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Tasha Dantzler-Hoggard et al v. Graystone Academy Charter School and Graystone Board of Trustees

June 6, 2012

TASHA DANTZLER-HOGGARD ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
GRAYSTONE ACADEMY CHARTER SCHOOL AND GRAYSTONE BOARD OF TRUSTEES, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiffs, Tasha Dantzler-Hoggard, Stacey Sutton-Ames, Deborah Forbes, and Anthony Gordon, former employees of defendant Graystone Academy Charter School ("Graystone"), bring this action against Graystone and its board of trustees (the "Board"), alleging racial discrimination, a racially hostile work environment, and retaliation under 42 U.S.C. § 1981; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq.; and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (the "PHRA"), 43 Pa. Stat. Ann. §§ 951 et seq. Currently before me is defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) or, in the alternative, to sever plaintiffs' claims. For the reasons that follow, I will grant in part and deny in part defendants' motion to dismiss, and I will deny as premature defendants' motion to sever.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY*fn1

Graystone is a public charter school in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, serving students in kindergarten through eighth grade. (Compl. ¶ 9.) According to plaintiffs, although the Coatesville School District is predominantly African-American, the teachers and staff at Graystone are predominantly Caucasian. (Id. ¶¶ 10--11.) Plaintiffs, who are all African-American, allege that they were subjected to a "racially divisive and hostile work environment" at Graystone. (Id. ¶ 28.) They assert that during the 2008--2009 academic year, the Board hired an African-American chief executive officer (Anthony Gordon, a plaintiff in this action) and an African-American principal (Wendell Yorkman) and that the principal in turn hired several African-American employees. (Id. ¶¶ 20, 25.) Plaintiffs allege that this increase in the number of African-American employees, and particularly administrators, "caused the Caucasian staff to display behavior that was discriminatory [and] harassing."*fn2 (Id. ¶ 26.)

A. The Plaintiffs

1. Stacey Sutton-Ames

Shortly after Yorkman was hired as the principal of Graystone in September 2008, the Board created, at Yorkman's request, a new position for a dean of students, and on February 23, 2009, Yorkman hired, with the Board's approval, plaintiff Stacey Sutton-Ames to fill that position. (Id. ¶¶ 24, 29--31.)

Sutton-Ames alleges that she performed her job "in an exemplary manner" and that at some point during the school year, Graystone issued, and she signed, a letter of intent for her to continue working at the school the following (the 2009--2010) academic year. (Id. ¶¶ 32--33.)

She also alleges, however, that she began experiencing a "pattern of discriminatory practices, including being shunned by and being treated in a condescending and harassing manner by the Caucasian teachers." (Id. ¶ 34.)

In April 2009, Cortina Faust, an African-American teacher's aide at Graystone, told Sutton-Ames, as well as plaintiff Tasha Dantzler-Hoggard, that, during a meeting earlier that day, several Caucasian teachers had made derogatory comments about African-American employees. (Id. ¶¶ 37--38.) One of the teachers allegedly said, "'I can't believe that they have the nerve to hire more Blacks. We already have Yorkman and Gordon, now we have to deal with a Black Dean of Students too. They are hiring too many Blacks. We now have too many of them.'" (Id. ¶ 38.)

Sutton-Ames and Dantzler-Hoggard, along with Faust, complained to Yorkman about the incident. (Id. ¶ 39.) According to plaintiffs, Yorkman attempted to reprimand the teachers, "but his decision was overturned by the Board." (Id. ¶ 40.) Yorkman also allegedly complained to the Board about the "insubordinate, demeaning and degrading attitudes of the Caucasian teachers who worked under him," but the Board did not investigate his complaints or take any action against the teachers. (Id. ¶¶ 41--42.)

Shortly thereafter, still in April 2009, Sutton-Ames wrote a letter to the Board "complaining of the discriminatory acts of the Caucasian teachers at Graystone directed towards her and Yorkman." (Id. ¶ 43.) She wrote, "'Only being here a very short period of time, words cannot express the hostility, discomfort and tension that I feel, due to the racial tension that I feel, due to the racial allegation and inappropriate behavior displayed to the administrative team, especially the Principal by staff.'" (Id. ¶ 44.)

Approximately four months later, on August 11, 2009, the Board sent Sutton-Ames a letter stating that her position (dean of students) was being eliminated and that her employment would therefore be terminated. (Id. ¶ 47.) Sutton-Ames alleges that the Board terminated her employment in retaliation for her prior complaints of racial discrimination and harassment. (Id. ¶ 50.)

On October 22, 2009, Sutton-Ames filed a complaint with the PHRC, which was cross-filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the "EEOC"), alleging a hostile work environment. (Id. ¶ 51.)

After her employment at Graystone ended, Sutton-Ames began working as a behavioral specialist for Child Guidance Resource Center, an outside agency, and was assigned to work with children at various schools, including Graystone. (Id. ¶ 52.) She alleges that she continued to be harassed whenever she visited Graystone to counsel students. (Id. ¶ 53.)

2. Tasha Dantzler-Hoggard

Plaintiff Tasha Dantzler-Hoggard was hired as a social worker at Graystone in January 2007. (Id. ¶ 61.) She alleges that she was "subjected to ongoing and continuous harassment and derogatory comments by Caucasian employees at Graystone." (Id. ¶ 62.)

Dantzler-Hoggard alleges, for example, that in March 2008, she was photographed in a classroom with the assistant principal at the time, Kristen Bishop. (Id. ¶ 63.) Upon seeing the photograph, Bishop, who is Caucasian, complained that she looked too pale. (Id. ¶ 63.) In response to Bishop's comments, the photographer, Jennifer Peed, a Caucasian teacher, allegedly said, "'Of course you do, you're standing next to a darkie.'" (Id. ¶ 64.) According to DantzlerHoggard, Bishop "failed to rebuke or reprimand" Peed for her comments and thus permitted Peed to make "racially insensitive and derogatory comments." (Id. ¶ 65.) Dantzler-Hoggard complained to the human-resources department about Peed's derogatory comments, but, according to her, the human-resources department did not conduct an investigation until months after the incident and only after she complained again. (Id.)

Dantzler-Hoggard asserts that Peed's comments were "reflective of the racially hostile and insensitive environment" that existed at Graystone during the course of her employment there-an environment that she alleges was "perpetuated and/or condoned by supervisory employees." (Id. ¶ 66.)

Sometime in 2008, the principal at the time, Anne Humphrey, allegedly informed Dantzler-Hoggard that her (Humphrey's) grandfather had owned slaves, and she showed Dantzler-Hoggard the slave coins that he had used to purchase slaves. (Id. ¶ 67.) DantzlerHoggard alleges that she complained about those comments and that she was "harassed and shunned by the Caucasian teachers" after she complained. (Id. ¶ 68.) She alleges that on several occasions the word "bitch" was written on the board in her office in retaliation for her complaints of discrimination. (Id. ¶ 69.) She further alleges that Caucasian teachers "refused to inform [her] and use her services as the school's Social Worker when they were dealing with students suffering from mental health issues" and that those teachers did not treat the other school counselor, who was Caucasian, in a similar manner. (Id. ¶¶ 71--72.)

Dantzler-Hoggard also alleges that, as part of her job responsibilities, she was required to escort representatives of outside agencies when they visited Graystone and that, on February 19, 2010, she let into the school Sutton-Ames, who was then working as a behavioral specialist for the Child Guidance Resource Center and had come to Graystone to counsel a student. (Id. ¶¶ 74, 76.) According to Dantzler-Hoggard, as she and Sutton-Ames walked through the school "they were met with stares and whispers by the Caucasian teachers." (Id. ¶ 74.) Several days later, on February 23, 2010, several teachers allegedly checked the school's log book and saw that Dantzler-Hoggard had signed Sutton-Ames into the school. (Id. ¶ 75.) They allegedly sent an e-mail to the entire teaching staff erroneously stating that Sutton-Ames had come to Graystone Academy to visit Dantzler-Hoggard. (Id.)

On March 1, 2010, Dantzler-Hoggard complained to the human-resources department that she was "being ignored, isolated and harassed" by teachers who assumed that Sutton-Ames had come to Graystone to visit her. (Id. ¶ 77.) The human-resources representative sent an e-mail to the teaching staff stating that the behavior exhibited toward Dantzler-Hoggard would not be tolerated, but the Caucasian teachers allegedly continued to "isolate, ignore and harass" DantzlerHoggard. (Id. ¶¶ 78--79.) Dantzler-Hoggard alleges, for example, that after that e-mail was sent, Nancy Cooper, a Caucasian teacher at Graystone, started "making ...


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