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Dawson v. Harran

August 6, 2009


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


I. Introduction

Plaintiff James Dawson initiated the instant lawsuit as a result of being terminated from his position as a probationary police officer with Bensalem Township ("the Township") Police Department. The following counts of the Complaint remain in the case: race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1991 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e (Count I); race discrimination in violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 Pa. C.S.A. § 955(a) (Count II); and violation of plaintiff's contractual rights as an employee on account of his race contrary to 42 U.S.C. § 1981(a) (Count III). The Township is named as defendant in all counts; Frederick Harran, formerly the Deputy Director of Public Safety for the Township, and Steven Moran, formerly the Director of Public Safety for the Township, in their individual capacities, are named as defendants in Count III.

Presently before the Court is defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment with respect to all remaining counts.

II. Background

Plaintiff, an African-American, was hired as a probationary police officer with the Township on August 16, 2004. (Dawson Appointment Letter, May 26, 2004, Ex. 2 to Defs.' Mot.) As is the case for all new officers, plaintiff's appointment to a permanent position was contingent upon successful completion of a one year probationary period beginning from the date of his initial appointment. (Id.; Field Training Program Description 1, Jan. 31, 1997, Ex. 3 to Defs.' Mot.) During the first eight to twelve weeks after their hire, probationary police officers in the Township participate in a Field Training Program, which seeks "to instill proper attitudes, work habits, teach patrol tactics and knowledge of procedures" and is "designed to improve the officer's performance and the quality of service to the community while providing a measurable means of supervising and evaluating a new officer." (Field Training Program Description 1.)

While in the Field Training Program, plaintiff was evaluated by Officer William McVey, Officer Thomas Jackson, and Officer Todd Shapiro (Weekly Observation Report, Sept. 26, 2004, Ex. 9 to Defs.' Mot.; Weekly Observation Report, Oct. 10, 2004, Ex. 10 to Defs.' Mot.; Weekly Observation Report, Oct. 27, 2004, Ex. 11 to Defs.' Mot.) These evaluations were reviewed by Patrol Sargeant Joseph Blickley ("Blickley"). (Joseph Blickley Aff. ¶ 5, Nov. 25, 2005, Ex. 5 to Defs.' Mot.) After completion of the Field Training Program and for the remainder of the probationary period, Blickley supervised plaintiff and one other officer-Officer Timothy Taylor, who is Caucasian-as they were assigned to Blickley's squad. (Joseph Blickley Dep., 9:1--12:20, July 28, 2008, Ex. 4 to Defs.' Mot.) As a squad leader, Blickley was responsible for "monitor[ing] and review[ing] the performance of [the] probationary officers" under his supervision and to recommend whether they should be promoted to a permanent position as police officers with the Bensalem Township Police Department. (Blickley Aff. ¶ 4.)

Plaintiff's evaluations during the initial twelve-week Field Training Program demonstrate that, on a scale of one to seven from worst to best, plaintiff consistently received scores in the four to six range, and plaintiff's overall performance was categorized as "satisfactory" as opposed to "unsatisfactory." (See Weekly Evaluation Reports, Exs. 9--12 to Defs.' Mot.) He received positive feedback in certain areas, but the reports also enumerated areas in which plaintiff could improve, such as radio communications, avoiding distractions, time spent writing reports, and time spent on his cell phone. (Id.)

On June 1, 2005, Blickley completed a Probationary Review Performance Evaluation that rated plaintiff as "standard" overall, meeting standards with respect to most position performance factors, except as to planning and organization, as to which he received a "below standard" rating. (Blickley Probationary Review Performance Evaluation Report, June 1, 2005, Ex. 13 to Defs.' Mot.) In this report, Blickley highlighted plaintiff's need to: "increas[e] his productivity;" "maintain[] an up to date [sic] schedule;" "report[] for special details, training, court, etc.;" avoid scheduling conflicts; "continue learning things such as policies and procedures;" "be as active and proactive as possible;" and learn how to prioritize tasks, such as responding to radio calls instead of spending too much time "on an assignment that could easily have been pushed aside or finished later." (Id.) "In conclusion," Blickley wrote, "[plaintiff] meets the standards of a patrol officer but... has the potential to be more successful by simply making an effort to be more active and productive... to be a well rounded [officer]." (Id.)

On June 3, 2005, defendant Harran and Blickley met with plaintiff. (James Dawson Dep. 69:19--21, Aug. 1, 2008, Ex. 7 to Defs.' Mot.; Harran Memo. to File, June 6, 2005, Ex. 16 to Defs.' Mot.) At the meeting, plaintiff was informed of areas in which he had to improve, such as "get[ting] more involved in incidents and arrests while working," being "more self-initiated," and organizing his schedule so that he would "not be late for training." (Harran Memo. to File; Dawson Dep. 70:10--12, 71:18--22.) On August 4, 2005, Blickley wrote a memorandum to defendant Harran, noting improvements in plaintiff's productivity and scheduling and expressing areas of continued concern with regard to plaintiff's performance. (Blickley Memo. to Harran, Aug. 4, 2005, Ex. 17 to Defs.' Mot.) In this memorandum, Blickley concluded that plaintiff "has successfully completed his probationary period...." (Id.)

Thereafter, plaintiff was involved in a series of incidents that, according to Blickley, "were serious in nature and that were serious problems with [plaintiff's] work performance," causing Blickley to change his mind about plaintiff's performance and rescind his recommendation that plaintiff be appointed to a permanent position. (Blickley Dep. 44:2--14.) One incident occurred on August 5, 2005 when plaintiff responded to a call on Linconia Avenue ("the Linconia Avenue Incident"). A male suspect had broken into a residence, armed himself with a knife, and fled on foot while bleeding. (Blickley Memo. to Moran, Aug. 8, 2005, Ex. 18 to Defs.' Mot.) In the course of responding, plaintiff completed a police report, which Blickley found to be so deficient in pertinent information that he wrote to defendant Moran, requesting disciplinary action be taken against plaintiff. (Id.; Dawson Dep. 122:10--125:24.)

On the heels of this incident, Blickley learned additional facts with regard to an incident that had occurred on July 22, 2005 ("the Missed Fire Call Incident"). (Blickley Dep. 63:10, 65:3--20.) On that date, plaintiff responded to a burglary call and turned down his police radio while securing the premises. (Dawson Dep. 153:25--155:3.) In turning down his police radio, he missed a call concerning a fire occurring nearby. (Blickley Dep. 66:19--68:2.) When approached by Blickley about missing the fire call, plaintiff explained to Blickley that he had turned down his police radio in order to secure the premises-an explanation that Blickley found to be "acceptable." (Id.)

However, after the Linconia Avenue Incident, Blickley "actually received the radio call printout and times from the Bucks County Police Radio Center." (Id. at 68:21--24.) Upon reviewing those records, Blickley discovered that "when [plaintiff] had gotten on the radio and asked about the fire, ten minutes had already passed since he reported to the dispatcher that he was okay" and had cleared the premises for security purposes. (Id. at 69:1--19.) The inaccuracy of plaintiff's initial explanation coupled with the "10 minutes of just sitting there and waiting for the emergency key holder to respond" instead of responding to an urgent fire call troubled Blickley. (Id.)

In addition, on August 10, 2005, only days after having been brought up for disciplinary action based on the Linconia Avenue Incident, plaintiff was approached by Blickley about having failed to respond to another radio call at the Lincoln Motel ("the Lincoln Motel Incident"). According to plaintiff, another officer responded, so he "figured as long as... another officer was en route, then there was no need for me to go over the air." (Dawson Dep. 170:5--11.) Blickley reviewed the radio transmission records and, finding that plaintiff failed to go over the radio over the course of three minutes to notify others that he was responding, concluded that plaintiff's conduct presented a "serious officer safety concern[]." (Blickley Memo. to Harran, Aug. 13, 2005, Ex. 20. to Defs.' Mot.)

Finally, on August 15, 2005, plaintiff was involved in two additional incidents that further distressed Blickley. First, in the early afternoon, plaintiff reported to an attempted suicide call ("the Attempted Suicide Call Incident"), but completed a police report that Blickley deemed "woefully insufficient" for failure to include critical information, such as the fact that the person attempting suicide was thirteen years old. (Blickley Aff. ¶ 15(d).) Second, late in the evening, plaintiff spent two hours at police headquarters completing a police report for a DUI car accident instead of responding to numerous other calls that were going out over the police radio during a heavy rainstorm. (Id. ¶ 15(a); Dawson Dep. 190:2--193:21.) According to Blickley, the fact that plaintiff was "sitting at headquarters during the busy time, listening to the police radio and not putting his report aside, was unacceptable." (Bickley Memo. to Harran, Aug. 15, 2005, Ex. 23 to Defs.' Mot.)

On the same date, August 15, 2005, Blickley wrote a final report to defendant Harran, summarizing his decision to rescind his recommendation that plaintiff pass probation as follows:

I apologize for and take back any impression that I may have given you as far as my not having a solid opinion on what administration should do with [plaintiff]. It is difficult to form a solid opinion of him because he always has an answer and excuse for everything and he actually did show signs of improvement and understanding of what needs to be done around here. After this weekend, I am done with him. He was called in for discipline less than a week before his probation ends and nothing has changed.... I have talked to him and counseled him repeatedly (especially in the past 2 weeks... ) and still, he writes reports like the one's [sic] I have submitted to you. I cannot understand or explain why, after showing signs of improvement and a little bit of motivation, these things would happen just as his probation is coming to an end and he has been made aware of some problems. (Blickley Memo. to Harran, Aug. 15, 2005, Ex. 24 to Defs.' Mot.)

Defendant Moran accepted Blickley's recommendation that plaintiff not be offered a permanent position. (Steven Moran Aff. ¶ 14, Oct. 22, 2008, Ex. 8 to Defs.' Mot.) Defendant Moran then met with plaintiff, Blickley, and defendant Harran to inform plaintiff that, because of these specific incidents, plaintiff did not pass his probationary period and would be terminated. (Id.) Plaintiff was terminated from his employment with the Bensalem Township Police Department on August 15, 2005. (Perry Ferrara Dep. 19:16--17, Aug. 5, 2008, Ex. 32 to Defs.' Mot.)

On September 30, 2005, plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ("PHRC"), alleging unlawful termination on the basis of race. (Charge of Discrimination, Sept. 30, 2005, Ex. B to Defs.' Mot. Dismiss.; Ferrara Dep. 19:16--17.) Plaintiff filed the instant Complaint on January 2, 2008. On January 24, 2008, defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), F.R.C.P. By Order and Memorandum of May 5, 2008, the Court: 1) dismissed with prejudice Counts IV through IX of the Complaint; 2) dismissed with prejudice Count III against defendants Harran and Moran in their official capacities; and 3) dismissed with prejudice plaintiff's claims for punitive damages in Counts I through III.

Plaintiff's only remaining claims on summary judgment are for race discrimination under Title VII (Count I), race discrimination under the PHRA (Count II), and discriminatory violation of his ...

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