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Lawrence P. O'donnell v. Colonial Intermediate Unit 20

March 27, 2013


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


Lawrence P. O'Donnell, a former Mental Health Worker and substitute Alternative Education Teacher, brings this action against his former employer, Colonial Intermediate Unit 20 ("CIU"). His Amended Complaint asserts claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 P.S. § 951, the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2615, and for a procedural due process violation under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Presently before this Court is Defendant's Motion to dismiss all claims pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). For the reasons that follow, the Motion is granted; Plaintiff's claims under the ADA and PHRA are dismissed without prejudice, and his remaining claims are dismissed with prejudice.


In deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), courts must "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Pinker v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n. 7 (3d Cir. 2002). After the Supreme Court's decision in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), "threadbare recitals of a cause of action's elements, supported by mere conclusory statements" do not suffice. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 663 (2009). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable of the alleged misconduct." Id. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). This standard, which applies to all civil cases, "asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id.; accord Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) ("All civil complaints must contain more than an unadorned the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.") (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 677). Moreover, "the factual detail in a complaint [must not be] so undeveloped that it does not provide a defendant [with] the type of notice of claim which is contemplated by Rule 8 [of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure]." Villegas v. Weinstein & Riley, P.S., 723 F. Supp. 2d 755, 756 (M.D. Pa. 2010) (quoting Phillips, 515 F.3d at 232).


O'Donnell has been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, Recurrent (DSM 296.32)

and Anxiety Disorder, not otherwise specified - with features of Panic Disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (DSM 300.00). (Am. Compl. ¶ 18.) Additional diagnoses include: Generalized Anxiety Disorder (300.02) with Dysthymia (300.4), Major Recurrent Depressive Disorder (296.33), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder - with Childhood Physical and Emotional Abuse (309.81), Avoidant Personality Disorder - with co-dependent issues and compulsive, narcissistic aspects (301.82), and Refractory Hypertension and Morbid Obesity. (Id.) On or about 1988, he began receiving various forms of treatment for Anxiety and Depression. (Id. ¶ 19.) During the 2008-2009 and the 2009-2010 school years, O'Donnell informed his supervisor, Sandra Binczak, Supervisor of Special Education, of his various medical disabilities and the treatments that he was receiving. (Id. ¶ 20.)

O'Donnell alleges that he was hired by CIU in 2006 as a mental health worker, assisting primary teachers in the classroom. (Id. ¶ 3.) In August of that year, he was promoted to a teacher position and began work at the Northampton County Juvenile Justice Center, where the CIU ran an alternative education program for students assigned to the detention center by court order. (Id. ¶ 4.) At the time he was hired, O'Donnell was qualified to teach only Social Studies. (Id. ¶ 17.) He continued as a teacher at the Juvenile Justice Center for the 2008-09 school year, but he was transferred in October 2008 to Women In Need of Greater Strength (WINGS), a program for teens and young adult females. He received a satisfactory rating for the school year and returned in the fall of 2009. (Id. ¶ 6.) When that program closed, he was transferred to the Monroe County Correctional Facility (MCCF) where he taught incarcerated juvenile offenders. (Id. ¶ 7.) After receiving another transfer in mid-spring to the Colonial Academy to serve as a daily substitute, he received a satisfactory rating upon completion of the 2009-10 school year. (Id.)

At the start of the 2010-11 school year, O'Donnell was once again assigned to the MCCF. (Id. ¶ 8.) On November 2, 2010, Binczak, O'Donnell's immediate supervisor for 3-1/2 years, visited the MCCF to observe him. (Id.) Binczak entered O'Donnell's classroom unannounced. After commenting on viewing a student's excellent report card, Binczak asked the student, "I see that you have excellent marks, Is [sic] Mr. O'Donnell challenging you in your lessons, or is he taking it easy on you?" (Id. ¶ 22.) When the students left for lunch, Binczak began questioning O'Donnell and asked to see his lesson plans and grade book for the first quarter. (Id. ¶¶ 8, 23.) O'Donnell did not provide them; he explained to Binczak that his lesson plans were at home on his computer. (Id. ¶¶ 8, 24.) O'Donnell further explained that, because the Defendant did not provide him with an Internet-connected computer or a printer, he was forced to develop lesson plans on his home computer. (Id.) Binczak reported her observation to the CIU's Human Resources Director Anthony Pidgeon. (Id. ¶ 8.) On November 5, 2010, O'Donnell received a fax from Binczak informing him that he had two weeks to produce the lesson plans and grade book for the first marking period. (Id. ¶¶ 9, 25.)

On or about November 11, 2010, Binczak visited O'Donnell's classroom again. She presented him with a "Classroom Observation" document which contained various ratings of his work performance allegedly observed during the November 2, 2010 visit. (Id. ¶ 26.) Binczak told O'Donnell that she had been directed to make the November 2, 2010 visit into a formal Observation. (Id.) In the Classroom Observation document, virtually all of the thirty performance items were rated as "Unsatisfactory." (Id. ¶ 27.) Some of the items were not scored or rated at all. Comments offered by Binczak at the end of the document were derogatory. (Id.)

On or about November 15, 2010, O'Donnell submitted a formal, written response to the "Classroom Observation" to Binczak. He stated that Binczak did not comply with CIU policy that requires both Pre-Observation and Post-Observation conferences. (Id. ¶ 28.) O'Donnell questioned the validity of the Observation document given that Binczak was in the classroom setting for only three minutes before the students were dismissed for lunch. (Id.) In his written response, O'Donnell pointed out additional errors and deficiencies with the Observation, many of which violated CIU policy. (Id. ¶ 29.)

On November 16, 2010, Binczak presented O'Donnell with a Staff Improvement Plan. (Id. ¶ 30.) The Plan focused on lesson plans, grading, and miscellaneous responsibilities. (Id.) After viewing the Staff Improvement Plan, O'Donnell told Binczak that he was not in agreement with the Plan. He contended that the Plan charged him with not performing duties that were the responsibility of other school personnel. (Id.) O'Donnell also contended that he did not have adequate training and certification for some of the responsibilities that the Plan noted he did not perform adequately. (Id.) Finally, he noted that he was being held unduly responsible for not completing certain duties which were no longer necessary due to changes in program funding streams. O'Donnell told Binczak that the Improvement Plan "lacked merit and was punitive in nature and design." (Id.) The next day, he was presented with a Second Staff Improvement Plan by Binczak at a meeting of which he had no prior notice. (Id. ¶ 32.) Binczak's supervisor, Dr. Jan Cunningham, was present. O'Donnell expressed confusion in stating that this Plan brought the total of the Improvement Plans under which he was now performing to three. (Id.) He explained that an Improvement Plan had been imposed by the CIU in 2008 and was not completed and that the Plans of November 16, 2010 and November 17, 2010 counted for an additional two Plans. (Id.) O'Donnell expressed his understanding that an employee can only be working under one Improvement Plan at a time. (Id.)

O'Donnell expressed his confusion and concern about the existence of three Plans. Binczak admitted she made several errors in the November 16 Plan. (Id. ¶ 33.) O'Donnell informed Binczak that the November 16 Plan and the November 17 Plan did not list or establish any timelines for evaluation. Also, neither of the Plans listed the resources necessary for him to successfully complete the requirements, two of which were a computer and a daily lesson plan template. (Id.) On November 17, 2010, O'Donnell presented Binczak with lesson plans and grades for the first quarter. (Id. ¶ 34.) Binczak accepted the submission so students could receive the grades, but she advised O'Donnell she would need "full-fledged" lesson plans going forward. She directed him to submit the lesson plans to her each week for the following week. (Id. ¶ 10.)

On or about November 23, 2010, O'Donnell was directed by HR Director Pidgeon to attend a Loudermill*fn1 hearing to be held on December 8, 2010 to discuss matters of concern regarding his work performance. (Id. ¶¶ 11, 38.) On or about December 4, 2010, O'Donnell informed Pidgeon of his various mental health conditions and the medication regimen that he was following. (Id. ¶ 21.) On or about December 7, 2010, he requested to Pidgeon that Human Resources provide him with a detailed, specific listing of all of the charges against him. (Id. ¶ 39.) O'Donnell was denied such a list. (Id.) He also made other numerous requests to Pidgeon regarding the Loudermill hearing, all of which were denied. (Id.) At the beginning of the meeting, he asked Pidgeon for a written copy of the allegations/charges for which the Loudermill hearing was being convened, but this request was denied. (Id. ¶ 40.) During the hearing, O'Donnell presented rebuttals to various charges brought up against him. (Id. ¶ 41.) Binczak, however, was not in attendance at the hearing, which precluded O'Donnell ...

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