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Byrd v. City of Philadelphia

United States District Court, Third Circuit

October 22, 2013



GENE E.K. PRATTER, United States District Judge.

Plaintiffs Dorothy Byrd, Edward Chew, Patricia Bryant, and Wanda Davis, have sued the City of Philadelphia (the “City”) and Barbara A. Deely[1], the interim sheriff for the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office, for allegedly discriminatory and retaliatory actions taken against them by Ms. Deely. Presently before the Court is Defendants’ Partial Motion to Dismiss Counts II, III, V, and VII[2] of Plaintiffs’ Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, and for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.


Plaintiffs claim that Ms. Deely was appointed to serve as interim sheriff for the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office following Sheriff John D. Green’s retirement on December 31, 2010, and she remained as the sheriff until January 2, 2012. Plaintiffs allege that immediately following Ms. Deely’s appointment as sheriff, she began discriminating and retaliating against them and other African American employees because of their race.

With regard to Ms. Byrd, Plaintiffs allege that she was demoted because she is an African American. Prior to Ms. Deely’s tenure as sheriff, Ms. Byrd served as Deputy Sheriff. Ms. Byrd alleges that Ms. Deely demoted her by transferring her to the Criminal Justice Center as a uniformed officer. After demoting Ms. Byrd, Ms. Deely promoted Richard Verrechio, a white male, to Ms. Byrd’s previous position. Additionally, when Ms. Byrd was on sick leave, Ms. Deely directed Mr. Verrechio to check in with Ms. Byrd daily. Thus, Ms. Byrd contends that Ms. Deely demoted and harassed her “for no other reason than she was Black.” (Compl. ¶ 36.)

Mr. Chew avers he was discriminated against by Ms. Deely because he is African American. Specifically, Mr. Chew alleges that Ms. Deely terminated him from his position as Director of Legal Services for the Sheriff’s Office because of his race. Additionally, Mr. Chew claims he was fired because he had previously admonished Ms. Deely for making derogatory racial remarks about other African American female employees.

Ms. Bryant alleges that Ms. Deely terminated her from her position as Chief of Staff for the Sheriff’s Office on December 28, 2011. Ms. Bryant claims that during her employment at the Sheriff’s Office, Ms. Deely used sexually and racially offensive terminology to refer to Ms. Bryant. On May 12, 2010, and September 24, 2010, Ms. Bryant filed complaints of disparate treatment and race discrimination against Ms. Deely. Thus, Ms. Bryant claims she was terminated for opposing Ms. Deely’s discriminatory conduct.

Ms. Davis also asserts that Ms. Deely discriminated against her because of her race. In 2008, Ms. Davis was hired as the Director of Communications and Media for the Sheriff’s Office. In July 2010, Ms. Davis was diagnosed with Adult Attention Deficit Hypertensive Disorder, and in December 2010 she took medical leave. Shortly after Ms. Deely took office, she demoted Ms. Davis and replaced her with Ken Smuckler, a white employee. While Ms. Davis was still on medical leave, Ms. Deely allegedly directed an employee to call Ms. Davis and harass and threaten her with termination if she did not return to work. On April 18, 2011, Ms. Deely suspended Ms. Davis because she would not write a letter of resignation. Subsequently, on April 19, 2011, Ms. Deely terminated Ms. Davis and replaced her with a Jeff Travelina, a white male. Ms. Davis avers that she was demoted, harassed, and terminated “for no other reason than that she was Black.” (Compl. ¶ 83.)

Based on the above allegations Plaintiffs bring six causes of action. In Counts I and II Ms. Byrd and Ms. Davis allege violations of Title VII. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000 et seq. In Count III, Mr. Chew and Ms. Bryant bring a claim under 42 U.S.C. §1981. In Counts IV and V, all Plaintiffs bring claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983 and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”), 43 P.S. § 951, et seq., for race discrimination. Finally, in Count VII, Mr. Chew and Ms. Bryant bring claims under the PHRA for retaliation. Defendants’ filed a Partial Motion to Dismiss Counts II, III, V, and VII. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant the motion in part, and deny it in part.

II. Legal Standard

A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of a complaint. Although Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires only “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), in order to “give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests, ” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citations and quotations omitted) (alteration in original), the plaintiff must provide “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. (citation omitted).

To survive a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must plead “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. Specifically, “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . .” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citations omitted). The question is not whether the claimant will ultimately prevail but whether the complaint is “sufficient to cross the federal court’s threshold.” Skinner v. Switzer, 131 S.Ct. 1289, 1296 (2011) (citation omitted). Thus, assessment of the sufficiency of a complaint is “a context-dependent exercise” because “[s]ome claims require more factual explication than others to state a plausible claim for relief.” W. Penn Allegheny Health Sys., Inc. v. UPMC, 627 F.3d 85, 98 (3d Cir. 2010) (citations omitted).

In evaluating the sufficiency of a complaint, the Court adheres to certain well-recognized parameters. For one, the Court “must consider only those facts alleged in the complaint and accept all of the allegations as true.” ALA, Inc. v. CCAIR, Inc., 29 F.3d 855, 859 (3d Cir. 1994) (citing Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984)); see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (stating that courts must assume that “all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)”); Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010) (“[A] court must consider only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, as well as undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant's claims are based upon these documents.”). The Court also must accept as true all reasonable inferences that may be drawn from the allegations, and view those facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Rocks v. City of Phila., 868 F.2d 644, 645 (3d Cir. 1989); see also Revell v. Port Auth. of N.Y. & N.J., 598 F.3d 128, 134 (3d Cir. 2010). That admonition does not demand the Court turn its back on reality. The Court need not accept as true “unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences, ” Doug Grant, Inc. v. Greate Bay Casino Corp., 232 F.3d 173, 183– 84 (3d Cir. 2000) (citations and quotations omitted), or a Plaintiff's “bald assertions” or “legal ...

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