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Kagarise v. Christie

United States District Court, Third Circuit

November 26, 2013

STEVEN KAGARISE, Plaintiff,
v.
LISA CHRISTIE, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

LAWRENCE F. STENGEL, District Judge.

This § 1983 action involves claims of gender discrimination and retaliation brought by Plaintiff Steven Kagarise against fellow officers and supervisors of the Pennsylvania State Police. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, I will grant this motion.

I. BACKGROUND

The plaintiff is a trooper with the Pennsylvania State Police who was assigned to Troop G McConnelsburg, Fulton County, Pennsylvania. (Compl. at ¶ 1). On March 4, 2009, he filed this complaint against Lisa Christie, Jeffrey Watson, Willard Oliphant, John Stchur, William Tucker, Gregory Bernard, Michael Patrick, Joseph Kovel, John Brown, Richard Bosch, and Stacy Gelvin.[1] On December 13, 2010, the parties stipulated to the dismissal of Ms. Gelvin. The complaint raises an Equal Protection claim and a First Amendment Retaliation claim.[2]

The plaintiff has been a trooper since 1991. (Doc. No. 48 at ¶ 3). During his employment, the plaintiff regularly objected to unwritten customs and policies, including quota systems that deprived troopers of their discretion in issuing citations. (Doc. No. 48 at ¶¶ 73-76; Compl. at ¶ 15). At one point, he notified the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association (PSTA) and complained of the quota systems being implemented. (Doc. No. 48 at ¶¶ 75-76). He also reported his supervisors and others for misconduct, including sexual harassment. (Doc. No. 48 at ¶ 4; Compl. at ¶ 15). For instance, the plaintiff's report that Corporal Greg Edgin had sexually harassed a female officer resulted in Edgin's termination. (Doc. No. 48 at ¶¶ 4).

In 2006, Ms. Gelvin, his co-worker, was interviewed by the Internal Affairs Division (IAD) concerning an investigation of some "sexual emails" sent by two other officers. (Doc. No. 48 at ¶ 10). During the investigation, Gelvin also alleged that she had been the target of sexual misconduct by three officers, including the plaintiff. (Doc. No. 48 at ¶¶ 15-17). While Gelvin contended that she found the conduct by the other two officers to be threatening, she indicated that she was not intimidated by the plaintiff's behavior because she did not take him seriously.[3]

This launched an additional investigation of the plaintiff and the two other officers, Trooper Alan Deffibaugh and Sergeant David Copley.[4] A Disciplinary Action Report (DAR) was issue for the plaintiff stating that he had violated department policy and regulation. (Doc. Nos. 43 and 48 at ¶ 30). These findings were based on mobile data communications, which included sexually explicit messages. Additionally, the findings were based on several inappropriate acts committed by the plaintiff, including an incident where the plaintiff glued pictures of male genitals on Ms. Gelvin's calendar art. (Doc. No. 43 at ¶ 33). A disciplinary action was instituted against the plaintiff, which included a thirty-five day suspension and a one-year transfer to Chambersburg. (Doc. No. 48 at ¶¶ 20, 47-48).

Furthermore, findings during the initial investigation of the other officers also resulted in a third investigation into the appropriateness of Ms. Gelvin's own behavior on other occasions. (Doc. No. 48 at ¶¶ 12-14). As a result, she was suspended for two days for having forwarded to a female clerk an inappropriate message that had been sent to her by one of the other male officers.

After working with Gelvin for six months after his investigation, the plaintiff was transferred temporarily to Troop H Huntingdon and was told to have no contact with the people at the McConnelsburg station. (Doc. No. 48 at ¶¶ 19, 22-23, 47-48). Less than two years after his transfer to the Chambersburg station, the plaintiff requested a transfer to the central turnpike with a preference for the Bedford County, Everett station. However, he was initially transferred to the Bowmansville station and then later to the Everett station. (Doc. No. 48 and 43 at ¶¶ 69-72). As a result, the plaintiff was forced to commute a significant distance from his home. Because of these transfers and the allegedly discriminatory penalties, the plaintiff brought the current case. He opposes this motion for summary judgment.[5]

II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A dispute is "genuine" when "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party" based on the evidence in the record. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is "material" when it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Id.

A party seeking summary judgment initially bears responsibility for informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record that "it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Where the non-moving party bears the burden of proof on a particular issue at trial, the moving party's initial Celotex burden can be met simply by demonstrating to the district court that "there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case." Id. at 325. After the moving party has met its initial burden, the adverse party's response must cite "particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). Summary judgment is therefore appropriate when the non-moving party fails to rebut by making a factual showing that is "sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex , 477 U.S. at 322.

Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the court must draw "all justifiable inferences" in favor of the non-moving party. Anderson , 477 U.S. at 255. The court must decide "not whether... the evidence unmistakably favors one side or the other but whether a fair-minded jury could return a verdict for the plaintiff on the evidence presented." Id. at 252. If the non-moving party has produced more than a "mere scintilla of evidence" demonstrating a genuine issue of material fact, then the court may not credit the moving party's "version of events against the opponent, even if the quantity of the [moving party's] evidence far outweighs that of its opponent." Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N. Am., Inc. , 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir. 1992).

III. DISCUSSION

Section 1983 imposes civil liability upon a person who, acting under color of state law, deprives another person of any rights, privileges or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Gruenke v. Seip , 225 F.3d 290, 298 (3d Cir. 2000). "To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must show that the defendant, through conduct sanctioned under the color of state law, deprived her of a federal constitutional or statutory right." Gruenke , 225 F.3d at 298 (citing Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist. , 132 F.3d 902, 907 (3d Cir.1997)).

Section 1983 does not abrogate the States' Eleventh Amendment immunity. See Quern v. Jordan , 440 U.S. 332, 340-46 (1979); 4 Hurst v. City of Rehoboth Beach , 288 Fed.Appx. 20, 25 (3d Cir. 2008) (noting "[a]lthough Congress can abrogate a state's sovereign immunity, it did not do so through the enactment of 42 U.S.C. § 1983"). In addition to the United States Supreme Court's holding that a state is not a person, the Court expanded its ruling in Will v. Michigan Dept. of State Police, holding that state agencies and officials acting in their official capacity are not "persons" either.[6] 491 U.S. 58, 70-71 (1989).

In order to impose individual supervisory liability under Section 1983, "there must be some affirmative conduct by the supervisor that played a role in the discrimination." Andrews v. City of Philadelphia , 895 F.2d 1469, 1478 (3d Cir. 1990). The affirmative conduct can be shown through "allegations of personal direction or of actual knowledge and acquiescence or through proof of direct discrimination by the supervisor." Id . (citing Rode v. Dellarciprete , 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988)); see also Robinson v. City of Pittsburgh , 120 F.3d 1286, 1293 (3d Cir. 1997) overruled in part on other grounds by Burlington N. & Sante Fe. Ry. Co. v. White , 548 U.S. 53 (2006). Any allegations concerning the "existence of an order or acquiescence leading to discrimination must be pled and proven with appropriate specificity." Andrews , 895 F.2d at 1478.

A. Equal Protection

In order to prevail on a Section 1983 equal protection claim, the plaintiff must show that he was "subjected to purposeful discrimination" in this case because of his sex. Robinson , 120 F.3d at 1293. This purposeful discrimination "implies more than intent as volition or intent as awareness of consequences." Personnel Administrator of Mass. v. Feeney , 442 U.S. 256, 279 (1979). "It implies that the decisionmaker... selected or reaffirmed a particular course of action at least in part because of, ' not merely in spite of, ' its adverse effects upon an identifiable group." Id. at 279 (footnote and citation omitted)); see also Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Flaherty , 983 F.2d 1267, 1273 (3d Cir. 1993)(quoting Personnel Administrator of Mass. , 442 U.S. at 279); McCleskey v. Kemp , 481 U.S. 279, 292 (1987).

To support his disparate treatment claim, the plaintiff alleges that he and his co-worker-Ms. Gelvin, a woman-engaged in the same inappropriate behavior. However, the plaintiff received a thirty-five day suspension without pay and was transferred, while the Ms. Gelvin only received a two-day suspension. See Kagarise Dep. at 126.The plaintiff offers no direct evidence that gender was a motivating factor for the difference in treatment and, instead, relies on the circumstances of the two disciplinary decisions as evidence of intent.

Even when a discrimination case is brought based on indirect evidence, a showing of purposeful intent is still required.[7] Flaherty , 983 F.2d at 1273 ("It is now well established that a prima facie showing of discriminatory intent may be proven indirectly, without a "smoking gun, " on the "totality of the relevant facts, " including disparate impact if coupled with some other indicia of purposeful discrimination.")(emphasis in original). See also Horner v. Kentucky High Sch. Athletic Ass'n , 43 F.3d 265, 276 (6th Cir. 1994)(finding that disparate impact alone did not establish a Fourteenth Amendment gender discrimination claim).

In finding discriminatory purpose, the court may consider various forms of evidence as part of "a sensitive inquiry into such circumstantial and direct evidence of intent as may be available." Village of Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Hous. Dev. Corp. , 429 U.S. 252, 266 (1977). Patterns of disparate impact that are "significant, stark, and unexplainable on other grounds" are sufficient to prove insidious intent. Id. at 264-68. In addition, evidence from the administrative history of a decision or departures from normal procedure may offer evidence of improper purpose, especially if the sequence of events raises some level of suspicion. Id. at 267-70.

Hence, in order to justify judicial intervention, the plaintiff has the burden of proving that the defendants' disciplinary decision was purposefully discriminatory related to his gender. The plaintiff has failed to establish this discriminatory intent.

The internal complaint indicated that the plaintiff "sent inappropriate MDC transmission to Trooper Stacy L. Gelvin, spoke inappropriately to her and others, and were involved in practical jokes of sexually harassing nature." See Doc. No. 45, Ex. 1, at 44. The plaintiff was reprimanded for violating the sexual harassment policy and inappropriately using police computers and cell phone for the transmission of several sexually suggestive messages.[8] Watson Dep. at 43. In addition to sending inappropriate texts and emails, the plaintiff also engaged in other inappropriate acts including his taking a check from Gelvin's checkbook, photocopying it, and writing himself a fake check for $1000 with the memo indicating it was for sex.[9] The defendants also found that the plaintiff's disciplinary action was warranted, in part, because the investigators believed he was not being cooperative or forthcoming with information during his interview.[10]

By comparison, his co-worker, Ms. Gelvin, was disciplined with only a two-day-suspension for sending a sexually suggestive email to another female clerk. See Gelvin Dep. at 23-25. The plaintiff indicates, however, that Gelvin engaged in other inappropriate acts for which she was never disciplined.[11] Even viewing these facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff-that Gelvin received more favorable treatment than the plaintiff-the plaintiff must demonstrate not only that he was treated differently from other individuals similarly situated but also that this disparate treatment was based upon his gender.[12] Andrews , 895 F.2d at 1478; Keenan v. City of Philadelphia , 983 F.2d 459, 465 (3d Cir. 1992).

Nowhere in the pleadings is there evidence to show that the plaintiff's differential treatment was based on his sex.[13] In fact, the plaintiff himself even admits that he does not know why he was disciplined differently.[14] Furthermore, the plaintiff points to no pattern of differential treatment based on gender that would substantiate his claim.[15] There was also no showing that there was a deviation in procedure.[16]

Given that the plaintiff has not established a prima facie element of his Equal Protection claim, I will grant the defendants' motion for summary judgment as to this claim.[17]

B. First Amendment Retaliation

In addition to his gender discrimination, the plaintiff also alleges that his suspension was in retaliation for his previously voicing opposition to the quota system and conduct of other troopers. To establish a retaliation claim for engaging in activity protected under the First Amendment, a public employee must establish: 1) he engaged in a protected activity; and 2) the protected activity was a substantial factor in the alleged retaliatory action. Hill v. City of Scranton , 411 F.3d 118, 125 (3d Cir. 2005). "[T]he employer may defeat the employee's claim by demonstrating that the same adverse action would have taken place in the absence of the protected conduct." Hill , 411 F.3d at 125 (citing Mount Healthy City Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ. v. Doyle , 429 U.S. 274, 287 (1997)).

To engage in protected speech, an employee must be speaking "as a citizen on a matter of public concern." Garcetti v. Ceballos , 547 U.S. 410, 418 (2006). If the employee is speaking as a citizen on a matter of public concern, it must be determined "whether the relevant government entity had an adequate justification for treating the employee differently from any other member of the general public." Id . "[S]peech addresses a matter of public concern when it relates to an issue of political, social, or other concern to the community.'" McGreevy v. Stroup , 413 F.3d 359, 365 (3d Cir. 2005) (quoting Connick v. Myers , 461 U.S. 138, 146 (1983)). "[W]hen public employees make statements pursuant to their official duties, the employees are not speaking as citizens for First Amendment purposes, and the Constitution does not insulate their communications from employer discipline." Foraker v. Chaffinch , 501 F.3d 231, 239 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Garcetti , 547 U.S. at 421). Whether speech addresses a matter of public concern is determined by the "content, form, and context of a given statement, as revealed by the whole record." Hill, 455 F.3d at 242 (quoting Rankin v. McPherson , 483 U.S. 378, 384 (1987)). "[W]hether a particular incident of speech is made within a particular plaintiff's job duties is a mixed question of fact and law." Foraker , 501 F.3d at 240.

In Foraker, state troopers reported corruption and unsafe conditions to their superiors. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit found this speech was not protected. Foraker , 501 F.3d at 243. The court reasoned that reporting problems at the firing range was among the tasks the plaintiffs were paid to perform. Their positions required they report up the chain of command and environmental concerns were within the scope of their routine operations because they used and maintained the equipment. Id. at 241-42.

The plaintiff claims that the disciplinary action he received was in retaliation for two instances which occurred during the course of his employment. The first was because he spoke out about the "stat sheet" that Captain Holmburg was using to keep track of officer's statistical information concerning the number of citations they issued. Doc. No. 48 at ¶¶ 73-74. Holmburg would use these statistics as a form of discipline and make the officers with lower stats write letters to their supervisors. Doc. 48 at ¶¶ 73-74. This is one example of the "quota" systems, which were against PSTA regulations. The plaintiff reported these practices to the PSTA and was very vocal about the wrongfulness of them. Doc. No. 48 at ¶¶ 75-76. He also spoke out about quota systems that a supervisor, Richard Bosch, attempted to implement. Doc. No.52 at 9. The plaintiff alleges that this particular supervisor was directly involved is his relocation.

The second incident the plaintiff states was the cause of retaliation occurred when he reported his supervisor, Corporal Greg Edgin, for sexual harassment of a female officer. Doc. No.52 at 9. This incident led to Corporal Edgin's termination. Within the next year, the plaintiff faced his discipline arising from the Gelvin incident. Doc. No.48 at ¶ 4.

I will grant defendants' motion for summary judgment for the plaintiff's First Amendment retaliation claim. The plaintiff fails to identify a genuine issue of material fact concerning whether he was speaking as a citizen on a matter of public concern. His statements were made to a supervisor during work hours and concerned unwritten customs and policies about the implementation of quotas. Compl. at ¶ 15. These statements related to his duties as a Trooper, not matters concerning the community, politics, or any other social concern. "[W]hile the First Amendment invests public employees with certain rights, it does not empower them to constitutionalize the employee grievance.'" Garcetti , 547 U.S. at 420 (quoting Connick , 461 U.S. at 154). With regards to his reporting sexual harassment, the plaintiff's job duties included conducting law enforcement duties, which would include reporting sexual harassment in the workplace.

Furthermore, even if the plaintiff's speech were protected, he fails to show a causal link between these incidents and the violations for which he was disciplined. The plaintiff's speech actions occurred at least a year prior to the claim against the plaintiff, some as long ago as the early 90's. Additionally, Major Christie-the officer who determined the plaintiff's disciplinary sanction-testified in her deposition that she was unaware of the quota system complaints made by the plaintiff. Christie Dep. at 50-51.

IV. CONCLUSION

For these reasons, I will grant defendants' motion for summary judgment. An appropriate Order follows.


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