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Robinson-Stowe v. School District of Philadelphia

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

December 9, 2014

BRENDA ROBINSON-STOWE, Plaintiff,
v.
THE SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PHILADELPHIA, et al., Defendants

For Brenda Robinson-Stowe, Plaintiff: SARAH B. DRAGOTTA, LEAD ATTORNEY, LAW OFFICE OF SARAH B. DRAGOTTA, Glenside, PA USA; SCOTT K. JOHNSON, SHEPHERD, FINKELMAN, MILLER & SHAH, LLP, Media, PA USA.

For The School District of Philadelphia, Defendant: TALIB NADIR ELLISON, LEAD ATTORNEY, THE SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PHILADELPHIA, Office Of General Counsel, Philadelphia, PA USA; RONAK RAMESH CHOKSHI, THE SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PHILADELPHIA, Philadelphia, PA USA.

For Myron J. Patterson, CHIEF SAFETY EXECUTIVE, Brendan R. Lee, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF SCHOOL SAFETY, Michael F. Whalen, DIRECTOR, SCHOOL POLICE OPERATIONS, Linda Cliatt-Wayman, PRINCIPAL/ACADEMIC DIVISION, SUPERINTENDANT, Defendants: TALIB NADIR ELLISON, LEAD ATTORNEY, THE SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PHILADELPHIA, Office Of General Counsel, Philadelphia, PA USA.

OPINION

Berle M. Schiller, J.

FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

Brenda Robinson-Stowe is a school police officer for the School District of Philadelphia (" the District"). She claims that she has sought promotions to sergeant and lieutenant but she has yet to be promoted as a result of the District's gender discrimination. She also claims that the District retaliated against her because she complained about the gender discrimination against her. The Court conducted a bench trial on September 22 and 23, 2014. The Court also permitted the parties to revise their suggested findings of fact and conclusions of law. Based on the arguments made prior to and during the trial, as well as the trial testimony of numerous witnesses, one factual issue emerged as fatal to Robinson-Stowe's claim if the Court decided that issue against her. Namely, did Robinson-Stowe decline a promotion that had been offered to her in 2007? The Court answers that question in the affirmative. Accordingly, the Court, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a), and based on the findings of fact and conclusions of law entered below, enters judgment in favor of the District and against Robinson-Stowe on both her gender discrimination and retaliation claims.

I. FINDINGS OF FACT

A. Gender Discrimination

Robinson-Stowe began her career with the Philadelphia School District in October of 2003, following a stellar career as police officer for the City of Philadelphia. (Sept. 22, 2014 Hr'g Tr. at 6-7.) Dexter Green, who worked for the Philadelphia Police Department as the executive chief inspector of the traffic division, asked Robinson-Stowe and another officer to create a background unit for the District. (Id. at 9.) The background unit would review candidates for positions within the district. (Id.) The background unit never came to fruition, but Robinson-Stowe was tasked with visiting high schools to review their security procedures and make recommendations regarding school safety and security. (Id. at 9.) Eventually, she served in the juvenile intelligence unit located at the Frankford Arsenal. (Id. at 10-11.) As part of that unit, she did not wear a uniform or carry a badge. (Id. at 11.) " [I]f you're a Juvenile Intelligence Officer you want to be undercover, so that people don't know who you are." (Id. at 12.) Robinson-Stowe remained in the special assignment until 2010. (Jt. Pretrial Stip., Agreed Facts ¶ 9.) According to James Golden, the former Deputy Chief of School Operation/Chief Safety Executive, Robinson-Stowe's placement in the juvenile intelligence unit and the school intervention unit were " special assignments, " in which she was not assigned to a particular school and was not required to report to a sergeant or lieutenant. (Sept. 23, 2014 Hr'g Tr. at 5-7.) Golden termed her special assignments " perhaps even privileged, because [they were] so unique and extraordinary." (Id. at 8.) If Robinson-Stowe was promoted to sergeant, she would be required to relinquish her special assignments because sergeants were assigned to specific schools. (Id. at 9-10.)

In 2007, Chief Golden told Robinson-Stowe that he wanted her to take the upcoming oral exam for acting sergeant. (Sept. 22, 2014 Hr'g Tr. at 14.) Although the responsibilities for the acting sergeant and sergeant positions were the same, the acting sergeant position was a temporary one, whereas sergeant was a permanent position. (Id. at 153-54, 171.) According to Robinson-Stowe, Chief Golden requested that she sit for the exam because he " knew we didn't have any females, so it only made sense." (Id. at 15.) Golden testified that he encouraged Robinson-Stowe to take the acting sergeant exam in an effort " to build a robust management group" composed of competent and diverse individuals. (Sept. 23, 2014 Hr'g Tr. at 13.) Because Robinson-Stowe wished to eventually become a lieutenant for the additional pay and overtime opportunities, she took the acting sergeant exam. (September 22, 2014 Hr'g Tr. at 15-17.)

According to Robinson-Stowe, she was told by a training officer that she and a male candidate scored " really high" on the exam and was asked if she wanted to be " number one or two" on the list. (Id. at 17.) Robinson-Stowe testified that after that encounter with the training officer, Robinson-Stowe never heard anything more nor she did she see the list. (Id. at 17-18.)

The acting sergeant list for the exam for which Robinson-Stowe sat was an exhibit at trial. The " personnel eligible" list for the position of Acting School Police Sergeant that Robinson-Stowe applied for ranks fifteen individuals based on their score. Robinson-Stowe's score made her the highest ranking woman on the list, and placed her at second overall. The remaining females on the list after Robinson-Stowe were ranked ninth, tenth, and eleventh. (Def.'s Ex. 18 [Acting Sergeant List].) The Acting Sergeant List contained a number of handwritten remarks. For instance, it noted that a number of the candidates accepted their promotions. (Id.) The Acting Sergeant List also noted that one candidate declined and subsequently retired, one candidate declined but was recontacted and accepted, and one candidate could not be located. (Id.) There was no remarks regarding some of the candidates, including two of the females on the list. (Id.) As for Robinson-Stowe, the only remarks were " declined" in one column and " 12/14/07" in another column." (Id.)

During the trial, Robinson-Stowe was adamant that she never declined the position of acting sergeant. (Sept. 22, 2014 Hr'g Tr. at 53-54; 69-72.) In fact, she testified that she began inquiring about the position in the spring and was told that there was no money in the budget. (Id. at 18.) And when she saw John Augustine with stripes on his uniform that indicated a promotion, she claimed that she complained to the president of the union, Michael Lodise, that there were still no female supervisors. (Id. at 18-19.) Robinson-Stowe filled out a grievance referencing the acting sergeant position and complaining about the lack of female supervisors. (Def.'s Ex. 54 [2008 Grievance].)

Michael Peterman worked as a personnel assistant for the district and was tasked with hiring and firing duties. (Sept. 22, 2014 Hr'g Tr. at 167.) He made the notations on the Acting Sergeant List, including the notation that Robinson-Stowe declined the promotion to acting sergeant. (Id. at 168.) He asked Robinson-Stowe if she wanted an acting sergeant position, and she responded that she did not want the position. (Id. at 169.) He informed her that the acting sergeant job was " an opportunity to work in the position that she had obviously qualified for, the acting position, until such time as she could be appointed to regular sergeant." (Id.) Peterman claimed that he pressed Robinson-Stowe multiple times about the job and that " he was going to move on to the next candidate if she didn't give a definitive answer." (Id.) According to Peterman, her answer was " no, specifically and categorically." (Id.) Peterman reported that the individuals who had initially declined the acting sergeant position but accepted the promotion after being recontacted had asked Peterman to recontact them about the acting sergeant ...


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