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Richard Owens v. Allegheny Valley School and Northwestern Human Services

April 23, 2012

RICHARD OWENS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ALLEGHENY VALLEY SCHOOL AND NORTHWESTERN HUMAN SERVICES, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Presently before the Court is defendants', Allegheny Valley School ("AVS") and Northwestern Human Services ("NHS") (or, collectively, "defendants") motion to dismiss (Doc. # 3) the complaint filed by Plaintiff, Richard Owens ("Owens") (Doc. # 1, Ex. 2). For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. Factual and Procedural History

Owens was employed by AVS from April 2004 through August 2010 as the only African-American Motor Vehicle Operator/Program Aide. NHS is the parent company of AVS.

In 2008, Owens filed charges of racial discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), arising primarily from the actions of his immediate supervisor at AVS, Bruce Gutt. The charges were resolved in the summer of 2009. Owens continued working at AVS and Gutt continued to supervise him.

In the fall of 2009, Owens's working condition again began to deteriorate, once more traceable to Gutt's allegedly racially-discriminating conduct. Owens avers that Gutt treated him unfavorably as compared to the white drivers and undertook a campaign to have Owens fired. Owens complained that Gutt yelled at him, yet communicated courteously with white drivers, compelled him to perform demeaning jobs while exempting white drivers from similar tasks, called him "Buckwheat", required him to work while white drivers relaxed, and made him stay late after his shift ended whereas white drivers were permitted to go home. Owens also asserts that, on some occasions, Gutt prohibited him from driving additional trips and instead ordered him to wash buses or be penalized with loss of vacation time.

Owens additionally claims that Gutt attempted to frame him for employee theft. AVS drivers are assigned an individual pin number to purchase gas so that the company can track business-related gas purchases. In October 2009, Owens learned that an AVS subcontractor used his pin number to purchase gas. The subcontractor submitted the gas receipt to Gutt who signed Owens's name to the receipt. Owens asserts that Gutt wanted it to appear that he for using a company gas card to make personal gas purchases, thereby providing justification for his termination.

Owens's final claim is that Gutt discussed the details of his personal health information with other AVS employees, made disparaging remarks about his use of sick time, and told other employees that Owens was "screwing the company" by taking time off. Compl. ¶ 12(h).

In November 2009, Owens reported Gutt's activity surrounding the pin number incident to Ronnie Erath ("Erath"), Gutt's supervisor, and Richard Rizzutto ("Rizzutto"), AVS's Human Resources Director, but, other than Erath's response that she authorized the gas charged with Owens's pin number, his complaints were largely ignored. Owens further states that Erath failed to respond to his emails of July 12 and 14 of 2010, wherein he described Gutt's disparaging remarks to other employees concerning reasons why Owens took a medical leave.

Although the record is not clear, it appears that sometime in June 2010, Owens took leave under the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). Owens's general health and well-being improved while he was on FMLA leave; however, as he was approaching the date scheduled to return to work, he experienced renewed feelings of anxiety and stress about the discrimination and retaliation he experienced in his workplace. Consequently, on August 19, 2010, while still on leave, Owens emailed Rizzutto that he was forced to resign his position because the disparate treatment by Gutt created a hostile work environment and because AVS failed to respond to his complaints. Shortly after he tendered his resignation, Owens contacted AVS's parent company, NHS about the issues with Gutt. NHS launched an investigation that resulted in Gutt's termination.

On October 16, 2012, Owens timely filed charges of racial discrimination with EEOC and the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission ("PHRC") and he received right--to-sue letters from these bodies. Owens then filed a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County and defendants removed the case to this Court pursuant to federal question jurisdiction.

Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss the complaint contending that Owens failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as to NHS and that Owens did not suffer any racially discriminating treatment for the months prior to his resignation.

II. Standard of Review

The United States Supreme Court ...


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