zlotnicki, 779 F.2d 906, 909 (3d Cir. 1985). Under Rule 59(e), “a judgment may be
altered or amended if the party seeking reconsideration establishes at least one of
the following grounds: (1) an intervening change in the controlling law; (2) the
availability of new evidence that was not available when the court granted the
motion for summary judgment; or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or fact
or to prevent manifest injustice.” Max’s Seafood Cafe ex rel. Lou-Ann, Inc. v.
Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999). “A motion for reconsideration is not to
be used as a means to reargue matters already argued and disposed of or as an
attempt to relitigate a point of disagreement between the Court and the litigant.”
Ogden v. Keystone Residence, 226 F. Supp. 2d 588, 606 (M.D. Pa. 2002) (internal
citation and quotations omitted). Reconsideration of a judgment is an
extraordinary remedy, and the court grants such motions sparingly. D’Angio v.
Borough of Nescopeck, 56 F. Supp. 2d 502, 504 (M.D. Pa. 1999).
It follows from the remedial purpose of a Rule 59(e) motion that the standard
of review relates back to the standard applicable in the underlying decision. See
Fiorelli, 337 F.3d at 288. When a motion for reconsideration challenges the court’s
decision to grant or deny summary judgment, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56
controls the analysis. Relief may be granted if the materials related to the summary
judgment motion—including the pleadings, discovery materials, and
affidavits—“show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the
moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” FED . R. CIV . P. 56(c); see
also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). The court should
consider all facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party to determine
whether a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. See
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250-57; Int’l Raw Materials, Ltd. v. Stauffer Chem. Co., 898
F.2d 946, 949 (3d Cir. 1990).
Motion for Summary Judgment
In its motion for summary judgment, FedEx argued that a two-year statute of
limitations bars Johnson’s Section 1981 claim. (Doc. 105 at 15). Relying on Jones v.
R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co., 541 U.S. 369 (2004), however, the court concluded that a
four-year statute of limitations applies to Section 1981 claims arising under the Civil
Rights Act of 1991. (Id. at 15-16).
In the case sub judice, the alleged discriminatory acts took place between
1996 and 2001 when FedEx allowed Pooler to operate as a service agent while
receiving higher courier pay. (Id. at 16; see Doc. 1 ¶¶ 13, 15-17). However, Johnson
did not file her complaint until March 12, 2012, long after the expiration of the fouryear statute of limitations. (Doc. 105 at 16; see Doc. 1).
Johnson asserted that her Section 1981 claim was preserved due to equitable
tolling as well as the continuous violation doctrine. (Doc. 105 at 16-19). The court
rejected both arguments. (Id. at 17-19). Relevant to the instant motion, the court
explained that the continuing violation doctrine applies only to a pattern of
discriminatory acts that are not individually actionable; it is not applicable to
discrete, actionable discriminatory acts. (Id. at 19). The court reiterated that,
under the paycheck accrual rule as codified in the FPA, each paycheck issued
pursuant to a discriminatory decision is a discrete discriminatory act for which a
claim may be asserted. (Id.) Applying the paycheck accrual rule, the court held
that Johnson’s Section 1981 claim for race discrimination in compensation is
limited to paychecks she received after March 12, 2008 within the four-year statute
of limitations. (Id.)
Motion for Reconsideration
In the instant motion, FedEx challenges the court’s partial summary
judgment ruling on grounds that the FPA did not explicitly amend Section 1981;
therefore, the paycheck accrual rule does not apply to Johnson’s race
discrimination claim. (Doc. 108 at 1-2). According to FedEx, the Supreme Court’s
holding in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Inc., 550 U.S. 618 (2007),
entirely precludes Johnson’s Section 1981 claim because she did not file the claim
within four years of the alleged discriminatory compensation decisions. (Doc. 108
at 3). The court rejects this argument.
In Ledbetter, the Supreme Court held that the statute of limitations
commences for a Title VII claim related to discrimination in compensation when
the employer makes the discriminatory “pay-setting” decision. Ledbetter, 550 U.S.
at 621. A new violation does not occur, and a new statute of limitations does not
commence, when the employer takes subsequent non-discriminatory action, such
as issuing paychecks, on the basis of the past discriminatory decision. Id. at 628. In
so holding, the Supreme Court emphasized a distinction between a discrete
discriminatory act, which gives rise to a new violation, and the non-discriminatory
effects of a past discriminatory act. Id. at 624-28.
The majority in Ledbetter distinguished its prior ruling in Bazemore v.
Friday, 478 U.S. 385 (1986), in which the Justice Brennan stated that “[e]ach week’s
paycheck that delivers less to a black than a similarly situated white is a wrong
actionable under Title VII.” Bazemore, 478 U.S. at 395. The Court limited the
application of the paycheck accrual rule articulated in Bazemore to paychecks
issued pursuant to a facially discriminatory pay structure. Ledbetter, 550 U.S. at
636. For a non-discriminatory and neutrally applied pay structure, only a
discriminatory decision within the statute of limitations may support a claim for
discrimination in compensation. Id. Any resulting paycheck is insufficient to
remedy an otherwise untimely claim. Id.
Congress swiftly answered the Supreme Court’s decision in Ledbetter with
the FPA. Indeed, the express purpose of the FPA was “to reinstate the law
regarding the timeliness of pay compensation claims as it was prior to the
Ledbetter decision, which Congress believed undermined statutory protections
against compensation discrimination by unduly restricting the time period in which
victims could challenge and recover for discriminatory compensation decisions.”
Mikula v. Allegheny County of Pa., 583 F.3d 181, 184 (3d Cir. 2009); see also Lilly
Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, Pub. L. No. 111-2, § 2, 123 Stat. 5 (2009); 155 CONG .
REC . H546-03 (daily ed. Jan. 27, 2009); 155 CONG . REC . S212-03 (daily ed. Jan. 8, 2009)
(statement of Sen. Ted Kennedy) (“[The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act] will restore
the basic right of all workers, regardless of their race, sex, religion, national origin,
age, or disability, to be paid fairly, free from discrimination. It will restore workers’
rights to challenge ongoing discrimination and hold unscrupulous employers
accountable [and] . . . [it] will restore the long-standing rule that each
discriminatory paycheck is a separate wrong that may be challenged by workers
within the required period after receiving the check.”).
The FPA amends several anti-discrimination statutes, including Title VII, by
providing that an unlawful employment practice with respect to discrimination in
compensation occurs when (1) a discriminatory compensation decision or other
practice is adopted, (2) a plaintiff becomes subject to the discriminatory
compensation decision or other practice, or (3) the plaintiff is affected by
application of the discriminatory compensation decision or other practice,
including “each time wages, benefits, or other compensation is paid.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 2000e-5(e)(3)(A). Thus, under the FPA, each paycheck issued pursuant to a
discriminatory decision is a discrete discriminatory act which resets the applicable
statute of limitations.
Subsequent to enactment of the FPA, courts have been divided regarding the
scope of the paycheck accrual rule and the remaining impact of Ledbetter on
Section 1981 and other claims not explicitly amended by the FPA. Compare Russell
v. County of Nassau, 696 F. Supp. 2d 213, 230 (E.D.N.Y. 2010) (holding that claims
under Title VI and Sections 1981, 1983, and 1985 are governed by the Supreme
Court’s analysis in Ledbetter because the FPA did not amend those statutes),
Maher v. Int’l Paper Co., 600 F. Supp. 2d 940 (W.D. Mich. 2009) (same for claims
under the Family and Medical Leave Act), and Johnson v. Portfolio Recovery
Assocs., LLC, 682 F. Supp. 2d 560, 585 (E.D. Va. 2009) (declining to consider
whether Ledbetter still applies to the Section 1981 claim after the FPA, but
analyzing the alleged pay-setting decisions under the four-year statute of
limitations), with Groesch v. City of Springfield, Ill., 635 F.3d 1020, 1026 (7th Cir.
2011) (extending the paycheck accrual rule to equal protection claims under 42
U.S.C. § 1983 because the FPA “remov[ed] the Ledbetter decision as an obstacle to
following our earlier precedents, which recognized the paycheck accrual rule for all
allegations of unlawful discrimination in employee compensation”), Connelly v.
Steel Valley Sch. Dist., No. 11-851, 2011 WL 5024415, at *3 (W.D. Pa. Oct. 20, 2011)
(“Because the [Third Circuit] Court of Appeals has historically treated Title VII and
section 1983 actions uniformly, the paycheck accrual rule applies in this case.”),
Summy-Long v. Pa. State Univ., No. 1:06-CV-1117, 2010 WL 1253472, at *12 (M.D.
Pa. Mar. 24, 2010) (analyzing Title IX and Sections 1983 and 1985 claims under the
paycheck accrual rule because all three statutes rely on Title VII case law for
statute of limtiations issues), Aspilaire v. Wyeth Pharm., Inc., 612 F. Supp. 2d 289,
303 n.6 (S.D.N.Y. 2009) (applying the FPA to Section 1981 claim because Title VII
and Section 1981 claims are frequently analyzed under the same framework), and
Shockley v. Minner, No. 06-478 JJF, 2009 WL 866792, at *1 (D. Del. Mar. 31, 2009)
(concluding that the FPA “explicitly overruled the decision and logic” of Ledbetter).
At best, the law regarding the relationship between the FPA and Ledbetter
remains unsettled. Given this uncertainty, FedEx has failed to establish that the
court committed a clear error of law or fact in applying the paycheck accrual rule to
Johnson’s Section 1981 claim.1
For the above stated reasons, the court will deny FedEx’s motion for
reconsideration of the court’s partial grant of summary judgment regarding
Johnson’s Section 1981 claim.
Moreover, in the exercise of caution, the court notes that Johnson has set
forth undisputed facts regarding an additional discriminatory compensation
decision within the four-year statute of limitations. Specifically, Johnson asserts
that, in 2011, she requested a pay raise to achieve wage parity with Pooler, but she
never received a response from FedEx. (Doc. 109 at 2; see Doc. 92 ¶ 13; Doc. 93-1,
Ex. 50). In Mikula, the Third Circuit addressed an identical situation and held that
the failure to answer a request for a raise is equivalent to an explicit denial of the
request and may qualify as a discriminatory compensation decision. See Mikula,
583 F.3d at 186. Hence, even if the paycheck accrual rule is not applicable to
Section 1981 claims, FedEx’s failure to respond to Johnson’s request for pay equity
supports the court’s conclusion that Johnson’s Section 1981 claim falls within the
statute of limitations.
An appropriate order will issue.
/S/ CHRISTOPHER C. CONNER
Christopher C. Conner, Chief Judge
United States District Court
Middle District of Pennsylvania
April 22, 2014
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