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Garcia v. Newtown Township

March 2, 2010

ANTONIA GARCIA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP, JOSEPH CZAJKOWSKI, THOMAS JIRELE, ROBERT CIERVO, PHILLI CALABRO, MICHAEL GALLAGHER, AND JERRY SCHENKMAN, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM and ORDER

Before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) and Motion to Convert to Summary Judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. (Doc. No. 12.) For the reasons set forth in the following Memorandum, we will grant the Defendants' Motion in part and deny in part.

BACKGROUND*fn1

On August 20, 2009, Plaintiff, Antonia Garcia, filed her Complaint against Defendants Newtown Township ("the Township"), and its Township manager, Joseph Czajkowski ("Czajkowski"), and its five Township Supervisors, Thomas Jirele ("Jirele"), Robert Ciervo ("Ciervo"), Philli Calabro ("Calabro"), Michael Gallagher ("Gallagher"), and Jerry Schenkman ("Schenkman"). Specifically, the Complaint alleges that the Plaintiff, a Hispanic female, began working for the Township on June 30, 2007 as an administrative assistant, earning $43,000.00 per annum and receiving benefits including retirement and health insurance. Plaintiff remained employed by the Township until her termination on or about September 5, 2008. When terminated, she was fifty-one years of age. Due to the nature of her employment agreement under the Township Code, Plaintiff's employment could only be terminated through a process that would include a pre-termination hearing. Plaintiff, however, did not have a pre-termination hearing. Plaintiff claims that her race was a factor in the unequal employment treatment she received from her supervisors John M. Boyle ("Boyle"), the Assistant Township Manager, and Czajkowski. For example, when Plaintiff was hired, she heard other employees saying that "Mexicans are dirty." When she reported the offending statement to the then-acting township manager, he did not investigate or take appropriate action to cease the activity. Instead, he said "they are just kidding." In February of 2008, Czajkowski told Plaintiff that she "could make a lot of trouble because she was Spanish."

The complaint goes on to allege that sometime before April 2008, Plaintiff's treatment due to her race included the following incidents: (1) Boyle yelled and screamed at her outside in the cold; (2) Boyle forced her to stand at her desk while he sat in her chair with his hands clasped behind his head; (3) Plaintiff was told she needed to talk and socialize more like the other females in the office; and (4) Plaintiff was expected to lie about the personal activities and whereabouts of Boyle and Czajkowski during business hours, when they were neglecting work time and using Township vehicles.

In April 2008, Plaintiff reported her concerns about her treatment to Czajkowski, specifically reporting her opposition to her loss of training opportunities and the hostile work environment. After her April complaints, Boyle reduced Plaintiff's workload and removed her training opportunities. Plaintiff again reported these same concerns to Czajkowski on or about May 19, 2008. Although Czajkowski told Plaintiff that she could not report the matter to the Board of Supervisors, she also made a formal complaint of sexual harassment and employment discrimination with the Township's Board of Supervisors and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC").

Plaintiff alleges that Boyle's adverse treatment interfered with her ability to work, and because of this, she missed two days of work. When she returned to work, Plaintiff was called into Czajkowski's office, where he told her in the presence of a female employee that she was "disruptive" and "should take stress management classes offered by the Township." Plaintiff then complained to Czajkowski that Boyle was harassing her. Following this meeting, there was no investigation into Plaintiff's complaints, nor was the Township's procedure on sexual harassment followed by the Township, Czajkowski, or Boyle.

Around the second week of May 2008, Plaintiff received a negative performance evaluation from Czajkowski recommending, inter alia, that she obtain stress management help and learn to get along with others. Czajkowski told Plaintiff that she would have to get along with Boyle. Following this May meeting, Boyle and others would not speak to Plaintiff.

In August, Plaintiff learned that Boyle was offering training to other employees but not to her. Upon learning this, Plaintiff complained to Czajkowski that she was not offered the same training opportunities. In response, Czajkowski yelled at Plaintiff and said, "You're always looking for commies under the bed." Czajkowski did not record or investigate Plaintiff's complaint as required by the Township's sexual harassment policy.

These interactions culminated with Plaintiff's termination by Czajkowski. He told Plaintiff she was terminated because she did not get along with Boyle and other employees. Although Czajkowski explained that she could accept COBRA benefits, when Plaintiff told him that she would seek legal assistance, Czajkowski responded that "in that case [she would] not get a [sic] severance pay." Plaintiff was fired, without severance pay, unlike others similarly situated but of a different age, race, or gender.

Plaintiff claims that Defendants caused her economic damages consisting of lost wages and benefits, and that she sustained personal injury, including embarrassment, humiliation, and emotional distress. Plaintiff seeks declaratory, injunctive, equitable, and affirmative relief, plus any other relief the Court deems appropriate. Her complaint alleges five counts: (I) retaliation under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the First Amendment; (II) due process/equal protection violations and race discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (III) a Monell claim of discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (IV) protected class and protective activity discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (42 U.S.C. § 2000e) and the 1967 Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621 ("ADEA") (mislabeled as the second Count III); and (V) retaliation under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 951 et seq.("PHRA") (mislabeled as Count IV).

Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss Counts II, III, IV, and V. Defendants also ask the Court to dismiss the following: (1) Plaintiff's request for punitive damages against the municipality and public officials acting in their official capacity; (2) any claims against the individual Township Supervisor Defendants in their official capacities because she has named the Township itself as a Defendant; (3) claims against the individual Defendants as being barred by qualified immunity; and (4) PHRA and Title VII claims against the individual Township Supervisors because Plaintiff failed to exhaust administrative remedies as to Defendants Jirele, Ciervo, Calabro, Gallagher, and Schenkman. Defendants also ask the Court alternatively to convert the Motion to Dismiss into a Motion for Summary Judgment, and grant Summary Judgment in their favor.

Standards for Reviewing Rule 12(b)(6) and Rule 56 Motions

In response to a pleading, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a defendant may assert by motion that the plaintiff's complaint "[fails] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a civil plaintiff must allege facts that 'raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . .'" Id. at 232 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007)). In other words, the plaintiff must provide enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary elements of a particular cause of action. Id. at 234. In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the court may consider documents integral to or explicitly relied upon in the complaint. In re Rockefeller Sec. Lit., 184 F.3d 280, 287 (3d Cir. 1999).

Where, in a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, "matters outside the pleading are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion shall be treated as one for summary judgment and disposed of as provided in Rule 56." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b). It follows that a court converting a motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment must normally give notice to the parties of its intention to do so. Rose v. Bartle, 871 F.2d 331, 342 (3d Cir. 1989). A district court should not enter summary judgment without a hearing unless the district court's reasoning is completely "unambiguous." Id. at 341. However, where a motion to dismiss has been framed alternatively as a motion for summary judgment, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has concluded that the alternative filing is "sufficient to place the parties on notice that summary judgment might be entered." Latham v. United States, 306 Fed. Appx. 716, 718 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Hilfirty v. Shipman, 91 F.3d 573, 578-79 (3d Cir. 1996)).

Summary judgment is proper "if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). An issue is genuine only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party, and a factual dispute is material only if it might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law. Kaucher v. County of Bucks, 456 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006). If the non-moving party bears the burden of persuasion at trial, "the moving party may meet its burden on summary judgment by showing that the non-moving party's evidence is insufficient to carry that burden." Id. A non-moving party, in turn, has created a genuine issue of material fact if it has provided sufficient evidence to allow a jury to find in its favor at trial. Gleason v. Norwest Mortgage, Inc., 243 F.3d 130, 138 (3d Cir. 2001). In conducting our analysis, we view the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Nicini v. Morra, 212 F.3d 798, 806 (3d Cir. 2000).

DISCUSSION

I. Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss

A. Section 1983 Claims

Pursuant to § 1983,

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any state or Territory . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress. . . .

42 U.S.C. § 1983. The purpose of § 1983 is to deter state actors from using the badge of their authority to deprive individuals of their federally guaranteed rights and to provide relief to victims if such deterrence fails. Wyatt v. Cole, 504 U.S. 158, 161 (1992). Section 1983 is thus not itself a source of substantive rights but rather provides a cause of action for the vindication of federal rights. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 286 (1989).

To make out a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the conduct of which he is complaining has been committed under color of state or territorial law and that it operated to deny him a right or rights secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980); Sameric Corp. v. City of ...


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