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Griffin v. Harrisburg Property Services

November 23, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Sylvia H. Rambo


The instant case is a civil rights action brought by Plaintiff Rasheen Griffin ("Griffin") seeking redress against Defendant Harrisburg Property Services, Inc., ("HPS") for alleged unlawful racial harassment and discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. ("Title VII"), and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Griffin, who is African-American, is a security officer employed by HPS. Griffin alleges that during the course of his employment he was subjected to a pattern of racial harassment by his colleagues and supervisors. Before the court is HPS' motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 19). The motion is fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

I. Background

A. Facts*fn1

Griffin was employed by HPS as a security officer. During the time period relevant to this lawsuit, Griffin was supervised by Thomas Kimble ("Kimble"). Kimble is Caucasian. The racial harassment that Griffin complains of consists of two comments by Kimble, and a text message sent by Kimble to Griffin and others. Specifically, in June of 2007, Kimble made the following comment to Griffin: "You know why there are black people, because God left them in the oven too long." (Doc. 19-5, Rasheen Griffin Dep., 60; Doc. 27-1, Griffin Answer to Interrogs., at 5 of 10.) In August of 2007, Kimble told Griffin that "the reason why we have AIDS is because black men have sex with monkeys." (Doc. 27-1, Griffin Answer to Interrogs., at 5 of 10.) Finally, on October 16, 2007, Griffin received a text message on his mobile phone from Kimble that read: "Black babies were given wings by God. P.S. God does this mean I'm an angel. God laughed and said no nigga is means you are a bat." (Id.) Griffin received this text message while he was off duty, but it was sent by Kimble while Kimble was on duty. Kimble also sent the text message to other individuals. (Doc. 19-2, Thomas Kimble Dep., 21-22.) Before being promoted to supervisor, Kimble was a security officer who worked with Griffin. On occasion, Griffin and Kimble associated with each other outside of work.

The next time that Griffin was at work after having received the text message, he told several co-workers that he was offended by the text message. On October 19, 2007, Griffin filed a complaint about Kimble with Carol Rossi, Vice President of Human Relations for HPS. On Monday, October 22, 2007-six days after the text message-Rossi directed Anne Simmons, the Human Relations Manager, to conduct an investigation into the complaint by Griffin. (Doc. 19-4, Anne Simmons Dep., 11-12.) During the meeting with Simmons, Griffin requested a transfer to a position at another of HPS' properties so that he would be supervised by someone other than Kimble. This request was granted.

In addition to discussing receipt of the text message, Griffin voiced other complaints during his meeting with Simmons. Specifically, he complained of the two previous racially prejudiced statements made by Kimble; an incident where he believed that some of HPS' security officers racially profiled some teenagers while in Strawberry Square; and, his belief that HPS routinely assigned white security officers to patrol the Hilton Hotel and African-American security officers to patrol Strawberry Square. HPS undertook an investigation of all of these complaints. Specifically, in addition to interviewing Griffin, HPS interviewed Kimble and at least six other employees identified by Griffin as having knowledge of the substance of his complaints.*fn2

Ultimately, HPS determined that Kimble sent an inappropriate joke to Griffin, and issued Kimble a final warning in his personnel file. Additionally, HPS conducted an in-house diversity training to educate its staff. The parties disagree about whether the remainder of Griffin's allegations were adequately addressed. According to Anne Simmons, HPS' investigation of the allegation of segregated scheduling was without merit. She testified at her deposition that she reviewed a list of where all of the security officers were assigned and it was either "fifty-fifty" or "60/40" in terms of the percentages of white versus African-American officers who were assigned to Strawberry Square versus the Hilton. (Doc. 19-4, Simmons Dep., 29:1.) Griffin points out that Simmons did not take any steps to determine whether the racial breakdown was more skewed on shifts for which Kimble was the supervisor. (Id., 29:14-19.) Moreover, Griffin contends that to the extent his allegations of racial profiling and racist jokes were corroborated by other employees, he denies that they were found to be without a basis.

During the course of the investigation, Plaintiff went on a leave of absence which he had requested prior to his receipt of the text message.*fn3 Plaintiff returned to work in November of 2007, and met with HPS' human resources staff before coming back. At that meeting, the human resources staff informed Griffin of the steps they had taken to address his concerns, and asked him whether he had additional concerns at that time. He stated that he did not have additional concerns. (Doc. 19-4, Simmons Dep., 22-24.) However, in early 2008, Griffin reported to Carole Rossi that he was concerned because he believed that his supervisor was calling him too often over the radio. (Doc. 19-3, Rossi Dep., 29.) Defendant contends that this was investigated and found to be without merit. It is undisputed that after February 2008, Griffin did not go to HPS' human resource department with additional specific complaints about racial hostility or racial prejudice. (Doc. 19-5, Griffin Dep., 24-25.)

B. Procedural History

In December 2007, Griffin filed a written charge of discrimination against HPS with the Philadelphia office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") alleging racial harassment and discrimination. (See Doc. 19-5, Charge of Discrimination, at 122 of 176). In that Charge of Discrimination, Griffin complained only of the two racially derogatory comments made by Kimble in June of 2007, and the October 15, 2007 text message.*fn4 (Id.) The EEOC issued a Notice of Right to Sue letter on June 6, 2008, and Griffin initiated the instant case on September 5, 2008. (Doc. 1.)

After discovery, on July 6, 2009, Defendant HPS filed its motion for summary judgment, statement of material facts, supporting evidence and brief. (Docs. 19-21.) After receiving leave of court for additional time, Griffin filed his brief in opposition to Defendant's motion, supporting evidence, and answer to Defendant's statements of material fact on August 4, 2009. (Docs. 26-27.) On August 14, 2009, HPS filed its reply brief and answer to additional facts proposed by Plaintiff. (Docs. 28-29.) Defendant's motion is ripe for disposition by the court.

II. Legal Standard

"In an employment discrimination case, the burden of persuasion on summary judgment remains unalterably with the employer as movant. The employer must persuade [the court] that even if all of the inferences which could reasonably be drawn from the evidentiary materials of record were viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, no reasonable jury could find in the plaintiff's favor." Doe v. C.A.R.S. Prot. Plus, Inc., 527 F.3d 358, 362 (3d Cir. 2008). Summary judgment is proper when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); accord Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 231-32 (3d Cir. 2001). A factual dispute is "material" if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is "genuine" only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis that would allow a reasonable fact-finder to ...

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