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Vereen v. Woodland Hills School Dist.

March 24, 2008

DEBORAH M. VEREEN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WOODLAND HILLS SCHOOL DISTRICT, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Conti, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Introduction

Pending before the court is a motion for summary judgment filed by defendant Woodland Hills School District ("defendant" or "School District") seeking judgment in defendant's favor with respect to all claims asserted by plaintiff. (Docket No. 33.) Plaintiff filed an amended complaint asserting four counts: 1) count I, claims for sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e) et seq. ("Title VII"), and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, as amended, 43 PA. CONS. STAT. ANN. § 951 et seq. (the "PHRA"); 2) count II, claims for race discrimination under Title VII, the PHRA and the Civil Rights Act of 1866, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("§ 1981"); 3) count III, claims for unequal pay under the Equal Pay Act, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d) (the "Equal Pay Act"); and 4) count IV, retaliation claims under Title VII, the PHRA, § 1981 and the Equal Pay Act. For the reasons described below, defendant's motion will be denied with respect to plaintiff's Equal Pay Act claim and will be granted in all other respects.

Background

Plaintiff's Employment

Plaintiff, an African-American female, has a masters degree in secondary education and a doctorate degree in education. Joint Concise Statement of Material Facts ("J.C.S." (Docket No. 60) ¶ 67.) Since 1992, she has served in various administrative positions in different school districts. (Id. ¶ 67.) On August 19, 1996, Vereen was hired by the School District as an assistant principal for East Junior High School for the 1996/1997 school year. (Id. ¶ 1.) She entered into, and agreed to, a contract which set her annual salary at $60,500.00. (Id. ¶ 2.) The School District hired three other administrators during the same year. (Id. ¶¶ 3-5.) They were Mary Frances Duncan ("Duncan"), John Folmar ("Folmar") and Craig Jackson ("Jackson"). (Id. ¶ 5.) Duncan was a substitute principal for Rankin Intermediate School, while Folmar and Jackson were both assistant principals for Woodland Hills High School. (Id.) Vereen, Duncan, Folmar and Jackson were all contracted to work at the same annual salary of $60,500.00. (Id. ¶ 4.)

Vereen was appointed as the acting principal of East Junior High School on February 10, 1999, with an additional per diem rate of $55.77. (Id. ¶ 6.) Vereen filled in for Richard Fischer ("Fischer") who had been earning $78,579 and she served in this acting capacity for approximately six weeks. (Id. ¶ 7.) Vereen returned to her prior duties, working for her original salary of $60,500.00. (Id.) On October 13, 1999, Vereen was appointed as the principal of East Junior High School at a salary of $60,500.00. (Id. ¶ 8.) This salary arrangement was apparently subject to the approval of a new "Act 93 agreement." (Id.) The Act 93 agreement was an agreement between the Woodland Hills Administrators Association and the School District setting supervisory compensation program and fringe benefits for all members of the School District's administrative staff between July 1, 1999, and June 30, 2004.*fn1 (Id. ¶ 11.) Vereen contends that she had received verbal assurances of an opportunity to negotiate her salary, based on her experience, after the approval of the Act 93 agreement. (Vereen Aff. (Docket No. 42-2) at 2.) The Act 93 agreement was approved by the School District's Board of School Directors ("Board") on November 10, 1999. (J.C.S. ¶ 9.) Vereen testified that she participated in meetings necessary to conclude the new Act 93 contract. (Vereen Dep. at 17 (Docket No. 44-2 at 5).) Vereen's annual salary was increased to $69,045.12 as a result of that approval. (Id. ¶ 10.) This salary was consistent with her placement on level 2, step 1, of the Act 93 agreement's pay scale. (App. Def's Concise Statement of Material Facts in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J., Tab F (Docket No. 36 at 56), Tab J (Docket No. 36-2 at 12).)

Vereen, while she was on a two-week vacation, was transferred by the School District in 2001 to be the principal at Fairless Intermediate School. Dr. Herbert Morgan ("Morgan') was hired without an interview on April 6, 2001, to take Vereen's position as the principal at East Junior High School with a starting salary of $74,631.00. (Vereen. Aff. (Docket No. 42-2) at 6; Supplemental App. to Def.'s Concise Statement of Material Facts in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J., Tab 5 (Docket No. 57 at 42, ¶ 5).) Morgan had received higher salaries at other school districts. (Def's Supplemental App., Tab 5 at 42.)

On August 6, 2001, Dr. Gary Thomas ("Thomas") was hired as the principal at West Junior High School at an annual salary of $80,441.00. (Supplemental App. to Def.'s Concise Statement of Material Facts in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J., Tab 5 (Docket No. 57 at 42) ¶ 6.)

Thomas was apparently the principal of Dickson Intermediate School as of May 22, 2007 (the date of Vereen's affidavit). (Vereen Aff. (Docket No. 42-2) at 6-7.) Vereen states that while her position at Fairless Intermediate School is equivalent to Thomas' position at Dickson Intermediate School in terms of job duties and expectations, her annual salary is presently about $10,000.00 less than that of Thomas. (Id.)*fn2

Candice Bostick ("Bostick"), an African-American woman, testified that she was paid less than a white male who performed the same duties as her. (Bostick Dep. at 14-17 (Docket No. 44-7) at 5.) With respect to the Act 93 agreement itself, Bostick testified that the School District had considerable discretion as to where on the pay scale a particular employee would be placed. (Bostick Dep. at 16 (Docket No. 44-7 at 5.)) Superintendent Robert Grimm ("Grimm") had made adjustments to the salaries of some assistant principals serving at Woodland Hills High School on the ground that these individuals were expected to attend athletic events during evening hours. (Supplemental App. to Def.'s Concise Statement of Material Facts in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J., Tab 5 (Docket No. 57 at 47-48, ¶¶ 15-16).) Superintendent Roslynne Wilson ("Wilson"), an African-American woman, may have told Vereen that the School District had "the prerogative to place an administrator at any level" on the Act 93 pay scale. (App. to Def.'s Concise Statement of Material Facts in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J., Volume II, Tab K (Docket No. 36-2 at 14), (Docket No. 36-6 at 11, ¶ 3) (emphasis in original).)

Plaintiff's Salary Concerns

On March 27, 2001, Vereen sent a letter to Superintendent Stanley Herman ("Herman") about her placement on the Act 93 salary scale. ( Id. Tab G (Docket No. 36-2 at 6, ¶ 12).) This letter constituted a petition to the Board for a salary adjustment. (Id. ¶ 13.) Two days later, on March 29, 2001, Herman sent Vereen a memorandum explaining that Vereen's placement on the salary scale had been correct. (Id. ¶ 14.) On September 30, 2004, Vereen sent a detailed memorandum to Wilson, who had apparently replaced Grimm as the superintendent. That memorandum stated, in pertinent part, as follows:

. . . Unfairness was initially exemplified by the school district when I earned more money as Acting Principal at Woodland Hills East Junior High School for six weeks during the 1998-1999 school year that I did when I began my tenure at the same building as Principal the following school year. My placement on the salary scale as a first year Principal, despite serving three years as Assistant Principal at East, was discriminatory. . . .

In my preliminary conversation with you on September 22, 2004 about my salary complaint, you indicated that, while a salary scale may exist within a school district, that organization has the prerogative to place an administrator at any level. It must be noted that neither Dr. Herman nor Dr. Grimm indicated that to me when I extensively discussed my issue with them. . . .

Due to the serious nature of my salary complaint, I am requesting that the Woodland Hills School District work to resolve this issue. From my perspective, being placed on level four of the previous principal's salary scale at the onset of my tenure as Principal which would have given credit for my three year service as Assistant Principal and would have been comparable to the amount I received as Acting Principal is the resolution that I seek coupled with monetary retroactivity.

(Id., Tab K (Docket No. 36-2 at 14-15)(emphasis in original).) In Herman's letter, he responded to Vereen's complaints by suggesting that she "test the market in other school districts." (App. to Def.'s Concise Statement of Material Facts in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J., Volume II, Tab H (Docket No. 36-2 at 7).)

Herman was succeeded as superintendent by Grimm. In a memorandum dated April 22, 2002, Vereen expressed concerns about her salary to Grimm. (Id. ¶ 15.) On September 6, 2002, Grimm sent Vereen a letter stating that her salary was appropriate, and that no adjustment was warranted. (Id. ¶ 16.) In a memorandum dated September 30, 2004, Vereen expressed her dissatisfaction with her salary to Wilson, who was apparently Grimm's successor. (Id. ¶¶ 18-19.) Wilson responded in a letter to Vereen dated January 25, 2005, stating that Vereen's salary was appropriate. (Id. ¶ 20.)

Wilson referred Vereen's complaint to the School District's solicitor, who apparently corresponded with Wilson about the matter. In a letter to Vereen dated January 25, 2005, Wilson stated that persons "acting" (i.e., acting as the principal without actually being the principal) were "normally provided with a daily stipend to acknowledge the additional duties undertaken." (Id., Tab L (Docket No. 36-2 at 17).) She noted that Vereen's complaint rested on the "false premise" that the pay which Vereen received while acting as the principal of East Junior High School was "the floor from which all other salaries should have been based." (Id.) Wilson stated that she believed that Vereen had been properly placed on the salary scale, and that she agreed with the logic expressed in Grimm's prior correspondence. (Id.)

Assistant Superintendent Position

The position of assistant superintendent became open on March 1, 2005. (Id. ¶ 21.) The position was advertised by the School District on its website, the Pennsylvania School Board Association, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the New Pittsburgh Courier, and PA-Educator.net. (Id. ¶ 22.) According to the postings, the qualifications included:

1. Pennsylvania letter of Eligibility

2. Successful experience in school administration.

3. Experience with Special Education

4. Extensive experience in curriculum development.

5. Experience in K-12 staff development.

6. Experience in school reform efforts. (App. to Def.'s Concise Statement of Material Facts in Supp. of Mot. for Summ J., Volume II, Tab M (Docket No. 36-2 at 20-21).) Thirty-six applicants sought the position, eight of whom, including five women, were selected for interviews. (Id. ¶ 23; App. to Def's Concise Statement of Material Facts in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J., Volume II, Tab N (Docket No. 36-2 at 28-29).) Only seven applicants were actually interviewed, since one person, a male, did not show up. (Id. ¶ 24.) Four of these seven individuals, including Vereen and James Palmiero ("Palmiero"), were selected for a second round of interviews. (Id. ¶¶ 25, 26.)

The interviews were conducted by Wilson and Renee Yeager ("Yeager"), a personnel supervisor. (Id. ¶ 27.) All applicants were asked the same questions. (Id. ¶ 28.) Palmiero received the highest interview scores among the applicants. (Id. ¶ 29.) During the first round of interviews, Palmiero received an overall score of 800, with a writing score of 160. (Id. ¶ 30.) Vereen's scores were the lowest. (Wilson Aff., App. to Def.'s Concise Statement of Material Facts in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J., Volume VI, Tab S (Docket No. 36-6 at 12, ¶ 17).) Vereen received an overall score of 650, with a writing score of 140. (Id. ¶ 31.) During the second round of interviews, Palmiero again received the highest score, which was 280. (Id. ¶ 32.) He was the only candidate with a both a reading specialist certification and a curriculum and instruction certification. (Id. ¶ 35.) He had central office experience and a background in integrating technology into the classroom. (Id. ¶ 36.) Palermo was ultimately chosen for the position. Wilson stated that Palmiero was chosen for the position because of his background in reading, his interview scores, his central office experience, and his ability to integrate technology into the curriculum. (Wilson Aff., App. to Def.'s Concise Statement of Material Facts in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J., Volume VI, Tab S (Docket No. 36-6 at 12-13, ¶¶ 18, 20).)

March 2006 Incident

Vereen spoke with Wilson about an incident in March 2006 in which one fourth-grade student allegedly took pencils from another student. (Id. ¶¶ 40-41.) The student allegedly took pencils away from another student at the end of a school day. (Vereen Aff. (Docket No. 42-2) at 3.) According to Vereen, she asked the student if he had taken another student's pencils, but he would not admit to doing so. (J.C.S. ¶¶ 42-43.) When Vereen asked the student for the pencils, he refused to hand them over. Vereen proceeded to take the student into another classroom, in the presence of a teacher acting as a witness. Vereen noticed that the student, who was sitting at a table, had a "metal disk" under his hand. Fearing that the disk could be used as a weapon, Vereen took the disk away from the student, causing him to become angry. Vereen extended her arm on a wall near the doorway to the classroom, apparently for the purpose of communicating to the student that he was not free to leave. (Vereen Aff. (Docket No. 42-2 at 4).) The student, who allegedly weighed between 160 and 170 pounds, wrestled Vereen's arm off of the wall, causing her to aggravate a pre-existing back condition. (Id.)

As a result of this incident, the student received an initial out-of-school suspension lasting for a period of three days. (Id.) After an informal hearing was held, this suspension was extended by seven days, making the total period of suspension last for ten days. (Id.) Vereen wanted to take the student before the Board for a formal expulsion hearing, so she prepared the documentation needed to do so. (Id.) When Wilson and Palmiero arrived at the school to discuss the incident with Vereen, they informed her that they did not view the incident as an "assault," and that they did not believe that further disciplinary action was warranted. (Id. at 4-5.) Wilson stated that she did not recommend further disciplinary action (i.e., disciplinary action beyond the ten-day suspension which had already been imposed on the student) because the student had not been a disciplinary problem in the past, and because the incident itself had not been sufficiently serious to warrant a more aggressive disciplinary response. (App. to Def.'s Concise Statement of Material Facts, Volume VI, Tab S (Docket No. 36-6 at 13-14, ¶¶ 31-34).) According to Wilson, Vereen's actions escalated the confrontation with the student. (Id. (Docket No. 36-6 at 13, ¶ 30).)

Believing that she had been assaulted, Vereen sought Wilson's permission to file disorderly conduct charges against the student with the local magistrate. (J.C.S. ¶ 107.) Vereen contacted the North Braddock Police Department about the incident. (Vereen Dep. at 75 (Docket No. 44-2 at 20).) Police officers told her that they did not wish to pursue the matter, since the student was only nine-years-old. (Id.) Two weeks after the altercation, Vereen sought medical treatment for a pre-existing back condition. Id. at 76 (Docket No. 44-2 at 20). Medical personnel informed her that she was suffering from a pinched nerve. (Id.) She later sought treatment from a chiropractor. (Id. at 77 (Docket No. 44-2 at 20).)

Vereen testified that other students had been taken before the Board for expulsion hearings. (Id. at 94 (Docket No. 44-2 at 25).) In one instance, a student assaulted some staff members (including Vereen), causing them to be rushed to the emergency room. (Id. at 95.) In another instance, a student was subjected to an expulsion hearing for exposing himself to, and sexually harassing or "assaulting," a female student. (Id.) Vereen believed that the fourth-grade student who "wrestled" her arm off of the wall, or "pushed his way out of the room," should have been subjected to an expulsion hearing as well.

Vereen testified as follows concerning the School District's alleged retaliatory motive for not imposing harsher discipline on the fourth-grade student:

Q: Why do you think that because you filed a Complaint that this was criticism with regard to that? That they refused to have an expulsion hearing? How are those two linked together?

A: It's my belief that Dr. Wilson initially was supportive of me. She told me to let her know what I wanted to do. To me that was an indicator that she was supportive of what I felt needed to happen to the student. But it's also my belief that after she may have spoken to whether it's a Board member, Board members, it's just my belief that there was some discussion that I should not--that the case should not be taken.

Q: Was that discussion linked to the fact that you had filed a Complaint?

A: It's my belief it is. It is my belief that it is. (Id. at 96).

Performance Evaluations

Vereen received a performance evaluation for the 2005/2006 school year. (Id. ¶ 56.) For purposes of the School District's performance evaluations, ratings of "A" through "C" were deemed to be satisfactory, while ratings of "D" through "F" were deemed to be unsatisfactory. (Id. ¶ 58.) Out of eight different categories, Vereen received four "A" ratings and four "B" ratings. (Id. ¶ 57.) Wilson informed Vereen that the four "B" ratings had been given because of Vereen's failure to work on Saturdays to interview teaching candidates, her failure to attend Saturday school for students, and her failure to attend community events (such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Day festivities at a local church). (Id. ¶ 60.) Those kind of functions were expected to be attended by all principals. (Id. ¶ 61.) The School District apparently provides students with Saturday school in lieu of suspension. (Id. ¶ 62.) Vereen stated that she had always worked on Saturdays when expected to do so. (Vereen Aff. (Docket No. 42-2) at 5.) She further stated that she had been unavailable to conduct interviews on Saturdays precisely because of her Saturday school responsibilities. (Id. at 3.) Upset with the ratings, Vereen refused to sign the performance evaluation and sent a detailed rebuttal to Wilson. (Id. ¶ 113.)

Procedural History

On August 17, 2005, Vereen completed an EEOC questionnaire. (Docket No. 17-2.) On December 4, 2005, Vereen filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5, alleging that both the terms of her compensation and the School District's failure to hire her for the assistant superintendent position had been in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et. seq., ("Title VII"). (Docket No. 14-2 at 2-3.) The EEOC dismissed the charge on February 28, 2006, placing partial reliance on the alleged untimeliness of Vereen's claims related to her wages. (Docket No. 14-3.) Having received notice of her right to sue, Vereen commenced this action on April 7, 2006, alleging violations of Title VII, the PHRA and the Equal Pay Act. On April 28, 2006, the School District filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). Vereen responded by filing an amended complaint on May 16, 2006. In addition to claims under Title VII, the PHRA, and the Equal Pay Act, the amended complaint asserted claims under § 1981. On June 4, 2006, the School District filed a second motion to dismiss.

A hearing was held before the court on July 20, 2006. Vereen stipulated to the dismissal of her sex retaliation claim, which she had not exhausted. The court dismissed that claim without prejudice. The School District's motion to dismiss was denied without prejudice in all other respects, since the court determined that the remaining issues would be more appropriately dealt with within the context of a motion for summary judgment. The School District filed an answer to the amended complaint on August 9, 2006. On March 23, 2007, the School District filed the instant motion seeking summary judgment in its favor with respect to all claims asserted by Vereen.

Standard of Review

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) provides that summary judgment may be granted if, drawing all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED.R.CIV.P. 56(c). A motion for summary judgment will not be defeated by the mere existence of some disputed facts, but will be defeated when there is a genuine issue of material fact. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). In determining whether the dispute is genuine, the court's function is not to weigh the evidence or to determine the truth of the matter, but only to determine whether the evidence of record is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id. at 249.

Discussion

The amended complaint contains four counts. In count I, Vereen alleges that the School District violated Title VII and the PHRA by discriminating against her on the basis of sex. She bases these claims on the School District's alleged failure to provide her with compensation equal to that of her male counterparts and its decision not to hire her for the assistant superintendent position. Count II avers that the School District's failure to hire Vereen for the assistant superintendent position constituted violations of Title VII, the PHRA and § 1981, all of which prohibit discrimination on the basis of race. In count III, Vereen asserts a claim under the EPA, alleging that her pay was not equivalent to that of men performing substantially similar work. Count IV asserts claims for retaliation under Title VII, the PHRA, the Equal Pay Act and § 1981. Vereen alleges that she suffered retaliation after engaging in activity protected under these statutes. Her retaliation claims are based upon the School District's failure to hire her for the assistant superintendent position, its giving to her of lower marks on her performance evaluation, and its failure to impose harsher discipline on the student who allegedly assaulted her. The School District moves for summary judgment with respect to all claims contained in the amended complaint. The court will address each of these claims seriatim.

A. The Timeliness of Vereen's Salary-based Claims Under Title VII, the PHRA and § 1981

The substantive prohibition contained in Title VII provides:

§ 2000e-2. Unlawful employment practices

(a) Employer practices. It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer--

(1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; or

(2) to limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a).*fn3 Because Pennsylvania is a "deferral" state (i.e., a state which has an agency authorized to investigate employment discrimination charges violative of a state law akin to Title VII in substantive application), Vereen had 300 days from the date of the alleged unlawful employment practice" to file her EEOC charge pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000e-5. Ruehl v. Viacom, Inc., 500 F.3d 375, 383 (3d Cir. 2007). In order to determine whether Vereen's EEOC ...


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