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Sampson v. School District of Lancaster

June 12, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Surrick, J.


Presently before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment of Defendants School District of Lancaster, Rita Bishop, Curt Baker, and Robert Bourdeaux. (Doc. No. 60.) For the following reasons, the Motion will be granted in part and denied in part.


In 2003, Rosemaria McNeil Sampson ("Plaintiff") was a middle school principal in the School District of Philadelphia. (Doc. No. 62 at 1; Sampson Dep. 30-32.) Plaintiff was recruited to join the School District of Lancaster (the "District") by its then-superintendent, Ricardo Curry ("Curry"). (Doc. No. 62 at 1-2.) In July 2003, Plaintiff signed a five-year contract with the District to serve as its Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction. (Doc. No. 2 ¶¶ 4, 13; Doc. No. 38 ¶¶ 4, 13.) Plaintiff was responsible for supervising the District's Title I coordinator. (Doc. No. 62 at 2; Pl.'s Dep. 39, 44.) Title I is a federal program that provided the single largest source of federal funds for the District. (Baker Dep. 102.) Prior to Plaintiff's arrival, the Title I program had been "pretty much allowed to operate on its own" with little oversight. (Pl.'s Dep. 45-46.) Some of Plaintiff's tasks were to "bring[] Title I into the fold" and to "have some supervisory oversight or say over the functions of Title I." (Id.)

A. The District's Financial Mismanagement Prompts a State Audit

Plaintiff had worked for the District for five months when, in January 2004, the Pennsylvania Auditor General began investigating the District for mismanagement, misuse of credit cards and cell phones, and other financial improprieties. (Doc. No. 62 at 2-3.) That month, Curry resigned from his position as superintendent. (Id.) Curry eventually entered a plea of guilty to wire fraud and was sentenced to prison. (Id. at 3.) The problems surrounding Curry and the District's mismanagement of federal funds were the subject of numerous newspaper articles.*fn1 (See Bishop Dep., Exs. 2, 4, 5, 7, 17.) In July 2004, Rita Bishop ("Bishop") took over Curry's position and became the District's new superintendent. (Doc. No. 2 ¶ 6; Doc. No. 38 ¶ 6.) Bishop hired Curt Baker ("Baker") as the District's director of finance and Robert Bourdeaux ("Bourdeaux") as its compliance coordinator for federal funding programs. (Doc. No. 2 ¶¶ 7-8; Doc. No. 38 ¶¶ 7-8; Baker Dep. 17.)

In December 2004, the Pennsylvania Auditor General issued a report that found "significant issues pertaining to the use of federal dollars within the [District]." (Baker Dep. 106.) The report stated that the Pennsylvania Auditor General would be forwarding its findings to the federal authorities responsible for oversight of the District's federal funding programs. (Pl.'s Dep. 52-53.) The District had "a legitimate concern that the Inspector General would conduct another full investigation of [its] expenditure of federal dollars," and "since the issues had been found prior in and around the Title I area, there was particularly concern about Title I," the area that Plaintiff supervised. (Baker Dep. 107.) The District retained Kuntz Lesher LLP, an auditing firm, to gather financial records from the District's offices and to conduct a forensic audit. (Baker Dep. 58, 104.) The purpose of the audit was to evaluate the District's handling of federal funds. (Id. at 98-100; see also id. at 99 ("Q: You saw smoke, you wanted someone to check it out? A: You got it. Yes.").) The audit was meant to give the District the opportunity to self-report the existence of any problem to the federal government. (Id. at 108.)

B. Kuntz Lesher Begins to Audit the District

To begin the audit, representatives of Kuntz Lesher planned to meet Bishop, Baker, and Bourdeaux at the District's offices on Prince Street in order to gather financial records from computer hard drives, including Plaintiff's hard drive. (Baker Dep. 109-111; Doc. No. 62 at 7.) The gathering of the records from computer hard drives was scheduled to take place "at a time when no one [was] in the building" because, if information about the investigation leaked out, it would "poison perspectively [sic] the protocols that had been set forth." (Baker Dep. 109-11.) Thus, the District decided to have its auditors from Kuntz Lesher gather electronic data after school hours on the evening of January 4, 2005. (Id. at 110.)

Between 10:00 and 11:00 that night, Bishop arrived at the District's offices to unlock the doors and allow the representatives from Kuntz Lesher to begin their electronic record collection. (Baker Dep. 114-15.) Upon their arrival, Bishop entered the wrong code into the building's alarm system, activating the security alarm. (Bishop Dep. 121-22.) The security company telephoned Plaintiff as the District's designated contact person. (Pl.'s Dep. 56-57.) As a result of the alarm, Plaintiff drove to the District's offices, went inside, and saw that Baker and Bourdeaux were leaving her office. (Id. at 67.) Plaintiff noticed that a copying device was connected to her District-issued laptop computer. (Id. at 69-70.) Plaintiff encountered Bishop, who told her that the situation would "all become clear" and that "it's part of the Auditor General's investigation." (Id. at 68.) Plaintiff drove home (id. at 71), but her unexpected arrival had compromised the secrecy of the records collection (Baker Dep. 116). As a result, Bishop and Baker decided to hold a meeting the next morning to disclose the audit to staff and explain "what was going on." (Id.)

C. The District Discloses the Kuntz Lesher Audit to Employees

The next morning, January 5, 2005, Bishop convened a meeting with Plaintiff and various coordinators at which Bishop explained that the removal of files was part of the "ongoing investigation" regarding Curry. (Pl.'s Dep. 78-79.) Bishop did not identify any current employees by name as being subject of the investigation. (Id.) Nevertheless, Plaintiff wrote a letter that day to the school board president, Patrice Dixon ("Dixon"), in which she described the previous night's events and stated that, "[f]or me, this incident represented the culminating event in a series of incidents that has created what I believe to be an unreceptive work environment."*fn2

(Bishop Dep., Ex. 9.) Plaintiff felt that Bishop "demonstrated a lack of trust and confidence" in her. (Id.) Plaintiff also "felt humiliated and a sense of violation" by the unannounced audit.

(Id.) Plaintiff wrote that she had "no problems with handing over [her] files upon request," but that the audit did "not have to result in a climate of mistrust and disrespect." (Id.) Receiving no response to her letter, Plaintiff wrote a second, more lengthy letter to Dixon on February 24, 2005, in which she complained that she had been "targeted" by the District's investigation. (Bishop Dep., Ex. 11.) Plaintiff felt that her "reputation [was] irrevocably damaged" and questioned why the District's auditors "didn't . . . simply show up during daylight hours" to gather the electronic data.*fn3 (Id.)

D. Plaintiff Files an EEOC Charge, and the District Terminates her Contract

On March 28, 2005, Plaintiff filed a charge with the EEOC alleging race and gender discrimination and a hostile work environment. (Pl.'s Dep. 161; EEOC Charge of Discrimination, Doc. No. 2, Ex. B; Doc. No. 2 ¶ 22; Doc. No. 38 ¶ 22.) On June 1, 2005, Plaintiff participated in an EEOC mediation conference with the District. (Doc. No. 2 ¶ 23; Doc. No. 38 ¶ 23.) A few weeks after the EEOC mediation, on June 21, 2005, the school board held a closed-door session to determine whether to terminate Plaintiff's employment contract.*fn4 (Dixon Dep. 6.) Dixon, the school board president, was present at the session and testified at her deposition that the board discussed Plaintiff's EEOC charge and the mediation:

Q: At the time of the closed session, at some point before the decision [to terminate Plaintiff's employment] was made, were you aware that [Plaintiff] had filed a complaint of discrimination with the [EEOC]?

A: Yes.

Q: And at some point before the decision was made, were you aware that a mediation had been held in the EEOC proceeding?

A: Yes.

Q: Did the EEOC proceeding come up in the discussions ...

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