Verizon Wins Summary Judgment in Pa. Discrimination Suit

A decision in an employment action against Verizon puts an end to an African-American ex-employee’s suit alleging that the telecommunications and internet services provider treated him less favorably than white employees. Judge John M. Gallagher ruled that the plaintiff failed to demonstrate that he was qualified for the permanent position he sought based on evidence demonstrating subpar job performance.

According to last Thursday’s opinion, the plaintiff worked as a service technician with Verizon Pennsylvania LLC beginning in May 2017 for a three-year term. In the at-will position, the plaintiff reportedly performed installation and maintenance for customers in the southeastern part of the state.

According to the plaintiff, he was one of only two African-American employees at Verizon’s Coatesville garage. In July 2018, Verizon agreed to transition certain temporary service technicians to permanent roles per a deal with a labor consortium the plaintiff was a part of, the Communication Workers of America Union. Under the terms of the agreement, technicians were eligible for the job only if they received performance ratings of “meets expectations” or “exceeds expectations.”

The plaintiff allegedly failed to meet that criteria and was fired in September 2018. As evidence, Verizon put forward two performance reviews revealing that the plaintiff’s work fell into the “needs improvement” category, in part for spending too long at job sites. The defendant also averred that it placed the plaintiff on a “development plan” intended to remind him of the performance objectives for that year and that the company gave him verbal counselling.

Judge Gallagher held that though the plaintiff demonstrated he was a member of a protected class as an African American and that he suffered an adverse employment action, termination, the opinion found that he fell short of showing he was qualified for the permanent role. As such, Judge Gallagher could not eliminate a non-discriminatory reason for his firing, underperformance.

The court also declined the plaintiff’s invitation to overlook the performance review metrics as unreliable because the ex-employee claimed he was not given an assigned van and other essential tools. Had he been provided with that equipment, the plaintiff further claimed, he would have been able to timely complete his work. 

Judge Gallagher found this argument unavailing. “[B]eyond his own opinion, he does not present any evidence to suggest that his purported lack of a van or certain tools precluded adequate job performance, let alone that he was denied any equipment because of his race,” the court said.

The plaintiff is represented by the Law Offices of Eric A. Shore and Verizon by Jackson Lewis P.C.