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Briggs v. Pennsylvania Dep't of Transportation

August 7, 2009

DENNIS A. BRIGGS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, JEFFREY KARR, INDIVIDUALLY AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY, STEVEN E. KOSCELNAK, INDIVIDUALLY AND HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY, AND RALPH W. GILLIUM, INDIVIDUALLY AND HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF COURT

Presently before the Court for disposition is the MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, with brief in support, filed by Defendants, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation ("PennDOT"), Jeffrey Karr, Steven E. Koscelnak, and Ralph W. Gillium (collectively "Defendants") (Document Nos. 27 and 29), the brief in opposition filed by Plaintiff, Dennis A. Briggs (Document No. 34), and the response brief filed by Defendants (Document 40).

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, the STATEMENT OF MATERIAL FACTS IN SUPPORT OF DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Document No. 28), the APPENDIX TO PLAINTIFF'S BRIEF IN SUPPORT OF PLAINTIFF'S OPPOSITION TO SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTION, the PLAINTIFF'S RESPONSE TO DEFENDANTS' STATEMENT OF MATERIAL FACTS filed by Plaintiff (Document No. 33), and the DEFENDANTS' RESPONSE TO PLAINTIFF'S STATEMENT OF MATERIAL FACTS (Document No. 41).

After 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, Dennis A. Briggs, on his claims of racial discrimination. Therefore, for the reasons that follow, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted in its entirety.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, an African-American male, filed this civil rights action pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., Title 42, United States Code, section 1983, and the Pennsylvania Humans Relation Act ("PHRA"), 43 Pa.C.S.A. § 955(a) et seq. Specifically, Plaintiff contends that PennDOT illegally terminated his employment on the basis of his race and that Defendants Jeffrey Karr, Steven E. Koscelnak, and Ralph W. Gillium (collectively referred to as the "Individual Defendants") participated in the alleged unlawful employment discrimination by aiding and abetting PennDOT in its discriminatory firing of him.

Defendants have filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment in which they contend that PennDOT is entitled to judgment as a matter of law because Plaintiff is unable to establish a prima facie case on his Title VII claim or, in the alternative, that Plaintiff has not adduced any evidence from which a reasonable fact-finder could either (i) disbelieve PennDOT's articulated non-discriminatory reason for the termination of Plaintiff's employment or (ii) believe that an invidious discriminatory reason was more likely than not a determinative cause for its decision. Defendants also contend that the Individual Defendants are entitled to summary judgment because Plaintiff's § 1983 and PHRA claims fail as a matter of law because Plaintiff is not able to establish the underlying discrimination claim.

BACKGROUND

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

Plaintiff began his employment with PennDOT in October 1979. His employment continued until June 1, 2005, when he was terminated from his position as a District 11 Transportation Equipment Operator 2 following a WTAE television station expose entitled "Men at Play" reported by investigative reporter Jim Parsons ("Parsons"). The WTAE expose aired on May 4, 2005, and two follow-up reports aired on WTAE on May 5, 2005.

PennDOT first became aware that Parsons was investigating the activities of several of its employees on April 13, 2005, when it received a Right-to-Know request asking for the daily and weekly time and work records of twelve (12) PennDOT employees, including a request for Plaintiff's time and work records.

Subsequently, on May 3, 2005, Richard Kirkpatrick, PennDOT Press Secretary, Karl Ishman, and Joe Szczur, PennDOT District Executives for Engineering for Districts 12 and 13, respectively, met with reporter Parsons to discuss the upcoming WTAE expose. During the meeting, Parsons informed the PennDOT representatives that he had observed Plaintiff on the afternoon of January 12, 2005, arriving at the PennDOT Monroeville Stockpile at 4:20 p.m. in his personal vehicle, and leaving the stockpile at 4:35 p.m. in a PennDOT truck. Parsons stated that he then observed Plaintiff drive the PennDOT truck to the Miracle Mile Shopping Center in Monroeville, where he parked and exited the truck. Additionally, Parsons stated that he observed the PennDOT truck that Plaintiff had driven to the shopping center remain in the parking lot unattended for a period of two and one-half hours, during which time Plaintiff did not return to it. Karl Ishman later verified that on January 12, 2005, the day of Parsons' observations, Plaintiff had been assigned to conducting wind and rain patrol for his entire shift.

Plaintiff denies that he engaged in the misconduct observed by Parsons on January 12, 2005, and contends that the PennDOT truck Plaintiff was assigned to on January 12, 2005, was different than the truck observed by Parsons. Thus, according to Plaintiff, he could not have engaged in the misconduct observed by Parsons.

However, the Court notes that Plaintiff's position as to Parsons' observations on January 12, 2005, is not consistent. Specifically, Plaintiff admits in his Responsive Statement of Material Facts that Parsons observed Plaintiff engaging in this behavior.*fn1

These admissions are particularly notable because while Plaintiff responds to other statements in his Responsive Statement of Material Facts by admitting that they were made but denying the truth of the content, with regard to Parsons' observations, Plaintiff simply admits them without any qualification.

On May 4, 2005, the day after Parsons met with the three PennDOT representatives, WTAE aired the "Men at Play" expose. During the segment, which was filmed on March 31, 2005, Parsons provided audio commentary stating that he observed Plaintiff arriving nineteen (19) minutes late to work that morning. Additionally, Plaintiff is shown on the video entering the PennDOT Monroeville stockyard in his personal vehicle, leaving the Monroeville stockyard in a PennDOT vehicle, and then driving to Lowes Home Improvement Store in Monroeville, where he shopped for forty (40) minutes. The video then shows Plaintiff exiting the store with a folding table, folding chairs, some lumber, and several tubes of caulking and loading the items in the PennDOT vehicle, whereafter he drives to a restaurant and stops to eat a meal. After dining, Plaintiff re-enters the PennDOT vehicle, drives past the Monroeville stockyard, and eventually parks the vehicle in front of his house in Wilkinsburg. Thereafter, Plaintiff is shown carrying the items he purchased from Lowes Home Improvement Store into his house. The video reflects that Plaintiff was absent from work for approximately two hours.

Also shown in the expose were seven (7) other PennDOT employees, six (6) of whom were Transportation Equipment Operators ("TEOs"), and one PennDOT supervisor. The video shows several of the TEOs performing mechanical services on their personal automobiles during work hours and/or using PennDOT washers to clean their personal vehicles. All six TEOs are shown departing from work two (2) hours early after being given permission by their supervisor, Richard Queen, who is also was shown leaving two (2) hours early. With the exception of Plaintiff, all the PennDOT employees shown in the WTAE video are Caucasian.

A follow-up to the WTAE expose aired the following day, on May 5, 2005. In this segment, Parsons explained his observations of Plaintiff on January 12, 2005, which he had previously relayed to PennDOT representatives during their May 3, 2005, meeting.

Immediately following the May 4, 2005, airing of the WTAE expose, PennDOT scheduled a Pre-Disciplinary Conference ("PDC") for Plaintiff on the next day, May 5, 2005. In attendance at the PDC were Plaintiff, Defendant Jeff Karr, Acting ADE Maintenance; Anthony Perrotta, Allegheny County Manager; Robert Crawford, Assistant County Maintenance Manager; Defendant Ralph Gillium, District Human Resources Manager; Defendant Steve Koscelnak, District Labor Relations; Dave Hendersen, AFSCME D.C. 84; Rick Wolfe, Local 2107 President; and Don King, Local 2107.

The PDC began with Defendant Karr explaining that three alleged infractions against Plaintiff would be discussed and Plaintiff would be given an opportunity to respond to each. The first infraction discussed was whether Plaintiff was absent without leave on May 4, 2005. Plaintiff responded that his foreman had given him permission to leave early that day.

The second infraction discussed involved Plaintiff's alleged actions on March 31, 2005, which were depicted on the WTAE expose. After viewing the WTAE video, Plaintiff stated that although he had impulsively purchased the lumber and caulking for his personal use, he had purchased the table and chairs for the Monroeville Stockpile. Plaintiff stated that he had collected money for the purchase of the table and chairs from fellow employees Frank Friday, Dave Marshall, Don King, Tony Glaze, and Wayne Phillips. Plaintiff also stated that he received permission from a supervisor, Mark Ivanco ("Ivanco"), sometime in late March 2005 to make these purchases. Plaintiff admitted that he had not "formally discussed" with Ivanco if the items could be purchased during work hours, but Plaintiff stated that Ivanco had implied that Plaintiff could use a PennDOT vehicle when he made the purchases. Additionally, Plaintiff stated that he took the items to his house in Wilkinsburg for safekeeping because Allegheny County was in the process of switching to daylight shift. He contended that he brought the furniture to the Monroeville Stockpile the following week, during the first week of April.

The last infraction discussed at the PDC was Plaintiff's alleged misconduct on January 12, 2005, as reportedly observed by Parsons. In response, Plaintiff stated that he did not recall his activities on that date.

After a brief caucus, Defendant Karr advised Plaintiff that his employment was immediately suspended pending the outcome of a PennDOT investigation into each ...


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