United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
April 26, 2004.
THE PHILADELPHIA HOUSING AUTHORITY, CARL GREENE, MICHAEL LEITHEAD, LINDA STALEY, and JAMES JONES, Individually and as Corporate Officials for the Philadelphia Housing Authority
The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOHN FULLAM, Senior District Judge
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Plaintiff was discharged from her position as Director of the Head
Start Program of the defendant Philadelphia Housing Authority. In this
civil rights action, she alleges that she was fired because she
complained to the Office of Inspector General about alleged financial
improprieties at the Authority. She asserts claims under the Pennsylvania
Whistleblower Law, Title VII, § 1983, etc. The individual defendants
are charged with having conspired to cause these violations of
The case was scheduled for trial on April 19, 2004, but several
recently-filed motions must first be dealt with.
The defendant has filed a motion for summary judgment, plaintiff has
filed a response, and the defendant has requested leave to file a
rebuttal to plaintiff's response. The defendants's motion will be granted, and the reply brief will be
Earlier, plaintiff filed a motion to compel the defendant to disclose
the records of the Office of Inspector General with respect to
plaintiff's complaints. Defendant objected, on the ground that the
records related entirely to matters occurring after plaintiff was fired,
and that disclosure of the records might prejudice an ongoing
investigation. I required the defendant to submit the records for in
camera review. I have now completed review of the (seemingly disorganized
and fragmentary) records of the OIG, and am satisfied that there is
nothing in these records which is discoverable, and certainly nothing
relevant to the issues in this case. Plaintiff's motion to compel
discovery will therefore be denied.
Argument on defendant's motion for summary judgment was held on the
date set for trial, and that motion is now ripe for disposition. It is
undisputed that, in 2000, the federal auditors had identified numerous
deficiencies and inadequacies in the Head Start Program in question, and
that plaintiff was made Director in order to remedy these deficiencies
and inadequacies. Another federal audit was scheduled to take place in
mid-January 2003. Unfortunately, that audit reported that the
previously-identified problems had not been adequately addressed, and
that the Head Start Program was in even worse shape than it had been in
the year 2000.
It was necessary for the Philadelphia Housing Authority to prepare, and
submit to the federal authorities, a "quality improvement program" (QIP),
and plaintiff was responsible for assembling the required information and
preparing a draft QIP. The deadline was supposed to be March 30, 2003.
Plaintiff submitted a draft proposal a couple of days before the
deadline, but her superiors deemed it inadequate and in need of
substantial revisions. After various frantic attempts to complete the
corrections in time, plaintiff's superiors obtained an extension of time
for filing the QIP, which was actually submitted in May 2003, and
ultimately approved, in further revised form, in November of that year.
In the meantime, plaintiff was fired, as of April 4, 2003, for two stated
reasons: (1) her failure to have the QIP report ready in time and in
satisfactory condition, and (2) her overall poor performance as Director
of Head Start, as established by the negative report of the January
Plaintiff contends that the reasons given are pretextual, and that real
reason for her discharge is the fact that, beginning in mid or late
March, 2003, plaintiff had complained to the Office of Inspector General
about financial irregularities, particularly with respect to a consulting
contract with a group named "521." Plaintiff apparently believed that the
contract with this firm had actually expired, and that they should not be providing services or being compensated for such
services. There is also some suggestion that plaintiff believed that
improper favoritism or perhaps nepotism may have been involved.
The difficulty with plaintiff's theory is that there is simply no
evidence which would permit a finding that the persons who made the
firing decision had any knowledge that plaintiff had complained to the
Office of Inspector General. Each of the persons involved in the
discharge decision has testified, under oath, that they did not know of
plaintiff's complaints to the OIG. Everyone involved at the Office of
Inspector General has also verified, under oath, that plaintiff's
complaints were treated as confidential, and were not disclosed to
Plaintiff seeks to remedy this lack of evidence by contending that,
because of earlier discussions she had with her fellow employees,
everyone knew that she was unhappy with the 521 Firm. Assuming that to be
the case, however, it simply does not support a conclusion that plaintiff
was discharged in retaliation for having exercised her First Amendment
rights, or for having complained about corruption.
There can be no doubt that the federal audit report of January 2003 was
even more critical of the Head Start Program than was the earlier audit
report. Neither is there any dispute about the fact that plaintiff's
immediate superior was extremely displeased with plaintiff's performance
in connection with the QIP. The superior felt that she had been unnecessarily required to
work long hours trying to get the report in on time, whereas plaintiff
worked normal hours and did not make herself available for the necessary
efforts to finalize the QIP.
Plaintiff contends, with considerable support in the record, that all
of the problems with the audit report, and all of the difficulties in
compiling a timely QIP, were not her fault. The summary judgment record
as a whole presents an unsavory picture of bureaucratic buck-passing,
personality clashes, back-stabbing, and self-protective paper shuffling.
But the issue in this case is not whether plaintiff was properly fired,
or merely a victim of bureaucratic ineptitude. In order to recover in
this action, plaintiff must show that the decision-makers knew of her
complaints to the OIG (they did not) and that she was fired in
retaliation for having exercised her First Amendment rights. Proof of the
necessary causal connection is entirely lacking.
For all of the foregoing reasons, defendant's motion for summary
judgment will be granted. In view of this determination, it is
unnecessary to address the issue of whether plaintiff's counsel should
have been disqualified in this case, because of his long-term employment
as house counsel for the defendant Housing Authority. [EDITORS NOTE: THIS PAGE IS BLANK.] ORDER
AND NOW, this ___ day of April 2004, IT IS ORDERED:
1. Defendant's motion for leave to file a reply brief is GRANTED, and
the reply brief is deemed filed.
2. Plaintiff's motion to compel discovery is DENIED.
3. Defendant's motion to preclude expert testimony is DENIED as moot.
4. Defendant's motion for summary judgment is GRANTED. This action is
DISMISSED with prejudice.
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