HARRISBURG - The Superior Court of Pennsylvania has reversed a trial court’s decision to grant summary judgment in an employment discrimination case.
Appellant Laurie Mergl filed a discrimination complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission in 2011 after being fired from her position at the Mercer County Community Credit Union.
“The PHRC dismissed Mergl’s complaint on Nov. 19, 2012, because it found no probable cause that any discrimination occurred,” Judge Joseph D. Seletyn wrote.
After Mergl initiated her civil action in the Court of Common Pleas of Mercer County in 2014, appellees Mercer County Community Credit Union, David Killa and Anita Churlik filed a motion for summary judgment on Aug. 30, 2017, the superior court said.
The Superior Court of Pennsylvania has reversed the trial court’s decision to grant summary judgement in an employment discrimination case. pexels.com
According to the opinion, Mergl didn’t file a response to the motion for summary judgment, but she did file a brief in opposition.
“She attached an affidavit to her brief, in which she claims that the PHRC received her charge of discrimination before July 11, 2011,” the opinion stated. “In her affidavit, she maintains the complaint was filed with the PHRC within the statutory 180-day time period.”
In her appeal, Mergl argued the trial court abused its discretion and committed an error of law in granting summary judgment for failure to respond and for failing to consider Mergl’s affidavit as part of the record. The Superior Court said Mergl’s brief in response, with the affidavit in question attached, was filed with the prothonotary and entered on the docket, therefore entering the affidavit into the official record.
“The trial court should have considered the affidavit and the information contained therein, in deciding whether to grant summary judgment,” the opinion stated. “The trial court abused its discretion by not considering the brief in opposition and the affidavit.”
According to the opinion, Mergl's second claim states the trial court abused its discretion and committed an error of law by granting summary judgment because her affidavit created a genuine issue of material fact regarding the timeliness of her complaint with the PHRC.
The Superior Court said the PHRC was uncooperative with Mergl’s attempts to obtain documents.
“The best way to prove that the complaint was filed within the 180-day time requirement would be to present some document or intake form from the PHRC, but Mergl indicated at oral argument that the PHRC has been uncooperative with her attempts to obtain a copy of her file,” the opinion stated.
According to the Superior Court, Mergl should have been given more time to obtain documentation from the PHRC.
“Essentially Mergl maintains she filed a timely charge with the PHRC, but the agency was delayed in producing the actual complaint,” the opinion stated.
The Superior Court also said the trial court abused its discretion by determining that Mergl’s affidavit did not raise a genuine issue of material fact and summary judgment was premature at this juncture.
According to the opinion, Mergl’s third claim states the trial court abused its discretion and committed an error by determining there was a difference between a complaint filed with the PHRC and a “charge of discrimination.”
“Based on the legal flexibility of the terms ‘charge” and ‘complaint,’ the trial court’s grant of summary judgment because of Mergl’s choice of verbiage was also an abuse of discretion,” the opinion stated. “The substance of the filing is what is most important, not how the aggrieved party to labels the document.”