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Norman v. Reading School Dist.

March 30, 2010

DR. LLOYD NORMAN, III, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE READING SCHOOL DISTRICT DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM

Currently pending before the Court is a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant Reading School District. For the following reasons, the motion will be GRANTED.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff, Dr. Lloyd Norman, III ("Plaintiff"), initiated this lawsuit against his employer, the Reading School District ("RSD"), on September 4, 2008, alleging that he has been denied various employment opportunities throughout the school district as a result of race discrimination, age discrimination, and in retaliation for filing a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission ("PHRC"). Plaintiff alleges that the RSD has acted in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of l964, as amended by the Civil Rights Act of 1991, as protected by Section 1981(a), Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. §621, et seq., and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA") 43 P.S. §§951-963.

This matter was initially assigned to District Court Judge Juan R. Sanchez but on May 6, 2009, the parties consented to the exercise of jurisdiction by a United States Magistrate Judge under 28 U.S.C. 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73. (Doc. No. 9). This matter was then transferred to me by Judge Sanchez. Id. Thereafter, on November 30, 2009, Defendant filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 21).

Defendant moves for summary judgment on the grounds that Plaintiff "offers only speculation in support" of his claims for race and age discrimination, and "cannot demonstrate a causal link between the past [PHRC] complaint and the events at issue in this action." On January 8, 2010, Plaintiff filed its opposition to Defendant's motion and on January 20, 2010, Defendant filed a reply. (Doc. No. 31, 34). Accordingly, this matter is now ripe for disposition.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is a 58 year old African American male. Pl.'s Resp. to Mot. for Summ. J. at 3.

Plaintiff graduated from Reading High School in 1968, and in 1973 received a bachelors degree in secondary education, with a major in history from Kutztown State College. Pl.'s Dep. at 10-11. In 1985, Plaintiff was awarded a master's degree in special education from Temple University, and in 1995, Plaintiff was awarded a doctoral degree in educational administration from Temple. Id. Plaintiff has done post graduate work at Bryn Mawr College and holds a Superintendent's Letter of Eligibility.*fn1 Id. Plaintiff also teaches a class in educational administration as an adjunct professor at Alvernia University in Reading, Pennsylvania. Pl.'s Resp. to Mot. for Summ. J. at 3.

Plaintiff began his career in education in 1973 with the Philadelphia School District.

Pl.'s Dep. at 12-13. Plaintiff worked in the Philadelphia School District, primarily as a teacher in special education and social studies, for approximately 24 years. Id. In 1997, Plaintiff joined the RSD. Id. at 3-4. Plaintiff initially was hired as a teacher, but was quickly promoted to the position of Dean of Students during his first year with the RSD. Id. The next year, Plaintiff began the school year as the lead teacher at the Star Building, the RSD's disciplinary school. Id. By December of that year, Plaintiff was appointed to the position of Vice Principal at Northwest Middle School. Pl.'s Dep. at 11-12. Thereafter, in June 1998, Plaintiff was appointed to the position of Vice Principal at Reading High School, the only high school located within the RSD. Id. Plaintiff remained in this position for 10 years, until June 2008. Id. In June 2008, Plaintiff was appointed to the position of Principal at Southwest Middle School, a position that Plaintiff still holds today. Id.

On June 22, 2000, Plaintiff filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ("PHRC"). Pl.'s Resp. to Mot. for Summ. J. at 4; Pl.'s Amended Comp. at ¶13. In that complaint, Plaintiff alleged that the RSD had discriminated against him based upon his race by attempting to reduce his salary without justification. Id. Ultimately, Plaintiff came to an agreement with the RSD, and the complaint with the PHRC was withdrawn before any action was taken. Id. The issues raised by the PHRC complaint are not directly at issue in this lawsuit.

Since Plaintiff's salary dispute with the RSD in 2000, Plaintiff has received a salary increase every year since 2001.

In 2001, Plaintiff's salary was $74,672.00

In 2003, Plaintiff's salary was $79,500.84. In 2004, Plaintiff's salary was $83,475.88.

In 2005, Plaintiff's salary was $85,980.00.

In 2006, Plaintiff's salary was $88,559.40.

In 2007, Plaintiff's salary was $97,414.40.

In 2008, Plaintiff's salary was $100,336.83. In 2009, Plaintiff's salary was $105,000.00. Plaintiff Dep. at 14-17.

During his time with the RSD, Plaintiff has unsuccessfully sought and applied for numerous positions within the school district. Id. The positions at issue in the instant matter include: (1) Principal of Southern Middle School; (2) Principal of Northeast Middle School; (3) Director of Special Education; (4) Principal of Southwest Middle School; (5) Director of Elementary Education; and (6) Director of Secondary Education. Id.

RSD School Superintendent Thomas Chapman testified that the process for obtaining one of these jobs with the RSD involves first making an application with the school district. Chapman Dep. at 16. Then, based upon review of these applications, some applicants are scheduled for an interview. Id. Chapman testified that the interviewers are typically individuals within the school district that have direct supervisory responsibility over the potential job opening, or individuals that will interact with the individual ultimately hired. Id.

Director of Human Resources Anthony Georeno testified that he generally reviewed the applications and submitted a list of recommended candidates to the Superintendent. Georeno Dep. at 40. Georeno stated that he would complete this list after determining whether or not the applicant had the proper certifications and the requisite level of experience for the position to be filled. Id. Georeno testified that to his knowledge Plaintiff's name had never been left off an applicant list forwarded to the Superintendent. Id. at 41.

During the interview, the candidates are evaluated using an Employment Rating Form. Georeno Dep. at 44-45. Each of the three interviewers fills out this form, which contains 10 categories in which the job candidate is evaluated and given a score ranging from.1 to 1.0 in each category. Id. at 45-46. A perfect score from an individual evaluator is 1.0, and an overall perfect score based upon all three evaluations is 30. After the interview process is completed, the scores for each candidate are tabulated. Based upon these scores, a pool of applicants are provided to Superintendent Chapman. Georeno Dep. at 49-52. Superintendent Chapman then interviews the potential candidates, and makes a recommendation to the Reading School Board. Chapman Dep. at 108. The School Board then votes on whether or not to accept Superintendent Chapman's recommendation. Id.

The Reading School Board is made up of nine publicly elected members who serve in staggered four year terms. McCree Dep. at 11-12. The decision whether to extend a job offer to a particular candidate ultimately rests with the Reading School Board. Chapman Dep. at 108-110.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

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). A fact is "material" if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue is "genuine" if there is sufficient evidence from which a jury could find in favor of the non-moving party. Id. at 248-29. It is not the court's role to weigh the disputed evidence and decide which is more probative, or to make credibility determinations. Rather, the court must consider the evidence, and all reasonable inferences which may be drawn from it, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (citing U.S. v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962)); Tigg Corp. v. Dow Corning Corp., 822 F.2d 358, 361 (3d Cir. 1987). If a conflict arises between the evidence presented by both sides, the court must accept as true the allegations of the non-moving party, and "all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-24 (1986). Once the moving party carries this initial burden, the non-moving party must "come forward with specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., 475 U.S. at 587. The non-moving party must present something more than mere allegations, general denials, vague statements, or suspicions. Trap Rock Indus. v. Local 825, 982 F.2d 884, 890 (3d Cir. 1992); Fireman's Ins. Co. of Newark v. DuFresne, 676 F.2d 965, 969 (3d Cir. 1982). Instead, the non-moving party must present specific facts and "affirmative evidence in order to defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 257. "If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Id. at 249-50. If the non-moving party has the burden of proof at trial, then that party must establish the existence of each element on which it bears the burden. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322-23.

IV. PLAINTIFF'S CLAIMS

Plaintiff alleges that he was discriminated against on the basis of race and age in violation of Title VII, Section 1981, and the PHRA.*fn2 "Title VII and the PHRA both prohibit an employer from engaging in race... discrimination against an employee." Goosby v. Johnson & Johnson Medical, Inc., 228 F.3d 313, 318 (3d Cir.2000). To prevail on a claim for discrimination, a plaintiff must show that "the protected trait actually motivated the employer's decision." Hazen Paper Co. v. Biggins, 507 U.S. 604, 610 (1993); Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 141.(2000). This showing that a protected trait had a determinative influence on the decision of the employer can be made either through the use of direct evidence or circumstantial evidence. Id.; Fuentes v. Perskie, 32 F.3d 759, 764 (3d Cir. 1994).

A claim for discrimination based upon direct evidence must meet the standard set out in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228 (1989). Under Price Waterhouse direct evidence is evidence that would be "sufficient to allow the jury to find that decision makers placed a substantial negative reliance on Plaintiff's age [and or race]." Fakete v. Aetna, Inc., 308 F.3d 335, 338 (3d Cir. 2002). This requires that a plaintiff present evidence of "discriminatory attitudes" that were causally related to the challenged employment decision Glanzman, 391 F.23 at 512. If direct evidence is presented the burden of persuasion on the issue of causation shifts, and the employer must prove that it would have taken the same action even if it had not considered Plaintiff's age or race. Id. at 338 (citing Price Waterhouse, 490 U.S. at 265-266).

If there is no direct evidence of discrimination a plaintiff may present circumstantial evidence of discrimination. Fuentes, 32 F.3d at 764. If circumstantial evidence is presented a plaintiff must satisfy the standard set out in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973); Embrico v. U.S. Steel Corp., 245 F. App'x. 184, 187 (3d Cir. 2007); See Glanzman, 391 F.3d at 512. In the instant matter, Plaintiff has not presented direct evidence of discrimination consequently, Plaintiff must proceed under the McDonnell Douglas framework.*fn3 McDonnell Douglas requires that a plaintiff show that he is (1) he is a member of a protected class; (2) he was qualified for the position; (3) he suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) similarly situated persons who are not members of the protected class were treated more favorably. See Jones v. Sch. Dist. of Phila., 198 F.3d 403, 410-11 (3d Cir. 1999).

If a plaintiff is able to meet the McDonnell Douglas standard the burden of production shifts to the employer who must come forward with a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment decision. Goosby v. Johnson & Johnson Med., Inc., 228 F.3d 313, 318-19 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing Tx. Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 254-56 (1981)). If a defendant offers a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for their actions, Plaintiff survives summary judgment by "present[ing] sufficient evidence to raise a genuine issue of fact as to whether the defendant's proffered reasons were not its true reasons for the challenged employment action." Stewart v. Rutgers, 120 F.3d 426, 433 (3d Cir.1997); see also Jones, 198 F.3d at 413. Thus, a plaintiff survives summary judgment by proffering "admissible evidence[ ] that the employer's articulated reason was not merely wrong, but that it was so plainly wrong that it cannot have been the employer's real reason," or by "pointing to evidence in the record which allows the fact finder to infer that discrimination was more likely than not a motivating or determinative cause of the adverse employment action." Jones, 198 F.3d at 413.

If the defendant meets this burden, the plaintiff must then prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the legitimate reasons offered by the defendant are merely a pretext for discrimination. Jones, 198 F.3d at 410 (citing Burdine, 450 U.S. at 252-53). To establish pretext, a plaintiff must point to some evidence from which a fact finder could either: (1) disbelieve defendant's articulated legitimate business reasons; or (2) believe that an invidious discriminatory reason was more likely than not a motivating or determinative cause of the employers action." Fuentes, 32 F.3d at 764. To discredit a legitimate reason proffered by an employer, a plaintiff must present evidence demonstrating "such weaknesses, implausibilities, inconsistencies, incoherencies, or contradictions in the employer's proferred legitimate reasons for its action that a reasonable factfinder could rationally find them unworthy of credence." Id. at 765.

In attempting to discredit a defendant's proffered reasons, however, a plaintiff cannot simply show that the defendant's decisions were wrong or mistaken. The inquiry is whether the defendant was motivated by discriminatory animus, not whether the defendant was wise, shrewd, prudent or competent. See Keller v. Orix Credit Alliance, Inc., 130 F.3d 1101, 1109 (3d Cir.1996) ("federal courts are not arbitral boards ruling on the strength of the 'cause' for the [adverse employment action]. The question is not whether the employer made the best, or even a sound, business decision; it is whether the real reason is discrimination."); see also Ezold v. Wolf, Block, Schorr & Solis-Cohen, 983 F.2d 509, 531, 533 (3d Cir.1992). Therefore, "the plaintiff must show, not merely that the employer's proffered reason was wrong, but that it was so plainly wrong that it cannot have been the employer's real reason." Keller, 130 F.3d at 1109.

Significantly, the ultimate burden of persuasion always remains with the plaintiff, and the ultimate question is whether, after all the evidence is in, the plaintiff has proven his case by a preponderance of the evidence. Aikens, 460 U.S. at 711. Even during the pretextual analysis, the employer has no burden to prove that its proffered reasons are true; rather, the plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the proffered reasons are pretextual. Burdine, 450 U.S. at 256.

A. Race Discrimination

Plaintiff first alleges that he was denied two positions within the RSD on the basis of race: the principalship of Southern Middle School, and the position of Director of Special Education for the RSD.

1. Principal of Southern Middle School

In January 2007, Plaintiff learned that Joel T. Brigel, Jr., a 35 year old white male, had been promoted to the position of Principal of Southern Middle School. Pl.'s Resp. to Mot. for Summ. J. at 6. Mr. Brigel was a former Assistant Principal at Southern Middle School, and he was appointed to this position by Superintendent of Schools Thomas Chapman, pursuant to his authority to appoint school administrators. Chapman Dep. at 71.*fn4

Plaintiff complains that this position was not advertised and/or posted, even though past practice had been to post vacancies such as this. Pl.'s Resp. to Mot. for Summ. J. at 6. Plaintiff further claims that the posting of administrative positions is required under the RSD's own policy manual. Id. at 8. Plaintiff argues that, because this position was not posted, he was denied his right to apply for it. Further, Plaintiff states that it was well known throughout the RSD that he was interested in promotional positions; therefore, even though he was not permitted to apply for this position, he should have been considered nonetheless. Pl.'s Resp. to Mot. for Summ. J. at 32. Plaintiff asserts that because he was not considered for this position, ...


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