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Barbara F. Johnson v. Lancaster -Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13

December 4, 2012


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

Memorandum Opinion

Plaintiff, Barbara Johnson, brought this employment action against Defendant, Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13 ("Intermediate Unit"), asserting disability discrimination and hostile work environment claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA). Defendant has moved for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff's evidence is insufficient to support her discrimination or hostile work environment claims. For the reasons that follow, the Defendant's motion will be granted.


The facts, viewed in a light most favorable to the Plaintiff, are as follows. Plaintiff is a teacher with over twenty-five years of experience teaching children with emotional and learning disorders. Plaintiff suffers from epilepsy, a neurological condition that can cause seizures. Plaintiff's epilepsy has been controlled by medication without adverse effects since 1988. (Pl.'s Counter SOF, Doc. No. 27, ¶¶ 1-5.) Defendant is a Pennsylvania educational service agency serving public schools in Lancaster and Lebanon counties. (Compl. ¶ 7.)

Plaintiff was hired by Defendant on August 17, 2009 for a position teaching emotionally disturbed children at the Intermediate Unit's Manheim Education Center ("IU"). As required for her employment, Plaintiff submitted a medical clearance from her primary care physician. The doctor reported that Plaintiff had no special medical problems that would affect her work. As part of the medical clearance, Plaintiff disclosed her epilepsy. No concerns were raised at this point. (Def.'s SOF, Doc. No. 24, ¶¶ 10-12, 16.)

Before the start of classes on August 31, 2009, Plaintiff was required to undergo Crisis Prevention Intervention training, which included instruction on the physical restraining of students under certain circumstances. Plaintiff did not object to this training. During training, a rumor was started that Plaintiff commented that she could not restrain students due to her epilepsy. The rumor eventually made its way to Plaintiff's supervisor, Anna Edling. (Def.'s SOF, ¶¶ 17, 20.) Edling arranged for Intermediate Unit Human Relations employee Susan Billy to contact Plaintiff regarding the rumor. (Def.'s SOF, ¶¶ 6-8; Pl.'s Counter SOF, ¶ 21.)

On Friday, August 28, 2009, Billy called Plaintiff and requested verification from her neurologist that she was capable of conducting the restraint methods. Plaintiff was unable to obtain a note from her neurologist during the weekend prior to classes. On Sunday, August 30, 2009, Billy called Plaintiff again and during this conversation, Plaintiff requested to speak with supervisor Lisa Figurelle. Later that day, Figurelle contacted Plaintiff, who requested that a meeting be arranged for the following day. (Pl.'s Counter SOF, ¶¶ 19-20, 24, 28-29; Johnson Dep., pp. 85, 88-90.)

The meeting on Monday, August 31, 2009, was attended by Plaintiff, Billy, Edling, and Figurelle. During the meeting, Figurelle and Billy told Plaintiff that they were concerned about her ability to safely manage a classroom of volatile children. (Johnson Dep., p. 96.) At this point, Plaintiff believed "that this was going to be a discrimination against [her] epilepsy, that it was going to be a hostile environment." (Id., p. 97.) Plaintiff placed her work materials on the desk in front of her, and asked Figurelle "where she would like them." (Id.) Plaintiff stated that she returned the items with the intention of leaving, and in order to convey that she "felt that it was a hostile environment and this was not going to work." (Id., pp. 97-99.) In response, Billy pointed to a paper tablet on the table and told Plaintiff that she could write her resignation on it. (Id.) Plaintiff did not put her resignation in writing, but returned her identification badge and was escorted from the building. (Id., pp. 99-104.) On September 15, 2009, Human Relations employee Caroline Black contacted Plaintiff to request her resignation letter. Plaintiff denied resigning, and asserted that she had been constructively discharged due to her disability. (Id., pp. 135-36.)


On a motion for summary judgment, the Court considers the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986). A party moving for summary judgment must show that there are no issues of material fact and that judgment is appropriate as a matter of law. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of showing that there are no issues of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once a properly supported motion for summary judgment is made, the burden shifts to the non-moving party, who must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. The non-moving party cannot avert summary judgment with speculation or conclusory allegations, such as those found in the pleadings, but rather, must present evidence from which a jury could reasonably find in its favor. Ridgewood Bd. of Educ. v. N.E. for M.E., 172 F.3d 238, 252 (3d Cir. 1999).


A. Plaintiff's Disability-Based Discrimination Claim

In order to make out a prima facie case of disability-based discrimination under the ADA, a plaintiff must establish that she (1) has a disability, (2) is otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodations by the employer, and (3) has suffered an adverse employment action because of her disability. Buskirk v. Apollo Metals, 307 F.3d 160, 166 (3d Cir. 2002).

Defendant does not challenge Plaintiff's disability or her qualifications, but argues that Plaintiff cannot show that she suffered an adverse employment action. Rather, according to Defendant, Plaintiff resigned her position at the August 31, 2009, meeting. Plaintiff counters that she never resigned, but was constructively discharged. In considering whether a claim for constructive discharge can survive summary judgment, a court must determine "whether a reasonable jury could find that the employer permitted conditions so unpleasant or difficult that a reasonable person would have felt compelled to resign." Duffy v. Paper Magic Group, Inc., 265 F.3d 163, 167 (3d Cir. 2001). Although not dispositive, common factors alleged by employees claiming to have been constructively discharged include: (1) threat of discharge; (2) urging or suggesting resignation; (3) ...

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