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Baker-Bey v. Pennsylvania Dep't of Corrections

November 12, 2009


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


Before the Court is Defendant Department of Correction's ("Defendant" or "DOC") Motion for Summary Judgment.*fn1 The remaining claims raised in Plaintiff Sharon Baker Bey's ("Plaintiff") Amended Complaint allege that Defendant engaged in religious-based discrimination,*fn2 subjecting Plaintiff to a hostile work environment and retaliating against her for engaging in protected activities, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII").*fn3 Defendant moves for summary judgment on both the hostile work environment and the retaliation claims.


Plaintiff is an African-American woman who practices the religion of Islam.*fn4 She wears a head scarf or hijab and prays five times a day as part of her religious practice.*fn5

In February 2000, Plaintiff began working for Defendant DOC on a probationary basis. Her title was Correctional Counselor II.*fn6 As a condition of her probation, Plaintiff was required to attend the DOC Training Academy.*fn7 Plaintiff was enrolled as a Cadet in the Training Academy after nine weeks of work at the Community Corrections Center in Philadelphia. She was scheduled to attend the Training Academy in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania from May 22 through June 10, 2000.*fn8 This three week session was attended by counselors, nurses, and other professional employees of the DOC.*fn9

Request for Reasonable Accommodation and Offensive Remarks by Officer Tann

Prior to her arrival at the DOC's Training Academy, Plaintiff made a request to her then-supervisor, Stephanie Smith, for a single occupancy dormitory room, which would allow her to observe her daily prayers without disturbing or being disturbed by a roommate.*fn10

Ms. Smith made a request to the Training Academy personnel on Plaintiff's behalf.*fn11 When Plaintiff arrived at the Academy she was housed at a nearby hotel due to over-crowding in the Academy dormitories, but after a week was moved to a small, single dormitory room without a window.*fn12

Although she was assigned a single room, as she had requested as a religious accommodation, around May 30, 2000 Plaintiff asked to be moved into a larger room across the hall with a window, as she was not happy with the room she was assigned.*fn13 She was told that the Academy would need the larger rooms for trainees the following week.*fn14 Plaintiff alleges that Officer Rebecca Tann of the Housing Department told her "I'm tired of this bulls--t. I've got five emails about this bulls--t."*fn15 Officer Tann denies having made these statements. Since her first request was denied, Plaintiff proposed moving in with one of two cadets she had met at the program in a double room.*fn16 When Plaintiff inquired about this room reassignment request, Officer Tann denied the request, stating that she had reports to complete and did not have time to process the room change.*fn17 Plaintiff alleges that Officer Tann also remarked "do they get up at 4:00 a.m. to pray too?"*fn18 Officer Tann also denies making this statement. Ultimately, Officer Tann did change her room assignment to another single room in a different hall for the third week of training.*fn19

Although Officer Tann initially denied both requests for a room upgrade, neither request for a room change was made to accommodate Plaintiff's religious practices. Rather, they were made because Plaintiff did not like her assigned room.

Offensive Remarks Made By Other DOC Instructors

On May 23, 2003, Officer Ross, Plaintiff's instructor, was conducting an observation and description exercise. When Plaintiff's partner reported that Plaintiff had dark hair, the instructor asked: "How do you know that? She got all that stuff all over her head,"*fn20 and gestured to her hijab. Plaintiff found his remark to be insulting and offensive. Plaintiff does not recall Officer Ross making any other offensive remarks to her, and noted that he treated her like any other member of the class aside from this remark.*fn21

Another instructor allegedly described the inmates as animals and criminals, and pointed out that while the majority of inmates are African-American, the African-American trainees now work for the system.*fn22 Yet another instructor repeatedly told a class that the inmates referred to him as "white cracker motherf--ker."*fn23 These remarks were also insulting and offensive to the Plaintiff.

Finally, an instructor told the class that there is a prohibition against staff contributing to an inmate's legal defense fund.*fn24 Plaintiff believed the instructor was specifically prohibiting contributions to Mumia Abu Jamal, although she admits that the instructor never mentioned any prisoner by name, and Plaintiff found it to be disparaging of her religion.

Plaintiff's Complaints About Discrimination

At the end of the first week of the three week training session, Plaintiff allegedly reported religious and racially discriminatory harassment, ridicule and insults on a Basic Training Course Evaluation form, which she submitted to Defendant.*fn25 The Basic Training Supervisor admits that Baker-Bey's course evaluation form contained an allegation that an instructor had made comments about staff contributing to inmate legal defense funds.*fn26 He did not specifically recall whether there were other complaints of discrimination on the form. Defendant appears to have lost Plaintiff's course evaluation form.

Plaintiff alleges that she also reported the discriminatory behavior to her then-supervisor, Stephanie Smith, and asked for guidance as to how to make a formal complaint. Ms. Smith does not recall any such conversations.*fn27 The only calls she remembers taking from Plaintiff during her time at the Training Academy concerned Plaintiff's desire to upgrade her housing accommodations, after she was accommodated with a single room.*fn28

Plaintiff also wrote a letter to Ms. Smith on June 6, 2000 about her problems with Officer Tann at the Training Academy,*fn29 but as it appears to have been sent by regular mail, this would not have been received prior to Plaintiff's termination on June ...

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