Jim Boyle Jul. 2, 2014, 8:49am


A Bucks County woman says her African American boss created a hostile workplace before

her eventual termination based on her race, according to a federal civil suit filed at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Valerie Gross-Bennett, a Caucasian woman from Bensalem, worked at StoneMor Partners for 21 months as a Senior Compliance Analyst out of the cemetary management company's Levittown office. She claims that during her employment, her African American manager, Derrick Smiley, showed favoritism toward her African American co-worker Devin Negron, with whom Smiley allegedly had a personal relationship outside work.

In one particular instance in January 2013, Gross-Bennett returned from a 10-day vacation to find an e-mail from a trustee regarding a new account that had been set up but not yet funded by Negron, the one person in the office permitted to establish new accounts, the suit claims.

Gross-Bennett sent an e-mail to Smiley asking about the account and for instructions on how to properly continue the set-up procedures and allegedly received a reply asking, "how is this account unique from other accounts."

When Gross-Bennett voiced her disapproval of the message's tone, Smiley laughed it off and said everything is fine, the complaint says. However, a performance evaluation in March 2013 said that Gross-Bennett had "personality issues" and that she had been on a performance improvement plan since August 2012. However, a review of her employee file showed no mention of an improvement plan, the complaint says.

Smiley wanted to put the plaintiff on a 30-day review, but she refused to sign the document or the evaluation. Gross-Bennett did not hear anything more about the review plan and assumed the matter had been put to rest, she claims.

The complaint says that Negron continued to complain about Gross-Bennett to Smiley. At one point, the plaintiff's department was scheduled for relocation due to ongoing construction at the site. The new configuration would have placed Gross-Bennett and Negron directly next to each other across an aisle. According to court documents, Negron complained to Smiley, and Gross-Bennett's desk was subsequently moved out of sight of Negron. Not long after, Gross-Bennett's employment was terminated, with the claim of personality issues as the given reason.

Gross-Bennett claims that the wrongful termination is made even more obvious when compared to the lack of disciplinary action toward another African American employee who fell asleep at her desk. Rather than dismissing her, Smiley attempted to pass her work to another employee, the complaint says.

Declaring discriminatory practices utilized by her employers, Gross-Bennett seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages for her wrongful termination. She also pleads for an injunction against StoneMor, prohibiting it from continuing to discriminate against white employees.

Gross-Bennett is represented by Penndel-based attorneys Timothy Kolman and William Ely.

The federal case ID number is 2:14-cv-04015-GP.

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