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Blasi v. Pen Argyl Area School District

United States District Court, Third Circuit

December 5, 2013

WILLIAM BLASI Plaintiff,
v.
PEN ARGYL AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM

LAWRENCE F. STENGEL, District Judge.

This is a Title VII and age discrimination suit brought by the plaintiff, a white male over 40 who is a member of a mixed race family. He alleges that the defendant's failure to hire him as a middle school sports coach entitles him to relief. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the foregoing reasons, I will grant the defendant's motion and dismiss the action.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff William Blasi is a 52-year-old white male who, according to his complaint, is married to an Asian ethnic Chinese woman. They have seven mixed race children, some of whom attend schools in Defendant Pen Argyl Area School District (PAASD).[1] He claims the defendant services an almost entirely white population.[2]

In April 2008, the plaintiff spoke on the phone with the defendant's Athletic Director Dwight Repsher about his interest in being hired as the middle school boys' basketball coach. However, he was never interviewed nor hired for the position. Mr. Blasi claims that he was discriminated against because of his marriage to an Asian woman and his age, on three separate occasions: 1) when the defendant hired Jovanni "Geo" Pagan for the middle school boys basketball position in the fall of 2008; 2) when the defendant hired five assistant baseball coaches in the spring of 2009; and 3) when the defendant hired Matt Young as the middle school boys basketball coach in fall of 2009.[3] According to the plaintiff, this alleged discrimination was a "conscious course of conduct to discriminate against families with children of mixed race white and Far East Asian Heritage."[4] Mr. Pagan was a white male under 30 who was married to a white woman.[5]

The assistant baseball coaches and Mr. Young were also white males under 30 who were not from mixed race families.

The plaintiff indicates that he was never advised that these positions were open, though he had expressed an interest in employment as a coach with the defendant.[6] The defendant's hiring practice for all non-head coaching positions was to advertise via word of mouth or by community communications. These positions were not advertised in print media, on television, or online. The plaintiff claims this practice is intended to ensure that members of mixed race families, specifically members of white/Far East Asian families, will not be employed in these positions.

The plaintiff asserts that he is more qualified than Mr. Pagan and Mr. Young because of his life experience, understanding of the development of middle school-aged males, basketball experience, education, and teaching experience.[7] He also claims he is more qualified than the assistant baseball coaches for the reasons stated above along with the fact he has prior baseball coaching experience.

Subsequent to the alleged discriminatory acts, the plaintiff filed charges with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC).[8] The plaintiff received his right to sue letters on February 21, 2012 and June 12, 2012 and commenced this suit shortly thereafter.[9]

The plaintiff alleges that the hiring of others in the above-mentioned positions, instead of the plaintiff, constitutes direct discrimination against him as a member of a mixed race family and/or are acts of retaliation for his complaining about discrimination against his children by the Wind Gap Athletic Association-the feeder program for the defendant's basketball program.[10] He seeks both damages and equitable relief under Title VII and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).[11]

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW[12]

A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted examines the legal sufficiency of the complaint.[13] Conley v. Gibson , 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). The factual allegations must be sufficient to make the claim for relief more than just speculative. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). In determining whether to grant a motion to dismiss, a federal court must construe the complaint liberally, accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Id .; see also D.P. Enters. v. Bucks County Cmty. Coll. , 725 F.2d 943, 944 (3d Cir. 1984).

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not require a plaintiff to plead in detail all of the facts upon which he bases his claim. Conley , 355 U.S. at 47. Rather, the Rules require a "short and plain statement" of the claim that will give the defendant fair notice of the plaintiff's claim and the grounds upon which it rests. Id . The "complaint must allege facts suggestive of [the proscribed] conduct." Twombly , 550 U.S. at 564. Neither "bald assertions" nor "vague and conclusory allegations" are accepted as true. See Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist. , 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997); Sterling v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transp. Auth. , 897 F.Supp. 893 (E.D. Pa. 1995). The claim must contain enough factual matters to suggest the required elements of the claim or to "raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of" those elements. Phillips v. County of Allegheny , 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 556).

In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), district courts must accept all well-pled facts as true but may disregard legal conclusions. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside , 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009). Courts can consider "the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, and documents that form the basis of a claim." Lum v. Bank of Am. , 361 F.3d 217, 222 (3d Cir. N.J. 2004) (citing In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig. , 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997)); Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc. , 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993)).

III. DISCUSSION[14]

a. Plaintiff's Claims Under Title VII[15]

Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an individual "with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment" based on the person's race, color, religion, sex, or ethnicity. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2. To establish a prima facie case of discrimination under Title VII, a plaintiff must allege that: 1) he is a member of a protected class; 2) he is qualified for the position; 3) he applied and was rejected for the position; and 4) that employer filled the position with a similarly situated person from a different class. Barber v. CSX Distribution Services , 68 F.3d 694, 698 (3d Cir. 1995).

The plaintiff alleges both acts of direct discrimination under Title VII and acts of retaliation under Title VII. I will address both potential claims in turn.[16]

i. Direct Discrimination as Being a Member of a Mixed Race Family

The plaintiff alleges that he was discriminated against because he is married to an ethnic Chinese woman and his children are mixed race. In order to establish the first prong of a prima facie case of discrimination under Title VII, the plaintiff must show that he is a member of a protected class. Protected classes under Title VII include gender, race, religion, color, or national origin. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2.

The plaintiff alleges that he was discriminated against, not because of his own race, but because of the race or his wife and children. He is basing his discrimination claims on his family status. Viewing the allegations in the light most-favorable to the plaintiff, it is possible that he was treated differently from white males who did not have mixed race families. However, discrimination based on family status alone is not actionable under Title VII. Adamson v. Multi Community Diversified Services, Inc. , 514 F.3d 1136, 1148-49 (10th Cir. 2008).[17] Simply stated, Mr. Blasi is not a member of a protected class for Title VII purposes. Because he is not a member of a protected class, he cannot establish a prima facie case of direct discrimination under Title VII. His claims under this legal theory have no merit.

ii. Retaliation for Complaints Made Against His Mixed Race Sons

The plaintiff alleges that he was not hired because he made complaints to the defendant about his sons' treatment as members of a basketball team in the Wind Gap Area Athletic Association (WGAAA). He claims that his being overlooked for the position was retaliation for his previous complaints.

In order to make out a prima facie case of retaliation, a plaintiff must show that: 1) the employee or potential employee engaged in a protected employment activity; 2) the employer took an adverse employment action after or around the same time as the employee's protected activity; and 3) a causal link exists between the employee's protected activity and the employer's adverse action. Farrell v. Planters Lifesavers Co. , 206 F.3d 271, 279 (3d Cir. 2000).[18]

Under the first prong, an employer may not discriminate against an employee or employment applicant for his or her opposition to any practice made unlawful under Title VII. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2. Such protected activities include making a Title VII complaint, testifying in an EEOC hearing, or assisting with an employment discrimination investigation. See id. The "activity" giving rise to his "retaliation" is not activity protected under Title VII. He claims his complaining to the defendant about alleged discrimination against his children in the WGAAA was the reason he was not hired by the defendant.[19] His complaints had nothing to do with any discrimination in any workplace. Several years ago, Mr. Blasi's son played in the WGAAA youth basketball program, and Mr. Blasi complained about the way his son was treated. His complaints had nothing to do with his workplace. Mr. Blasi cannot make out a prima facie case for retaliation and this claim will be dismissed.

b. Plaintiff's Claims Under the ADEA

Title VII claims and ADEA claims are analyzed under the same rubric. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green , 411 U.S. 792 (1973); Brewer v. Quaker State Oil Refining Corp. , 72 F.3d 326, 330 (3d Cir. 1995). To make out a prima facie case of age discrimination under the ADEA, the plaintiff must allege: 1) he is a member of the protected class (i.e. is at least 40 years of age); 2) he applied for a position for which he is qualified; 3) he has suffered an adverse employment action; and 4) a sufficiently younger employee was hired as to permit a reasonable inference of age discrimination. Barber v. CSX Distribution Servs. , 68 F.3d 694, 698 (3d Cir. 1995).

From the facts pled, it is clear that the plaintiff is a member of the protected class, in that he was around 48 years old when the hirings in question occurred. It is also clear that those coaches hired for the coaching positions were in their 20s. What is unclear is whether the plaintiff actually applied for the positions in question.[20]

The failure to formally apply to a job opening will not bar a Title VII plaintiff from establishing a prima facie claim of discrimination. However, the plaintiff must show that he made every reasonable attempt to convey his interest in the job to the employer.[21] Lula v. Network Appliance, Inc. , 245 F.Appx. 149, 152 (3d Cir. 2007). See also Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) v. Metal Service Company , 892 F.2d 341, 348 (3d Cir. 1990); Menta v. Community College of Beaver County , 428 F.Supp.2d 365, 376-77 (W.D.Pa. 2006) (holding that a prima facie claim could not be made when the employer was not aware the plaintiff had an interest in the position) (citation omitted).[22]

The plaintiff indicates that he expressed an interest in being the middle school boys basketball coach to the defendant's Athletic Director during a phone conversation six months prior to the hiring of Mr. Pagan. He did not again express an interest in the position to the defendant.[23] The plaintiff also does not indicate in his complaint that he applied for or even expressed an interest in the assistant boys baseball coaching position to anyone.[24] From the facts pled, the plaintiff has failed to establish that he has made every reasonable attempt to convey his interest in the coaching positions as required.[25] Mr. Blasi is unable to make out a prima facie case of discrimination under the ADEA, and I will, therefore, dismiss his claims.[26]

c. Plaintiff's Claims Under PHRA

The remaining claims under the PHRA are founded in state law only.[27] When a district court has dismissed all claims over which it had original jurisdiction, the court has discretion to "decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction" over state law claims with respect to which it initially asserted jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3).[28] In deciding whether to exercise supplemental jurisdiction, a federal court should consider how the values of "economy, convenience, fairness, and comity" would be best served. City of Chicago v. Int'l Coll. of Surgeons , 522 U.S. 156, 172-73 (1997). In line with these principles, I will exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claim since the legal analysis under the PHRA and the federal claims is essentially identical.[29] See, e.g., Weston v. Pennsylvania , 251 F.3d 420, 426 n. 3 (3d Cir. 2001)(explaining how Title VII and PHRA analysis are similar); Hussein v. UPMC Mercy Hosp., 466 Fed.Appx. 108, 111-12 (3d Cir. 2012).

The PHRA provides that employers shall not discriminate on the basis of "race, color, religious creed, ancestry, age, sex, national origin or non-job related handicap or disability." 43 P.S. § 955(a). Courts interpret the PHRA consistent with Title VII. See Weston , 251 F.3d at 426 n. 3. The prima facie case for employment discrimination necessary for an employment discrimination claim under the PHRA is the same as under Title VII and ADEA. See, e.g. Fogleman v. Mercy Hosp. , 283 F.3d 561, 567 (3d Cir. 2002); Dici v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania , 91 F.3d 542, 552 (3d Cir. 1996).

The plaintiff has failed to establish that he is member of a protected class under Title VII. The same would be true under the PHRA: discrimination based on "familial status" is not actionable under the PHRA. See 43 P.S. § 955(a). Additionally, as with the plaintiff's age discrimination claim, the plaintiff has not made every reasonable attempt to convey his interest in the coaching positions in order for these attempts to constitute the "applied for" requirement of the age discrimination claim. Since the plaintiff's allegations fail to establish a prima facie case, the plaintiff's PHRA claim is clearly inadequate. Therefore, I will dismiss the plaintiff's PHRA claims.

IV. CONCLUSION

For the reasons explained above, I will grant the defendant's motion to dismiss the amended complaint in its entirety.[30]

An appropriate Order follows.


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