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Colleen Yarnall, et al v. Philadelphia School District

April 4, 2013

COLLEEN YARNALL, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS
v.
PHILADELPHIA SCHOOL DISTRICT, ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: L. Felipe Restrepo, U.S. Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This is a consolidated employment discrimination case.*fn1 This court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Plaintiffs Colleen Yarnall, Nicole Boyd, Marta Ciccimaro, and Debra McKibben Marenbach are all teachers employed by the School District of Philadelphia ("School District" or "SDP"). At all times relevant to their individual civil suits, each was assigned to work at the School District's Thomas Mifflin School ("Mifflin"). Plaintiffs allege that Defendants*fn2 unlawfully discriminated against Plaintiffs in violation of the laws of the United States and of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that prohibit discrimination on the bases of race and sex and prohibit retaliation against employees because of complaints of race and seX discrimination. Presently before the Court are Defendants Motions to Dismiss all claims.*fn3 (Doc. # 35, 36, 38, 65).

I. Standard of Review

In reviewing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a district court must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. See Bd. of Trs. of Bricklayers & Allied Craftsman Local 6 of N.J. Welfare Fund v. Wettlin Assocs., 237 F.3d 270, 272 (3d Cir. 2001). A court need not, however, credit "bald assertions" or "legal conclusions" when deciding a motion to dismiss. Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

"Factual allegations [in a complaint] must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must include "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570. Although the federal rules impose no probability requirement at the pleading stage, a plaintiff must present "enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element[s]" of a cause of action. Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008). "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 for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Simply reciting the elements will not suffice. Id.; see also Phillips, 515 F.3d at 231.

II. Discussion

A. Title VII Claims

Defendants first seek to dismiss Plaintiffs' Title VII claims. With respect to Plaintiffs' Title VII gender discrimination and retaliation claims, Defendants argue that these claims are barred by Plaintiffs' failure to exhaust their administrative remedies before resorting to private suit.

Under the established statutory framework, a plaintiff must exhaust all available remedies by filing a timely discrimination charge with the EEOC before bringing a discrimination suit to court. See 42 U.S.C. §2000e-5. Further, a plaintiff's Title VII suit is limited to claims and persons listed in the EEOC charge as only those claims are considered "exhausted" under the statute. Barzanty v. Verizon PA, Inc., 361 Fed. App. 411, 414 (3d Cir. 2010). Here, Plaintiffs only included a race discrimination claim in their formal charge with the EEOC. Because they did not include their gender discrimination and retaliation claims in the charge, Plaintiffs instead attempt to use their answers to the EEOC Intake Questionnaire in which they alleged gender discrimination and retaliation to support their argument that they exhausted their administrative remedies. See Pls.' Answer to Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss at 10 (Doc. #52). This argument, however, is without merit. While an EEOC Questionnaire is sufficient for statute of limitations purposes, the Third Circuit does not recognize an EEOC Questionnaire as a charge for purposes of exhausting remedies. See Barzanty, 361 Fed. App. at 415 (holding that a claim mentioned in the EEOC Charge Questionnaire but not included in the formal charge is not exhausted); see also, Kellam v. Independence Charter School, 735 F.Supp.2d 248, 253 (E.D.Pa. Aug 18, 2010) ("If a claim is initially mentioned in the Charge Questionnaire but is not included in the formal charge, then this claim is not exhausted. Indeed, to allow a plaintiff to initially raise a claim with a Charge Questionnaire and then abandon it in his formal charge only to reassert that claim in federal court would completely subvert the exhaustion requirement.").

By failing to include their gender discrimination and retaliation claims in their formal charge, Plaintiffs have failed to exhaust these claims. Inclusion of these claims in their EEOC Questionnaire does not cure this deficiency. Consequently, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Title VII gender discrimination and Title VII retaliation claims is granted.

With respect to Plaintiffs' Title VII race discrimination claims, Plaintiffs have provided sufficient facts to suggest that discovery may reveal the necessary elements to prove a prima facie case of racial discrimination. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Ray accused each of them of being "unfit to teach the African American students at Mifflin Elementary School because [they] are white." Boyd 2nd Am. Compl. ¶ 18; Marenbach 2nd Am. Compl. ¶ 19; Yarnall 2nd Am. Coml. ¶ 16. Plaintiffs further allege that Defendant Ray required all white teachers to read an article about white teachers' inability to effectively teach black students. See Boyd 2nd Am. Compl. ¶ 33; Ciccimaro 2nd Am. Compl. ¶ 31; Marenbach 2nd Am. Compl. ¶ 32; Yarnall 2nd Am. Coml. ¶ 31. Plaintiffs also assert several examples of how their work conditions and privileges created challenges for them to perform their jobs, and allege that black teachers were not subjected to these conditions. See Boyd 2nd Am. Compl. ¶ 17; CicciMaro 2nd Am. Compl. ¶15; Marenbach 2nd Am. Compl. ¶ 16; Yarnall 2nd Am. Coml. ¶ 15. These facts, if accepted as true, are sufficient to survive Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Title VII race discrimination claims.

B. PHRA Claim

Next, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs' Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA") claims are barred by the statute of limitations.

Under the PHRA, a plaintiff must file a complaint with the Philadelphia Human Relations Commission ("PHRC") within 180 days of the alleged discriminatory act. See Woodson v. Scott Paper Co., 109 F.3d 913, 925 (3d. Cir. 1997) (citing 43 PA.S. §§959(a), 962). Defendants' argument is based on the fact that Plaintiffs did not file a complaint with the PHRC until April 21, 2011, almost two years after the alleged discriminatory acts. Therefore, according to Defendants, Plaintiffs' PHRA claims must be dismissed.

Plaintiffs contend that their EEOC Questionnaire satisfied the PHRA's statute of limitations because the EEOC and the PHRC have a work-sharing agreement. See Pls.' Answer to Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss at 9 (Doc. #52). This argument, however, is without merit. "[A]lthough the EEOC and the PHRC have a work-sharing agreement for the initial investigation of discrimination charges, this does not mean that filing a charge with one is automatically sufficient to file a charge with another." Kellam, 735 F. Supp. 2d at 255. Moreover, as discussed above, an EEOC Questionnaire is different from an EEOC charge. Filing an EEOC Questionnaire within the required statutory timeframe does not satisfy the PHRA's statute of limitations, because the PHRC generally does not receive notice of a plaintiff's discrimination claim when a plaintiff files an EEOC Questionnaire. Id. Accordingly, Plaintiffs' filing of the EEOC Questionnaire is insufficient for purposes of satisfying the PHRA's statute of limitations.

Plaintiffs' claim is preserved, however, as we find that the doctrine of equitable tolling should apply for the period between the time that the Charge Questionnaire was filed with the EEOC and the time that the formal charge of discrimination was dual filed with the EEOC and the PHRC. See Id. (holding that Plaintiff's PHRA claims were equitably tolled from the date Plaintiff filed Charge Questionnaire with the EEOC until time formal charge was filed). Under certain circumstances, Pennsylvania's Administrative Code allows for the equitable tolling of the statute of limitations. Id. The Court generally recognizes three circumstances in which the statute of limitations may be equitably tolled:

First, if the plaintiff actively pursued his claim but filed a defective pleading within the statutory period; second, if the statutory deadline passed due to the plaintiff's reliance on the defendant's misconduct or misrepresentation; and third, if the plaintiff has been prevented from asserting his rights in some 'extraordinary way.'

Id. We agree with Plaintiffs that the length of time it took for the EEOC to reply to Plaintiffs' EEOC charge prevented Plaintiffs from asserting their rights in an "extraordinary way." Plaintiffs did not hear from the EEOC for nearly 18 months after filing their EEOC Questionnaire, despite attempts to contact the EEOC. See Pls.' Answer to Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss at 3 (Doc. # 52). Moreover, Plaintiffs would have had to prepare their own complaints to satisfy the statute of limitations as they were unrepresented at the time. Id. at 5. As the Court in Kellam pointed out, this "would entirely defeat the purpose of the work-sharing agreement between the EEOC and the PHRC." 735 F. Supp. 2d at 256. Under these circumstances, we find it equitable to toll the statute of limitations from the date that Plaintiffs filed their Charge Questionnaire with the EEOC until the date that the EEOC completed the formal charge for Plaintiffs' signatures. Consequently, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' PHRA claims due to the statute of limitations is denied.

C. ADEA Claim

Defendants next move to dismiss Plaintiffs' ADEA claims. For the reasons below, the Court will grant Defendants' ...


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