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Driscoll v. Lincoln Technical Institute

March 30, 2010

THOMAS A. DRISCOLL, III, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LINCOLN TECHNICAL INSTITUTE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Before the Court is Defendant Lincoln Technical Institute's and Defendant Lincoln Educational Services Corporation's Motion for Summary Judgment.*fn1 Defendants (hereinafter "Lincoln") moved for summary judgment on Plaintiff's claims of race and gender discrimination and retaliation.*fn2 In response to the instant motion, Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed its race and gender discrimination claims (Counts III, IV, VII and VIII). Thus, what remains at issue is Lincoln's Motion for Summary Judgment on Plaintiff's retaliation claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII")(Count V) and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA") (Count VI). For the reasons set forth herein, Lincoln's Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff in this matter is a Caucasian male. He was formerly employed as the Director of Admissions at Lincoln Technical Institute. There, he supervised an all-female staff which included at least one African-American woman and one Vietnamese woman. In May 2007, another Lincoln employee, Barbara Dodd, who is an African-American woman, filed simultaneous Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") and PHRA complaints against Plaintiff because of two racially derogatory remarks he made to her. Dodd's complaint alleged that in September 2006 Driscoll told her and another African-American Admissions Office employee named Sabriya Williams that "black people love grape juice."*fn3 A month later, Dodd alleged, Driscoll said "I know you are back here for the watermelon" at a work-place party.*fn4 The Dodd complaints went on to say that Plaintiff retaliated against her for reporting these offensive remarks by continuously criticizing her job performance and asking her co-workers not to speak to her. Eventually, Dodd was terminated.

Initially Lincoln believed that Plaintiffs' remarks to Dodd were isolated incidents and did not evidence any serious problems with its Director of Admissions. Lincoln prepared to defend Plaintiff at a PHRA fact-finding conference scheduled for June 26, 2007.

Prior to the conference, James Tolbert, the Executive Director of Lincoln and one of Plaintiff's supervisors, told Plaintiff to provide copies of Dodd's complaints to two admissions office employees, Phoebe Tran and Deborah Mason, because Dodd's complaint mentioned them as witnesses to his behavior. Plaintiff was told that he should brief them on the complaint, answer any questions, and tell them to expect a meeting about the allegations. Plaintiff did as instructed. Sometime after this, the Vice President of Human Resources, Shelly Williams, initiated a telephone conference to discuss Dodd's complaint, in which Plaintiff participated. During that conference, Sabriya Williams confirmed hearing Plaintiff's remark about "grape juice," but no new allegations were raised regarding Plaintiff at that time.

Finally, on June 25, 2007, one day prior to the scheduled PHRA fact-finding conference, Vice President Shelly Williams and Executive Director James Tolbert*fn5 allegedly met with Plaintiff for fewer than five minutes.*fn6 Williams was allegedly displeased that Plaintiff planned to dispute the accuracy of the dates set forth in Dodd's EEOC complaint, with the hope of time-barring her complaints. Williams allegedly told Plaintiff "in no uncertain terms" that he was not to mention his dispute about the relevant dates at the fact-finding hearing.

Also on June 25, 2007, Williams and Tolbert met individually with four of the women Plaintiff supervised: Sabriya Wiliams, Deborah Mason, Diana Christy, and Phoebe Tran. During the course of these meetings, Plaintiff's superiors learned that he had, in fact, created a hostile work environment for his female employees. The women he supervised related numerous examples of harassing, offensive, abusive and threatening behaviors.*fn7 None had come forward previously due to fear of retaliation by Plaintiff.

Approximately five hours after Plaintiff's brief meeting with Williams and Tolbert on June 25, 2007, and "immediately after four female employees related numerous instances of harassing, offensive, abusive and threatening behaviors by Plaintiff while they were being prepared for the Fact Finding Conference,"*fn8 Plaintiff was terminated without any prior, progressive discipline. His termination notice indicated that Lincoln was terminating him for gross misconduct, including use of profane, abusive or threatening language or gestures or acting in an indecent or disrespectful manner, making disparaging remarks about Lincoln and its management, and harassing and threatening his co-workers.*fn9 Plaintiff now alleges that he was terminated in retaliation for his assistance in the investigation of Dodd's discrimination complaint against him, and that causation can be inferred from the close proximity in time (five hours) between his meeting with Tolbert and Williams and his termination.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), a court may grant summary judgment only "if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."*fn10

A fact is "material" if it could affect the outcome of the suit, given the applicable substantive law.*fn11

A dispute about a material fact is "genuine" if the evidence presented "is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party."*fn12

A party moving for summary judgment must support its motion by reference to evidence which is capable of being admissible in a trial.*fn13 The nonmoving party must "set out specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial."*fn14 The nonmoving party may meet this burden either by submitting evidence that negates an essential element of the moving party's claims, or by demonstrating that the movant's factual evidence is insufficient to establish an essential element of its claims.*fn15 The facts the ...


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