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Antoinette Mczeal v. School District of

May 16, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Eduardo C. Robreno, J.



Plaintiff Antoinette McZeal ("Plaintiff") brings this employment discrimination action against the School District of Philadelphia ("Defendant"), claiming that Defendant retaliated against her in five different ways. According to Plaintiff, three of the retaliatory acts followed Plaintiff's filing of a sexual harassment claim, while two followed Plaintiff's filing of this lawsuit. In total, Plaintiff asserts eight counts of retaliation-five under Title VII, and three under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (the "PHRA").*fn1 Defendant moves for summary judgment, contending that Plaintiff's retaliation claims are legally insufficient.

For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion will be granted.


On September 5, 2005, Plaintiff brought a sexual harassment lawsuit against Defendant after her supervisor allegedly gave her sexually explicit birthday cards. (Am. Compl. ¶ 8; McZeal Dep. at 12:12-18, 17:8-16.)*fn3 In January 2006, Plaintiff settled the harassment claim with Defendant. (Am. Compl. ¶ 9; McZeal Dep. at 12:19-24.) Plaintiff executed a written settlement agreement on January 11, 2006, which Defendant signed on January 20, 2006. (Am. Compl. ¶ 9.) In addition to this agreement, the parties had a separate oral agreement whereby Plaintiff would be transferred to a new position within Defendant's employ. (Id. ¶¶ 10-11.) While the new role had a lower salary, Plaintiff was to be paid at her previous rate. (Id. ¶ 11-12.)

Indeed, as a January 13, 2006 e-mail Defendant sent Plaintiff's counsel to "memorialize" the parties' understanding stated:

Ms Mc.Zeal requested a position in Student Placement. As we discussed yesterday, Ms. McZeal will take a position in Student Placement as a Student Placement Support Clerk. She will begin the position on Monday, January 23, 2006. Her salary in that position will be $48,356 (PFT 22). Because the current maximum salary of the Student Placement Support Clerk position is $40,533 (PFT 17), Ms. McZeal's salary of $48,356 will be "red-circled" (frozen) until the ordinary salary for the position reaches her salary via raises and other adjustments. (Def.'s Exs., Dixon Dep. Ex. 3.) "Red-circling" is a policy provided for in the collective bargaining agreement between Defendant and Plaintiff's union under which "an employee moved to a lower paid classification shall . . . retain his/her former rate . . . until such time as the rate for that new classification reaches his/her red-circled rate after which he/she shall be entitled to such increases as are applicable to the classification into which he/she has moved." (Def.'s Exs., SDP 00203; see Am. Compl. ¶¶ 12-13.) Red-circling occurs automatically in the payroll system. (See McZeal Dep. at 118:7-14; Def.'s Exs., SDP 00001-00008.) Thus, if an employee is red-circled but is supposed to receive approved pay increases, the payroll staff must enter a manual override. (Id.)

Despite the above-mentioned e-mail sent to Plaintiff's counsel, Plaintiff did not realize that the transfer to the Office of Student Placement would lead her to be red-circled. Instead, she first learned of the pay freeze in April 2007 when she did not receive a pay increase that others in Plaintiff's union received. (McZeal Dep. at 117:3-118:14.) Plaintiff complained to her union, but was told "that the policy was standard procedure." (Am. Compl. ¶ 13.) Eventually, Plaintiff spoke about the red-circle with Dr. Cassandra Jones, Defendant's Chief Academic Officer, to "see what she could do to help me." (McZeal Dep. at 145:4-5.) Dr. Jones directed that Plaintiff receive the April 2007 pay increase as well as any future increases. (Id. at 151:1-14, 152:4-17.) Plaintiff received a retroactive pay increase as a result, and has since had manual entries made by Defendant's payroll staff to override the red-circle. (Id. at 152:8-11, 153:16-154:1.)

In her new capacity as a Support Services Clerk, Plaintiff reported to LeTretta Jones who, as Plaintiff's supervisor, had to approve any overtime requests in advance. (See id. at 26:12-15; see also Def.'s Exs., SDP 00064.) Between the months of October and December 2007, Plaintiff worked thirteen hours of overtime for which she was allegedly not compensated. (McZeal Dep. at 128:17-21, 130:2-6; Def.'s Exs.,McZeal Dep. Ex. 5.) Plaintiff, however, received overtime payments during this period, (see Def.'s Exs., SDP 00004 (itemizing 17.25 hours of overtime payment to be paid to Plaintiff for November 2007)), and was informed that Ms. Jones had concluded that Plaintiff was "paid overtime for all the hours that [she] worked" after "review[ing] the request for overtime documents . . . submitted and compar[ing] them with the TPER/payroll." (Def.'s Exs., SDP 00043.)

In the meantime, Plaintiff began pursuing a new job with Defendant after learning Defendant's School Safety department was "having problems with that office with the payroll." (McZeal Dep. at 155:7-9.) To that end, she introduced herself to Brendan Lee, Defendant's Executive Director of School Safety, and later met with him to discuss the creation of a new "Financial Coordinator" position. (Def.'s Exs., SDP SJM Ex.; McZeal Dep. at 157:8-14, 176:5-9.) In connection with this latter meeting, which Plaintiff considered to be an interview, Plaintiff prepared a job description of the proposed position. (McZeal Dep. at 163:18-24.) Plaintiff recognized, however, that no specific position had been created. (Id. at 176:12-15.) Ultimately, on March 25, 2008, Lee informed Plaintiff that the position could not be created within the department's budget. (Pl.'s Resp. In Opp., Ex. 8.) To this day, no such position has been created. (Def.'s Exs., SDP SJM Ex.)

On June 5, 2009, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit. Later that year, between the months of November 2009 and December 2009, Plaintiff's keycard for Defendant's building did not work during after-business hours when Plaintiff arrived to complete pre-approved overtime. (McZeal Dep. at 241:20-242:4.) Building security staff informed Plaintiff that they had received an e-mail from Ms. Jones directing them to let Plaintiff into the office during these hours. (Id. at 243:3-18.) This was necessary because Plaintiff, along with another employee, was not afforded the 24/7 building access that at least one other employee of Defendant had. (Def.'s Exs., SDP 00180.) Plaintiff was always let into the facility during the relevant period, and worked all approved overtime hours. (McZeal Dep. at 245:15-23; Am. Compl. ¶ 46.)

Thereafter, beginning in January 2010 and through February 2010, Plaintiff observed other employees of Defendant, including Ms. Jones, perform work that Plaintiff had ordinarily been assigned. (Am. Compl. ΒΆ 32; McZeal Dep. at 247:8-23.) Plaintiff was informed that the shortage of work arose because Ms. Jones was "swamped with things that she had to get done by a deadline." (McZeal Dep. at ...

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