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Hendricks v. Pittsburgh Public Schools

United States District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania

September 16, 2014

PAMELA F. HENDRICKS, Plaintiff,
v.
PITTSBURGH PUBLIC SCHOOLS, Pittsburgh Faison Primary Campus, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Nora Barry Fischer, United States District Judge.

I. Introduction

This is an employment discrimination action brought by Pamela Hendricks (“Plaintiff”) against her former employer, Pittsburgh Public Schools (“PPS”), Pittsburgh Faison Primary Campus (“Defendant”). Plaintiff asserts that Defendant discriminated against her based upon her race, subjected her to a hostile work environment, and retaliated against her in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1) (“Title VII”) and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 P.S. § 951 et seq. (“PHRA”). Presently pending before the Court is the Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. (Docket No. 22). Upon consideration of the parties’ submissions and for the reasons set forth below, the Defendant’s Motion will be granted, in part, and denied, in part.

II. Brief Statement of Material Facts[1]

A. Plaintiff’s Employment at PPS

Since 2001, Plaintiff was employed by PPS as a long-term substitute and special education teacher. (Docket Nos. 24, 33 at ¶¶ 16, 17, 19). During the relevant time period at Pittsburgh Faison Primary Campus (“Faison”), Plaintiff’s supervisors were Leah-Rae Bivins (“Bivins”) and Jo Ann Hoover (“Hoover”). (Id. at ¶ 20). For the 2009-2010 school year, Bivins was the Vice Principal and Yvonna K. Smith (“Smith”) was the Principal. (Id.). The following year, Bivins became the Principal, and Hoover was the Vice Principal. (Id. at ¶¶ 23–24). Dealyn Allen (“Allen”), as the special education supervisor, was also Plaintiff’s supervisor. (Id. at ¶28).

From September through December 2009, Plaintiff’s supervisors conducted observations of her in her classroom. (Id. at ¶ 34). Plaintiff was “written up” for not having materials available during an unannounced observation, even though her materials were nearby in her file cabinet. (Id. at ¶ 47). On December 16, 2009, she was placed on an Employee Improvement Plan (“EIP”). Five months later, Plaintiff received her first unsatisfactory rating. (Id. at ¶ 39). She filed a grievance in June 2010, and by letter dated February 4, 2011, the grievance was denied. (Id. at ¶¶ 43, 44).

After supervision by Bivins, Allen and Hoover during September and October of the following school year, Hoover and Bivins decided to place Plaintiff on a second EIP. (Id. at ¶¶ 50, 60). Following the implementation of the second EIP, Bivins, Hoover, and Allen performed informal and formal observations of Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 53). Bivins recommended that Plaintiff receive a second unsatisfactory rating to Dr. Jeannine French (“Dr. French”), who relayed the recommendation to the superintendent, Dr. Linda Lane (“Lane”). (Id. at ¶ 58). According to Bivins, this recommendation was based on the formal and informal observations and input from each of the observers. (Id. at ¶ 59). After receiving two unsatisfactory ratings, Plaintiff was terminated on June 21, 2011, by way of being placed on “suspension without pay” and subsequently not offered another job at PPS. (Docket Nos. 1, 5 at ¶ 30).

In support of her claims, Plaintiff contends that Bivins, as Plaintiff’s supervisor, made racially discriminatory comments to her, which created a hostile work environment. For example, she claims that during a walk-through on October 8, 2010, Bivins told Plaintiff that she needed “core authority” and “to look in the mirror, ” and that “some people aren’t made for the hood.”[2] (Docket Nos. 24, 33 at ¶¶ 73, 76). Plaintiff argues that other teachers heard these statements, however Defendant denies same. (Id. at ¶¶ 106, 108, 113). Plaintiff also avers, among other things, that Bivins degraded her in front of her peers, said that white teachers were at a disadvantage teaching in the hood, and believed that black teachers are better equipped than white teachers to teach black students. (Id. at ¶¶ 88, 99, 103); (Docket No. 29 at 3, 5). Plaintiff claims that she complained about these comments and the way she was treated, and that Bivins and Hoover were aware of these complaints prior to her termination. (Id. at ¶¶ 63, 81, 94, 95, 97, 98). Defendant denies knowledge of any of Plaintiff’s complaints. (Id. at ¶ 62). Plaintiff believes that her second unsatisfactory review was based on Defendant’s discriminatory conduct rather than her teaching abilities. Likewise, Defendant denies same. (Docket No. 29 at 3). At the time of Plaintiff’s termination, Bivins and Hoover maintain that they were unaware of Plaintiff’s complaints or her allegations of discrimination. (Id. at ¶¶ 61, 63). Specifically, Bivins avers that she did not know of any such allegations until November 2013. (Id. at ¶ 62).

Further, Plaintiff claims that Faison targeted teachers who were at the top end of the pay range, and that she and another special education teacher, Thestes Harper (“Harper”) were targeted because they were first-time special education teachers. (Id. at ¶¶ 70–71, 142). Harper, an African-American, likewise received two consecutive unsatisfactory ratings and was placed on an Employee Improvement Plan (“EIP”) at the same time as Plaintiff.[3] (Id. at ¶¶ 36, 142). Defendant plainly disputes this contention. Defendant maintains that none of the discriminatory conduct, incidents, and statements alleged by Plaintiff occurred.

B. Plaintiff’s Administrative Filings

Plaintiff denies knowledge of Defendant’s Equal Employment Opportunity policy and complaint procedure and did not file a complaint with Human Resources at PPS. (Id. at ¶¶ 13, 14). On March 31, 2011, she completed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) intake questionnaire (“questionnaire”) alleging race as the basis for her claim of employment discrimination. (Id. at ¶¶ 1–2). On April 21, 2011, following his review of the questionnaire, her attorney submitted the signed EEOC charge (“the charge”), which alleged discrimination based on race. (Id. at ¶ 3–5). On October 11, 2011, Plaintiff caused a Notice of Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC to be filed, which alleged retaliation for filing the initial charge. (Id. at ¶ 7).

On October 26, 2011, Defendant was advised that the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (“PHRC”) received a copy of the charge and that it waived the opportunity to investigate the complaint back to the EEOC and would take no further action on the filing. (Docket No. 5 at ¶ 5). According to the Declaration of Assistant Director of Human Resources Susan Dobies-Sinicki (“Sinicki”), on August 13, 2013, Defendant first became aware that Plaintiff had contacted the PFT regarding her allegations of the following: that she had “been subjected to unwelcome racial harassment by the principal;” that she was “being subjected to treatment different than [her] black counterparts;” and that “the principal has made racially discriminatory comments.” (Docket Nos. 24, 33 at ¶ 9); (Docket No. 25-4 at 1). On August 30, 2013, the EEOC issued a Dismissal and Notice of Rights as to the charge. (Docket Nos. 24, 33 at ¶ 15).

III. Procedural History

On April 3, 2013, Plaintiff initiated this action by filing the Complaint alleging a claim under the PHRA and Title VII of race discrimination, hostile work environment due to race, and retaliation for voicing complaints. (Docket No. 1 at ¶ 32-33, 36). On April 16, 2014, Defendant moved for summary judgment, to which Plaintiff responded on May 30, 2014. (Docket Nos. 22, 23, 28). After granting Plaintiff’s Consented Motion to File Amended Concise Statement of Material Facts on June 6, 2014, Plaintiff filed same on June 20, 2014. (Docket Nos. 32, 33). The parties did not submit any replies or sur-replies by the Court’s deadlines of July 3, 2014 or July 10, 2014, and neither requested oral argument by July 17, 2014. Hence, this matter is ripe for disposition.

IV. Standard of Review

“The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Under Rule 56, a district court must enter summary judgment against a party “who fails to make a showing 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 Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). “An issue is genuine only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party, and a factual dispute is material only if it might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law.” In re G-I Holdings, Inc., 755 F.3d 195, 201 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Kaucher v. Cnty. of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006) and citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)).

“[A] party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of ‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, ’ which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323; see also Budhun v. Reading Hosp. and Med. Ctr., __ F.3d __, 2014 WL 4211116, at *4 (3d Cir. Aug. 27, 2014). When a non-moving party would have the burden of proof at trial, the moving party has no burden to negate the opponent’s claim. Id. The moving party need not produce any evidence showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 325. “Instead, . . . the burden on the moving party may be discharged by ‘showing’—that is, pointing out to the district court—that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party’s case.” Id. After the moving party has satisfied this low burden, the nonmoving party must provide facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial to avoid summary judgment. Id. at 324. “Rule 56(e) permits a proper summary judgment motion to be opposed by any of the kinds of evidentiary materials listed in Rule 56(c), except the mere pleadings themselves.” Id.

In considering these evidentiary materials, “courts are required to view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the party opposing the summary judgment motion.” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007) (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted). “Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge, whether he is ruling on a motion for summary judgment or for a directed verdict.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. To that end, the Third Circuit has noted that “depositions are ‘one of the best forms of evidence for supporting or opposing a summary-judgment motion, ’ and that affidavits, not being subject to cross-examination, ‘are likely to be scrutinized carefully by the court to evaluate their probative value.’” In re CitX Corp., Inc., 448 F.3d 672, 679 (3d Cir. 2006) (quoting 10A Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Mary Kay Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2722, at 373, 379 (3d ed. 1998)). Even inconsistencies within a Plaintiff’s deposition may “cast[] doubt on the plaintiff’s story” and “are matters ultimately useful in determining the plaintiff’s credibility, ” but they “are not proper considerations on a motion for summary judgment.” Chatman v. City of Johnstown, PA, 131 F. App’x 18, 20 (3d Cir. 2005). “In ...


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