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Ademola Ilori v. Carnegie Mellon University and Leonard Brush

December 8, 2010

ADEMOLA ILORI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CARNEGIE MELLON UNIVERSITY AND LEONARD BRUSH, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joy Flowers Conti U.S. District Court Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

CONTI, District Judge.

Background

Pending before this court is a motion for reconsideration of the partial granting of a motion for summary judgment in favor of defendant Carnegie Mellon University ("CMU"). Ademola Ilori ("plaintiff"), an African-American software engineer, commenced this race-based discrimination and retaliation action against his former employer, CMU, and former supervisor, Leonard Brush ("Brush," together with CMU, collectively "defendants"). On December 15, 2009, defendants filed a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. (ECF No. 21.)

On September 23, 2010, the court issued a memorandum opinion ("Mem. Op." (ECF No. 45)) and order (ECF No. 46) granting in part and denying in part the motion for summary judgment. On October 12, 2010, plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration (ECF No. 47). The motion for reconsideration relates to the memorandum opinion and order dated September 23, 2010. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be denied.

Legal Standard

A motion to reconsider "must rely on at least one of three grounds: 1) intervening change in controlling law, 2) availability of new evidence not previously available, or 3) need to correct a clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice." Waye v. First Citizen‟s Nat‟l Bank, 846 F. Supp. 310, 313-14 (M.D. Pa. 1994), aff‟d, 31 F.3d 1175 (3d Cir. 1994). By reason of the interest in finality, at least at the district court level, motions for reconsideration should be granted sparingly; the parties are not free to relitigate issues the court has already decided. Rottmund v. Continental Assurance Co., 813 F. Supp. 1104, 1107 (E.D. Pa. 1992). Stated another way, a motion for reconsideration is not properly grounded in a request for a district court to rethink a decision it, rightly or wrongly, has already made. Williams v. Pittsburgh, 32 F. Supp. 2d 236, 238 (W.D. Pa. 1998). With regard to the third ground, litigants are cautioned to ""evaluate whether what may seem to be a clear error of law is in fact simply a point of disagreement between the Court and the litigant.‟" Id. at 314 n.3 (citing Atkins v. Marathon LeTourneau Co., 130 F.R.D. 625, 626 (S.D. Miss. 1990)).

Discussion

Plaintiff argues the court erred by granting summary judgment in CMU‟s favor with respect to his retaliation and race-based discrimination claims implicating a failure to promote under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 PA. CONS. STAT. §§ 595, 959 et seq. ("PHRA") and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("§ 1981") because (1) the court improperly considered whether plaintiff‟s claims were barred by applicable statutes of limitations; and (2) genuine issues of material fact exist for a jury to determine whether CMU denied plaintiff the Qatar position based upon his race or in retaliation for engaging in protected activity.*fn1 Defendants respond that, assuming plaintiff‟s claims implicating a failure to promote were timely, no reasonable fact-finder could conclude CMU withdrew the Qatar position by reason of plaintiff‟s race or for engaging in protected activity. Because plaintiff does not point to an intervening change in controlling law or the availability of new evidence not previously available, the court will construe the motion for reconsideration as a request to correct a clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice.

I.Timeliness of plaintiff's claims implicating a failure to promote

a. PHRA claim

Plaintiff asserts defendants did not raise an affirmative defense regarding the statute of limitations in their motion for summary judgment with respect to plaintiff‟s PHRA claims implicating a failure to promote and the court therefore improperly raised and decided the issue sua sponte. In their response, defendants do not address this issue; rather, defendants argue that regardless whether those claims were timely, they should not survive summary judgment because there are no genuine issues of material fact.

Defendants raised the statute of limitations defense in their briefing with respect to plaintiff‟s § 1981 claims. (Mem. Op. at 19.) At a minimum, the court and parties were on notice that some or all of plaintiff‟s claims could be considered time-barred. Indeed, the court reviewed the PHRA‟s requirements for administrative exhaustion and determined that plaintiff failed to meet those requirements with respect to his PHRA claim implicating a failure to promote. (See Mem. Op. at 33-34.) Whether the court conducted this analysis sua sponte is moot because district courts are permitted to review claims that are facially deficient with respect to administrative exhaustion. See Pena-Ruiz v. Solorzano, 281 F. App‟x 110, 112 n.3 (3d Cir. 2008) ("[A] district court has the inherent power to dismiss sua sponte a [claim] . . . which facially violates a bar to suit."); Garland v. US Airways Inc., 270 F. App‟x 99, 103 (3d Cir. 2008) (plaintiff did not demonstrate that he exhausted his administrative remedies with the EEOC, and the discrimination claims were properly dismissed); see also McPherson v. United States, No 08-3757, 2010 WL 3446879, at *4 n.4 (3d Cir. Sept. 2, 2010) ("[D]istrict court judges within the Third Circuit have long held that a court may sua sponte dismiss complaints on statute of limitations grounds.").

Plaintiff asserts he timely filed a PHRC complaint related to CMU‟s failure to promote him to the Qatar position on October 12, 2004. (See Pl.‟s Mot. for Recons. (ECF No. 47) ¶ 8; Pl.‟s App., Tab 11, Ex. 11.23.) While plaintiff‟s signature on this PHRC complaint is dated October 14, 2004 (less than 180-days after the Qatar position was withdrawn), the certificate of service, pl.‟s App., Tab 11, Ex. 11.25, is dated August 23, 2005. Viewing the filing discrepancy in a light most favorable to plaintiff and construing all reasonable inferences in his favor, the court will consider the PHRC complaint to have been timely filed and will determine whether there are any genuine issues of material fact with respect to the PHRC retaliation and race-based discrimination claims implicating a failure to promote.

b. Section 1981 claim

Plaintiff asserts the court improperly granted summary judgment with respect to his race-based discrimination claim implicating a failure to promote under § 1981. Plaintiff argues he discovered the Qatar position was withdrawn on September 3, 2004, making his § 1981 claim timely filed with this court inside the four-year statute of limitations under 28 U.S.C. § 1658. (Pl.‟s Mot. for Recons. ¶¶ 23-24; see generally Mem. Op. at 23, 25-26.) Plaintiff contends that, under the federal discovery rule, it was impossible for him to know the position was withdrawn on August 27, 2004, because he was not privy to CMU management‟s email communications on August 27, 2004 which referred to the management decision to remove the position from the CMU website.

The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has recognized that in a federal question case, absent any contrary directive from Congress, courts should "employ the federal "discovery rule‟ to determine when the federal claim accrues for limitations purposes." Romero v. Allstate Corp., 404 F.3d 212, 222 (3d Cir. 2005). The federal discovery rule provides that a claim will accrue "when the plaintiff discovers, or with due diligence should have discovered, the injury that forms the basis for the claim." Id.; see Wallace v. ...


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