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Slaughter v. County of Allegheny

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

July 30, 2014

FRANK SLAUGHTER, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF ALLEGHENY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF COURT

TERRENCE F. McVERRY, District Judge.

In this case, Sergeant Frank Slaughter contends that he was reassigned from his position as Assistant Unit Manager on Level 5E at the Allegheny County Jail in retaliation for having made an internal complaint about racially abusive conduct by a former co-worker, Corrections Officer Ryan, toward inmates. See Joint Stipulation (ECF No. 88). Trial is scheduled to commence on August 11, 2014. Now pending before the Court are a number Motions in Limine filed by both Plaintiff and Defendant on July 21, 2014. (ECF Nos. 73-77). Responses have been filed to all motions and they are ripe for disposition.

However, in the MOTION IN LIMINE TO EXCLUDE TESTIMONY AND EVIDENCE NOT RELEVANT TO TITLE VII RETALIATION CLAIM, (ECF No. 74), Defendant has raised a potentially case-dispositive legal issue which may render the remaining pretrial motions moot. For the following reasons, the Court will GRANT Defendant's motion; enter judgment in favor of Defendant as a matter of law; and docket this case closed.

Procedural History

This case has a long and unusual procedural history. Because all parties are aware of the facts of the matter, only the most relevant proceedings are recited herein. In December 2012, after discovery had been completed and pretrial statements had been filed, former counsel for Defendants filed a less than adequate "Motion to Dismiss." By Memorandum Order of March 11, 2013, the Court denied the motion without prejudice; articulated its concerns regarding the scope and merits of Plaintiff's claims (with citation to authority); ordered Plaintiff to clearly identify the claims and legal theories he intended to pursue; and provided both sides with an opportunity to be heard as to why summary judgment should not be granted pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(f).

In response, Plaintiff filed a Statement of Claims which significantly narrowed the scope of this action and asserted the following claims: (1) hostile work environment from August 2008-present due to his race; and (2) retaliation for Slaughter's internal complaints under Title VII and the PHRA against Allegheny County. Plaintiff also continued to assert claims under ยง 1983 against the Individual Defendants for conduct which allegedly occurred after July 6, 2009, in violation of his right to Equal Protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiff's Statement of Claims attempted, for the first time, to assert PHRA "aiding and abetting" claims against the Individual Defendants. The Court rejected such claims because they had not been pled in the Complaint. See Horvath v. Keystone Health Plan E., Inc. , 333 F.3d 450, 459 (3d Cir. 2003) (holding that claim failed "at the most basic level because it finds no support in the plain language of Horvath's complaint"); Conseco Life Ins. Co. v. Smith , 2013 WL 3285065 at *4 (D.N.J. 2013) ("A plaintiff cannot raise claims for the first time at the summary judgment stage, if they were not included in their Complaint.") (citations omitted).

Defendants filed a revised summary judgment motion. Plaintiff moved to strike the motion due to Defendants' failure - again - to comply with Local Rule 56. In a lengthy Opinion on October 1, 2013, the Court struck the motion; however, in the exercise of its gate-keeping responsibility under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(f), the Court dismissed all of Plaintiff's claims, except for one narrow retaliation claim under Title VII and the PHRA. Specifically, the Court held:

In summary, the retaliation claim will survive summary judgment, albeit in a very limited, targeted respect. Slaughter will be provided an opportunity to prove to the jury that the County violated Title VII and the PHRA by assigning him to the Floater position in retaliation for his internal complaints of misconduct by corrections officer Ryan. Slaughter will not be permitted to advance any other theory of retaliation and the evidence presented at trial must be narrowly tailored to be relevant to this discreet claim.

(Opinion at 13). As the Court explained, this was the sole theory on which Plaintiff had asserted a plausible causal connection between an adverse employment action and a protected activity. The County of Allegheny is the only remaining Defendant in the case.

Pursuant to the final pretrial order, the parties have filed a number of motions in limine. Although styled as a Motion in Limine to exclude evidence not relevant to a Title VII retaliation claim (ECF No. 74), Defendant has raised a dispositive legal issue - specifically, that Plaintiff Slaughter has not engaged in cognizable "protected activity." Plaintiff has fully responded to this contention. After examining the cases cited by both sides, as well as conducting its own research, the Court concludes that Plaintiff's remaining retaliation claim fails as a matter of law. This has been an unusual case, and issues which ought to have been raised earlier in the proceeding unfortunately were not. Regardless of the timing, the issue which Defendant now raises is dispositive, such that a jury trial is not justified.

Discussion

Plaintiff originally asserted various claims of retaliation under Title VII and the PHRA. However, the only theory which the Court found to survive summary judgment was Plaintiff's allegation that he was reassigned to a less desirable position after complaining of racial misconduct by white corrections officer Ryan against inmates at the Allegheny County Jail. (Opinion at 13). In the instant motion, Defendant argues that Plaintiff did not engage in Title VII "protected activity" when he reported the allegedly racially motivated mistreatment of inmates at the jail by officer Ryan.

Congress enacted Title VII to address discriminatory employment practices. The law ...


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