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Huggins v. Coatesville Area School District

October 29, 2010

KENNETH HUGGINS, SR., PLAINTIFF,
v.
COATESVILLE AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
KENNETH HUGGINS, SR., PLAINTIFF,
v.
COATESVILLE AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM

INTRODUCTION

Kenneth Huggins, Sr., sued the Coatesville Area School District (the "School District") and various School District officials and employees, alleging that these parties were responsible for racial discrimination and retaliation that Mr. Huggins claims to have suffered while serving as a School District custodian.

Mr. Huggins has presented his claims in the two separate cases captioned above. In his first Complaint, filed on November 21, 2007, he presented seven claims alleging racial discrimination. In his second Complaint, filed on March 26, 2009, Mr. Huggins presented six new claims relating to alleged racial discrimination and retaliation. Most of Mr. Huggins' initial claims in each of the two complaints have been dismissed, along with several named defendants.

The remaining defendants -- the School District and administrators Dr. Marie Walker, Richard Como, and Pedro Quinones -- have now filed motions for summary judgment, which would, if granted, dispose of the remainder of the claims in each of Mr. Huggins' two cases.

For reasons discussed below, the Court will grant these Motions in their entirety.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND*fn1

Mr. Huggins, who is African American, has been employed at the Gordon Elementary School ("Gordon"), which is part of the School District. At all relevant times, he has been working as a custodian.

On December 20, 2005, at least one female student who was enrolled in an after-school program at Gordon informed an art teacher, Mr. Hober, and a teacher's aide, Rita Hannum, that she (the student) was "afraid" of Mr. Huggins. Ms. Hannum relayed this information to another teacher named Ellen Berger. According to Dr. Marie Walker, the Gordon principal, Ms. Hannum and Ms. Berger walked into her office on the morning of December 21, 2005, and informed her that three girls had told Mr. Hober and Ms. Hannum that they were afraid of Mr. Huggins. (In her deposition, Ms. Berger confirmed that Dr. Walker did not summon her to discuss the issue.)

Dr. Walker says that she reported the students' concerns to the District's Human Resources ("HR") Department, and that, as a result, the HR director, Kathleen Garman, met with the students who had raised the issue. This meeting took place on December 22, 2005. Dr. Walker attended the meeting, but she claims that she did not volunteer any information, and only listened and asked a few questions.

During the meeting, the students claimed, inter alia, that Mr. Huggins looked conspicuously at the rears of certain female teachers; licked his lips at one of the students "like he wanted to do something bad to [her]"; and licked his lips in a "nasty" way while looking at certain "skinny" teachers. One student reported that she was "scared [to] go to the bathroom because [Mr. Huggins] cleans the bathroom," and was scared to walk by him on the way to her locker. She expressed a concern that Mr. Huggins was "going to do something bad."*fn2

Following the meeting, Mr. Huggins was placed on ten-day unpaid leave, pending the results of an internal investigation into the students' complaints. In a letter dated January 11, 2005, the HR director, Ms. Garman, told Mr. Huggins that his suspension would be continued indefinitely, pending recommendation to the School Board that he be terminated. Two weeks later, by way of a letter dated January 25, 2006, the School District superintendent, Richard Como, informed Mr. Huggins that the District's administration would be recommending his dismissal to the District's Board of School Directors, on the ground that he had violated portions of the Public School Code relating to inappropriate conduct and sexual harassment.*fn3

Ultimately, Mr. Huggins' termination was reversed. In September of 2006, an arbitrator appointed by the American Arbitration Association concluded that the students' testimony was "largely uncorroborated, grossly unreliable, and likely the result of misperceived behavior." The arbitrator determined that the decision to terminate Mr. Huggins was not based on just cause, and that the School District had failed to meet its burden of proving that termination was justified.*fn4

As a result of the arbitrator's ruling, Mr. Huggins was partially reinstated.*fn5

Mr. Huggins believes that the School District's stated explanation for its adverse employment action -- namely, that Mr. Huggins had violated the Public School Code -- was pretextual. He offers an alternative theory to explain the School District's behavior, arguing that the Defendants tried to have him fired because he had -- prior to the allegations presented by the three students -- complained to one of Dr. Walker's superiors about three statements that she had allegedly made to him. These comments, which Mr. Huggins calls "racial slurs," are alleged to have been the following:

1. According to Mr. Huggins, Dr. Walker once asked Mr. Huggins: "Hey Ken, is that your bomb parked out there in my parking spot?" Notwithstanding the allegation in the Complaint, Mr. Huggins acknowledged in his deposition that although he considered this reference to his car as a "bomb" to be "disrespectful," he did not believe it to be related to his race.

2. According to Mr. Huggins, Dr. Walker once told him that she had lived in Africa and in the Carribean, and said: "I know how to deal with black people. ... I know how to put a hold on black people. [I know] how to keep black people in check."

3. According to Mr. Huggins, Dr. Walker once called for Mr. Huggins, who was performing his work duties, by saying: "Hey, boy, with the trash bag, come here." Mr. Huggins responded: "Excuse me?" Dr. Walker repeated what she had said: "You heard what I said. 'Hey, boy, with the trash bag, come here.'" According to Mr. Huggins, this incident took place around November 15, 2005.*fn6 Mr. Huggins says that not long after the third of these incidents, he reported Dr. Walker's alleged remarks to a man he identifies only as Roger Johnson, and also to Dr. H. Major Poteat, who served as the School District's assistant superintendent and Dr. Walker's supervisor. The exact timing of Mr. Huggins' conversation with Dr. Poteat is unclear, but in his deposition, Mr. Huggins seems to imply that he talked to Dr. Poteat very soon after the third alleged comment (which he says was made on November 15, 2005).

In his first Complaint, Mr. Huggins claims that approximately a week after he talked to Dr. Poteat, he had a conversation with Ms. Berger and another woman named Bridget Miles, and that Ms. Berger and Ms. Miles told him that Dr. Walker had "summoned" Ms. Berger to her office in order to "dig up dirt" on Mr. Huggins in retaliation for his reporting her comments.*fn7 In his deposition, however, Mr. Huggins does not actually say that Ms. Berger informed him that Dr. Walker was attempting to build a foundation for an adverse employment action (or "dig up dirt"); he simply says that Ms. Berger informed him that she had met with Dr. Walker.

After receiving his termination letter in late 2006, but before discovering that his termination was reversed, Mr. Huggins filed a "complaint of grievance" with the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission (the "PHRC").*fn8 On November 21, 2007, Mr. Huggins and his wife, Monica Huggins, filed the first Complaint against the School District, Dr. Walker, Mr. Como, and two other School District employees, Frank D'Angelo and Pedro Quinones.*fn9 The first Complaint had seven counts. Counts I, II, IV, and V set forth claims under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (the "PHRA"), 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The three other counts were entitled "Malicious Acts," "Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress," and "Loss of Consortium."

The overarching theory presented in the first Complaint is that Dr. Walker herself directed the sexual harassment investigation, and attempted to have Mr. Huggins fired because she was angry that he had reported her remarks to Dr. Poteat. Mr. Huggins also claims that even when he was reinstated after the favorable arbitration decision, he was given an undesirable night schedule (as opposed to his previous daytime work schedule), was assigned to a different School District facility, and also "was assigned more duties than white male co-workers."

On August 27, 2008, the Court dismissed the majority of the claims presented in the first Complaint - including all of the claims against Messrs. Como, D'Angelo and Quinones -- and dismissed Mrs. Huggins as a plaintiff. The only remaining claims from the first Complaint are:

(1) the Title VII claim against the School District (Count I); (2) the PHRA claim against the School District and Dr. Walker (Count II); and (3) the Section 1983 discrimination claim against Dr. Walker (Count V). See Huggins v. Coatesville Area Sch. Dist., 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 65604 (E.D. Pa., August 27, 2008).

On March 26, 2009, Mr. Huggins filed an entirely new action (hereinafter, "the second Complaint") against the School District, Mr. Como and Mr. Quinones. The second Complaint set forth six counts against all three Defendants. These six counts had the same titles as the first six counts in the first Complaint.*fn10 The theory of the second Complaint is that these Defendants have, since the filing of the first Complaint, ...


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