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Robin Middleton v. Sergeant Robert Deblasis

December 30, 2011


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



This is an employment discrimination case. Plaintiff Robin Middleton is a Philadelphia Police Officer. She alleges that defendants discriminated against her by refusing to allow her to attend church services while on duty, making derogatory comments to and about her, and refusing to make an injury report or give her a referral to the hospital when she was injured while on duty. She asserts the following causes of action:

Count I-First Amendment retaliation;

Count II-racial discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983;

Count III-municipal liability under § 1983;

Count IV-employment discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"); and

Count V-employment discrimination and retaliation under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA").

Presently before the Court is defendants' Motion to Dismiss. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants in part and denies in part defendants' motion.


Plaintiff is a black female and practicing Christian Baptist. (Compl. ¶ 12.) In February 2007, defendant City of Philadelphia hired her as a police officer and assigned her to the 9th District. (Id. ¶ 11.) At all relevant times, defendant Sergeant Robert Deblasis ("Deblasis") was one of plaintiff's supervisors in the 9th District. (Id. ¶ 13.) Corporal Karen Church ("Church") has also been one of plaintiff's supervisors since transferring to the 9th District in January 2010. (Id. ¶ 14.)

A. Deblasis's Comments

From 2008 to November 2010, Deblasis would "constantly and persistently make comments and gestures to [p]laintiff regarding her religious affiliation." (Id. ¶ 15.) For example, Deblasis would say "here comes the blessed one" and "you have God in your favor" when plaintiff entered the room. (Id.) He would also gesture in a cross motion and ask plaintiff if God blessed her with her house and car. (Id.)

B. Deblasis's and Church's Refusal to Allow Plaintiff to Attend Church Services

The established practice in the 9th District was to allow officers to attend church services during their daytime shifts if there was low activity and if they notified the sergeant on duty. (Id. ¶ 16.) Until October 10, 2010, plaintiff had always attended church services while on duty if there was low activity. (Id.) On or about that date, Church suddenly refused to allow plaintiff to attend church services. (Id.) Deblasis was aware of Church's action. (Id.)

White male officers in the 9th District were allowed to attend church services while on duty. (Id. ¶ 18.) Plaintiff told Church that she felt Church was treating her unfairly. (Id. ¶ 16.)

C. Church's October 11, 2010, Statement About Plaintiff

On or about October 11, 2010, plaintiff heard Church make the following statement in reference to an incident that occurred the day before: "Who the fuck does she think she is, asking radio for Sergeant Deblasis [to] contact [p]laintiff on her cell phone." (Id. ¶ 19.) Plaintiff responded by saying "Ma'am I'm right here, you are talking about me and I'm right here." (Id.) Church responded "I am just repeating what [Deblasis] said." (Id.)

D. Church's Allegations to the EEO Unit

On or about October 11, 2010, after the incident described above, Deblasis had a meeting with Church and plaintiff to discuss Church's allegation that plaintiff made a racial remark about Church. (Id. ¶ 20.) According to plaintiff, Church was aware that the allegation was untrue. (Id.) The allegation was reported to the police department's EEO Unit, and then to Internal Affairs for further investigation. (Id.) Deblasis then accused plaintiff of being a "scam artist" and called her "the blessed one" again. (Id.) Deblasis also told plaintiff that she "wouldn't be going to church anymore." (Id.) Plaintiff again complained to Deblasis and Church that they were treating her unfairly by not allowing her to attend church services. (Id.)

On an unknown date,*fn2 Church called the police department's EEO Unit to complain that plaintiff was harassing her. (Id. ¶ 23.) Plaintiff alleges that Church was aware that this allegation was untrue. (Id.)

E. Plaintiff's EEOC Complaint

On or about October 18, 2010, plaintiff filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") against the City of Philadelphia Police Department alleging employment discrimination on the basis of race, sex, and/or religion and retaliation for opposing the perceived discrimination. (Id. ¶ 21.)

F. Complaints to Captain*fn3

In or about November 2010, plaintiff complained to a police captain about the discrimination described above. (Id. ¶ 22.) On or about November 29, 2010, plaintiff transferred to a different platoon to avoid interaction with Deblasis or Church. (Id.) On or about February 1, 2011, Captain Allan of the 9th District and the EEO Unit issued plaintiff a memo instructing her to have minimal contact with Deblasis and Church. (Id. ¶ 24.) On or about February 9, 2011, plaintiff met with Captain Allan to discuss the alleged discrimination. (Id. ¶ 25.)

G. March 11, 2011, Injury

On or about March 11, 2011, plaintiff was injured on duty. (Id. ¶ 26.) Church and Deblasis were aware of the injury and that plaintiff was in the hospital, but failed to make an injury report or give plaintiff a referral to the hospital in violation of police directives. (Id.) The hospital asked plaintiff for a referral, and plaintiff had to get one from her former sergeant. (Id.) Since March 12, 2011, plaintiff has been out of work on "injured-on-duty" status. (Id. ¶ 27.)


To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a civil plaintiff must allege facts that "'raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'" Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). A complaint must contain "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). To satisfy the plausibility standard, a plaintiff's allegations must show that defendant's liability is more than "a sheer possibility." Id. "Where a complaint pleads facts that are 'merely ...

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