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DeFelice v. Pennsylvania State Police

September 2, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Conti, District Judge.


Pending before this court is a motion for summary judgment (Docket No. 62) filed by the Pennsylvania State Police ("PSP"), Jeffery B. Miller ("Miller"), John Brown ("Brown"), Robert Titler ("Titler"), and Dale Blasko ("Blasko") (together "defendants" and Miller, Brown, Titler and Blasko, "individual defendants").Dona T. DeFelice ("DeFelice" or "plaintiff"), a former PSP officer, asserts gender-based hostile work environment claims against her former employer the PSP and equal protection claims against her former superiors Miller, Brown, Titler, and Blasko. Plaintiff's claims arose from the conduct of Joseph N. Lapia ("Lapia"), her former superior at the PSP.

Plaintiff asserts claims: (1) against the PSP for gender-based hostile work environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq.,and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 PA. CONS. STAT. §§ 951, et seq. ("PHRA"); and (2) against the individual defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("§ 1983") for violations of plaintiff's right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. Defendants move for summary judgment on all claims. After considering the submissions of the parties, including the joint statement of material facts (Docket No. 74) ("J.S."), the court will grant defendants' motion for summary judgment because plaintiff's claims are time-barred.

Factual Background


The PSP is an agency of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania providing law enforcement services to its citizens. (J.S. ¶ 1.) The PSP divided the Commonwealth into areas and assigned divisions or "troops" to patrol each area. (J.S. ¶ 4.) Southwestern Pennsylvania was designated as Area III and patrolled by Troop A. (Defs.' App. (Docket No. 64), Ex. 34 at 6-7.) "Troop A itself comprises four counties in southwest Pennsylvania with Troop A Greensburg being the headquarters . . . ." (J.S. ¶ 4.) "The substations were Kiski Valley in Westmoreland County, Ebensburg in Cambria County, Somerset in Somerset County, and Indiana in Indiana County." (Id.)

In 2002, discipline matters in the PSP were the responsibility of the Deputy Commissioner of Administration. (J.S. ¶ 2.) The Deputy Commissioner of Administration had oversight of the Department Discipline Officer ("DDO") and the Bureau of Professional Responsibility ("BPR"), which included the Internal Affairs Division ("IAD"). (Id.) In 2004, the PSP made a number of administrative changes, including the creation of a new position, the Deputy Commissioner of Professional Responsibility. (J.S. ¶ 3.) The Deputy Commissioner of Professional Responsibility was given oversight of the DDO, the BPR, and the IAD. (Id.) During the administrative changes the BPR was renamed the Bureau of Integrity and Professional Standards ("BIPS"). (Id.)

B.Hostile work environment

DeFelice is an adult female who began employment with the PSP in January 1983. (J.S. ¶ 23.) In 2002, DeFelice was assigned to the crime section in Troop A Greensburg's headquarters. (J.S. ¶ 25.) On or about July 6, 2002, Lapia became DeFelice's supervisor when he was named the crime section supervisor for Troop A Greensburg's headquarters. (Id.) DeFelice recalled one incident between Lapia and her shortly before Lapia became her supervisor. (J.S. ¶ 45.) During the incident Lapia kissed DeFelice on the mouth after she delivered mail to his office. (Id.) The kiss was not officially reported, but DeFelice told a female co-worker about the incident. (Id.) After the initial kiss, Lapia told DeFelice he would "french kiss" her before he became "her boss." (J.S. ¶ 46.)Lapia began to countdown the days until he became DeFelice's boss. (Id.) For example, Lapia said to DeFelice, "only ten more days." (Defs.' App., Ex. 30 at 35.) DeFelice did not formally report the incidents, but she did discuss them with co-workers. (J.S. ¶ 46.)

After Lapia became DeFelice's supervisor, DeFelice recalled "[half] a dozen times from July 6 to October 9[, 2002] where Lapia physically touched her in an offensive manner . . . ." (J.S. ¶ 47.) The incidents included Lapia putting his arm around DeFelice's waist and simulating biting her breast, grabbing her rear end, and putting his hands on her shoulders. (Id.) On August 30, 2002, Lapia made a comment to DeFelice that she interpreted to be about oral sex. (J.S. ¶ 48.) On September 6, 2002, after an exchange between Lapia and DeFelice over her work schedule, DeFelice confided in Sergeant Rock ("Rock"), DeFelice's co-worker, about her problems with Lapia. (Id.) She asked Rock not to speak to others about the matter. (Id.) In October 2002, Lapia came into DeFelice's office and "'took his right hand and . . . rubbed it on the inside of [her] left thigh.'" (J.S. ¶ 49.) DeFelice did not notify Rock about this incident. Rock, however, told the section commander Lieutenant Weaver ("Weaver") about Lapia's conduct. (J.S. ¶ 50.)

On October 9, 2002, Rock reported Lapia's behavior to Weaver. (J.S. ¶ 50.) DeFelice was called to Weaver's office and reported Lapia's conduct. (Id.) Weaver went to Troop Commander Captain Frank Monaco ("Monaco"); when Weaver returned he asked DeFelice "what [she] wanted done." (Id.) DeFelice replied, "it didn't matter to her." (Id.) When she was told Lapia could be removed or placed in another station DeFelice said she "d[id]n't care . . . because [she was] going on five days off." (Id.)

DeFelice returned to work on October 15, 2002, and was told to go home at noon. (J.S. ¶ 51.) That same day, Lapia was reassigned to the Indiana station in Troop A. (Id.) Lapia was placed on restricted duty status when he was reassigned to the Indiana station. (J.S. ¶ 34.) After Lapia's reassignment, DeFelice never spoke to or was under the supervision of Lapia. (Id.) From Lapia's assignment at the Indiana station until his retirement in April 2004, DeFelice had to reschedule three training sessions to avoid being in classes with Lapia. (J.S. ¶ 52.) The sessions were a stress shooting training session on September 26, 2003, a shift planning session in October 2003, and a legal update session in November 2003. (Defs.' App., Ex. 30 at 106-09; Pl.'s Second Am. Compl. (Docket No. 55) ¶ 30.) The rescheduling was "an inconvenience" to DeFelice. (J.S. ¶ 52.)

After his transfer, Lapia was given assignments by his station commanders which required him to visit the Greensburg headquarters. (J.S. ¶ 35.) Lapia would travel to the Greensburg headquarters to "pick up tires for the station, [or] drop off blood at the lab", "pick up supplies . . . [and] drop off reports or pick up reports." (Id.) On several occasions, DeFelice was notified that Lapia was at the Greensburg headquarters. (J.S. ¶ 52.) On one occasion, DeFelice took action to avoid Lapia when she saw Lapia on the other side of a PSP parking lot. (Defs.' App., Ex. 30 at 105.) DeFelice left the area, entered the barracks, went into her office, and shut the door. (Id.) Lapia did not see DeFelice on this occasion. (Defs.' App., Ex. 31 at 60.) Between October 16, 2002 and April 27, 2004, DeFelice never spoke with Lapia or passed him in a hall. (Defs.' App., Ex. 30 at 104.) Following his transfer, Lapia never attempted to contact DeFelice, and did not recall ever seeing or encountering DeFelice. (J.S. ¶ 39.) DeFelice never reported that she was having problems with Lapia's presence at the Greensburg headquarters, and did not request that steps be taken to avoid encounters with Lapia after his reassignment to the Indiana station. (J.S. ¶ 53.)

After seeing Lapia at the Greensburg headquarters, Blasko received assurances that Lapia's visits would be brief, and that "[Lapia] would in no way, no way attempt to approach or encounter or meet with or deal with Dona DeFelice." (J.S. ¶ 38.) Lapia stated that he was never prohibited from returning to the Greensburg headquarters, but that Weaver instructed he "wasn't supposed to have any contact with Ms. DeFelice." (J.S. ¶ 37.) After witnessing Lapia at the Greensburg headquarters on other occasions, Blasko told the station commander at the Indiana station that "any time Lapia was going to be at Greensburg for any more than a momentary, brief pick-up or drop-off of supplies [he] was to be contacted and [he] would take the appropriate remedies to insure[sic] that DeFelice did not meet up with Lapia." (J.S. ¶ 39.)

C.The Internal Affairs investigation

After speaking to Monaco on October 9, 2002, Weaver issued a formal complaint against Lapia by completing a PSP form SP1-101, Use of Force or Complaint Reception and Processing Worksheet. (J.S. ¶ 56.; Defs.' App., Ex. 17 at 1-2.) Weaver contacted the PSP's Equal Employment Office on October 15, 2002, and reported the complaints. (Id.) The complaint was sent to the PSP's IAD section, given BPR control number 2002-0696, and processed for a criminal investigation. (J.S. ¶ 57.) The investigation was assigned to Corporal Calvin Andrews ("Andrews"), who interviewed DeFelice on October 23, 2002. (J.S. ¶¶ 57, 59.) Andrews interviewed other individuals with knowledge about the events concerning Lapia and DeFelice. (J.S. ¶ 60.) During the course of the investigation Andrews became aware of additional allegations against Lapia involving Police Communications Operator ("PCO") Marilyn Sinsabaugh and PCO Angela M. Sykes. (J.S. ¶ 61.)

Andrews investigated the additional allegations, and on June 17, 2003, emailed Lapia asking "'if he wanted to have the opportunity to respond to the allegations made against him in a Miranda interview before the investigation was submitted to Westmoreland County District Attorney John W. Peck [("Peck")] for a written prosecutorial decision.'" (J.S. ¶¶ 61-62.) Lapia declined the Miranda interview, and Andrews submitted a Request for Prosecution Decision to Peck on July 8, 2003. (J.S. ¶¶ 62-63.) On December 4, 2003, Peck issued a prosecution decision. (J.S. ¶ 63.) Following some confusion between Andrews and Peck, Peck was asked to resubmit his decision and a clarifying letter that stated whether criminal charges would be filed against Lapia. (J.S. ¶ 64.) Peck issued his clarification letter on December 17, 2003, stating he was declining prosecution of Lapia on the belief that "prosecution would not result in a successful result for the Commonwealth." (J.S. ¶ 65.)

The PSP continued its investigation to determine whether administrative sanctions should be imposed on Lapia. (J.S. ¶ 66.) On January 24, 2004, Andrews interviewed Lapia concerning the investigation. (Id.) Andrews completed and submitted Report IAD 2002-0696 on February 10, 2004. (J.S. ¶ 67.) The report was forwarded to Blasko for further action. (J.S. ¶ 68.)

Pursuant to PSP regulations, Lapia was offered to partake in a predisciplinary conference with Blasko. (J.S. ¶ 69.) Lapia declined to participate in a conference. (Id.)Blasko reviewed the investigation and "determined that Lapia was, in fact, guilty of the offenses alleged." (J.S. ¶ 70.) On February 25, 2004, Blasko sustained the charges and issued a disciplinary action report, DAR 2004-31. (Id.) On March 1, 2004, Lapia signed a receipt of notice of DAR 2004-31. (J.S. ¶ 71.) On March 5, 2004, Blasko prepared a supplemental report and forwarded the matter to the BPR. (Id.) The matter was assigned to Titler for determination and recommendation of penalty. (Id.)

On March 30, 2004, Titler completed his review of DAR 2004-31 and concluded that Lapia's conduct was in violation of several PSP field regulations. (J.S. ¶ 72.) The regulations included: Regulation 1.02, Unbecoming Conduct; Regulation 1.03, Conformance to Laws; Regulation 1.28, Internal Investigation; Regulation 1.35, Discrimination or Harassment; Regulation 2.05, Competency; and Regulation 2.30, Test Entry. (Id.) Titler recommended a court-martial sanction based upon the regulatory violations. (Id.) Brown, the Deputy Commissioner of Professional Responsibility, concurred with the recommendation. (J.S. ¶ 73.) On April 9, 2004, Lapia received the court-martial notice and was advised of his ability to challenge the decision through court-martial proceedings or through the grievance process. (J.S. ¶ 75.) On April 19, 2004, Lapia acknowledged receipt of the decision. (Id.) On April 27, 2004, Lapia submitted a notice of retirement, indicating his retirement from the PSP. (J.S. ¶ 76.)

D.Individual defendants named in plaintiff's § 1983 claim

a. Jeffrey B. Miller

Miller is the former commissioner of the PSP. Miller was named acting commissioner in January 2003 and was confirmed by the Senate as the PSP commissioner on March 24, 2003. (Defs.' App., Ex. 37 at 6-10.) Miller was not the commissioner when the investigation into DeFelice's allegations against Lapia began, and Miller had little knowledge of the investigation and disciplinary process. (Defs.' App., Ex. 37 at 13-14, 16-17.)

b. John Brown

Brown was the director of the IAD in October 2002 when DeFelice filed her internal complaint against Lapia. (Defs.' App., Ex. 36 at 7-9.)Brown was the director of the IAD until his promotion to director of the BPR in April 2003. (J.S. ¶ 15.) After his promotion, Brown maintained his oversight responsibilities of the IAD as director of the BPR. (Defs.' App., Ex. 36 at 23.) In March 2004, Brown was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and appointed Deputy Commissioner of Professional Responsibility. (Defs.' App., Ex. 36 at 5-7.)

c.Robert Titler

Titler was the director of the DDO in October 2002 when DeFelice filed her internal complaint against Lapia. (Defs.' App., Ex. 35 at 7-9.) After a DAR was issued, Titler was responsible for making a disciplinary recommendation to the commissioner (or the commissioner's designee) for a suspension of more than thirty days (which is considered a court-martial offense). (Defs.' App., Ex. 35 at 9, 39-40.) Titler could be consulted by commanding officers on restricted duty status or ...

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