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Morgan v. York City School Dist.

December 16, 2009

JAMES H. MORGAN, PLAINTIFF
v.
YORK CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT, JEFFREY KIRKLAND, CARLOS LOPEZ, TRESA DIGGS, DELORIS PENN, AND AGENTS AND OFFICERS OF THE YORK CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Conner

MEMORANDUM

This is an employment discrimination action brought by plaintiff James H. Morgan ("Morgan") against his former employer, the York City School District, and several employees thereof. Morgan contends that he was the victim of race-based discrimination, workplace retaliation, and a hostile work environment, the sum total of which caused him to suffer emotional distress. In addition, Morgan accuses defendants of breaching their obligation to treat him fairly and to judge him on "the basis of individual merit, ability and the content of his character and not by the color of his skin." (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 10-11.) Presently before the court is defendants' motion for summary judgment on all claims. (Doc. 27.) For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted.

I. Statement of Facts

The material facts underlying this matter are wholly undisputed.*fn1 James Morgan is a fifty-nine-year-old African American male who was hired by defendant the York City School District (the "District") in October 2002. (See Doc. 27, Ex. I at 7, 12, 119; Doc. 29 ¶ 1.) Morgan was initially retained to work as "Attendance and Security" officer, a position that was funded out of the District's general budget. (Doc. 29 ¶¶ 2, 4.) In July 2004, however, a budget shortfall caused funding for Morgan's position to be terminated. (Id. ¶¶ 3-4.) The District transferred Morgan to a new position, "Safe School Manager," which was financed with surplus capital from a Title 1 safe schools grant. (Id. ¶¶ 3, 5.) Morgan was informed by the District at the time he assumed this new role that there were insufficient funds to maintain the position for more than one year.*fn2 (Id. ¶ 6.)

The District's economic difficulties did not abate between the 2004 and 2005 fiscal year. In June 2005, the District held a public budgetary meeting at which the York City School Board (the "Board") discussed the continuing financial viability of numerous administrative positions. (See Doc. 27, Ex. I at 115; Doc. 29 ¶¶ 10, 12.) Morgan's role as Safe School Manager was among thirty job titles terminated for lack of funding. (See Doc. 27, Ex. C at 30; Doc. 29 ¶ 9.) Many of the individuals whose positions were eliminated were thereafter reassigned to roles specially funded by state and federal grant.*fn3 (See Doc. 29 ¶ 13.) Morgan described the situation thusly: "There were a number of positions being eliminated . . . . I think there were a lot of non-instructional positions. Basically everyone was being eliminated then reclassified. A lot of those positions, a majority of them, were brought back under different names and are now still standing." (Doc. 27, Ex. I at 114-15.)

After he learned that his job as Safe Schools Manager was to be terminated, Morgan applied for three replacement positions: (1) No Child Left Behind Attendance Officer, (2) at-risk intervention counselor, and (3) acting administrative assistant.*fn4 (Doc. 29 ¶ 19.) The District then offered Morgan the opportunity to select the position that he most preferred of the three to which he applied. (Doc. 29 ¶ 20.) Morgan opted for the administrative assistant role because the salary was comparable to his compensation as Safe Schools Manager. (See Doc. 27, Ex. I at 86; Doc. 29 ¶ 21.) However, he also understood that the position was temporary and would terminate December 31, 2005. (Doc. 29 ¶ 22.) Morgan commenced his duties as acting administrative assistant in September 2005 and, true to form, his assignment was terminated the final day of December 2005.*fn5 (See Doc. 29 ¶¶ 1, 23, 39.)

On July 3, 2007, Morgan commenced the instant suit pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to 2000e-17, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and state tort and contract law. (See Doc. 1.) Morgan's complaint seeks relief for (1) unlawful discrimination on the basis of race, (2) workplace retaliation, (3) intentional infliction of emotional distress, (4) breach of contract, and (5) fostering a hostile work environment. On October 20, 2008, defendants moved for summary judgment on all claims. (Doc. 27.) The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

II. Standard of Review

Through summary adjudication the court may dispose of those claims that do not present a "genuine issue as to any material fact" and for which a jury trial would be an empty and unnecessary formality. See FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). The burden of proof is upon the nonmoving party to come forth with "affirmative evidence, beyond the allegations of the pleadings," in support of its right to relief. Pappas v. City of Lebanon, 331 F. Supp. 2d 311, 315 (M.D. Pa. 2004); FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). This evidence must be adequate, as a matter of law, to sustain a judgment in favor of the non-movant on the claims. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-57 (1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-89 (1986); see also FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c), (e). Only if this threshold is met may the cause of action proceed. Pappas, 331 F. Supp. 2d at 315.

III. Discussion

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act makes it unlawful for an employer "to discriminate against any individual with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). In both discrimination and retaliation cases, proof at the summary judgment stage adheres to the well-established McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting approach. See McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). McDonnell Douglas requires Title VII plaintiffs to establish a prima facie case of racial discrimination, to wit: that (1) the plaintiff was a member of a protected class, (2) he or she was qualified for the position, (3) he or she suffered an adverse employment action, and (4) the circumstances of the adverse employment action give rise to an inference of discrimination. See Jones v. Sch. Dist. of Phila., 198 F.3d 403, 410-11 (3d Cir. 1999); McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802.

Once a plaintiff satisfies the prima facierequirements, the burden of production shifts to the defendant, who must rebut the inference of wrongdoing with evidence of a legitimate, non-discriminatory or non-retaliatory purpose for the action in question. McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802-03; Iadimarco v. Runyon, 190 F.3d 151, 157 (3d Cir. 1999) (citing McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802); Keller v. Orix Credit Alliance, Inc., 130 F.3d 1101, 1108 (3d Cir. 1997). The defendant's burden to prove a legitimate non-discriminatory purpose is relatively light. Terrell v. City of Harrisburg Police Dep't, 549 F. Supp. 2d 671, 681 (M.D. Pa. 2008); see also Woodson v. Scott Paper Co., 109 F.3d 913, 920 n.2 (3d Cir. 1996). Moreover, the defendant is only required to prove that its actions could have been motivated by the proffered legitimate, non-discriminatory purpose; proof of actual causation is not required. Iadimarco, 190 F.3d at 157.

If the defendant is successful in meeting its burden, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff, who must then "produce evidence sufficient to persuade the factfinder by a preponderance of the evidence that the employer nevertheless harbored a discriminatory intent." Delli Santi v. CNA Ins. Cos., 88 F.3d 192, 199 (3d Cir. 1996). The plaintiff may meet this burden by presenting evidence from which a reasonable factfinder could "either (1) disbelieve the employer's articulated legitimate reasons; or (2) believe that an invidious discriminatory reason was more likely than not a motivating or determinative cause of the employer's action." Keller, 130 F.3d at 1108. Essentially, the plaintiff must show that the defendant's proffered reasons for the actions taken are merely pretext or cover-up, masking the defendant's true discriminatory intent. See Weston v. Pennsylvania, 251 F.3d 420, 432 (3d Cir. 2001); Fuentes v. Perskie, 32 F.3d 759, 764 (3d Cir. 1994). In this fashion, the ultimate burden to prove discrimination on the basis of the protected class remains with the plaintiff at all times. See Barber v. CSX Distrib. Servs., 68 F.3d 694, 698 (3d Cir. 1995).

In the instant matter, Morgan claims that he suffered unlawful discrimination on the basis of race. Additionally, he alleges that defendants retaliated against him for filing a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ("PHRC"), and that he was subjected to a hostile work environment. Finally, Morgan asserts claims under state law for breach of contract ...


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