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Washington v. FamilyLinks

September 10, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terrence F. McVerry United States District Court Judge


Presently before the Court for disposition is the MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, with brief in support, filed by Defendants, FamilyLinks and Judy Shackney (collectively "Defendants") (Document Nos. 9 and 10, respectively), and Plaintiff's brief in opposition (Document No. 17).

The issues have been fully briefed and the matter is ripe for disposition. The factual record has also been thoroughly developed via DEFENDANTS' APPENDIX IN SUPPORT OF THEIR MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Document No. 9-2), the STATEMENT OF UNDISPUTED FACTS IN SUPPORT OF DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Document No. 12), the APPENDIX TO PLAINTIFF'S BRIEF IN SUPPORT OF PLAINTIFF'S OPPOSITION TO SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTION (Document No. 17), and the PLAINTIFF'S RESPONSE TO DEFENDANTS' STATEMENT OF UNDISPUTED FACTS filed by Plaintiff (Document No. 18).

After a careful consideration of Defendants' motion, the filings in support and opposition thereto, the memoranda of the parties, the relevant case law, and the record as a whole, the Court finds that there is not sufficient record evidence upon which a reasonable jury could return a verdict for Plaintiff, Nasser Washington, on his claims of racial discrimination. Therefore, for the reasons that follow, the Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted in its entirety.


Plaintiff filed this civil rights action on June 26, 2007, pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Specifically, Plaintiff contends that FamilyLinks and Judy Shackney retaliated and discriminated against him on the basis of his race, African American, by terminating his employment and/or by not recalling him when a subsequent employment vacancy arose.

Defendants have filed the instant motion for summary judgment in which they contend that Plaintiff is unable to establish a prima facie case on either his Title VII claim and/or his § 1981 claim.


As the law requires, all disputed facts and inferences are to be resolved most favorable to the Plaintiff.

Defendant, FamilyLinks, is a non-profit social service agency that provides mental health and mental retardation programs, youth and family development programs, adult community services, alcohol and other drug treatment, and school-based prevention services to children, families, and individuals through southwestern Pennsylvania. The FamilyLinks Therapeutic Learning Center ("TLC") is a school for children ages four (4) through ten (10) who have fairly severe emotional disturbances. The children's disabilities include attention deficit disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, depression, and autism.

Plaintiff, Nassar Washington, was hired by FamilyLinks as an "intervention specialist" in 2003, although his title changed to "mental health worker" in 2004. Prior to FamilyLinks, Plaintiff worked with challenging children with severe behavioral problems at Summit Academy, which serves adjudicated students grades 9 to 12.

Jeff Lawson, the then-Program Director who interviewed and hired Plaintiff in 2003, told Plaintiff that, based on his prior experience at Summit Academy, he would be hired specifically to work with the more behaviorially challenging children. Lawson also told Plaintiff that his race was a significant factor in his hiring as FamilyLinks was looking for an African-American male as a role model. More than ninety percent (90%) of the students at FamilyLinks' TLC are African American.

As promised by Lawson, Plaintiff was assigned the more behaviorally challenging students at TLC. As a mental health worker, Plaintiff's duties included observing students, counseling students about their behavior, and supporting the classroom teacher with students' behavioral problems.

In 2003, Plaintiff reported to Cathy Sullivan; during the 2004-2005 school year, he reported to Mental Health Manager Lisa Perkins; and during the 2005-2006 school year, he reported to Mental Health Manager Mia Tamburri. For approximately one and a half (11/2 ) to two (2) months in 2004, Plaintiff acted as a teacher when the special education teacher in Plaintiff's classroom resigned. During this time, Plaintiff was supervised by then-Educational Manager, Defendant Judy Shackney. This was the only time that Plaintiff was supervised by Defendant Shackney.

In 2003, there was a meeting with Stacy Dillon, a Caucasian teacher; Athena Ford, an African American mental health worker; Plaintiff, and two representatives from FamilyLinks' human resources department, Cathy Cicco and Trina Hill. The meeting was held to address the concerns of Ms. Dillon and Ms. Ford that they were not being treated fairly. Plaintiff, the mental health worker in Ms. Dillon's classroom, was invited to the meeting by Ms. Dillon and Ms. Ford.

During the meeting, Ms. Dillon complained about having personality differences with Jeff Lawson, the Program Director. Ms. Ford raised concerns that she was unfairly viewed because she was African American. During the meeting, Plaintiff was asked whether he believed there were racial issues at TLC. Plaintiff did not express, nor did he believe at that time that there were racial issues at the school. Plaintiff mentioned only that he thought that his classroom was treated differently by two teachers in the cafeteria.*fn1

Plaintiff testified during his deposition, however, that because of an incident during the 2004-2005 school year, he began to believe that Defendant Shackney had an issue with respect to his race. One day in 2004-2005 school year, Plaintiff left work early (he did not recall if this incident occurred during the first or second semester of the 2004-2005 school year). He was later told by another mental health worker, Charlotte King, that after he had left, one of his students started acting out. According to Plaintiff, Ms. King told him that Defendant Shackney made a comment regarding Plaintiff not doing his job properly because the child was uncontrollable. Plaintiff did not address the issue directly with Defendant Shackney, but e-mailed the then-CEO, Steve Grimshaw, and complained that he felt disrespected by Defendant Shackney's comment.

Plaintiff testified during his deposition that he thought Defendant Shackney's comment was ...

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