Candelaria v. The Hosp. of the Univ. of Pa., 2197 EDA 2021

CourtSuperior Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtMcCAFFERY, J.
PartiesANTOINETTE CANDELARIA v. THE HOSPITAL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA, THE UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA HEALTH SYSTEM AND THE TRUSTEES OF THE UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA, Appellants
Docket Number2197 EDA 2021,J-A20007-22
Decision Date16 September 2022

ANTOINETTE CANDELARIA
v.

THE HOSPITAL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA, THE UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA HEALTH SYSTEM AND THE TRUSTEES OF THE UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA, Appellants

No. 2197 EDA 2021

No. J-A20007-22

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

September 16, 2022


NON-PRECEDENTIAL DECISION - SEE SUPERIOR COURT I.O.P. 65.37

Appeal from the Order Entered April 9, 2021 In the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County Civil Division at No(s): 180901319

BEFORE: STABILE, J., McCAFFERY, J., and PELLEGRINI, J. [*]

MEMORANDUM

McCAFFERY, J.

The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Pennsylvania Health System, and the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania (collectively, Appellants), appeal from the order entered in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas on April 9, 2021, denying their motion for summary judgment. After careful review, we reverse and remand for the entry of summary judgment in favor of Appellants.

We glean the following factual and procedural history from the record. Antionette Candelaria (Appellee) initiated this civil action on December 2, 2019, with the filing of a complaint against Appellants, her former employer,

1

alleging negligence and loss of consortium. The loss of consortium claim was dismissed on February 17, 2021, leaving only the negligence claim at issue. Appellee alleged in her complaint that Appellants failed to investigate her allegations regarding the inappropriate conduct of her then co-worker, James Esposito. Specifically, Appellee alleged that in November of 2016, Mr. Esposito "grabbed his crotch and exposed his naked penis" to her. Complaint, 12/2/19, at ¶ 17. Appellee "immediately expressed her revulsion at his behavior" and reported him to her department manager. Id. at ¶ 18. Her manager then allegedly reported the incident to Appellants' human resources department; however, no one from human resources ever contacted Appellee. Id. at ¶¶ 19-20. She further averred that no disciplinary actions were taken against Mr. Esposito. Id. at ¶ 21. Appellee stated Mr. Esposito "continued his vulgar verbal taunting and sexual [sic] inappropriate gestures" throughout the remainder of November 2016 and into January 2017. Id. at ¶¶ 23-24. She also alleged "[Mr.] Esposito even had the audacity to shoulder check [her] in the hallway while she was with a patient." Id. at ¶ 25. Appellee submitted that despite her "numerous reports of sexual harassment and discrimination, [Appellants] took no meaningful action to curtail [Mr. Esposito's] behavior[,]" causing her to resign in January of 2017. Id. at ¶¶ 27-28.

On March 1, 2021, Appellants moved for summary judgment seeking dismissal of the complaint on the grounds that "[Appellee's] action is premised on conduct that falls squarely within the scope of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 Pa.C.S. §[§] 951[-963], and the jurisdiction of the

2

Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ("PHRC"). Motion for Summary Judgment ("MSJ"), 3/1/21, at ¶ 2. Appellants asserted that Appellee had "attempted to bypass the legislature's carefully crafted administrative framework by asserting a common law negligence claim rather than asserting a proper claim under the PHRA[,]" and that the complaint must be dismissed, as the PHRA preempts common law causes of action. Id. At ¶¶ 3-5. Alternatively, Appellants argued that Appellee "cannot establish a claim for negligence as a matter of law[,]" as Pennsylvania courts have not recognized "an employer's duty to provide a workplace free of sexual harassment outside of the PHRA (or the analogous Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964[, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-1 to 2000e-17])." Id. at ¶¶ 6-7.

On April 9, 2021, the trial court denied Appellants' motion for summary judgment, finding that a genuine issue of material fact persisted, i.e., whether the actions of Mr. Esposito were targeted towards women. See Order, 4/9/21 (single page); Trial Ct. Op., 4/4/22, at 2-3 (unpaginated). On June 30, 2021, Appellants timely filed a petition for permission to appeal,[1] which was granted

3

by this Court on November 4, 2021. The trial court directed Appellants to file a Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b) concise statement of errors complained of on appeal. They timely complied. On April 4, 2022, the trial court filed its Rule 1925(a) opinion.

Appellants now present the following sole issue for our review on appeal: "Whether [Appellee]'s negligence claim-premised on an alleged sexually hostile work environment-must be dismissed because the [PHRA] preempts such a claim as a matter of law and because no common law duty exists to support [her] negligence claim?" Appellants' Brief at 4.

We review the merits of Appellants' claim mindful of the following, well-settled principles:

Our scope of review of a trial court's order granting or denying summary judgment is plenary, and our standard of review is clear: the trial court's order will be reversed only where it is established that the court committed an error of law or abused its discretion
Summary judgment is appropriate only when the record clearly shows that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The reviewing court must view the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and resolve all doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact against the moving party. Only when the facts are so clear that reasonable minds could not differ can a trial court properly enter summary judgment

Michael v. Stock, 162 A.3d 465, 472-73 (Pa. Super. 2017) (citation omitted).

Instantly, Appellants claim that the trial court erred in denying its motion for summary judgment, because Appellee's "negligence claim" is essentially a sexual harassment claim which falls squarely within the scope of

4

the PHRA and the jurisdiction of the PHRC. Appellants' Brief at 10. In support of its argument, Appellants note that Appellee references sexual harassment and the creation of a hostile work environment numerous times in her complaint. Id. at 16. Additionally, they point to Appellee's deposition testimony, in which she stated that "Mr. Esposito sexually harassed her and that her negligence claim was premised on Mr. Esposito's behavior and [Appellants'] failure to respond to her reports of sexual harassment . . . ." Id. at 17, citing N.T. Deposition, 10/26/20, at 70-71. Despite her admission that her claim is based on alleged sexual harassment, Appellants argue that Appellee "has ignored the fact that the PHRA is the exclusive remedy for her claims and, instead, attempted to assert a common law claim for negligence against [them]." Id. at 10. Moreover, they assert that her negligence claim fails, as there is no common law duty to provide a "safe workplace," as alleged by Appellee. Id. at 20-21. Finally, Appellants contend that, "[b]ecause no duty exists at common law for an employer to maintain a safe workplace that is free from sexual harassment, [Appellee] cannot establish . . . negligence . . . as a matter of law[,]" and the trial court's denial of its request for summary judgment should be reversed. Id. at 21-22. We agree.

Section 955 of the PHRA provides, in relevant part: "It shall be an unlawful discriminatory practice, unless based upon a bona fide occupational qualification, … [f]or any employer because of . . . sex . . . to otherwise discriminate against such...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT