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Syed v. YWCA of Hanover

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 11, 2012

Mussarat Rufi SYED, Plaintiff

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Jeffrey R. Elliott, Kozloff Stoudt, Wyomissing, PA, for Plaintiff.

Edward J. Easterly, Steven E. Hoffman, Tallman, Hudders & Sorrentino, Allentown, PA, for Defendant.


SYLVIA H. RAMBO, District Judge.

In this civil rights action, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant, her former employer, unlawfully discriminated against her based on her race, national origin, and religion in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (" Title VII" ),[1] Section 1981 [2] (Count I), and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (" PHRA" ) [3] (Count III). Additionally, Plaintiff asserts a pendent Pennsylvania common law tort claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count II). Before the court is Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 27) on Plaintiff's claims under Title VII and the PHRA, constructive discharge,[4] and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Defendant does not seek summary judgment on Plaintiff's claim for retaliation under the PHRA. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion will be granted only with respect to Plaintiff's claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress.


Background [5]

A. Parties

Plaintiff, Mussarat Rufi Syed (" Syed" ), is an Asian-Pakistani female who was

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born in Pakistan and identifies as a Muslim and a practitioner of Islam. (Syed Dep. at 62; Doc. 29, ¶ 1.) Syed received several degrees in the field of education from institutions in Pakistan prior to immigrating to the United States, and was enrolled in the TEACH program, an employer-sponsored continuing education program, while employed by YWCA. ( See Syed Dep. at 29-33; Doc. 33, ¶ 4.) Defendant, YWCA of Hanover (" YWCA" ), is a non-profit corporation that provides services to the Hanover community and, during Syed's employment, had employed over thirty-five employees. (Def.'s Ans. ¶ 8; Heffner Dep. at 35.)

B. Facts

Syed was employed by YWCA from November, 1999 until she resigned from her position on March 10, 2010. (Syed Dep. at 43-44; Doc. 29, ¶¶ 1, 3.) At the time she ended her employment with YWCA, Syed was a Group Supervisor for the three-to-four-year-old age group class, a position to which she was promoted in 2000. (Syed Dep. at 45; Doc. 29, ¶ 2; Doc. 33, ¶ 10.) As a Group Supervisor, Syed was considered the " lead teacher" in her classroom (Syed Dep. at 45), and had two Assistant Group Supervisors under her direction, including Donna Galemore (" Galemore" ) and Tina Raffensberger (" Raffensberger" ), both of whom are Caucasian females. (Syed Dep. at 43-44, 93.) At the time pertinent to the instant matter, the relevant " chain of command" [6] at the YWCA, as indicated in the YWCA Personnel Policies and Procedures dated August 8, 2007, in descending order of authority, was as follows: (1) Executive Director; (2) Child Care Director; (3) Assistant Child Care Director; (4) Group Supervisor; and (5) Assistant Group Supervisor. ( See Doc. 34, Ex. I, sec. 11:01— " Organizational Chart" ; see also Doc. 34-13, at P-5.) Syed's immediate supervisor was the Assistant Child Care Director, Heidi Durst (" Durst" ), who in turn was supervised by the Child Care Director, Sherri Straub (" Straub" ), who was supervised by Executive Director, Tina Heffner (" Heffner" ). (Syed Dep. at 38-40, 47, 51-56; see Doc. 34, Ex. I, sec. 11:01.)

Syed did not discuss her religious beliefs with other YWCA employees, but she believed people knew she was Muslim. ( See Syed Dep. at 81, 83.) In November, 2008, Syed approached Durst with a request to take a day off to celebrate Eid, a religious Islamic holiday. ( Id. at 62-63, 71.) Syed was aware that YWCA's policies required submitting a formal written request for time off; however, she orally requested time off because she wanted to get preliminary approval from Durst, which was a typical practice for employees. ( See id. at 63-73.) Durst denied Syed's oral request. ( Id. at 73-75.) Syed admitted that, at the time of her request, she had already requested several days off at the end of the year. ( Id. ) However, the explanation given by Durst as to the reason for her denying Syed's request was that Durst knew " only one holiday ... Christmas."

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( Id. at 73.) Durst denies ever making this statement. (Durst Dep. at 103.)

On another occasion, Syed requested time off in order to attend a " religious convention" in Virginia. (Syed Dep. at 86.) Syed did not indicate the religious nature on the leave request form. ( Id. at 88.) Syed was informed that her request was denied because two individuals had previously requested that day off. ( Id. at 88-91.) However, Syed later discovered that two different individuals who were not granted time off prior to Syed's request were permitted to leave work early that day. ( Id. )

In 2009, Syed requested permission to organize a Christmas party for the children in her class. ( Id. at 93.) Straub denied Syed's request and, without Syed's knowledge, gave permission to her subordinates, Raffensberger and Galemore, to organize a Christmas party. ( Id. at 93-94.) Syed characterized the incident as an instance of differential treatment and attributed the denial of her request to her being a Muslim. ( See id. at 100.)

Syed believed that she was being targeted for harassment by her supervisors and by Assistant Group Supervisors Galemore and Raffensberger at the direction of her supervisors. Syed testified that Galemore and Raffensberger would " spy" on her (Syed Dep. at 126); that she was prohibited from using the elevator with her class, despite other Group Supervisors being allowed to use the elevators ( Id. at 124); that, despite her seniority, she was forced to do the menial tasks in the classrooms, such as cleaning bodily fluids ( see id. at 103-06, 244-48); that, on at least one occasion, a " spot check" was performed upon her personal belongings without her consent ( Id. at 251; Durst Dep. at 125-32); that she was told not to speak with parents because " no one could understand her due to her accent" (Syed Dep. at 136-39); and that the sign to her classroom was altered to have her name listed on the bottom, despite her seniority over the Assistant Group Supervisors who were listed above her ( Id. at 254-55).

Syed attributed the hostility and differential treatment she experienced at YWCA to her being the only employee who was non-Caucasian or Muslim, noting that she was the only person treated in such a manner. ( Id. at 115; see also Doc. 34-13 at Ex. I, P-10.) On one occasion when Syed was discussing her perceptions of harassment with Heffner, Heffner held up a religious cross necklace she wore around her neck and said, " [m]y cross will help me." (Syed Dep. at 116.) Heffner denies that this event ever occurred. (Heffner Dep. at 352.)

In her deposition, Syed further testified that Durst told her not to wear a Pakistani Shalwar Kameez, a certain traditional ethnic dress, to an employee Christmas party in January, 2009. (Syed Dep. at 156.) According to Syed, Durst explained that she thought the dress was " awful" and that " [Syed looked] weird in [her] Pakistani dress." ( Id. at 154-55.) Durst denies ever making this derogatory statement. (Durst Dep. at 121-23.) [7]

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On February 8, 2009, Syed authored an email to Straub in which she raised complaints of " harassment" and " discrimination" arising out of the actions of Durst. (Doc. 29, ¶¶ 13-14; Doc. 34-13 at Ex. I, P-6.) The email contained allegations that Durst treated Syed differently than other teachers. (Doc. 34-13 at Ex. I, P-6.) The email did not indicate that Syed believed the differential treatment was racially, religiously, or ethnically motivated. (Doc. 29, ¶ 15; Doc. 34-13 at Ex. I, P-6.)

On March 16, 2009, Syed received an unexcused absence for failing to attend a mandatory child care staff meeting and was charged three hours of vacation time, despite Syed submitting a signed letter authored by her tutor verifying that Syed was being tutored during that time as part of her continuing education. (Doc. 34-13 at Ex. I, P-7, P-8.) Heffner's handwritten notes [8] on the letter ( see Heffner Dep. at 283-84) indicated a perceived " conflict" between the original reason for Syed's ...

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