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Shingara v. Skiles

January 24, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Christopher C. Conner United States District Judge

(Judge Conner)


This is a § 1983 action filed by John T. Shingara ("Shingara"), an employee of the Pennsylvania State Police ("State Police"). Shingara worked in the Technical Support Division ("TSD") of the State Police from 1992 until 2004, when he was transferred to another division. (Doc. 70 ¶ 2; Doc. 76 ¶ 2.) That transfer, along with a number of other employment actions taken by the defendants, are the subject of this lawsuit. The defendants are Kathy A. Skiles ("Skiles"), Major Wesley R. Waugh ("Waugh"), and Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Periandi ("Periandi"). Skiles is the TSD Director. (Doc. 70 ¶ 3; Doc. 76 ¶ 3.) Waugh is the Director of the Bureau of Technology Services and Skiles' direct supervisor. (Doc. 70 ¶ 9; Doc. 76 ¶ 9.) Periandi is the Deputy Commissioner of Operations for the State Police and is authorized to give press interviews on behalf of the State Police. (Doc. 70 ¶¶ 172, 180; Doc. 76 ¶¶ 172, 180.) In his complaint, Shingara alleges that defendants:

(1) retaliated against him for exercising his First Amendment rights, (2) violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process, (3) conspired against him, and (4) defamed him. Presently before the court is the motion for summary judgment (Doc. 69), filed by defendants. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted.

I. Statement of Facts*fn1

A. Shingara's Responsibilities

The primary responsibilities of TSD employees, like Shingara, are to provide voice communications systems and computer help desk operations for the State Police. (Doc. 70 ¶ 4; Doc. 76 ¶ 4.) TSD is also responsible for assisting the Bureau of Patrol with its duties regarding radar equipment, and Shingara considered himself TSD's "radar guy or expert." (Doc. 70 ¶¶ 5-6, 21; Doc. 76 ¶¶ 5-6, 21; Doc. 79, Ex. F at ¶ 15.) Shingara's duties with respect to radar equipment consumed approximately 10 to 20% of his time. (Doc. 70 ¶ 26; Doc. 76 ¶ 26; Doc. 79, Ex. F at ¶ 18.) Specifically, Shingara was responsible for: (1) visiting radar calibration laboratories to ensure their compliance with State Police guidelines, and (2) evaluating radar equipment for purchase by the State Police. (Doc. 70 ¶ 25; Doc. 76 ¶ 25.)

B. Shingara's Testimony Concerning Radar Equipment

On September 2, 2003, Shingara notified his immediate supervisor, Mark Wrightstone ("Wrightstone"), that he had been subpoenaed to testify in a criminal proceeding in the Cumberland County Court of Common Pleas regarding a potential radar equipment malfunction. (Doc. 70 ¶ 66; Doc. 76 ¶ 66.) In May 2003, Waugh had become aware of this alleged equipment problem; he was advised that certain radar equipment used by the State Police had issued phantom readings when not in use. (Doc. 70 ¶ 32; Doc. 76 ¶ 32.) A team was established to examine the allegations. The team was headed by representatives of the Bureau of Patrol, with Shingara providing technical assistance from TSD. (Doc. 70 ¶ 34; Doc. 76 ¶ 34.) The team proposed various options to correct the alleged problem. (Doc. 70 ¶ 42; Doc. 76 ¶ 42.) Patrol Captain Michael Marcantino ("Marcantino") was not convinced, however, that the phantom readings had any effect on the proper functioning of the radar equipment. (Doc. 70 ¶ 43.) As a result, Marcantino hired an independent laboratory to conduct a further investigation. This investigation was in progress at the time Shingara was subpoenaed to provide testimony.*fn2

(Doc. 70 ¶¶ 45-47.)

When Waugh learned of Shingara's subpoena, Waugh became concerned that Shingara's testimony could reveal State Police work-product that was incomplete and confidential, and that Shingara was a maverick employee, attempting to establish himself as a "radar expert for personal gain." (Doc. 70 ¶ 67; Doc. 72, Ex. B at ¶ 12; Doc. 79, Ex. C at 183.) Waugh's concerns arose because:

(1) Shingara was subpoenaed at home rather than at work, and (2) Shingara was selected by defense counsel as the state police expert witness despite the fact that the radar investigation was being headed by other representatives of the Bureau of Patrol. (Doc. 70 ¶ 67.) Accordingly, Waugh directed Skiles and Wrightstone to attend the trial to observe Shingara's testimony. (Doc. 70 ¶ 67.) Waugh also directed Skiles to review State Police policies regarding the release of confidential information with Shingara and to inform Shingara that he was not the designated public relations representative for radar issues. (Doc. 70 ¶¶ 71, 77; Doc. 76 ¶¶ 71, 77.)Shingara admits that he received these instructions but feels that they were designed to coerce him into silence, rather than to inform him about State Police policies. (Doc. 79, Ex. F at ¶¶ 3, 21.)

On September 4, 2003, Shingara provided testimony regarding the potential radar malfunction. (Doc. 70 ¶ 73; Doc. 76 ¶ 73.) Defendants acknowledge that Shingara's testimony was truthful. (Doc. 70 ¶ 74.) Nevertheless, after Shingara testified Skiles told him that he could be fired for his testimony.*fn3 (Doc. 79, Ex. F at ¶ 6.) Thereafter, Waugh instructed Skiles to initiate an investigation to determine if Shingara had violated any State Police rules or regulations as a result of his testimony. (Doc. 70 ¶ 79; Doc. 76 ¶ 79.) The investigation concluded that disciplinary action against Shingara was not warranted. (Doc. 70 ¶ 82; Doc. 76 ¶ 82.)

Also following Shingara's testimony, Periandi provided a twenty-minute interview to the Philadelphia Daily News concerning the radar issue. (Doc. 70 ¶ 181; Doc. 76 ¶ 181.) Periandi stated that if Shingara testified that the radar units were giving false readings, Shingara was mistaken. (Doc. 70 ¶ 181; Doc. 76 ¶ 181.) Shingara also asserts that Periandi described him as a "disgruntled employee," but Shingara is unable to identify the source of that information. (Doc. 70 ¶ 184; Doc. 76 ¶ 181, 184.)

C. Transfer of Radar Functions to the Bureau of Patrol

During the course of the investigation into the phantom readings and prior to Shingara's testimony, Marcantino grew increasingly concerned that the separation of radar functions between TSD and the Bureau of Patrol hampered the ability of the State Police to identify and resolve radar issues. (Doc. 70 ¶ 56; Doc. 72, Ex. F at ¶ 7.) On June 4, 2003 and November 6, 2003, Marcantino met with Skiles to discuss transferring all radar functions to the Bureau of Patrol. (Doc. 70 ¶ 60; Doc. 72, Ex. F at ¶¶ 9, 13-14; Doc. 72, Ex. A at ¶ 33.) Effective January 1, 2004, all radar duties were transferred to the Bureau of Patrol, with TSD providing technical assistance when required. (Doc. 70 ¶¶ 61-65; Doc. 76 ¶¶ 61-62, 64-65.)

D. Shingara's Alleged Racist Comment

In late September 2003, Waugh learned that Shingara had made the following statement: "We just had an incident involving two Negroes in a Jeep. We can use the word Negroes, because it was a Negro that reported the incident." (Doc. 70 ¶ 100.) Waugh felt that the statement had "a racial undertone and was inappropriate." (Doc. 70 ¶ 100.) Shingara admits to making the statement, but denies that the statement was inappropriate. (Doc. 76 ¶ 100.) On November 3, 2003, Shingara was given an oral reprimand for this statement. (Doc. 70 ¶ 101; Doc. 76 ¶ 101.)

E. Shingara's Anonymous Letter

On October 28, 2003, an anonymous letter was faxed to State Police headquarters. (Doc. 70 ¶ 102; Doc. 76 ¶ 102.) The letter criticized Skiles' management of TSD and alleged that Skiles discriminated against men. The letter also suggested that several employees had left TSD because of Skiles.*fn4 (Doc. 70 ¶ 102; Doc. 76 ¶ 102.) The State Police conducted an investigation into the anonymous letter and determined that it had been sent by Shingara. (Doc. 70 ¶¶ 105- 106; Doc. 76 ¶¶ 105-106.) Eventually, Shingara admitted that he had sent the letter as a "well planned" strategy to prompt an investigation of TSD. (Doc. 70 ¶¶ 110, 126; Doc. 76 ¶¶ 110, 126.)

As a component of the investigation, a number of Shingara's co-workers were interviewed to determine if they agreed with the allegations contained in the letter. While many disagreed, some acknowledged that they agreed with the content of the letter, at least in part. (Doc. 70 ¶¶ 110-123, 128-129; Doc. 76 ¶¶ 110-123, 128-129.) Waugh received the final report from the investigation on February 20, 2004. (Doc. 70 ¶ 133; Doc. 76 ¶ 133.) The investigation concluded that the letter contained inaccurate information and amounted to a "malicious attempt to undermine Skiles' position as a supervisor." (Doc. 70 ¶ 134.) The investigation also concluded that Shingara's statements adversely affected TSD operations and imperiled the harmony of the working environment. (Doc. 70 ¶ 135.)

On March 1, 2004, a pre-disciplinary conference was held and the results of the investigation were discussed with Shingara. (Doc. 70 ¶ 141; Doc. 76 ¶ 141.) On March 5, 2004, Waugh recommended that Shingara be disciplined. (Doc. 70 ¶ 142; Doc. 76 ¶ 142.) In April 2004, Shingara was suspended from work for thirty days. (Doc. 70 ¶ 147; Doc. 76 ¶ 147.) When Shingara returned ...

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