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Williams v. Pittsburgh Public Schools

February 28, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Caiazza


Booker T. Williams ("Williams"), was employed as a day-today substitute teacher in the Pittsburgh School District ("the District")*fn1 from January 2000 until his termination in March 2002. He alleges that the Defendants violated state and federal law by terminating his employment based on age and by retaliating against him for filing discrimination charges with state and federal administrative agencies.*fn2 The Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is pending. Because the court finds that Williams has failed to meet his burden of proof with respect to any of the claims alleged, it will grant the Defendants' Motion.

I. Background

A. The Facts

In January 2000, Williams, then seventy-three years old, was hired by the District as a floating day-to-day substitute teacher. If he was needed to teach on a given day, he would receive an early morning automated voice mail from the District's Human Resources Department conveying relevant information about the opening. Williams could then choose whether to accept the available assignment.(Defs. Mot. Sum. J. Ex. C).

Over the course of his twenty-seven months as a substitute, Williams worked two or three days per week in a total of about 150 schools at grade levels ranging from pre-school to senior high.(Id. Ex. A 15; A 16, 48; Q 4). He appeared to be well-qualified to perform as a substitute, holding degrees from Duquesne University and the University of Rochester. Williams also had a teaching certificate and prior teaching experience. (Am. Compl. ¶9).

Williams contends that his time in the Pittsburgh School System went well. He was willing and able to perform his duties, and did an adequate job with whatever assignment he was given. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 12-13.). According to Williams, personnel at the schools to which he was assigned were satisfied with his teaching; he was unaware of any problems or complaints prior to spring 2002 while he was teaching at Fort Pitt Elementary School. Williams alleges that one afternoon he had a brief hallway conversation with Defendant Kevin Bivins ("Bivins"),the school principal. Bivins allegedly "questioned [Williams] about his age in an unwelcome manner," and expressed "shock" when Williams revealed that he was over seventy. He then "asked in a sarcastic and insincere manner why Williams was not at home entertaining his grandchildren." ( Am. Compl. ¶¶ 16-18).

Williams contends that these comments evidenced an age-based animus which motivated Bivins to contact the District, requesting that Williams not be assigned to teach at Fort Pitt in the future. According to Williams, in order to explain why he was no longer welcome at Fort Pitt, and hoping to have him fired outright, Bivins fabricated vague accusations regarding Williams's inappropriate interaction with four students. Helped by the students' willingness to lie, Bivins compiled a full report documenting the details of the students' complaints, and forwarded this report to the District. Williams alleges that a short time later, he was asked to meet with Thelma L. Morris ("Morris"), Assistant Director of the District's Department of Human Resources and supervisor of the day-to-day substitute teacher program. At their March 25, 2002 meeting, Morris discussed with Williams the fact that twelve school administrators had complained about his performance and had asked that he not be called again for substitute openings in their schools. She also discussed Bivins' report specifically, informing Williams that because of the number and nature of the complaints against him, his employment as a substitute teacher for the District was terminated.*fn3 (Morris Aff. ¶15);(Williams Dep. 55-56);(Defs. Stmt. of Facts ¶ 43). Williams complained that he had not been made aware of all of the complaints. Morris was not swayed, and confirmed the termination in writing the same day. (Id., ¶ 47). On April 24, 2002, the Board of Education accepted Morris's recommendation, and terminated Williams's employment "with cause." (Am. Compl. ¶ 52). In early June, Williams received a letter from the Board notifying him that it had accepted Morris' recommendation that he be terminated effective March 25, 2002.

B. Procedural History

On May 20, 2002, Williams filed a complaint alleging age discrimination with the PHRC, and cross-filed with the ("EEOC").

After an investigation of the merits of the matter, the PHRC, on September 30, 2002, dismissed the complaint based on its failure to find probable cause to support Williams' claim. Almost exactly one year later, the EEOC provided Williams with a letter of right to sue.

In February 2004, Williams, acting pro se, filed a complaint in the District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. After retaining counsel, Williams filed an amended complaint. The Defendants' motion to dismiss that complaint was granted in part and denied in part by an order dated December 15, 2005.*fn4

Discovery was conducted, and the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is ripe for adjudication.

C. Standard of Review

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) provides that summary judgment "shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." A "material fact" is one that "might affect the outcome of the suit." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248,(1986).

While the moving party has the initial burden of identifying evidence demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the nonmoving party must make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of every element necessary to its case and on which it bears the burden of proof. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317(1986). Credibility determinations are not the function of the judge; rather, "[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. With this standard in mind, the court turns to the issues.

II. Discussion

A. The ADEA Claim

In order to establish a prima facie claim for age discrimination, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that: (1) he was over the age of forty; (2) he was qualified for the job in question; (3) he suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) that a similarly situated younger person was treated more favorably. Knight v. Baptist Hosp. of Miami, Inc., 330 F.3d 1313, 1316 (11th Cir. 2003) If the plaintiff is able to establish each element of the claim, the burden of production shifts to the defendant, who must offer evidence of a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for its action. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). "If that showing is made, the burden, which is now more significant, shifts back to the employee." Billet v. Cigna Corp., 940 F.2d 812, 816 (3d Cir. 1991), abrogated in part on other grounds by St. Mary's Honor Center v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502 (1993).

In order to avoid summary judgment, the plaintiff is required to show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that (1) the legitimate reason articulated by his employer is not worthy of credence; or (2) the employer's action was more likely to have been motivated by discrimination. Sullivan v. Standard Chlorine of Del. Inc., 845 F. Supp. 167, 175 (D. Del. 1995). The plaintiff's "evidence must be sufficient to support a reasonable inference that the explanation given for the employment decision is a pretext for discrimination." Id. (emphasis in original). A pretext cannot be established unless the reason offered by the employer "was false, and . . . discrimination was the real reason." Id. (quoting Hicks, 509 U.S. at 512 n.4)(emphasis in original). The burden of persuasion remains with the plaintiff at all times.

1. The Prima Facie Case

The Defendants*fn5 argue first that they are entitled to summary judgment on Williams' discrimination claims because he has failed to establish two of the four elements of his prima facie case, i.e. that he was qualified for the position of substitute teacher, and that a similarly situated younger person was treated differently. The essence of the Defendants' first argument is that Williams performed so poorly as a substitute teacher that he could not have been qualified for the job. This argument conflates very closely related, but distinct issues. The focus at this stage of the case is on whether Williams was qualified to do the work, not on whether he was good at what he did. Matczak v. Frankford Candy & Choc. Co., 136 F.3d 933, 939 (3d Cir. 1997).

It is undisputed that Williams was a well educated man with apparently satisfactory teaching experience. He had the credentials critical to the position, and has satisfied at least the minimum requirements of the job. Being qualified to do something, though, is no guarantee of good, or even adequate performance. Virtually anyone can be qualified to drive if he passes the requisite tests, and secures insurance. Accident statistics and ...

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