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King v. Mansfield University of Pennsylvania

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 12, 2014

PATRICK KING, Plaintiff,


SYLVIA H. RAMBO, District Judge.

In this civil action, Plaintiff, a former student and employee of Defendant Mansfield University, alleged that Defendant Mansfield University failed to take appropriate action regarding sexual harassment to which he was subjected by another employee, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Count I), and that two professors failed to accommodate his depression resulting therefrom, in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Count VI) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Count VII), as well as several state law causes of action arising under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (Count II) and the Pennsylvania Fair Educational Opportunities Act (Counts III, IV, and V). On July 28, 2014, the court entered summary judgment in favor of Defendants on each of Plaintiff's claims after finding that each claim was barred by the applicable statute of limitations, dismissed Plaintiff's Section 1983 claim against the unidentified defendants, and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state law claims. Presently before the court is Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration that invokes Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e), which raises a multitude of issues, many of which have been addressed by the court. For the following reasons, the court concludes that Plaintiff's arguments are without merit and will deny the instant Rule 59(e) motion.

I. Background

The court presumes the parties' familiarity with the background of this litigation, and a detailed account has been set forth at length in the court's memorandum accompanying its order granting Defendants' motion for summary judgment. See generally King v. Mansfield , Civ. No. 11-cv-1112, 2014 WL 3734551 (M.D. Pa. July 28, 2014). Accordingly, the court will only set forth the most pertinent portions of the factual and procedural history that justify its decision to deny the instant motion for reconsideration.

A. Relevant factual background

The claims in this case are based upon the dual status of Plaintiff, Patrick King, as both a former student and former employee of Defendant Mansfield University ("Defendant Mansfield"), a state university that is part of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education ("PASSHE"). Plaintiff enrolled as a student of Defendant Mansfield in January 2001 and began a work-study job on February 16, 2001, in which capacity he was employed until April 26, 2002.

Regarding his Title VII sexual harassment claim, in June 2001, John Estep ("Estep"), a maintenance worker employed by Defendant Mansfield, began a course of conduct that Plaintiff contends qualified as sexual harassment. While the details of Estep's advances are objectionable, especially the instance on which Estep grabbed Plaintiff's genitals at an unspecified time, they need not be repeated herein. Relevant to the instant motion, Estep resigned from the university on May 2, 2003.

Regarding his ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims, Plaintiff testified that he experienced issues with two professors in 2004, namely Dr. Mahmoud Gaballa, who was the instructor for Business Policy, and Dr. Bruce Carpenter, who was the instructor for Money and Banking, both of whom issued to Plaintiff failing grades for those courses. Plaintiff admitted that he missed a significant number of classes, for which he inconsistently presented notes from physicians asking that his absences be excused, allegedly due to his suffering from depression. Both Drs. Carpenter and Gaballa testified that Plaintiff failed to make up missed work or missed exams even though they permitted Plaintiff to do so and that they gave Plaintiff the materials he failed to receive due to his frequent absences.

After failing and being denied grades of "Incomplete" for both courses, Plaintiff petitioned Defendant Mansfield to have his grades on these two courses changed from failing to passing. Defendant Mansfield held a hearing on June 9, 2004, regarding Plaintiff's request, which proceeded despite Plaintiff's failure to attend. Both Drs. Gaballa and Carpenter explained the bases for their decisions to deny Plaintiff's requests for grades of Incomplete. The reviewing board ultimately made the unanimous recommendation that the grades should stand as initially received after finding that Plaintiff was deficient in both his attendance and performance.

B. Procedural posture

On September 15, 2004, Plaintiff filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ("PHRC"), which asserted a failure to accommodate charge but did not allege sexual harassment. The complaint was dual-filed with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). Plaintiff's affidavit, submitted in opposition to Defendants' motion for summary judgment, provided that, during a fact-finding conference on January 28, 2005, Plaintiff's attorney raised sexual harassment as an issue, which was included in a retaliation questionnaire signed January 31, 2005, and was included in an amended complaint filed with the PHRC on May 16, 2005. On August 12, 2010, the PHRC issued its findings, determining that probable cause did not exist to credit the allegations of unlawful discrimination. On March 8, 2011, Plaintiff was sent notice that the EEOC adopted the PHRC's findings and provided Plaintiff with notice of his right to sue.

Plaintiff initiated this action on June 9, 2011, and Defendant Mansfield filed its answer on September 7, 2011. With leave of court, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint, adding PASSHE and two unidentified individuals as defendants and asserting one additional count, a Section 1983 cause of action against the unidentified defendants. Defendants filed an answer to the amended complaint on August 2, 2013. On April 14, 2014, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff's claims under Title VII, the ADA, and the RA were each barred by the applicable statutes of limitations and that the facts of record were otherwise insufficient to establish Plaintiff's hostile work environment claims. The motion became ripe on June 24, 2014.

C. Motion for summary judgment

On July 28, 2014, the court granted Defendants' motion in its entirety. As to Plaintiff's Title VII claim, the court held that the statute of limitations had expired, explaining its reasoning as follows:

There was no allegation of hostile work environment in the original EEOC complaint and a claim of hostile work environment does not logically flow from a claim of disability discrimination. Because the final instance of alleged sexual harassment occurred, at the latest, on May 2, 2003, and because the charge first containing any mention of sexual harassment was filed over two years later on May 13, 2005, the court finds the conduct that Plaintiff contends created a hostile work environment is beyond the statute of limitations and that the amended charge to the PHRC does not relate back to the date of the initial charge. More importantly, the court finds that Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate that equitable tolling is otherwise warranted. Accordingly, the court concludes that the undisputed facts of record clearly establish that any complaint of sexual harassment is barred by the statute of limitations and that Defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiff's Title VII claim set forth at Count I.

King , 2014 WL 3734551 at *11. With regard to Plaintiff's ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims, the court similarly concluded that the statute of limitations had expired, explaining its reasoning as follows:

The court concludes that, because Plaintiff filed his federal lawsuit alleging claims under the ADA and RA seven years after the final act of alleged discriminatory conduct, his claims are beyond the applicable two-year statute of limitations. Moreover, Plaintiff has failed to establish that this court should toll the applicable statute of limitations on the basis of parallel proceedings before a[n] administrative body with concurrent jurisdiction. Accordingly, because Plaintiff's ADA and RA claims are time barred, Defendants' motion for summary judgment pertaining to Counts VI and VII will be granted.

Id. at *14. Because the court dismissed each claim over which the court had federal question jurisdiction, the court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's remaining state law claims and dismissed Counts II, III, IV, and V from the action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 1367(c)(3). See id. at *14-15. Lastly, the court dismissed from the action the unidentified defendants due to Plaintiff's failure to make known the true identity of the individuals despite the lengthy period of discovery, in accordance with the procedure utilized by the district court in Blakeslee v. Clinton ...

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