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TAYLOR v. PHOENIXVILLE SCH. DIST.

March 20, 1998

KATHERINE L. TAYLOR, Plaintiff,
v.
PHOENIXVILLE SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOYNER

 JOYNER, J.

 March 20, 1998

 Plaintiff, Katherine L. Taylor ("plaintiff" or "Taylor") commenced this action against defendant, Phoenixville School District ("defendant" or the "school district") on December 19, 1996. Plaintiff's complaint alleges that she was terminated in violation of Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C.A. § 12101, et. seq. and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 P.S. § 951, et. seq. Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief, monetary compensation as well as other affirmative relief, punitive damages, and attorney's fees and costs.

 Presently before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 on all counts of Plaintiff's Complaint. For the following reasons, the Motion is granted.

 BACKGROUND

 Plaintiff was employed by defendant in September of 1974 as the principal's secretary for the East Pikeland Elementary School ("East Pikeland") and was terminated on October 28, 1994. Plaintiff worked for five different principals throughout her twenty (20) years of employment with defendant and never received any disciplinary notices or had any disciplinary problems until her last year.

 In August 1993, Christine Menzel ("Menzel") was assigned to the principal position at East Pikeland. Plaintiff and Menzel worked together for approximately one week before plaintiff became ill. Plaintiff's illness began with a rather sudden change of behavior over a three week period and culminated in an "episode" of bipolar disorder at the school office. Due to this illness, plaintiff took a leave of absence beginning on August 30, 1993.

 Plaintiff was admitted to the Coastal Plains Hospital and Counseling Center ("Coastal Plains") in North Carolina on August 31, 1993, where she was diagnosed with and treated for *fn1" a bipolar disorder. Plaintiff remained in Coastal Plains until September 20, 1993, when, as plaintiff was much improved, she was discharged to the care of Louise Sonnenberg, M.D. ("Dr. Sonnenberg"), a psychiatrist who practices in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. Plaintiff continues to treat with Dr. Sonnenberg for psychotherapy and continues to take Lithium.

 On October 13, 1993, Dr. Sonnenberg wrote a note to Linda Ferrara ("Ferrara"), Administrative Assistant for Personnel and Staff Development for the Phoenixville Area School District, verifying that plaintiff was able to return to work on October 15, 1993. Plaintiff was only authorized to work for half-days during the first week but was authorized to return to full time duty, without limitation, on or about October 25, 1993.

 While plaintiff was away from East Pikeland, the new principal, Menzel, made changes to the office practices and procedures that were designed to bring the school up to the current standards of the school district. For instance, Menzel started utilizing a computer database for keeping track of student records instead of the outdated index card box that plaintiff had previously used. The methods and techniques which Menzel wanted plaintiff to utilize made it more difficult for plaintiff to successfully proceed in her job after she returned from leave. Further, Menzel updated plaintiff's job description, with the help of plaintiff, to include an increased number of tasks.

 Menzel was immediately dissatisfied with plaintiff's performance and was instructed by Ferrara to document her concerns. In accordance with this advice, Menzel prepared and presented plaintiff with a series of memoranda documenting Menzel's concerns and evaluating plaintiff's performance and efforts at correcting performance problems. Plaintiff received a total of nine (9) memoranda between November 9, 1993 and October 27, 1994. *fn2" These memoranda reflected in detail and by date errors, mistakes and/or omissions allegedly made by Taylor in performing her job duties. *fn3" Subsequent to plaintiff receiving a memorandum, plaintiff, Menzel, Ferrara, and a representative from plaintiff's union would meet to discuss the allegations in the memorandum. At these meetings, plaintiff disputed that she made some of the errors outlined in Menzel's memoranda and attempted to explain others.

 During this time frame, communications and relations between Menzel and plaintiff continued to deteriorate. Plaintiff alleges that the high level of scrutiny and the strained communications between her and Menzel caused her to suffer from increased anxiety and stress, which allegedly led to a loss of self-esteem and to plaintiff's inability to sleep, eat, or otherwise enjoy life. Notwithstanding the stress from which plaintiff was allegedly suffering, Dr. Sonnenberg sent another note to the school district on 1/5/94 stating that plaintiff was able to return to work and was not disabled. *fn4" Moreover, plaintiff did not notify the school district that she was having difficulty performing her functions due to the alleged increased stress or request accommodations that would enable her to perform her functions more effectively.

 On June 29, 1994, Menzel prepared a Secretarial Staff Performance Evaluation of plaintiff's work performance for the 93-94 school year. Plaintiff received an overall rating of "unsatisfactory" on this evaluation. On September 8, 1994, plaintiff received a letter from Ferrara which placed plaintiff on a thirty (30) day probationary period. The September 8th letter also indicated that disciplinary action, including dismissal, may result if plaintiff's performance did not improve. Finally, on October 27, 1994, a meeting was held to evaluate plaintiff's performance during the probationary period. *fn5" On October 28, 1994, plaintiff received a letter from Ferrara indicating that due to plaintiff's failure to perform satisfactorily during the probationary period, the letter served as notice of her discharge effective at the close of school, Friday, October 28, 1994.

 Following the discharge, plaintiff's union representatives negotiated with the school district to allow plaintiff to "retire" in substitution for her discharge so that plaintiff could receive retirement benefits. *fn6" Plaintiff also filed for and was denied social security disability subsequent to her "retirement." Thereafter, plaintiff filed for unemployment compensation on February 23, 1995, representing that she was available and able to work. Based upon this representation, plaintiff received unemployment compensation.

 Plaintiff then brought this action.

 I. Summary Judgment Standard

 In making this determination, all of the facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and all reasonable inferences must be drawn in favor of the non-moving party. Id. at 256. Once the moving party has met the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the non-moving party must establish the existence of each element of its case. J.F. Feeser, Inc. v. Serv-A-Portion, Inc., 909 F.2d 1524, ...


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