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Young v. Local 1201

September 25, 2009

BARRY YOUNG, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LOCAL 1201, FIREMEN & OILERS UNION, DEFENDANT.



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

OPINION

Plaintiff Barry Young, a member of Local 1201, Firemen & Oilers Union ("Local 1201" or "the union") and a former employee of the School District of Philadelphia ("the district"), has sued Local 1201 on the basis of actions it took with respect to plaintiff's employment with the district. 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 both (1) unlawful discrimination and retaliation based on race in violation of 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"), and (2) a defamation claim arising under Pennsylvania law. 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).

This court has jurisdiction over plaintiff's federal claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and has supplemental jurisdiction over the defamation claim, which arises under Pennsylvania law, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). The case is now before this court on Local 1201's motion for summary judgment (docket no. 21). For the reasons given below, the court will grant defendant's motion.

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).

Plaintiff started work with the district as a Building Engineer Trainee ("BET") on December 9, 2002, Def.'s Ex. 4, at 24, and was subsequently promoted to the position of Building Engineer I, id. at 26-27. While employed as a BET and Building Engineer, plaintiff was a member of Local 1201. The relationship between the union and the district is governed by a collective bargaining agreement ("CBA"), which includes a Policy on Substance Abuse by Members of Local 1201 National Conference of Firemen and Oilers. See Def.'s Ex. 5.

Plaintiff's employment with the school district began inauspiciously. Two weeks after being hired, plaintiff was accused of stealing. See Def.'s Ex. 4, at 194. A hearing was held on January 23, 2003, to determine whether or not he should be discharged. Id. Knowing that union president Michael McGinley -- who is white -- would be attending the hearing, Young "provided [McGinley] with information of [Young's] work history." Id. McGinley, however, failed to bring the documents to the hearing. Id. at 195. McGinley also had a half-hour closed-door meeting with Young's supervisor, Timothy McCollum, who had recommended that Young be discharged. Id. at 195, 197. Young was not fired as a result of the meeting, though Young believes that a subsequent telephone call from his state representative saved his job. Id. at 197.

Plaintiff suffers from depression, an ailment that has caused him to "self-medicat[e]" with alcohol, cocaine, and crack. Id. at 42. Hoping that treatment for depression would obviate the need to self-medicate, plaintiff spoke to Ron Ellis, the union's substance abuse program representative. See Def.'s Ex. 1, at 1; Def.'s Ex. 4, at 49, 81. Ellis is African-American. Def.'s Ex. 1, at 1. At Ellis's insistence, Young attended a rehabilitation program in Florida. Id. at 49. Plaintiff attended the rehabilitation center, which diagnosed him with cocaine and alcohol dependence, from January 10, 2004 until his discharge on February 13, 2004. Id. at 52; Def.'s Ex. 11, at 2. Young subsequently attended outpatient rehabilitation in Pennsylvania. Def.'s Ex. 4, at 52; Def.'s Ex. 11, at 4. After reporting back to the district on March 16, 2004, plaintiff signed an "Employee Notice of Self-Referral" on March 16. Def.'s Ex. 4, at 92; Def.'s Ex. 12.

On June 22, 2004, even though Young was not using cocaine or crack, he contacted Ellis, stating that he was drinking and depressed, Def.'s Ex. 4, at 54-55, and "begg[ing]" Ellis to send him to rehabilitation, either with a psychiatrist or in an afterwork program, id. at 102. Instead, plaintiff was again required by Ellis to attend the Florida rehabilitation center. Id. at 54-55. Ellis said that the union would "wash [its] hands of" Young if Young did not go back to rehabilitation in Florida. Id. at 56. Plaintiff's second stint in Florida lasted for about thirty days, beginning on June 22, 2004; after leaving Florida, Young again attended outpatient rehabilitation in Pennsylvania. Id. at 57-58. Young never signed a notice of self-referral regarding his second trip to Florida. Pl.'s Resp. at 4.

The district coded plaintiff as taking unexcused absences for two days each time he entered rehabilitation. In April 2004, the district held a hearing on the first two of these absences; Ellis and Ernest Bennett, the African-American vice president of Local 1201, represented plaintiff at the hearing. Def.'s Ex. 4, at 75. The district official present stated that, if Ellis called him the next day, the absences would be removed, and Young urged Ellis to telephone the district, but Ellis never did so. Id. at 75-77. Plaintiff received a disciplinary letter regarding the later pair of unexcused absences. Id. at 161. Plaintiff thereupon approached both Ellis and Bennett for assistance in having the absences re-coded, but they failed to deal with the issue. See id. at 72, 237-38.

Plaintiff passed a return-to-duty drug test on June 9, 2005, following his second stay in rehabilitation, and became eligible to return to work shortly thereafter. See Def.'s Ex. 18. Following his return to duty, plaintiff was subject to follow-up drug tests; the test taken on October 17, 2005 was positive for illegal drugs. Def.'s Ex. 19. On October 21, plaintiff was called to the office of Carol Kenney, a school district official. While there, 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. 4, at 163-64, 171-72. Ron Ellis also attended the meeting, and, shortly after he arrived, he stated loudly that plaintiff's test was positive and that Young was "high" at that very moment and would be fired. Id. at 167. At some point during the meeting, Ellis repeated to Young that Young "was high" and would be fired. Id. at 172. During the meeting, plaintiff also requested that his split sample be tested, and Ellis "reiterated that request." Id. at 173. The split sample was never tested.*fn1 Def.'s Ex. 21. After the meeting on October 21, Young called McGinley to express his anger at Ellis and to request that he be represented by someone other than Ellis. Def.'s Ex. 4, at 174. McGinley refused this request. Id.

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. Ellis told Young that the split-sample test had been completed and returned "positive for cocaine" and informed him that, if he signed the resignation letter, the union "would assist [Young] in finding employment" and "in any other medical attention or help that [he] needed." Id. at 176-77. Ellis later refused to allow Young to withdraw his resignation letter. Id. at 178.

On March 28, 2006, plaintiff filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ("PHRC"), alleging that the union's conduct at the time of plaintiff's resignation was discriminatory. Def.'s Ex. 3. On May 14, 2007, the PHRC notified plaintiff that it was "unable to conclude that the information obtained establishes violations of the" Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"). Pl.'s Add'l Resp., at 2. Appended to this letter was a notice that plaintiff had two years in which to "file a ...


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