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Bellissimo v. Westinghouse Electric Corp.

June 11, 1985


On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania (C. A. No. 81-1650).

Adams, Weis and Wisdom,*fn* Circuit Judges.

Author: Wisdom


WISDOM, Senior Circuit Judge.

In this case, we must determine whether a plaintiff in a sexual discrimination case has met her burden of proof under Texas Department of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 101 S. Ct. 1089, 67 L. Ed. 2d 207 (1981). The plaintiff, a discharged attorney, won judgment on her allegations of sexual discrimination. The defendants appealed, arguing that the district court erred in finding sexual discrimination on the evidence adduced at trial and in failing to assign to the plaintiff the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant's legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for her discharge was pretextual. We hold that the district court's finding that the reasons alleged for the plaintiff's discharge were pretextual is clearly erroneous, and accordingly reverse.


Elizabeth Bellissimo, an attorney, challenges her discharge from the legal department of Westinghouse Electric Corporation. Ms. Bellissimo's complaint alleged violations of Title VII, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, and the Equal Pay Act of 1963. It also alleged pendent state claims for wrongful discharge, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The court dismissed the wrongful discharge claim upon the defendants' [sic] motion. Ms. Bellissimo withdrew her defamation claims.

At the end of a consolidated trial, the district judge dismissed the claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress, and submitted only the equal pay count to the jury. The jury returned a verdict of $1016. The district court denied liquidated damages, holding that Westinghouse acted in good faith and had established that it had reasonable grounds for believing it was in compliance with the Equal Pay Act. The court made Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law on the Title VII claim, and entered judgment for Ms. Bellissimo in the sum of $121,670.67, the value of her projected wages at Westinghouse through one year beyond the date of judgment, minus about $8800 she earned as a sole practitioner from 1980 through 1983.

Ms. Bellissimo had interned for Westinghouse while a law student during the summers of 1976 and 1977. She had no problems with her supervisor there. After her acceptance by Westinghouse, she worked for six months in the International law Section. Her supervisor there had no problems in his working relationship with Ms. Bellissimo and found her work to be adequate. In June 1979, Ms. Bellissimo moved to Westinghouse's Ardmore Site as a contract specialist, the job that he [he] originally requested. Her supervisor there rated her work as good and had no serious problems in his working relationship with her. Ms. Bellissimo became dissatisfied with her position, however, and requested a transfer to the legal department. In November 1979, she was transferred to the "learning and leisure" group of the legal department after interviews with Mr. Marcovsky, who was to be her supervisor.

Ms. Bellissimo had heard that Mr. Marcovksy was difficult to work with. She therefore maintained contemporaneous notes of their conversations and conflicts from early in her employment in the legal department [department]. The two had a running feud. Ms. Bellissimo became angry when Mr. Marcovsky suggested that she bring her luggage to the office on the day of a business trip rather than go home for it later. Mr. Marcovsky felt that her clothes were too tight-fitting too "flashy," and were not in keeping with the department's policy of dressing in a conservative style. Mr. Marcovsky asked Ms. Bellissimo's secretary if she and Ms. Bellissimo were "getting along." He counseled Ms. Bellissimo that dancing in a bar with a client and leaving the bar with a client created a negative impression with the other clients who were present, and told her to feign a headache and retire to her room if confronted with such a situation again. Mr. McGrath, a superior of Mr. Marcovsky, later overruled this advice to Ms. Bellissimo.

The difficulties between the two also emerged in disagreements over hours and punctuality at client meetings. Ms. Bellissimo wished to work 8:30 to 5:30, and her working hours remained an area of contention throughout her work in the law department. Mr. Marcovksy complained that she was slow in performing her work. The district court made no findings as to her work product. Westinghouse also alleges that she was late to client meetings. but Ms. Bellissimo contests the degree of her tardiness. The district court made no finding on this issue, and the evidence is conflicting.

The dismal working relationship between Ms. Bellissimo and Mr. Marcovsky reached its nadir on August 8, 1980, when Mr. Marcovsky spoke to her about being late for a client's meeting. Ms. Bellissimo screamed at Mr. Marcovsky, threatened to see a client about the perceived abuse she had received, walked out, and slammed the door. Ms. Bellissimo then took her complaints to the Executive Vice President of the Westinghouse division that Mr. Mrcovsky [Marcovsky] served. He advised her to speak instead with Mr. Marcovsky. Westinghouse's general counsel testified that her action, which had immersed a Vice President in personnel matters within the law department, was important in his decision to discharge Ms. Bellissimo. Mr. Marcovsky told his superior, Mr. McGrath, that he was no longer able to supervise Ms. Bellissimo. On August 18, Mr. McGrath met with Ms. Bellissimo and told her that she would either resign by August 22, 1980, with full salary through the end of September 1980, or be terminated effective August 31, 1980. She chose to be discharged.

Ms. Bellissimo filed a timely comprehensive written charge of sex discrimination with the EEOC. The EEOC did not conclude an investigation within a year, and so, at Ms. Bellissimo's request, it issued a right to sue letter on September 24, 1981. She then sued. At the conclusion of an eight-day trial, the district court found, in part:

"11. Plaintiff established that the legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason asserted by defendants [for her discharge] is a mere pretext in that she established that the reason she could not get along with defendant Marcovsky was because he bore a discriminatory animus against her on the basis of her ...

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