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Kahan v. Slippery Rock University of Pennsyvania

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

December 11, 2014

PAUL KAHAN, Plaintiff,


JOY FLOWERS CONTI, Chief District Judge.

This case involves issues about civil rights, employment, and common law torts. Paul Kahan ("Kahan") accuses his former employer, Slippery Rock University ("SRU"), several of its individual employees (the "Individual SRU Defendants, " and collectively, with SRU, the "SRU Defendants"), and the husband and son of one of its employees (the "Individual Winslow Defendants"), of wrongfully either failing to renew his teaching contract, or causing that contract not to be renewed. This court granted, in part, the SRU Defendants' motion for summary judgment and entered judgment in their favor on all claims that Kahan asserted pursuant to federal law. (ECF Nos. 123-25.) At the same time, the claims asserted by Kahan pursuant to Pennsylvania law were dismissed, without prejudice to Kahan's right to refile those claims in the appropriate state court. (ECF No. 124.)


Kahan filed a timely motion for reconsideration asking this to court vacate the summary judgment order and judgment entered in September and schedule this case for trial. (ECF No. 126; ECF No. 127 at 2.) Kahan asserts that the court erred in two principal respects: (1) by failing to examine the relevant facts; and (2) by improperly deciding questions of fact. (ECF No. 127 at 3, 8.) With respect to the first asserted error, Kahan specifically avers that the court failed to consider a) the deposition testimony of Charlene Winslow ("Mrs. Winslow"), b) evidence that Kahan was engaged in gender nonconforming behavior, and c) Kahan's declaration. (Id. at 3-8.) With respect to the second asserted error, Kahan specifically avers that this court improperly resolved factual disputes by a) deciding that the filing of criminal charges against Kahan was not an adverse employment action, b) deciding that Kahan failed to identify a proper comparator, c) ignoring evidence regarding procedural irregularities surrounding Kahan's termination, [1] and d) ignoring evidence of causation. (Id. at 8-16.)

The SRU Defendants and the Individual Winslow Defendants filed responses in opposition to Kahan's motion, arguing that Kahan's motion should be denied because it fails to advance any argument that would require a different result in this case. (ECF Nos. 129-31.) For the reasons set forth below, Kahan's motion for reconsideration will be denied.


A motion to reconsider should granted only if the movant demonstrates: 1) an intervening change in controlling law; 2) the availability of new evidence not previously available; or 3) the need to correct a clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice. FED. R. CIV. P. 59(e); Allah v. Ricci, 532 F.Appx. 48, 51 (3d Cir. 2013) (citing Lazaridis v. Wehmer, 591 F.3d 666, 669 (3d Cir. 2010)); Max's Seafood Cafe v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999) (citing N. River Ins. Co. v. CIGNA Reinsurance Co., 52 F.3d 1194, 1218 (3d Cir. 1995)). By reason of the interest in finality, at least at the district court level, motions for reconsideration should be sparingly granted. Rottmund v. Cont'l Assurance Co., 813 F.Supp. 1104, 1107 (E.D. Pa. 1992). In order to be successful on a motion for reconsideration, the movant must demonstrate a "definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed, " or that the court overlooked arguments that were previously made. United States v. Jasin, 292 F.Supp.2d 670, 676 (E.D. Pa. 2003).

A motion for reconsideration is not to be used to relitigate, or "rehash, " issues the court already decided, or to ask a district court to rethink a decision it, rightly or wrongly, already made. Williams v. City of Pittsburgh, 32 F.Supp.2d 236, 238 (W.D. Pa. 1998); Reich v. Compton, 834 F.Supp. 753, 755 (E.D. Pa. 1993), aff'd in part, rev'd in part, 57 F.3d 270 (3d Cir. 1995); Keyes v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., 766 F.Supp. 277, 280 (E.D. Pa. 1991). A motion for reconsideration is not to be used as a way to advance additional arguments that the litigant could have made, but chose not to make, sooner, or as an opportunity for a litigant, having lost, to change theories of the case and advance new, often contradictory, evidence in support. Bell v. City of Phila., 275 F.Appx. 157, 160 (3d Cir. 2008); Spence v. City of Phila., 147 F.Appx. 289, 291-92 (3d Cir. 2005); Bhatnagar v. Surrendra Overseas Ltd., 52 F.3d 1220, 1231 (3d Cir. 1995); Trenton v. Scott Paper Co., 832 F.2d 806, 810 (3d Cir. 1987); Miller v. Court of Common Pleas of Erie Cnty., No. 12-206, 2014 WL 108585, at *2 (W.D. Pa. Jan. 10, 2014).


Kahan contends that he is entitled to relief because this court "committed a clear error of law requiring reversal of the summary judgment decision." (ECF No. 127 at 2.) Kahan advances seven reasons why this court should not have entered judgment as a matter of law, and should have instead scheduled this case for trial.[2] The court separately considers each of Kahan's arguments below, but concludes that none demonstrate that this court made a mistake or overlooked arguments that were previously made by entering judgment as a matter of law on Kahan's federal claims.

Kahan's motion does no more than restate arguments that were previously made, and rejected, during summary judgment briefing, and raise novel, and contradictory, arguments for the first time on reconsideration. As set forth above, these are not valid reasons for a court to reconsider a previously-issued decision.

A. Gender Stereotyping

Kahan contends that the court erred by concluding that "all of the complaints of aggression or rudeness made against Dr. Kahan were gender neutral" because the court failed to consider Mrs. Winslow's deposition testimony, which would permit a reasonable jury to "infer that she felt that Dr. Kahan, a male, was targeting her for violent retaliation because she was a female" and because "Ms. Winslow was stereotyping Dr. Kahan as a violent' male." (ECF No. 127 at 3.)

The deposition testimony upon which Kahan relies to support this argument on reconsideration concerns Mrs. Winslow's explanation to the history department employees about why she was working with her door closed or locked after the May 18, 2010 incident. (ECF No. 123 at 17-18; ECF No. 101-11 at 11-12 (Mrs. Winslow depo. at pp. 44-45).) In spontaneous testimony offered at her 2013 deposition, Mrs. Winslow testified that she "was afraid, " because she is "a woman, " that Kahan would return to campus with a gun and kill her. (ECF No. 101-11 at 11-12 (Mrs. Winslow depo. at pp. 44-45).) There is no indication in the record that Mrs. Winslow made this statement, or any statement to that effect, to any SRU employee in 2010, when she was explaining why her door would be closed or locked. The record is devoid of any evidence that Mrs. Winslow made any reference to her gender, Kahan's gender, or any gender stereotype, when she told them about the May 18, 2010 incident. The entirety of Mrs. Winslow's testimony on this matter, which this court previously considered in the summary judgment opinion, was that she told her co-workers that Kahan yelled at her and threw a DVD at her and because she was afraid that he would engage in such conduct again, or worse conduct, she would be closing or locking her office door. (ECF No. 101-11 at 5-13 (Mrs. Winslow depo.); ECF No. 123 at 67, 70.) There is no evidence that Mrs. Winslow told her co-workers during these conversations that she was afraid of Kahan because he is a man, and she is a woman, or described him as "violent" or "aggressive."[3]

Kahan's argument on reconsideration that he was the victim of invidious gender stereotyping is not new. The court previously considered Kahan's argument that Mrs. Winslow's descriptions of Kahan as "sneaky, " a liar, "arrogant, " "rude, " "demanding, " "self-centered, " "aggressive, " "violent, " and "belittling, " was evidence of gender discrimination.[4] (ECF No. 123 at 29-31.) The court concluded that Kahan produced no evidence that would allow a reasonable jury to make the essential finding that men, but not women, possess these pejorative characteristics, and then explained why the case law relied upon by Kahan failed to support his theory of the case. (Id.) Kahan's citation, in his motion for reconsideration, to Mrs. Winslow's deposition testimony, to a Harvard Law Review article, and to additional case law, none of which emanates from this jurisdiction, does not dictate that this court reach a contrary decision now.

First, the evidence and case law is not new. Mrs. Winslow's deposition testimony was included as part of the record during the summary judgment proceedings. The law review article was published in 2010, before this lawsuit was even filed. All legal decisions cited in the motion for reconsideration were similarly issued before this lawsuit was filed.

Second, the evidence now relied upon does not demonstrate that his court committed a clear error. Mrs. Winslow's deposition testimony makes no commentary with respect to Kahan's gender, but instead ascribes arguably negative stereotypes to Mrs. Winslow based upon her own gender, i.e., that she is weak and subject to physical harm because she is female. In any event, as set forth above, even if the comment made by Mrs. Winslow at her deposition in 2013 could be construed as reflecting a negative gender stereotype about Kahan, as explained above, there is no indication in the record that Mrs. Winslow made the comment to her co-workers in 2010.

The law review article suggests that sex segregation in the military, prisons, and schools is justified, in part, based upon the argument that men are more physically aggressive than woman. David S. Cohen, Keeping Men "Men" and Women Down: Sex Segregation, Anti-Essentialism, and Masculinity, 33 HARV. J. LAW & GENDER 503, 532 (2010). Kahan fails to explain how Mr. Cohen's commentary supports his Title VII or IX claims. As the record stands, a jury would be required to make a series of inferences to reach the conclusion that describing a co-worker as "aggressive" or "violent" indicates gender discrimination in the workplace under the circumstances of this case.

The additional case law cited by Kahan is readily distinguishable from the circumstances of this case, and is not controlling precedent in any event. Vargas, Somoza, and Manessis, all stand for the proposition, inapplicable here, that gender-neutral conduct can be combined with overtly gender-based conduct when assessing whether gender discrimination is severe and pervasive for purposes of a hostile work environment claim. Vargas v. Centura Health Corp., No. 07-1812, 2009 WL 2490131, at *5 (D. Colo. Aug. 13, 2009); Somoza v. Univ. of Denver, No. 05-355, 2006 WL 2535092, at *19 (D. Colo. Aug. 31, 2006); Manessis v. N.Y. City Dep't of Transp., No. 02-359, 2003 WL 289969, at *6 n.6 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 10, ...

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