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Byrd v. City of Philadelphia

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

November 6, 2014

DOROTHY BYRD et al. Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GENE E.K. PRATTER, District Judge.

Dorothy Byrd, Edward Chew, Patricia Bryant, and Wanda Davis sued the City of Philadelphia (the "City") and one-time Acting Sheriff Barbara A. Deeley[1] for discriminatorily terminating and/or transferring them on the basis of their race. Defendants move for summary judgment, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, on all five counts in the Amended Complaint. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant the Motion.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND[2]

Ms. Deeley, a longtime Philadelphia Sheriff's Office employee, served as Acting Sheriff for one year, from January 1, 2011 through January 1, 2012. She was appointed Acting Sheriff after the retirement of Sheriff John Green on or about December 31, 2010, and she was replaced by newly-elected Sheriff Jewell Williams on January 2, 2012. ( See Deeley Dep. at 7-8).

A. Plaintiffs' Employment History

Edward Chew worked as an attorney in the Sheriff's Office from April 2006 until February 2011.[3] ( See Chew Dep. at 29-30; Def.'s Ex. M). Former Sheriff Green made the decision to hire Mr. Chew, ( see Chew Dep. at 30-31), and Ms. Deeley terminated Mr. Chew in January 2011, ( see id. at 34-35). Ms. Deeley and Joseph Vignola, a senior official in the Sheriff's Office while Ms. Deeley served as Acting Sheriff, testified in their depositions that the Sheriff's Office was the subject of a federal investigation in 2011, and that then-President Judge Pamela Pryor Dembe directed them to terminate Mr. Chew because she believed he would be implicated in the investigation. ( See Deeley Dep. at 41; Vignola Dep. at 16-20). Ms. Deeley and Hope Smart, the Director of Human Resources for the Sheriff's Office, testified that Mr. Chew was permitted to retire in lieu of termination. ( See Deeley Dep. at 40; Smart Dep. at 55-57). Although Mr. Chew's personnel records state that he retired voluntarily, ( see Def.'s Ex. N), Mr. Chew disagrees and claims that he was terminated involuntarily, ( see Chew Dep. at 193-94). Mr. Chew was replaced by Crystal Powell, another African-American employee in the Sheriff's Office. ( See Deeley Dep. at 63). Mr. Chew believes that his termination was racially motivated because (a) he is black, (b) he confronted Ms. Deeley about alleged racially insensitive comments, (c) he was told by another employee that Ms. Deeley once used the "N" word to refer to former Sheriff Green, and (d) Ms. Deeley terminated black employees and not white employees. ( See Pl.'s Br. at 5; Chew Dep. at 71-72; see also Kinsey Dep. at 56-58). Mr. Chew also testified that he refused to do Ms. Deeley's personal legal work. ( See Chew Dep. at 120-23).

Patricia Bryant worked in the Sheriff's Office from May 1999 to January 2012, first as an assistant to former Sheriff Green and later as Chief of Staff & Overtime Manager and Services Coordinator. ( See Deeley Dep. at 44-45, 47; Bryant Dep. at 12-13). On October 20, 2011, in preparation for the change of administration in the Sheriff's Office, Ms. Bryant and all other exempt employees[4] in the Sheriff's Office were asked to outline their job responsibilities in a memorandum to Mr. Vignola. ( See Def.'s Ex. Q). Ms. Bryant submitted the requested memorandum on November 4, 2011. ( See Def.'s Ex. R). Ms. Deeley and Mr. Vignola testified that Sheriff Williams asked Ms. Deeley to terminate Ms. Bryant and several other exempt employees to make space for members of the new administration. ( See Deeley Dep. at 47; Vignola Dep. at 25-26; Def.'s Ex. S; Def.'s Ex. T; Def.'s Ex. U).

Dorothy Byrd worked as a Deputy Sheriff Officer from October 11, 2001 until her retirement on December 9, 2013. ( See Byrd Dep. at 17-18; Def.'s Ex. D). Ms. Byrd initially worked in the Internal Affairs Division of the Sheriff's Office. ( See Def.'s Ex. E). Beginning on January 31, 2011, Ms. Byrd was reassigned to the Criminal Justice Center (the "CJC"). ( Id. ). Ms. Byrd claims that her reassignment was a demotion because (a) her pay was reduced for two pay periods, ( see Byrd Dep. at 74), and (b) she was not accustomed to working at the CJC, ( see Oral Arg. Trans. at 33) ("It was adverse because people like to work where they want to work.")). However, the record shows that it is not unusual for Deputy Sheriff Officers to be called upon to provide courtroom security at the CJC. ( See Kinsey Dep. at 46-47; Def.'s Ex. I at CITY 0836). Ms. Byrd's internal Equal Employment Office ("EEO") file contains testimony from Ms. Deeley that she reassigned Ms. Byrd to the CJC because "[t]here was a need for court room security." (Def.'s Ex. G at CITY 0603).

Wanda Davis worked in the Sheriff's Office from 2008 until April 19, 2011.[5] ( See Davis Dep. at 68; Def.'s Ex. V). Former Sheriff Green made the decision to hire Ms. Davis. ( See Davis Dep. at 51). Ms. Davis reported to Ms. Deeley, but their relationship deteriorated when Ms. Deeley became Acting Sheriff. ( See Davis Dep. at 55-56). In April 2011, in preparation for Ms. Deeley's term as Acting Sheriff, Mr. Vignola instructed Ms. Davis and other exempt employees to provide a job description, resume, and letter of resignation. ( See Vignola Dep. at 24). Ms. Davis failed to provide the requested materials, and Mr. Vignola suspended Ms. Davis for three days. ( See Def.'s Ex. X). Mr. Vignola then recommended that Ms. Deeley terminate Ms. Davis. ( Id. ). Ms. Deeley testified that Ms. Davis was terminated based on her performance; according to Ms. Deeley, Ms. Davis conducted only personal business out of the Sheriff's Office. ( See Deeley Dep. at 57).

B. Evidence of Racial Discrimination

The record contains deposition testimony from Plaintiffs and other Sheriff's Office employees that Ms. Deeley frequently made racially charged comments. ( See, e.g., Byrd Dep. at 38 ("[Ms. Deeley] would always make comments regarding black people this and black people that."), 40 ("[Ms. Deeley] made this comment, oh, like you blacks stick together...."); Bryant Dep. at 24-26 ("come here black girl"), 33-34 ("[T]here's too many blacks in the office, I'm going to get rid of some of you guys and bring in Italians."); Roberts Dep. at 13 (claiming that Ms. Deeley used the "N" word); Kinsey Dep. at 15-17 ("little black boy"); Chew Dep. at 98-100 ("[B]lack people like fried chicken.")). In particular, the record contains deposition testimony that Ms. Deeley made racially charged comments about the physical attributes of black Sheriff's Office employees. ( See, e.g., Byrd Dep. at 71 ("One day [Ms. Deeley] referred to Wanda's big black butt.... She would look at your breasts and say oh, look at those big black titties."); Bryant Dep. at 82-83; Chew Dep. at 72, 77-83, 92 (claiming Ms. Deeley made "inappropriate comments to-about the anatomy of two African-American females in the office"); Davis Dep. at 62 ("[S]he would make comments about the blacks or comments about my big ass or big butt."), 73 ("She would refer to... boobs of some of the other black women in the office."); Smart Dep. at 24-25 (claiming Ms. Deeley told Ms. Davis she had a "big butt"); Roberts Dep. at 17-18). Ms. Smart and Deborah Kinsey, a black Sheriff's Office employee while Ms. Deeley was Acting Sheriff, testified that Ms. Deeley's remarks appeared to be mere banter with the female black Sheriff's Office employees. ( See Smart Dep. at 24-25; Kinsey Dep. at 17-18).

The record shows that Ms. Deeley terminated only black Sheriff's Office employees, ( see, e.g., Byrd Dep. at 73, 77; Kinsey Dep. 36-37, 72-74; Smart Dep. at 34-40, 57-59; Chew Dep. at 137-39), but also that Ms. Deeley hired black employees, ( see, e.g., Smart Dep. at 47). The record contains testimony that Ms. Deeley adopted employment practices that favored white employees over black employees. ( See Bryant Dep. at 39-42, 64-66 (claiming Ms. Deeley punished only black employees for tardiness); Kinsey Dep. at 32-34 (same)). Plaintiffs also point to deposition testimony that the Sheriff's Office did a poor job of providing its employees with racial sensitivity and discrimination training.[6] ( See Kinsey Dep. at 9, 38; Smart Dep. at 9, 14-15, 18; Deeley Dep. at 11-14; Davis Dep. at 70; Roberts Dep. at 22, 48-49).

II. LEGAL STANDARD

A. Summary Judgment

A court shall grant a motion for 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). An issue is "genuine" if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Kaucher v. Cnty. of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). A factual dispute is "material" if it might affect the outcome of the case under governing law. Id. (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248). Under Rule 56, the Court must view the evidence presented on the motion in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. However, "[u]nsupported assertions, conclusory allegations, or mere suspicions are insufficient to overcome a motion for summary judgment." Betts v. New Castle Youth Dev. Ctr., 621 F.3d 249, 252 (3d Cir. 2010).

The movant bears the initial responsibility for informing the court of the basis for the motion for summary judgment and identifying those portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Where the non-moving party bears the burden of proof on a particular issue, the moving party's initial burden can be met simply by "pointing out to the district court that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Id. at 325. After the moving party has met the initial burden, the non-moving party must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuinely disputed factual issue for trial by "citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations..., admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials" or by "showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Summary judgment is appropriate if the non-moving party fails to rebut by making a factual 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, 477 U.S. at 322.

B. Proper Standard of Review for Discrimination Claims[7]

Counts I, II, III, and V of the Amended Complaint are treated differently for purposes of summary judgment depending on the nature of the evidence presented. See Anderson v. Wachovia Mortg. Corp., 621 F.3d 261, 267-68 (3d Cir. 2010); cf. Fakete v. Aetna, Inc., 308 F.3d 335, 337-38 (3d Cir. 2002). Where there is direct evidence of discrimination, courts apply the "mixed motives" test set forth in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228 (1989). Where there is circumstantial evidence of discrimination, courts apply the burden-shifting framework from McDonnell Douglas v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). Accordingly, to survive summary judgment on their discrimination claims, Plaintiffs' must either "(1) present[] direct evidence of discrimination that meets the requirements of Justice O'Connor's controlling opinion in Price Waterhouse, or (2) present[] indirect evidence of discrimination that satisfies the familiar three-step framework of ...


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