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Young v. School District of Philadelphia

September 24, 2009

BARRY YOUNG, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PHILADELPHIA, DEFENDANT.



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

OPINION

Plaintiff Barry Young, an African-American former Building Engineer with the School District of Philadelphia ("the district"), has sued the district for various actions it took before, during, and after his employment with defendant. Because plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the court construes Young's complaint liberally and holds it "to 'less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'" Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976) (quoting Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972)). Therefore, the court will interpret plaintiff's complaint as alleging unlawful discrimination based on race in violation of both Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2003(e) et seq., and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 Pa. Stat. § 951 et seq. ("PHRA"). Since the PHRA is interpreted and applied identically to Title VII, this court's disposition of the Title VII claims will govern the PHRA claims. E.g., Ward v. Ridley Sch. Dist., 940 F. Supp. 810, 811 n.2 (E.D. Pa. 1996). In addition to discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and unfair hiring claims under Title VII and the PHRA, the complaint alleges breach of the drug and alcohol policy included in the collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") between the district and Local 1201, Firemen & Oilers Union ("Local 1201" or "the union") as well as state-law claims for defamation, forgery, and breach of a resignation agreement.

This court has jurisdiction over plaintiff's federal claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and has supplemental jurisdiction over the state claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). The case is now before this court on the School District's motion for summary judgment (docket no. 50), plaintiff's motion to amend his complaint to add a wrongful termination claim (docket no. 55), and plaintiff's motion for a speedy trial (docket no. 54). For the reasons given below, the court will grant defendant's motion in part and deny it in part, deny plaintiff's motion to amend, and deny plaintiff's motion for a speedy trial.

I.

Plaintiff's various claims implicate the history of his employment with the district. The court therefore reviews that history at some length, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiff, the non-moving party. See Biliski v. Red Clay Consol. Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ., 574 F.3d 214, 218 (3d Cir. 2009).

A.

Plaintiff began work with the district as a Building Engineer Trainee on December 9, 2002. Def.'s Ex. C, at 24.*fn1 In September 2004, plaintiff passed an examination for his engineer's license, which he received in January 2005; around this time, he was promoted to the position of Building Engineer I. Id. at 26-27, 274. As a building engineer, plaintiff's position was considered to be "safety-sensitive"; he was thus subject to random drug testing and testing for reasonable suspicion. Id. at 29. Throughout his employment, plaintiff was a member of Local 1201. The relationship between the union and the district is governed by a CBA, which includes a Policy on Substance Abuse by Members of Local 1201 National Conference of Firemen and Oilers ("PSA"). See Def.'s Ex. D.

Plaintiff's employment with the school district began inauspiciously. Two weeks after being hired, plaintiff was accused of stealing items from a classroom. See Def.'s Ex. G. A hearing was held on January 23, 2003, to determine whether or not he should be discharged for that or other alleged disciplinary infractions. Def.'s Ex. H. Although Young's supervisor, Timothy McCollum, recommended that plaintiff be discharged, Def.'s Ex. G, at 2, Young was not fired. Def.'s Ex. H, at 3.

Plaintiff suffers from depression, an ailment that has caused him to "self-medicate" with alcohol, cocaine, and crack. Def.'s Ex. C, at 38. Hoping that treatment for depression would obviate the need to self-medicate, plaintiff called the district on January 8, 2004 to ask the health administration for assistance with a substance abuse problem; the district referred him to Ron Ellis, a union representative. Id. Ellis arranged for Young to attend a rehabilitation program in Florida known as Renaissance Recovery. Id. at 37. Plaintiff attended the rehabilitation center, which diagnosed him with depression and cocaine and alcohol dependence, from January 10, 2004 until his discharge on February 13, 2004. See Def.'s Ex. D, at P0136, P0142. Following his discharge, plaintiff was in intensive outpatient treatment at the Livengrin Foundation, a substance abuse center in Pennsylvania, for slightly more than a month; he then participated in their "general outpatient" program until June 8, 2004. Id. at P0152.

On March 16, 2004, Young reported to Carol Kenney, Director of Employee Health Services for the school district, for a medical examination. Def.'s Ex. E, at 69. According to Kenney, plaintiff sought help for a substance abuse problem at that appointment, id., and plaintiff recalls telling a district employee that he had been in rehabilitation to address drug and alcohol addictions, Def.'s Ex. C, at 87. Plaintiff signed an "Employee Notice of Self-Referral" on March 16 and received a "Referral for Rehabilitation" from the district. Def.'s Ex. D, at P0045, P0154.

On March 26, 2004, plaintiff tested negative for drugs in a return-to-duty test. Id. at SDP-00443. He returned to work on April 5, and tested negative in a follow-up test on May 5. Def.'s Ex. C, at 122-23; Pl.'s Resp. at 7. On June 22, 2004, even though Young was not using cocaine or crack, he contacted Ellis, stating that he was drinking and depressed, id. at 54-55, and "begg[ing]" Ellis to send him to rehabilitation, either with a psychiatrist or in an after-work program, id. at 102. Instead, at Ellis's insistence, he returned to the Florida rehabilitation center. Id. at 54-55.

Plaintiff's second stint in Florida lasted from June 22, 2004 until July 23, 2004. Def.'s Ex. D, at P0139. Young was again diagnosed with alcohol and cocaine dependence, see id., and once again attended Livengrin and other programs following his discharge, id. at P0152; Def.'s Ex. E, at 65. Plaintiff reported back to work on February 17, 2005, with a memorandum detailing his attendance at a program called Rehab After Work, Def.'s Ex. E, at 67, and was referred to Greg Mattison, a substance abuse professional, Pl.'s Resp. at 7. On June 2, Mattison cleared Young to return to work, which plaintiff did on June 14, after passing another return-to-duty drug test. Id.

Following his return to duty, plaintiff was subject to follow-up drug tests*fn2; one of these tests, taken on October 17, 2005, was positive for cocaine. Def.'s Ex. D, at SDP-00390. On October 21, plaintiff was called to Kenney's office, where he was informed of the positive test results and was given a memorandum explaining that a termination hearing was scheduled for October 25, 2005. Def.'s Ex. C, at 163, 171-72. Plaintiff and Ron Ellis, who was also present, requested that plaintiff have a split-sample test.*fn3 Id. at 173. That test was never completed. Pl.'s Mem. at 8. Kenney told plaintiff that he would be fired because he failed a drug test while on probation. Def.'s Ex. C, at 173.

On October 25, 2005, while plaintiff was en route to his termination hearing, Ellis told him that he would be fired if he did not resign and "coerced" plaintiff to sign a resignation letter. Id. at 175. That letter specifies that "[b]ecause of the agreement reached allowing [plaintiff] to resign, [he] will be entitled to all termination benefits, and any other monies due [him] under the contract." Def.'s Ex. D, at SDP-00391.

B.

Several facts outside of this main narrative are also relevant to plaintiff's claims. In 1993 or 1994, long before being hired as a Building Engineer, plaintiff briefly served as a probationary custodial worker for the district. Def.'s Ex. A, at 303-04. During plaintiff's probationary period, the district retained half of his salary; because Young was discharged while still on probation, he never received that portion of his pay. Id.

After joining the district as a Building Engineer Trainee in 2002, Young was supervised for a time by George Graf. Plaintiff testified at his deposition that on one occasion, Graf requested that Young clean a boiler, and while plaintiff was performing this task, the cleaning equipment malfunctioned. Pl.'s Dep. at 204.*fn4 Plaintiff avers that Graf then gave a false report of the incident to the district. See id. As a Trainee, plaintiff also attended classes run by Timothy McCollum. When McCollum arrived for one such those class, he yelled at one of Young's classmates and then aggressively approached and questioned Young. Def.'s Ex. C, at 214-15. Plaintiff further testified that during another class, McCollum, who is white, asked Young and another African-American employee to stop discussing religion. Pl.'s Dep. at 218.

At plaintiff's deposition, he testified that he requested a week of vacation in October 2003, but later decided to remain at work for that week. Pl.'s Dep. at 211. According to plaintiff, he submitted a form to McCollum to revoke his vacation request, but -- because the initial vacation request form said that all changes had to be confirmed by McCollum, and because plaintiff never received any such confirmation -- he took a vacation day on Monday of the week in question. Id. On Tuesday, he called the district and was told that he was due to be at work and that his absence on Monday was marked unexcused in his personnel records. Id.

The district also coded plaintiff's absences from work on January 8 and 9, 2004 -- the day he first sought assistance from the health administration and the following day -- as unexcused. Def.'s Ex. C, at 60; Def.'s Ex. D, at SDP-00406. The district's policy is that all absences that are unreported by a certain time are marked as unexcused. Def.'s Ex. C, at 61. Plaintiff did telephone the district on January 8 to report his absence, but it is undisputed that he placed this call after the cut-off time. Def.'s Ex. C, at 61; Def.'s Ex. D, at SDP-00503. On January 9, plaintiff did not call in, because Ron Ellis had stated that Ellis would "take care of everything"; Young understood Ellis to mean that he would call the school and report Young's absence. Def.'s Ex. C, at 68-69. Ellis was subsequently asked to contact the district on Young's behalf to rectify this issue, but he failed to do so. Id. at 76-77. Young later complained to the union about the way McCollum, Young's supervisor at the time, handled Young's unexcused absences. Plaintiff did not, however, tell the union that he believed McCollum was harassing him because of his race. Id. at 226.

Finally, after plaintiff's resignation in October 2005, the school district continued to pay his salary for one month. Upon noticing this error, the district sent a notice of overpayment requesting remittance of the amounts paid minus the value of certain amounts of accrued leave time. Def.'s Ex. F, at 1. Plaintiff's final pay stub from the time he was actually employed lists greater amounts of vacation time than the overpayment notice. Id. at 3.

II.

Summary judgment should be granted where "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A genuine issue of material fact exists where the jury could reasonably find for the non-moving party, Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986), and a dispute over facts is material where it could affect the outcome of the case, Belitskus v. Pizzingrilli, 343 F.3d 632, 639 (3d Cir. ...


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