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Yarnall v. Philadelphia School Dist.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

September 30, 2014


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For Colleen Yarnall, Debra Mckibben Marenbach, Nicole Boyd, Marta Ciccimaro, Plaintiffs: CAROLE LYNN HENDRICK, LEAD ATTORNEY, Collegville, PA USA; PATRICIA A. HEENAN, LEAD ATTORNEY, Blue Bell, PA USA; FREDERICK M. STANCZAK, LAW OFFICES OF FREDERICK M. STANCZAK, Doylestown, PA USA.



For Shirl Ishmael, Defendant: KATHERINE H. MEEHAN, RAFFAELE & PUPPIO, Media, PA USA.

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This is a consolidated employment discrimination case.[1] Plaintiffs Colleen Yarnall, Nicole Boyd, Marta Ciccimaro, and Debra McKibben Marenbach are teachers employed by the School District of Philadelphia (" School District" ). Plaintiffs' claims are based on alleged wrongdoing that occurred at the Thomas Mifflin School (" Mifflin" ) during the 2008-2009 school year, and also during 2012 and 2013. Following motions to dismiss and motions for reconsideration, Plaintiffs' remaining claims[2] are as follows: Count I -- race discrimination based on disparate treatment and a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII; [3] Count II - § 1983 claim based on equal protection of the law; [4] Count III - § 1983 claim based on violation of privacy and retaliation; [5] Count IV -- race discrimination and a hostile work environment in violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act; [6] Count V -- race discrimination via hostile work environment and retaliation in violation of Title VII; [7] and Count VI -- punitive damages.[8] Presently before the court are the following motions: Ishmael's motion for summary judgment on Counts II, IV, and IV (ECF No. 140); The School District's motion for summary judgment on Counts I, IV, and V (ECF No. 141); Gilbert's motion for summary judgment on Counts II, IV, and VI (ECF No. 142); Ray's motion for summary judgment on Count IV (ECF No.164); [9] and Plaintiffs' motion for partial

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summary judgment on the issue of whether the Plaintiffs were represented by counsel during the period from May 2009 to April 2011 (ECF No. 144). For the reasons that follow, the motions will be granted in part and denied in part.


Mifflin is a Pre-Kindergarten through Eighth grade public school operated by the School District in the East Falls section of Philadelphia. Stipulated Facts (" Facts" ) at ¶ 9 (ECF No. 143). Ray was hired as the Probationary Principal of Mifflin, effective July 1, 2008. Id. at ¶ 3. For the first several months of the 2008-2009 school year, Gilbert served as the West Region Superintendent, and thus was responsible for supervising Ray's operation of Mifflin. Id. at ¶ ¶ 1, 4. Gilbert left the West Region Superintendent position at the end of 2008, and as of January 2009, Diane Campbell Hathaway became the interim West Region Superintendent. Id. at ¶ ¶ 2, 4.

During the 2008-2009 school year, there were eighteen teachers at Mifflin. Facts at ¶ 10. Of those eighteen teachers, three were African American, and fourteen were Caucasian. Id. Plaintiffs were four of those fourteen Caucasian teachers. Id. Plaintiffs each had prior experience at Mifflin: Boyd as a grade level teacher since 2005, Ciccimaro as a grade level teacher since 2007, Marenbach as a grade level teacher since 1999, and Yarnall as a learning support teacher since 2003. Facts at ¶ ¶ 15-18. Ishmael was one of the African American teachers at Mifflin during the 2008-2009 school year, and served as a School Based Teacher Leader (" SBTL" ). Joint Appendix (" JA" ) 2937-47.

Throughout the 2008-2009 school year, Plaintiffs allege that they experienced various forms of racial discrimination at Mifflin, largely due to Ray's policies and actions as the school's principal. See Third Cons. Am. Compl. Plaintiffs' also attribute some discriminatory conduct to Ishmael, which Plaintiffs say was either encouraged or ignored by Ray when Plaintiffs approached him about Ishmael. Id. Plaintiffs' complained about the situation at Mifflin in a number of ways and at a number of times throughout the 2008-2009 school year, including during a November 25, 2008, meeting that Plaintiffs had with Gilbert. JA13, JA357-58, JA471-472, JA2290. Despite pursuing various avenues to report the problems at Mifflin, Plaintiffs continued to experience frustrating conditions that they attributed to Ray's desire to discriminate against them due to their race. See Third Cons. Am. Compl.

On May 15, 2009, an individual named Rodney Bradley emailed Boyd and informed her that Ray had directed him to spy on Plaintiffs. JA106. Ray and Bradley met for the first time at Lincoln University in August 2008. Facts at ¶ 11. Thereafter, Ray and Bradley had become friendly, and Ray began seeking Bradley's help regarding Mifflin. JA1215-17. Among other things, Ray provided Bradley with personal information regarding certain teachers at Mifflin so that Bradley could spy on them. JA1332-33. The School District removed Ray from Mifflin on May 15, 2009, and Ray resigned from his employment with the School District on June 30, 2009. Facts at ¶ ¶ 13-14.

Boyd, Ciccimaro, Yarnall, and Ishmael continued to work at Mifflin during the 2009-2010 school year, while Marenbach, having requested and received a transfer out of Mifflin, began working at Forrest Elementary School as of September 2009. Facts at ¶ 18. On January 22, 2010, Ishmael left Mifflin on an extended medical leave. Id. at ¶ 20. Ishmael did not return to Mifflin until April 9, 2012. Id. Boyd,

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Ciccimaro, and Yarnall claim that upon Ishmael's return to Mifflin, Ishmael resumed her antagonistic behavior towards them, and that such behavior was motivated by their race and the fact that they had pursued administrative/legal action against her. Third Cons. Am. Compl at ¶ ¶ 88-109. Boyd, Ciccimaro, and Yarnall allege that the School District discriminated against them by allowing Ishmael to return to Mifflin and create a hostile work environment during 2012 and 2013. Id. They also viewed the School District's decision to allow Ishmael to return to Mifflin without certain prophylactic measures as a form of retaliation for pursing administrative/legal action as a result of the incidents in the 2008-2009 school year. Id. During the 2008-2009 school year, the School District had an " Employee Code of Ethics." Facts at ¶ 6. The School District published an employee handbook in July 2008 and December 2009. Id. at ¶ 8. On August 24, 2011, the School District adopted a policy regarding " Unlawful Harassment." Id. at ¶ 7.


This court has jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' federal law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and has jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' state law claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, a court must " construe the evidence in the light most favorable" to the non-moving party and 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." Zimmerman v. Norfolk S. Corp., 706 F.3d 170, 176 (3d Cir. 2013); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). " A 'genuine dispute' exists if a reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party." Zimmerman, 706 F.3d at 176. " Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of 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, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).


A. Count I -- Title VII Race Discrimination via Disparate Treatment and Hostile Work Environment

In Count I of Plaintiffs' Third Consolidated Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs allege two separate legal claims under Title VII: one for race discrimination via disparate treatment, and one for race discrimination via a hostile work environment. I address each claim separately.

1. Title VII Disparate Treatment

Plaintiffs have presented no direct evidence that they experienced discrimination on the basis of their race. In the absence of direct evidence, the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework is applied. Typically, the McDonnell Douglas analysis involves three steps:

First, the plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of discrimination. If the plaintiff succeeds in establishing a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the defendant 'to articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the employee's rejection.' Finally, should the defendant carry this burden, the plaintiff them must have an opportunity to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the legitimate reasons offered by the defendant were not its true reasons, but were a pretext for discrimination.

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Jones v. Sch. Dist. of Phila., 198 F.3d 403, 410 (3d Cir. 1999) (citing McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973)). When a case involves claims of reverse discrimination, as this case does, to establish a prima facie case, Plaintiffs must " present sufficient evidence to allow a fact finder to conclude that the employer is treating some people less favorably than others based upon a trait that is protected under Title VII." Iadimarco v. Runyon, 190 F.3d 151, 161 (3d Cir. 1999). A crucial part of Plaintiffs prima facie case is " whether [they] suffered some form of 'adverse employment action' sufficient to evoke the protection of Title VII and the PHRA." Jones, 198 F.3d at 411 (citations omitted). The " adverse employment action" is necessary even under the modified prima facie standard that applies to reverse discrimination cases. Mieczkowski v. York City School Dist., 414 F.App'x 441, 445 (3d. Cir. 2011) (citing Stanziale v. Jargowsky, 200 F.3d 101, 105 (3d Cir. 2000)).

The language of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1) protects against discrimination with respect to the " compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment" on the basis of race. The Third Circuit has further clarified the protection by describing an adverse employment as " a significant change in employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing a significant change in benefits." Durham Life Ins. Co. v. Evans, 166 F.3d, 139, 152-53 (3d Cir. 1999) (quoting Burlington Indus., Inc. v. Ellereth, 534 U.S. 742, 761, 118 S.Ct. 2257, 141 L.Ed.2d 633 (1998)). However, Title VII " do[es] not provide relief for unpleasantness that may be encountered in the work place. Rather [it] provide[s] a remedy only if discrimination seriously and tangibly altered the employee's ability to perform the job or impacted the employee's job benefits." Walker v. Centocor Ortho Biotech, Inc., 558 F.App'x 216, 219 (3d. Cir. 2014) (citing Storey v. Burns Int'l Sec. Servs. 390 F.3d 760, 764 (3d Cir. 2004)).

In its opening brief, the School District summarized thirty-two acts that it believed Plaintiffs identified as adverse employment actions.[10] School District Mem. in Supp. at 14-15 (ECF No. 141). In its response to the School District's brief, Plaintiffs appear to identify seven somewhat overlapping

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adverse employment actions, namely:

o " SDP's decision [to] permit Charles Ray to be the Principal at Mifflin without proper training or without, at minimum, a mentor" ;
o " the SDP decision to keep silent about the 'Bradley emails' and not inform the Plaintiffs" ;
o " requiring [Plaintiffs] to work under severe stress, anxiety, humiliation, loss of sense of security, fear, damage to reputation and the associated risks from the invasion of Plaintiffs' private, personal familial space and ultimately to cause harm" ;
o " the decision of SDP to permit Principals to establish or require teachers to attend a professional development program that has not been reviewed and approved by the administration for appropriate content and presentation" ;
o " requiring [Plaintiffs] to work in an unprofessional setting under severe stress and humiliation caused by accusations contained in the [Graybill] article" ;
o " requiring [Plaintiffs] to work in an unprofessional setting, under severe stress, anxiety and fear associated with receiving substandard ratings--and the absolute failure to provide any legitimate feedback or explanation so that the Plaintiffs had no idea what they had allegedly doen incorrectly or what to do to ensure they would not receive low ratings in the future" ; and
o " requiring [Plaintiffs] to work in an unprofessional setting, under severe stress, anxiety, fear, humiliation, and [the] upset the Plaintiffs were subjected to."

Pls. Mem. in Opp'n at 24-27 (ECF No. 150-1). The School District interpreted Plaintiffs' opposition brief slightly differently, identifying five adverse employment actions that it believed Plaintiffs had not conceded:

o the School District allowed Ray to become a principal and did not inform Plaintiffs about Bradley;
o the School District did not formally approve Ray's distribution of the Graybill article;
o someone who had superior authority over Ray directed Ray to issue lo marks on teacher observations;
o Ray made negative criticisms about Plaintiffs; and
o Ray gave two African American teachers (Ishmael and Highsmith) preferential treatment with respect to 'free time' and compensation for prep time.

School District Reply Mem. at 7 (ECF No.157). In Plaintiffs' surreply, Plaintiffs claim that they have " identified well over twenty different adverse employment actions taken throughout the 2008-2009 school year." Pls. Surreply Mem. at 11 (ECF No 159). Rather than clearly set forth the " well over twenty" adverse employment actions Plaintiffs allegedly suffered, Plaintiffs include two footnotes to refer the Court back to " Section C" of their opposition brief, and provide unannotated lists referencing 72 paragraphs within Plaintiffs' Statement of Disputed Facts and over 100 pages from the Joint Appendix. Id. at 11 n.7-8. Though Plaintiffs have been less than clear in detailing the claimed adverse employment ...

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