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Wayne v. Glen Mills Schools

May 20, 2010


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


Before the Court is Defendant The Glen Mills Schools' Motion for Summary Judgment. Defendant is seeking judgment as to Plaintiff's claims that Defendant, his former employer, discriminated against him on the basis of his race (African-American) when it terminated his employment following his arrest for possession of marijuana. For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion is granted.

Factual Background

Defendant, The Glen Mills Schools, is a residential school located in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, which serves delinquent juveniles ages fourteen to twenty-one years.*fn1 Defendant hired Plaintiff, Michael Wayne, as a Counselor/Teacher on May 12, 1992, and promoted him to the position of Senior Counselor, a supervisory position, in 1998.*fn2 Beginning in 1998, as an essential employee, Plaintiff and his family were provided free housing on the school grounds.

On August 31, 2007, Plaintiff was a customer in a convenience store when local law enforcement officers executed a search warrant of the store.*fn3 While Plaintiff was leaving the store, officers searched him and subsequently arrested him for possession of a small amount of marijuana.*fn4 Later that evening, Plaintiff contacted his supervisor, James Welsh, to inform him of the arrest.*fn5 During that telephone call, Plaintiff admitted that he had, in fact, been in possession of marijuana. On September 5, 2007, Defendant suspended Plaintiff without pay,*fn6 and the next day Defendant terminated Plaintiff's employment.*fn7 Defendant's Managing Director, Garrison Ipock, made the decision to terminate Plaintiff. Mr. Ipock believed this decision was consistent with Defendant's policy on illegal drug activity and his own intent to implement a "no-tolerance" policy regarding staff drug use.*fn8 When Plaintiff was terminated from his employment, he also lost his employer-provided housing.

On October 14, 2008, Plaintiff timely filed a Title VII suit against Defendant, which pled that Defendant intentionally discriminated against Plaintiff by discharging him on the basis of his race in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a) ( i.e., a disparate treatment claim). In support of his disparate treatment claim, Plaintiff alleged that all of Defendant's African-American employees that were charged and/or convicted of drug offenses were promptly terminated, whereas several Caucasian employees who were arrested for drug and non-drug offenses were not discharged or not immediately discharged.*fn9

Standard of Review

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), summary judgment is appropriate 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."*fn10 A genuine issue of material fact exists when "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party."*fn11 A district court must draw all inferences and resolve all doubts in favor of the nonmoving party.*fn12


Plaintiff filed a one count complaint alleging race-based employment discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1984, 42 U.S.C. §2000e, et seq., and Defendant now moves for summary judgment on that claim. Title VII cases are analyzed under the three step burden-shifting framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green.*fn13 First, a plaintiff must set forth a prima facie case of discrimination. If the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the defendant to "articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the employee's [discharge]."*fn14 If the defendant meets its burden of production, the presumption of discrimination raised by the prima facie case is rebutted.*fn15 However, the plaintiff may still succeed if he can establish that the defendant's proffered reasons were merely pretextual, and not the real motivation for the unfavorable employment action.*fn16

Prima Facie Case To make a prima facie case for race-based employment discrimination, the plaintiff must put forth evidence that he: (1) is a member of a protected class; (2) performed his job satisfactorily; (3) suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) that similarly situated employees outside the protected class received more favorable treatment.*fn17 In its Motion, Defendant argues that although Plaintiff can establish the first three elements of its prima facie case, Plaintiff is unable to establish the fourth element. That is, Plaintiff cannot establish that similarly situated employees outside of his protected class were treated more favorable than him.*fn18 Plaintiff believes he has raised a genuine issue of material fact as to whether similarly situated Caucasian employees were treated more favorably than African-American employees. The disagreement between the parties arises due to their use of different criteria for establishing the comparator group ( i.e. determining which employees are "similarly situated") for the purposes of demonstrating disparate treatment.

Defendant argues in favor of limiting the analysis of similarly situated comparators to employees that: 1) engaged in drug activity; 2) had direct involvement with Defendant's student population; and 3) were terminated during or after 2006. Plaintiff opposes Defendant's criteria for selecting comparators, arguing that the appropriate class should include all employees*fn19 who were convicted of or admitted to any criminal offense proscribed by the Pennsylvania Crimes Code throughout Plaintiff's period of employment -- 1992 through 2007.*fn20

In determining the appropriate class of similarly situated employees, the plaintiff "cannot selectively choose a comparator."*fn21 In Houston v. Easton Area School District, the Third Circuit discussed the applicable standards for establishing a class of similarly situated employees,*fn22 observing that:

To make a comparison of the plaintiff's treatment to that of an employee outside the plaintiff's protected class for purposes of a Title VII claim, the plaintiff must show that he and the employee are similarly situated in all relevant respects. See Holifield v. Reno, 115 F.3d 1555, 1562 (11th Cir. 1997) (collecting cases). The Supreme Court has held that evidence offered in a discrimination case concerning purported comparators with different supervisors is neither per se admissible nor per se inadmissible. See Sprint/United Mgmt. Co. v. Mendelsohn, 552 U.S. 379, 128 S.Ct. 1140, 1143, 170 L.Ed. 2d 1 (2008). ...

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