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Johnson v. City of Philadelphia

September 10, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: O'neill, J.


Plaintiff Collette Johnson filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on September 11, 2007. On April 22, 2008, she filed a complaint against the City of Philadelphia for violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000 e-2(a)(1) (Counts I and II), and against the City of Philadelphia and Dawn Middletown-Bryant for violating her rights under the Fourteenth Amendment pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Counts III and IV). On May 22, 2008, I granted defendants' unopposed motion to dismiss Count II of the complaint, alleging unlawful segregation and classification by the City under Title VII. I have before me defendants' motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's remaining claims and plaintiff's response thereto.


Plaintiff is an adult female formerly employed by the City of Philadelphia Prison System (PPS). She began her tenure with the PPS in 2002 as a correctional officer. She was promoted to correctional sergeant and assigned to the House of Corrections in 2005. Plaintiff remained a sergeant at this location until her termination in April 2009. Her termination is not a subject of this action.

Defendant City of Philadelphia is a municipal corporation formed under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Defendant Dawn Middletown-Bryant*fn1 is an African-American adult female currently employed as a correctional captain by the PPS at the House of Corrections. Bryant was plaintiff's shift supervisor from 2005 until plaintiff's transfer to a different shift in December 2007.

Under the official PPS chain-of-command, correctional officers report to sergeants, who report to lieutenants, who report to captains, who report to majors, who report to a facility's Warden, who reports to a deputy commissioner, who reports to the Commissioner. PPS policy requires PPS employees to adhere to this chain-of-command when raising concerns other than union matters. However, Bryant testified in her deposition that, due to a shortage of staff, sergeants occasionally bypass lieutenants and report concerns directly to their captain.

Plaintiff initially alleged that she had been approved in June 2006 for two weeks of vacation in July 2006 but was subsequently "charged" for a day of absence without pay. However, in her deposition, plaintiff admits that she was paid for two weeks but had to use a day of administrative leave because she had not accumulated two weeks of vacation. Plaintiff testified that she was not aware of any similarly-situated person receiving different treatment. However, plaintiff alleges that it was customary to advance employees five vacation days.

Plaintiff alleges that on October 22, 2006 she was denied one day of vacation despite having accrued six hours of vacation time. Plaintiff stated in her deposition that she lacked the full eight hours of accrued time required to take a day off.

Plaintiff alleges that she was put in an insecure situation on October 27, 2006 when asked to supervise a Ramadan dinner of 400 inmates with the assistance of only one other guard. In her deposition, plaintiff adjusted the figure to 160 inmates. Plaintiff further explained in her deposition that she was unsure whether other sergeants had similar staffing during the Ramadan meal. Plaintiff submitted a complaint to her union regarding these staffing concerns. On October 28, 2006, plaintiff was summoned to Warden Darryl Anderson's office where plaintiff alleges the she was "reprimanded, berated and belittled" for her complaint. Plaintiff alleges that her request that a union representative be present for this meeting was denied. Plaintiff alleges that, as a result of Warden Anderson's conduct, she "began to suffer extreme physical and emotional discomfort characterized by hyperventilation, difficulty breathing and anxiety to such an extent that she had to leave work early due to sickness."

Plaintiff alleges that, on or about May 2, 2007, Major Farrel*fn2 denied her request for a vacation day for May 17, 2007. She alleges that she was ill from May 16 through May 19, 2007, and that, upon her return, she produced a doctor's note corroborating her illness.

In May 2007, while plaintiff was enrolled in courses at Temple University, she was unofficially exempted from mandatory overtime on the days before her classes and on days she had classes. The PPS had customarily extended this courtesy to other correctional officers to encourage continued education. Plaintiff alleges that, on May 30, 2007, Bryant ordered plaintiff to work an overtime shift for which plaintiff would ordinarily have been exempt because it was the day before her class. Bryant alleges that plaintiff had been assigned out of necessity and that no comparable correctional employee was available. Plaintiff did not serve her mandatory overtime but rather went home because she allegedly felt ill. Plaintiff's exemption from mandatory overtime was terminated on June 13, 2007 while plaintiff was still enrolled in classes. Plaintiff alleges that two other employees, Sergeants Danielle Lynn and Shawn Thornton, were allowed to keep their exempt status.

Plaintiff alleges that Bryant later told plaintiff that she was a "bad supervisor" and should "turn in her stripes" as a result of the incidents on May 30, 2007. Plaintiff alleges that Bryant threatened to "write up" plaintiff if she avoided her mandatory overtime by going home sick.

Following the May 30, 2007 incident, plaintiff was "written up" for failing to provide a timely doctor's note confirming that she had been too sick to work when drafted for the mandatory overtime. Plaintiff alleges that she brought a doctor's note for this date on June 6, 2007. Plaintiff stated that this treatment was inconsistent with the treatment of Sergeant Abraham, a male, who had "[gone] home sick plenty of times and was never written up." Plaintiff had personally "written up" her subordinate Officer Edmunds, a male, because he had gone home sick to avoid mandatory overtime and failed to provide a timely doctor's note confirming his illness.

Plaintiff alleges that she was once reprimanded and twice formally "written up" for breaking the chain-of-command. Plaintiff was "written up" by Lieutenant Erica Patterson on June 27, 2007 for breaking the chain-of-command. The record does not provide any information regarding the reasoning for the June 27, 2007 formal "write-up" beyond its existence. The second instance was related to events which occurred in June 2007 after plaintiff discovered contraband, including bleach and other cleaning supplies, in inmates' cells. The inmates in possession of the contraband informed plaintiff that officers on another shift had given them the contraband cleaning supplies, which were purportedly used to mask the scent of cigarettes. On July 1, 2007, plaintiff sent an e-mail to lieutenants and captains on two shifts but not to her supervisors informing them of her discovery and alleging that specific officers were involved. Plaintiff alleges that, on July 2, 2007, Lieutenant Patterson, plaintiff's direct supervisor, threatened to "write up" plaintiff for breaking the chain-of-command. However, plaintiff does not allege that Lieutenant Patterson actually "wrote up" plaintiff for sending the email regarding the cleaning supplies.

Plaintiff alleges that, on July 2, 2007, Bryant, Major Farrell and other supervisory officers forced Officer Curry to write a memo complaining about plaintiff following an incident in which the cell block D-1 was locked down. She alleges that "either a lieutenant or a captain asked why the block was taken down," that she was only informed of the decision to lock down the cell block by Curry after it was done and that Officer Curry was forced to write a memo stating that plaintiff had told her to lock down the cell block. Bryant claims that Curry had come to her to complain about plaintiff's use of profanity when she spoke to her after the cell block was locked down. Bryant testifies that she told Curry that if she submitted her complaints in writing that she would address them but that Curry never wrote a memo to that effect. Plaintiff admits that she never saw a memo and that she was never reprimanded following this incident.

Plaintiff also alleges that Sergeant Segal sent an email forward to numerous recipients including plaintiff, Bryant and Lieutenant Newton that plaintiff found to be offensive on July 4, 2007. She complained about it to her supervisor but claims that Segal was not disciplined for this and claims that her complaint was ignored because PPS ignores the complaints of female officers. She also claims that if she had sent such an email she would have been disciplined because she is female. Moreover, she claims that she does not send offensive emails.

Plaintiff alleges that she received a second written reprimand on July 9, 2007. Plaintiff, allegedly at the suggestion of Lieutenant Carpenter, wrote to the Commissioner to complain about an incident in which she allegedly felt intimidated by inmates in the prison cafeteria and to suggest that the inmates be separated because she believed they were gang members. Plaintiff alleges that Bryant "publicly berated" her and wrote her up for breaking the chain-of-command with her complaint.

Plaintiff provides two examples of similarly-situated males who allegedly broke the chain-of-command without repercussions. On July 10, 2007, Officer Chad Leonard, a male, wrote an email that broke the chain-of-command to all supervisory staff alleging inappropriate behavior by plaintiff. Plaintiff further alleges that Sergeant Segal broke the chain-of-command when he went directly to a captain to complain that plaintiff had called him an inappropriate name. Plaintiff alleges that neither of these men were reprimanded or "written up" for violating the chain-of-command.

Plaintiff also alleges that she complained to Bryant that Sergeant Segal was punching in the timecard of another employee and Bryant did not reprimanded him thereafter. Plaintiff asserts that if she had committed ...

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