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Rodriguez v. Sullivan County Victim Services

April 12, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Jones



Pending before the Court is Defendant's, Sullivan County Victim Services ("Defendant" or "SCVS"), Motion Summary Judgment ("the Motion") (doc. 27) filed on March 1, 2006.

For the following reasons, we will grant the Motion.


Plaintiff, Charlotte Rodriguez ("Plaintiff" or "Rodriguez"), was employed as Director of SCVS beginning in June, 2003. SCVS, a Pennsylvania non-profit corporation, was incorporated on May 31, 1993 pursuant to the Non-Profit Corporation Law of 1988, in order to provide counseling and other related services to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and other crimes. (Rec. Doc. 28 at 1). Thereafter, on December 15, 1993, SCVS filed Amended Articles of Incorporation with the Commonwealth pursuant to which SCVS remained "organized exclusively for charitable, religious, educational and scientific purposes . . ." (Rec. Doc. 28 at 2). SCVS was formed to further the legislative purpose of the Pennsylvania Protection From Abuse Act ("the PPFAA"), 23 Pa. Const. Stat. §6101, et seq., enacted on December 19, 1990.

Pursuant to the by-laws, SCVS, operating through its Board of Directors, "provides support and sanctuary from stress and violence for victims and their children, including, but not limited to:

Informing victims of the resources available to them, providing 24 hour hot-line service, providing counseling and legal advocacy, assisting with transportation and shelter provisions and educating and sensitizing the general public as well as government officials, policy makers and appropriate professionals about the causes, effects and means of preventing domestic violence and sexual assault. (Rec. Doc. 28 at 2). Also pursuant to the by-laws, the program director shall be employed by the Board of Directors and "shall direct and delegate all activities and affairs for Victim Services and report to the Board of Directors as required." (Rec. Doc. 28 at 2).

At all times material to this action, the total operating budget of SCVS was approximately $200,000.00 per year. Of that amount, SVCS received state and federal funds totaling approximately $185,000.00 per year as a result of direct grants from the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, and the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape. Also, SCVS received approximately $10,000.00 per year to conduct parenting classes from Sullivan County Children and Youth and to sponsor drug and alcohol education/prevention classes from Bradford and Sullivan Counties. The remaining revenue was derived from private fundraising activities and/or donations amounting to approximately $5,000.00 per year. (Rec. Doc. 32 at 2-3).

In the fall of 2003, Pennsylvania State Police Corporal Snyder ("Snyder") visited Plaintiff's office and demanded that she disclose to him the current location of a client of SVCS who had applied for a protection from abuse order. Plaintiff refused to provide him with the requested information because the information was confidential, pursuant to the PPFAA. After this confrontation with Snyder, which Plaintiff alleges was somewhat hostile, the Plaintiff informed Joan Gruver ("Gruver"), a SCVS Board member about the incident. (Rec. Docs. 28 at 3; 32 at 3).

Plaintiff alleges that Gruver and fellow Board member Winifred Ferguson ("Ferguson") pressed Plaintiff to allow some exceptions to SCVS's confidentiality policy, so that the requested information could be provided to Snyder, in order to further a healthy working relationship between SCVS and the Pennsylvania State Police. Plaintiff alleges that "Gruver and Ferguson left [her] with the feeling that it was very very important for her to find some way to accommodate the police." (Rec. Doc. 31 at 3). Plaintiff alleges that Ferguson was concerned and upset by Plaintiff's failure to divulge the information to Snyder. Further, Plaintiff alleges that she continued to be pressured to release confidential information through 2004. (Rec. Doc. 31 at 3-4).

Plaintiff alleges that in the summer of 2004, Gruver asked Plaintiff if there was a way that Mary, a counselor with SVCS, could disclose confidential information to Children and Youth Services in breach of the PPFAA's confidentiality provisions.*fn1 Plaintiff did not divulge the requested information, despite protestations by Gruver and Ferguson. Plaintiff alleges that at a Board meeting in August 2004, Gruver "flat out accused [Plaintiff] of not caring about children." (Rec. Docs. 31 at 4; 32 at 4).

Plaintiff further alleges that she was asked by members of the SVCS Board of Directors to participate in fundraising activities during work hours, in violation of certain grant provisions. (Rec. Doc. 28 at 5). Plaintiff alleges that Board Member Feister ("Feister") told Plaintiff at a Board meeting that it was within Plaintiff's power to "just order people to be present" at a golf tournament fundraiser, even though it was a violation of conditions set forth in grants received by SCVS. Plaintiff alleges that Feister became very upset with her and, as a result, Feister did not attend Board meetings for six or seven months after that incident. Plaintiff alleges that in August of 2004, Gruver bypassed Plaintiff and assigned another employee of SCVS to several fundraising activities during that employee's regular work hours. Plaintiff herself never participated in fundraising activities during work hours. (Rec. Docs. 31 at 6-7; 28 at 5).

On September 20, 2004, an emergency meeting of the SCVS Board of Directors was held, during which the decision to terminate Plaintiff's employment was reached. Plaintiff alleges that no minutes were taken at this meeting. Plaintiff alleges that she was terminated because she insisted upon strict compliance with the statutory rules of confidentiality and strict compliance with grant rules prohibiting employees from engaging in fundraising during regular work hours. She states that prior to her termination, in July of 2004, she was given an evaluation stating she was exceeding the requirements of her job, and then without further notice, warning, discipline, or reprimand of any kind, she was dismissed. (Rec. Doc. 31 at ...

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