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Third Circuit finds laboratory company not liable for gender, pay discrimination

By Nicholas Malfitano | Mar 7, 2016

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

PHILADELPHIA – According to a federal appeals court, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania correctly determined a laboratory company did not violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) or the Equal Pay Act, in relation to a former employee.

Judges Kent A. Jordan, Morton I. Greenberg and Anthony J. Scirica of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled Friday that Debra A. Steele was not entitled to judgment against Pelmor Laboratories.

Steele initially sued Pelmor in federal court for allegedly discriminating against her as a female in not considering her for a promotion, or compensating her at the same pay rate as a male colleague who did receive that same promotion.

Pelmor manufactures rubber parts for the aerospace, computer, and medical device industries, and employs about 30 people. In 1991, Steele was hired in 1991 for the position of a “trimmer/inspector” at a wage of $7.35 per hour. Throughout her time at Pelmor, Steele rose through the ranks.

After spending nine years in the trimming department and earning two promotions, Steele was promoted to the supervisory position of production manager in 2000, where she oversees all aspects of production. Steele holds a GED (General Educational Development) certificate and continues to work in this managerial role, earning an annual salary of $67,000.

Pelmor hired Michael Wuensche in June 2012 as its Controller, based on his educational background (Masters of Business Administration degree from La Salle University) and prior years of experience in accounting, consulting, finance and management. Wuensche’s annual salary was $80,000.

When the Vice-President of Operations position opened up two months later, Steele asserted Pelmor’s President, James Ross, told her “no replacement would be hired” to fill that role – though Steele believed otherwise. In November 2013, Wuensche was promoted to the Vice-President role, becoming Steele’s direct supervisor in the process and given a raise to an annual salary of $115,000.

Ross believed Steele’s job performance was “below average” and thus, she wasn’t selected as a candidate for the Vice-President role, whereas Steele believed her “gut feeling” was that Ross didn’t select her for the role due to her gender.

Steele was issued a right to sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and filed suit in the District Court, which granted summary judgment to Pelmor.

Steele soon appealed, but her arguments did not find favor with the Third Circuit.

“The record is devoid of any direct evidence of discrimination in the promotion decision. Steele testified that she had never seen any documents to support her claim, that no one had ever told her she was denied the promotion because of her gender, and that she thus had no facts or evidence to support her claim other than her “gut feeling,” Jordan said.

Since Wuensche possesses a college degree and MBA and “significant managerial experience in a variety of manufacturing contexts”, while Steele may have longer company experience (but not in high-level managerial positions), Jordan explained Steele cannot claim she is more qualified for the role than Wuensche.

“The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of Pelmor because it concluded that Wuensche and Steele do not perform substantially equal work. We agree,” Jordan said.

Jordan said deposition testimony revealed that Wuensche is Steele’s boss, and it was not discriminatory for Pelmor to pay Steele less than her boss.

“Given the dissimilarity in their job responsibilities, Steele cannot make a prima facie case under the Equal Pay Act, and the District Court properly granted summary judgment in favor of Pelmor,” Jordan said.

The appellant is represented by Wayne A. Ely and W. Charles Sipio of Kolman Ely, in Penndel.

The appellee is represented by Caren Litvin of Litvin Law Offices, in Radnor.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit case 15-2358

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:14-cv-05340

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at

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