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Spence v. Fayette County Vo-Tech School

April 8, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ambrose, Chief District Judge


Plaintiff, Kathleen Spence ("Plaintiff" or "Spence"), initiated this action against Defendant Fayette County Vo-Tech School ("Defendant" or "Vo-Tech"), alleging discriminatory treatment in employment on the basis of race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. ("Title VII"), and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 P.S. § 955, et seq. ("PHRA"). Pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment seeking dismissal of Plaintiff's claims in their entirety. (Docket No. 31). Despite several notifications by the Court, Plaintiff has failed to file a Brief and/or a Response in Opposition thereto. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is granted.


A. Factual Background*fn1

Plaintiff is an African-American female whom Defendant initially hired in 1993 as a secretarial aide. Beginning in the 1997-1998 school year, Plaintiff was assigned to Vo-Tech's Culinary Arts program as a classroom aide. At all times, Plaintiff's salary was paid by funds made available through grant monies as part of the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act, Public Law No. 105-332. Plaintiff was the school's only African-American employee.

For several years, Defendant's student enrollment steadily declined. All four member school districts, facing declining financial situations of their own, approved decisions to withdraw their respective ninth-grade students from Vo-Tech. Vo-Tech's Operating Committee observed that the Culinary Arts Program, among others, had been experiencing a decline in student enrollment. This decline reduced the need for an aide to assist in educational instruction in the program. Defendant also was faced with significant changes under the Carl Perkins grant. Specifically, there was to be a ten percent decrease on an annual basis in the percentage of grant funds that could be used to pay individual salaries, significantly impacting the programs funded by the grant over time.

On June 29, 2005, the Operating Committee acted to eliminate certain programs and services, including a necessary reduction in staff. Among those positions eliminated was the classroom aide in the Culinary Arts program -- i.e., Plaintiff's position. The declining student enrollment in the program reduced the need for an aide. In total, ten persons lost their employment as a result of Defendant's reduction in staff. Except for Plaintiff, all of the terminated employees were Caucasian.

All employees affected by the Operating Committee's actions were entitled to a hearing in accordance with the Local Agency law. Plaintiff exercised her right to a hearing which was held on July 20, 2005. At the hearing, the reasons for the Operating Committee's actions were fully explained to Plaintiff, including the changes taking place relative to the Carl Perkins grant. On August 22, 2005, the Operating Committee held a regularly-scheduled meeting and ratified the action eliminating Plaintiff's position. Plaintiff disagrees with Defendant's stated reasons and alleges her termination from employment was the result of racial discrimination.

B. Procedural History

On or about December 16, 2007, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, filed a Complaint against Defendant in this Court. (Docket No. 1). On April 22, 2008, Defendant filed its Answer to Plaintiff's Complaint. (Docket No. 17). On December 5, 2008, Defendant filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment and supporting materials. (Docket Nos. 31-33). During a telephone conference with the Court on that same date, I permitted Plaintiff's then-attorney, Verdell Dean, to withdraw as counsel. (Docket Nos. 28-29). I further gave Plaintiff leave until February 5, 2009 to obtain new counsel and to respond to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. Id. In January 2009, Plaintiff, now pro se, wrote to the Court requesting additional time to retain new counsel. On January 12, 2009, I granted Plaintiff an extension until February 27, 2009 to respond to the Motion for Summary Judgment. When Plaintiff failed to respond, I held a telephone conference and gave her a final response deadline of March 31, 2009. (Docket No. 34). To date, however, Plaintiff has not filed any response to the Motion.

Plaintiff's failure to file a response to the Motion for Summary Judgment alone, however, is not sufficient to justify the entry of summary judgment. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56; Durant v. Husband, 28 F.3d 12, 17 (3d Cir. 1994); Anchorage Assocs. v. Virgin Islands Bd. of Tax Review, 922 F.2d 168, 174-75 (3d Cir. 1990). There must be facts of record to support the claim on the merits. Id. Thus, even absent a response from Plaintiff, I must still engage in a legal analysis of the case to determine, based on the facts of record, if summary judgment is warranted. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e).


A. Standard of Review

Summary judgment may only be granted if 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 judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Rule 56 mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against the party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to ...

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