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Tony Reaves v. Pennsylvania State Police

October 17, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Judge Conner)


Presently before the court is defendant Pennsylvania State Police's ("PSP") motion for summary judgment (Doc. 19) and the magistrate judge's report (Doc. 39) recommending that it be denied. PSP filed objections to the magistrate judge's report and recommendation ("R&R"), and the parties fully briefed the issues raised by PSP's objections. (See Docs. 44, 47, 50). For the reasons set forth below, the court will adopt the R&R in part and reject it in part.

I. Factual Background & Procedural History*fn1

Plaintiff Tony Reaves ("Reaves") was a full-time trooper for PSP on probationary status at the Avondale barracks. He is an African-American. Reaves's probationary status was extended in March, 2007. In August and September, 2007, Corporal Steven Ranck ("Cpl. Ranck") prepared a supplemental General Investigation ("GI") report in review of Reaves's probationary trooper status. The report noted a number of negative incidents involving Reaves, including three different traffic stops.*fn2 Although a majority of Reaves's supervisors recommended retention, Cpl. Ranck recommended that Reaves not be retained. Upon Cpl. Ranck's recommendation, Captain Jack Laufer ("Capt. Laufer") made the decision to terminate plaintiff. The Probationary Trooper Administrative Review Panel agreed with the determination to dismiss plaintiff. Reaves was officially terminated on October 4, 2007.

Reaves spoke with Cpl. Ranck in July, 2007, about his belief that he was treated differently than others. Additionally, he contacted the PSP Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") office on numerous occasions from March, 2007, after his probation was extended, until his dismissal in October, 2007. Reaves also spoke several times with his station commander, Lieutenant Shelton Sneed ("Lt. Sneed"), about his perceived differential treatment. Sometime in September 2007, Reaves sent a complaint letter to Lt. Sneed outlining a number of issues and concerns regarding his perceived differential treatment.

Reaves filed the instant suit on December 28, 2009, alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (Doc. 1). PSP filed the instant motion for summary judgment on February 28, 2011. (See Docs. 19-21). The court referred PSP's summary judgment motion to the Magistrate Judge, (see Doc. 38), who recommended denying the motion. PSP filed objections to the R&R on April 5, 2012. (Doc. 44). The parties fully briefed the issues raised in PSP's objections to the R&R, and the matter is now ripe for review.

II. Standard of Review

A. Standard of Review for a Motion for Summary Judgment

Through summary adjudication the court may dispose of those claims that do not present a "genuine dispute as to any material fact" and for which a jury trial would be an empty and unnecessary formality. See FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). The burden of proof is upon the non-moving party to come forth with "affirmative evidence, beyond the allegations of the pleadings," in support of its right to relief. Pappas v. City of Lebanon, 331 F. Supp. 2d 311, 315 (M.D. Pa. 2004); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). This evidence must be adequate, as a matter of law, to sustain a judgment in favor of the non-moving party on the claims. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-57 (1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-89 (1986). Only if this threshold is met may the cause of action proceed. Pappas, 331 F. Supp. 2d at 315.

In reviewing a motion for summary judgment under Title VII, which relies upon indirect evidence, the Third Circuit applies the three-step test set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). First, plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of discrimination or retaliation. Id. at 802. Second, the burden shifts to the defendant to offer a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse action taken. Id. Third, the plaintiff must show that the defendant's proffered reasons are mere pretext. Id.

B. Standard of Review for a Magistrate Judge's Recommendation

Where objections to a magistrate judge's report and recommendation are filed, the court must perform a de novo review of the contested portions of the report. Sample v. Diecks, 885 F.2d 1099, 1106 n.3 (3d Cir. 1989) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(c)). Local Rule 72.3 requires "written objections which . . . specifically identify the portions of the proposed findings, recommendations or report to which objection is made and the basis for such objections."

III. Discussion

PSP objects to the R&R insofar as it concludes that PSP is not entitled to summary judgment on Reaves's Title VII discrimination and retaliation claims PSP raises four specific objections: (1) the Magistrate Judge incorrectly found a dispute of material fact regarding whether comparators were sufficiently similarly situated to Reaves; (2) the Magistrate Judge erred in finding that Reaves established pretext; (3) the Magistrate Judge incorrectly concluded that Reaves engaged in a protected activity; and (4) the Magistrate Judge erred in not addressing defendant's causal connection argument. The court will address each objection in turn.

A. Title VII Discrimination Claim

In order to establish a prima facie case of employment discrimination, Reaves must show (1) his membership in a protected class; (2) his qualification for his position; (3) that he suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) that the employer took the adverse action against him under circumstances raising an inference of discrimination. Sarullo v. U.S. Postal Serv., 352 F.3d 789, 797 (3d Cir. 2003) (citing McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802; Pivirotto v. Innovative Sys., Inc., 191 F.3d 344, 348 n.1, 352, 356 (3d Cir. 1999). Here, only the fourth element is at issue. A plaintiff can establish an inference of discrimination where he or she was ...

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