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MATOS v. PNC FINANCIAL SERVICES GROUP

October 17, 2005.

LESLIE MATOS, Plaintiff,
v.
THE PNC FINANCIAL SERVICES GROUP, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROBERT KUGLER, Magistrate Judge

OPINION

This matter comes before the court on motion by Defendant The PNC Financial Services Group for summary judgment of Plaintiff Leslie Matos's claims for religious discrimination. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion for summary judgment will be denied in part and granted in part.

I. Background

  Plaintiff Leslie Matos ("Matos") has been an ardent Jehovah's Witness since she was baptized in 1993. Every July she attends an annual religious convention with approximately 20,000 other Jehovah Witnesses. The assembly takes place from Friday to Sunday, but her entire congregation travels to the site the Thursday prior to assist with preparation. In 2002, Matos' employer, Defendant PNC Financial Services Group ("Defendant" or the "Bank"), did not permit her to take Thursday and Friday off of work to attend the assembly, and Matos quit her job rather than miss the event. Matos alleges that the Bank's refusal to approve her absence was a failure to accommodate her religious beliefs as required by Title VII. Matos also alleges disparate treatment, constructive discharge, a hostile work environment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Defendant now moves for summary judgment on all claims.

  Defendant hired Matos as part-time teller on October 30, 1998, and she informed the Bank of her religious beliefs soon thereafter. Because of the proximity of Halloween, the branch, including Matos' workstation, was decorated for the holiday. Matos explained that her religion did not permit such decorations and she moved them to another teller's station. Although she had to repeat her explanation and request every holiday, Matos does not contend that the Bank was hostile to the removal of decorations.

  Matos' first significant conflict with the Bank arising out of her religious beliefs occurred in July 1999 when she asked manager Marion Sokol ("Sokol") for two days off of work so that she could attend the Jehovah's Witness convention. Because Matos was a part-time employee and had no vacation days, she requested the days off without pay. After initially denying the request, Sokol permitted Matos to take time off, but required that she take the entire week off, instead of only two days. By taking the full week off without pay, Matos was able to attend the assembly.

  The issue of the convention did not arise again until 2002. In 2000, Matos was on disability leave and consequently did not need to request days off to attend the assembly. In 2001 the assembly coincided with the death of Matos' father, and she was able to go to the convention during the time she took off work to be with her family. Matos went to Puerto Rico to attend the funeral and then returned in time to go to the convention without the Bank's knowledge before she resumed work the following Monday.

  In the year at issue, Matos initially approached the Bank in January about her need to take two days off for the assembly in July. However, the Bank issued vacation time in order of seniority. A calendar was passed from employee to employee, beginning with the individual who had been at the bank the longest. Matos' supervisor informed her that she would have to wait until she received the calendar to see if those days were available.

  By the time Matos received the calendar, another employee had reserved the week of the assembly. Matos informed her supervisors of the conflict. Per their instructions, Matos asked the other employee if she would be willing to change vacation dates; however, the employee's vacation was fixed and could not be altered. Because Matos had to select a vacation week before passing the calendar on to the next employee, she reserved the week of May 27. She also took off June 20, 21, and the week of June 24 to attend the anniversary of her father's funeral in Puerto Rico. Consequently, by the time of the assembly in July, Matos had used all of her vacation and all but one of her paid occasional absence days. The record suggests that Matos believed that she had one paid occasional absence day and one "floating" day remaining to use for the convention, but it is unclear whether these days were actually available.

  Additionally, at or around this time, Sokol informed Matos that the branch was instituting a new policy prohibiting more than one employee from being absent at one time. Prior to 2002, the Bank permitted two employees to take off the same day as long as one of the individuals was a teller and the other was a platform worker. While Sokol later acknowledged that the Bank would make exceptions to the new rule for reasonable requests, allowing more than one employee to be absent, it appears that Sokol did not inform Matos of such a possibility.

  Matos raised the issue of the assembly with the Bank again in July. Sokol refused to grant her request for time off and asked Matos, "What is more important to you, your job or God?" Dawn Stewart, Matos' immediate supervisor, told her that if she took those days off without permission, Sokol would fire her for insubordination. Matos was afraid that if she was fired, she would be escorted from the building by a security officer in a manner that would be extremely humiliating and disparaging to her religion. Believing that she would be fired if she went to the assembly, Matos turned in a letter of resignation that day.

  In addition to the events of 2002, Matos alleges that the Bank frequently required her to stay late on Friday evenings even though her coworkers were allowed to leave. If the branch's accounts were not settled by the end of the work day on Friday, several tellers would be required to remain at work until the accounts were fully settled. However, Matos' fellow tellers were permitted to leave if they gave a reason such as having to tend to their children or having plans that required them to be elsewhere. However, the Bank did not permit Matos to leave, even though her supervisors knew that she had religious meetings on Friday evenings. Consequently, Matos alleges, on approximately three Fridays a month, she was the only teller remaining by the time the bank was settled. As a result, she was often late to her Friday meetings.

  II. Standard of Review

  Summary judgment is appropriate where the Court is satisfied 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); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists when "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

  The burden of establishing the nonexistence of a "genuine issue" is on the party moving for summary judgment. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 330. The moving party may satisfy this burden by either (1) submitting affirmative evidence that negates an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim; or (2) demonstrating to the Court that the nonmoving party's evidence is insufficient to establish an essential element of the nonmoving party's case. Id. at 331. If the moving party has not fully discharged its initial burden, its motion for summary judgment must be denied. Id. at 332. If the moving party satisfies its initial burden, the nonmoving party "must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).

  III. ...


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