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Abdul-Latif v. County of Lancaster

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

January 7, 2014

BETZAIDA ABDUL-LATIF a/k/a BETZAIDA COLON, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF LANCASTER, et. al., Defendants

Decided January 2, 2014

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For BETZAIDA ABDUL-LATIF, also known as BETZAIDA COLON, Plaintiff: ANDREA C. FARNEY, LEAD ATTORNEY, SHARON ROSE LOPEZ, TRIQUETRA LAW, THE OFFICES AT MARION COURT, LANCASTER, PA.

For COUNTY OF LANCASTER, JOSEPH SHIFFER, IN IS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, CATHERINE LONG, IN HER INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, Defendants: GENELLE FRANKLIN, JOHN P. GONZALES, MARSHALL DENNEHEY WARNER COLEMAN & GOGGIN, PHILADELPHIA, PA.

OPINION

MEMORANDUM

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STENGEL, J.

This employment discrimination matter arises from plaintiff's termination from the Lancaster Employment and Training Agency. Plaintiff sued Lancaster County and her supervisors Catherine Long and Joseph Shriffer. Defendants have moved for summary judgment on each of plaintiff's twelve claims. For the reasons that follow, I will grant summary judgment in favor of defendants on plaintiff's Monell and PHRA Public Accommodations claim. Otherwise, defendants' motion is denied.

I. BACKGROUND

Betzaida Abdul-Latif, a resident of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is an Hispanic woman of Puerto Rican descent. Compl ¶ 5, 7 and 8. Her first language is Spanish. Compl. ¶ 11. In July 2008, plaintiff began working for Lancaster Employment and Training Agency (LETA) as a case manager/career

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advisor in the Employment, Advancement and Retention Network (EARN) program. Defs.' Statement of Undisputed Facts ¶ 16 (Doc. No 40-2). At the time she was terminated, plaintiff was the lead for an LETA program referred to as the Corporate Center. Id. ¶ 18. LETA is a career services agency for defendant Lancaster County. Id. ¶ 1. EARN assists welfare recipients gain and maintain employment through education and training. Id. ¶ 3. Defendant Catherine Long was the EARN program manager and was plaintiff's supervisor at LETA. Id. ¶ 9, 10. Defendant Joseph Shiffer was the Executive Director of LETA and was defendant Long's supervisor. Id. ¶ 9, 11.

LETA required all participants to speak English while attending the program. The EARN handbook includes a policy which states, " Because the Learning Lab is a place to help prepare you for today's job market, we respectfully ask that you speak English only while conducting your job search." Id. ¶ 24. Defendants argue that the purpose of the policy was to improve clients' English abilities to make them more competitive in the job market. Id. ¶ 26. Defendants took various measures to enforce the policy. First in 2008, defendant Long met with several LETA employees who spoke Spanish and instructed them to stop speaking Spanish with each other. Id. at 29. In 2009, defendant Long instructed plaintiff to only speak English with her clients. Id. ¶ 35. Finally, plaintiff was instructed to post signs containing the English only policy at the Corporate Center in February 2010. Id. ¶ 39.

Ms. Abdul-Latif argues that the English only policy was discriminatory and unfair because many of the EARN participants at the Corporate Center were native Spanish speakers and had difficulty speaking English. Id. ¶ 5, 43. On more than one occasion, plaintiff complained to defendant Long that the policy was unfair to the Spanish speaking clients. Id. ¶ 51. Nonetheless, defendant Long insisted that only English be spoken without exception. Id. ¶ 32. Luz Ramos, Janilsa Molina and Jasmine Cordero, who were plaintiff's clients at the Corporate Center, complained to Ms. Abdul-Latif that the English only policy was unfair. Plaintiff advised the clients to file a complaint with the Lancaster County Human Relations Commission (LCHRC), and she gave the clients the phone number for the commission. Id. 47, 48. On June 24, 2010, Lancaster County received notice of three LCHRC complaints filed by EARN clients. Id. ¶ 53. Plaintiff was terminated on July 20, 2012. Id ¶ 96, 97. Plaintiff claims she was terminated because she was Hispanic and in retaliation for opposing the English only policy and advising her clients to file the LCHRC complaints.

Defendants respond that plaintiff was terminated because she used her work email account for personal gain in violation of county policy. On July 8, 2010, Mr. Shiffer and Ms. Long met with Quetsy Soto, plaintiff's coworker. [1] Id. ¶ 75-77. During this meeting, Ms. Soto told the defendants: " Betsy's [sic] comes to door, opens slightly, puts her hand in to room and motions for specific participant [sic] to come with her. Participants are those who recently filed complaints against LETA's EARN program." Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. XX at 2 (Doc No. 49 Ex. 3). Later that day, defendant Shiffer also interviewed Chris Williams, plaintiff's

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co-worker, who reported that plaintiff complained about defendant Long, the English only policy, and that plaintiff took Spanish speaking clients outside the Corporate Center to speak in Spanish. Defs.' Statement of Undisputed Facts at ¶ 89.

After meeting Ms. Soto and Mr. Williams, Mr. Shiffer began reviewing plaintiff's email account. Id. ¶ 80. Mr. Shiffer found emails pertaining to plaintiff's perfume sales business, applications for employment outside of LETA, and other personal emails which violated county policy. Id. ¶ 86. [2] On July 14, Mr. Shiffer began drafting plaintiff's termination paperwork. Pl.'s resp. to Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. PP at 2 (Doc. No. 48-2). Plaintiff was terminated on July 20, 2010. Id. ¶ 91, 96-97.

Violations of the Email policy had been an ongoing problem at LETA. In the months leading up to plaintiff's termination, three inappropriate emails had been sent by LETA employees in violation of Mr. Shiffer's instruction not to use email for non-work related purposes. Defs.' Statement of Undisputed Facts ¶ 58. The first email depicted a black bear, named Bearack Obearma, sitting at an empty picnic table. The email laments:

Animals that were formerly self-sufficient are now showing signs of belonging to the Democrat Party ... as they have apparently learned to just sit and wait for the government to step in and provide for their care and sustenance."

Defs.' Mot. for Summary J. Ex. F (Doc. No. 40-11). The second email included an image of the Puerto Rican flag and poked fun at the differences in skin color between Caucasians and Puerto Ricans. [3] Id. Ex. G (Doc. No. 40-12). The last email includes a picture of a dog and goes on to say:

I went down this morning to sign up my dog for welfare. At first the lady said, " Dogs are not eligible to draw welfare." So I explained to her that my dog is mixed in color, unemployed, lazy, can't speak English and has no frigging clue who his daddy is. He expects me to feed him, provide him with housing and medical care, and feel guilty because he is a dog. So she looked in her policy book to see what it takes to qualify. My dog gets his first check Friday.

Id. Ex. H (Doc. No. 40-13).

Mr. Shiffer held a meeting with LETA staff on April 16, 2010 to express his disappointment regarding the inappropriate emails. He also began to inspect employee email accounts to ensure appropriate use. Defs.' Statement of Undisputed Facts ¶ 69. As a result, several employees were disciplined for the unacceptable use of their email accounts. Defendant Long, who had sent the welfare dog email, was suspended for one day. Id. ¶ 73. Marisela Ortiz received a written warning for forwarding the Puerto Rican flag email. Id. Marybeth Stover received a written warning for forwarding photographs. Id. Gerald Simmons was disciplined for ...


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