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Chambers v. Commonwealth

December 28, 2006

AARON L. CHAMBERS PLAINTIFF
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, DEPARTMENT OF GENERAL SERVICES, ROBERT SPOLJARIC, CHUCK HODGE, GREGORY GREEN, JOHN KLINGER, BILL MYERS, SHERRI PHILLIPS, ANNETTE WATSON, PETER ZIRRILI, AND PETER SEDESSE, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Kane

MEMORANDUM

Before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 49.) The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition. For the following reasons, Defendants' motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

In 1985, Plaintiff, an African-American, began employment with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of General Services ("DGS"), as a Journeyman's Assistant. Plaintiff was promoted to Refrigeration Mechanic in 1988, and in 1994 or 1995 he was promoted to Refrigeration Mechanic Supervisor I. Plaintiff has been a union member the entire time he has been employed with DGS and he has served as a union steward with Local #2162 as a Refrigeration Mechanic, and with Local #2245 as a supervisor. (Doc. No. 50, ¶¶ 1-2.)

On September 10, 2002, Plaintiff was suspended for five days and demoted from his supervisory position. Defendants maintain that the decision to demote Plaintiff was based on three incidents. First, on August 8, 2002, Plaintiff had a conversation with his supervisor, Robert Spoljaric. Defendant Spoljaric considered Plaintiff to be disrespectful and insubordinate during the conversation and reported the conversation to his supervisor and to Human Resources. (Doc. No. 50, ¶ 3.) In Plaintiff's version of the conversation, Plaintiff asserts that Spoljaric threatened to discipline him over something that was outside Plaintiff's scope of responsibility. Plaintiff acknowledges that he and Spoljaric disagreed over the issue, but Plaintiff denies that he was insubordinate or disrespectful. (Doc. No. 55, ¶ 3.)

The second given reason for Defendants' decision to suspend and demote Plaintiff was an automobile accident that occurred on August 10, 2002. On that date, Plaintiff and a subordinate employee, Mark Kenno, used a state vehicle to pick up food at approximately 6:45 p.m. According to Defendants, use of the state vehicle in this manner was impermissible. (Doc. No. 50, ¶¶ 9-10.) During this trip, Plaintiff and Kenno were involved in a traffic accident, which prevented their return to the work site until approximately 3:00 a.m. (Doc. No. 50, ¶ 4.)

The third reason given for the decision to suspend and demote Plaintiff was that on August 10, 2002, Plaintiff violated standard procedure by failing to station employees appropriately. (Doc. No. 50, ¶¶ 7-8.) Plaintiff disputes the existence of standard operating procedure and asserts that the procedures Defendants rely on were taken from a union agreement that had been overturned. (Doc. No. 55, ¶¶ 7-8.) Defendants also argue that on August 11, 2002, Plaintiff failed to respond to radio communications. (Doc. No. 50, ¶ 11.) Plaintiff acknowledges this failure, but asserts that there are places within the Capitol complex where radio contact is not possible. (Doc. No. 55, ¶ 11.)

On August 20, 2002, Defendants held a pre-disciplinary conference with Plaintiff. Thereafter, on September 10, 2002, Plaintiff was notified that he was being suspended and demoted effective September 16, 2002. (Doc. No. 50, ¶¶ 13-14.) Mark Kenno, the subordinate employee who was with Plaintiff during the traffic accident on August 10, 2002, was also suspended for five days. Plaintiff grieved the suspension and demotion, both of which were upheld in arbitration. On November 15, 2002 a white employee was promoted to Plaintiff's former supervisory position. Mr. Kenno also filed a grievance, and his suspension was ultimately overturned on February 2, 2003, but he was nevertheless reassigned to a different shift and different department.

On July 25, 2003, Plaintiff filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") alleging that his suspension and demotion constituted racial discrimination. The EEOC did not take action on Plaintiff's claim and issued him a right-to-sue letter on January 5, 2004. (Doc. No. 30, ¶ 14.)

On April 2, 2004, Plaintiff initiated this action by filing a complaint against the Department of General Services as well as against several of its supervisory employees in their individual and official capacities. (Doc. No. 1.) On September 10, 2004, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint (Doc. No. 11) and on December 13, 2004, Plaintiff filed a second amended complaint. (Doc. No. 30.) On December 27, 2004, Defendants moved to dismiss the second amended complaint. (Doc. No. 31.) On June 10, 2005, this Court entered an Order granting in part and denying in part Defendants' motion to dismiss. (Doc. No. 45.) Following entry of the June 10th Order, the following claims remain: (1) a claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"), brought against the individual Defendants for alleged racial discrimination and retaliation; (2) a pendent state law claim brought against the individual Defendants alleging violations of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"); (3) a claim brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 against individual Defendants; (4) claims brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against individual Defendants for violation of equal protection and due process under the Fourteenth Amendment and for First Amendment retaliation; and (5) a claim alleging conspiracy under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) against the individual Defendants. (Doc. No. 51 at 5; Doc. No. 56 at 3.)

II. Standard of Review

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that summary judgment is proper when "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 a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56; see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-51 (1986). When deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court views the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, who is "entitled to every reasonable inference that can be drawn from the record." Merkle v. Upper Dublin Sch. Dist., 211 F.3d 782, 788 (3d Cir. 2000). However, the non-moving party may not simply sit back and rest on the allegations in his complaint; instead, he must "go beyond the pleadings and by [her] own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986) (internal quotations omitted). Summary judgment should be granted where a party "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden at trial." Id. at 322.

III. Discussion

A. Title VII

Defendants argue that they are entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's Title VII claim because the claim is time-barred due to Plaintiff's failure to file a timely charge with the EEOC within 180 days of the date of the alleged discriminatory conduct. In his brief in opposition, Plaintiff fails to address the issue of timeliness.

Timely filing with the EEOC is a prerequisite to the maintenance of a Title VII action. Jewett v. Int'l Tel. & Tel. Corp., 653 F.2d 89, 90 (3d Cir. 1981). Generally, in order to be considered timely, an aggrieved party must file a charge with the EEOC within 180 days of the allegedly unlawful employment practice being challenged. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1); see also Burgh v. Borough Council of Montrose, 251 F.3d 465, 470-71 (3d Cir. 2001) (explaining time limits under Title VII and the PHRA). In deferral states, those states which have established state agencies to monitor and correct employment discrimination, the claim must be filed with the EEOC within 300 days of the impermissible employment practice. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e). In deferral states, a plaintiff must initially file his claim with the state agency then wait either until the state agency proceedings are terminated or for sixty days, whichever is sooner, before filing with the EEOC. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5©.

In Pennsylvania, the relevant parallel state agency for Title VII purposes is the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ("PHRC"), created under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 P.S. §§ 951 et seq. ("PHRA"). Although there appears to be no evidence that Plaintiff ever filed a charge with the PHRC, it is undisputed that he did file a claim with the EEOC on July 25, 2003, in which he averred that his suspension and demotion constituted unlawful racial discrimination. Because the Court's decision regarding Plaintiff's Title VII claim rests on other grounds, the Court will assume for the purposes of its discussion that the PHRC received Plaintiff's EEOC complaint pursuant to the work sharing agreement that exists between the two agencies, thereby satisfying Title VII's pre-filing administrative requirements. See Colgan v. Fisher Scientific Co., 935 F.2d 1407, 1414-15 (3d Cir. 1991) (regarding the EEOC filing as the Pennsylvania filing in light of EEOC regulations regarding deferral to the appropriate state agency); Brennan v. National Telephone Directory Corp., 881 F. Supp. 986, 993 (E.D. Pa. 1995) (noting that where there is a work share agreement, the aggrieved employee meets Title VII's statutory filing requirement as long as the claim is filed with the EEOC within 300 days of the allegedly discriminatory conduct); cf. Berkoski v. Ashland Regional Med. Ctr., 951 F. Supp. 544, 545, 547 (M.D. Pa. 1997) (work sharing agreement between the EEOC and PHRC "effectuated a filing of discrimination charges with the EEOC on the same date he filed his compliant with the PHRC").

It is undisputed that Plaintiff was suspended effective September 16, 2002, and that he was demoted from his supervisory position on September 23, 2002. These two employment incidents are the only actionable claims Plaintiff has alleged regarding his own employment. The Court calculates that 305 days elapsed between September 23, 2002, and July 25, 2003, the date of Plaintiff's EEOC filing. Accordingly, the Court concludes that neither Plaintiff's claim regarding his suspension, nor his claim regarding his demotion, are actionable under Title VII because Plaintiff failed to file claims relating to these separate events within Title VII's 300-day time limit.

Although Plaintiff has ignored the issue of timeliness in his brief, the Court presumes that Plaintiff would attempt to save his claims by predicating them, at least in part, on the fact that on November 15, 2002, a white employee was promoted to Plaintiff's former position and that on February 2, 2003, Mark Kenno's suspension was overturned in arbitration. Upon careful consideration, the Court does not find that either of these occurrences can form the predicate for Plaintiff's own claim of discrimination because they were not actions taken or directed toward Plaintiff; at most, they would be relevant as evidence to support Plaintiff's claims that his own suspension and demotion were racially discriminatory. Because Plaintiff failed to file a timely claim with the EEOC alleging that his own suspension and demotion were discriminatory, the Court does not find that Plaintiff's claims can be saved by referencing evidence that a white employee was promoted to his former position or that Mr. Kenno's suspension was overturned.

For all of the foregoing reasons, the Court finds that Defendants' motion for summary judgment must be granted with respect ...


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