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Sampson v. Methacton School District

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

February 12, 2015

LANA SAMPSON
v.
METHACTON SCHOOL DISTRICT, ET AL

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For LANA SAMPSON, Plaintiff: GREGG L. ZEFF, LEAD ATTORNEY, ZEFF LAW FIRM LLC, MT LAUREL, NJ.

For MATHACTON SCHOOL DISTRICT, TIMOTHY QUINN, ROBERT HARNEY, JUDITH LANDIS, Defendants: JONATHAN P. RIBA, LEAD ATTORNEY, SWEET STEVENS KATZ & WILLIAMS LLP, NEW BRITAIN, PA.

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MEMORANDUM

R. BARCLAY SURRICK, J.

Presently before the Court is Defendants Methacton School District, Timothy Quinn, Robert Harney, and Judith Landis's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 20.) For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion will be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (" EEOC" ) for disability discrimination on June 7, 2010. (Second Am. Compl. (" Compl." ) ¶ 33, ECF No. 9.) Plaintiff received a Right to Sue letter from the EEOC on April 26, 2011. ( Id.) Plaintiff filed her first Complaint on July 19, 2011. (ECF No. 1.) On September 16, 2011, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 5.) Plaintiff filed a Second Amended Complaint on October 5, 2011. ( See Compl.) On October 18, 2011, Defendants filed an Answer to Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint. (Answer, ECF No. 10.) Defendants jointly filed the present Motion for Summary Judgment on September 17, 2012. (Defs.' Mot., ECF No. 20.) On November 19, 2012, Plaintiff filed a response to Defendants' Motion. (Pl.'s Resp., ECF No. 23.) Defendants filed a reply on November 30, 2012. (Defs.' Reply, ECF No. 30.)

In this employment discrimination suit, Plaintiff Lana Sampson brings four claims against Defendant Methacton School District (" Methacton" ) and one claim against Defendants Dr. Timothy Quinn, Robert Harney, and Judith Landis. Plaintiff alleges that Methacton discriminated against her based on her disability, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (" ADA" ), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. (Count I), unfairly demoted her, denied her a promotion, suspended her, and forced her to resign for exercising her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (" FMLA" ), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 (Count II), retaliated against her for filing a complaint with the EEOC, in violation of the ADA (Count III), and created a hostile work environment in retaliation for filing a complaint with the EEOC, in violation of the ADA

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(Count IV). In addition, she alleges that Defendants Quinn, Harney, and Landis aided and abetted Methacton's discrimination and retaliation in violation of the ADA, FMLA, and Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (" PHRA" ), 43 Pa. Stat. § 955, et seq. (Count V). (Compl. ¶ ¶ 50-67.) Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages, which includes expectation, reliance, and restitution damages, front pay, back pay, loss of life's pleasure, loss of reputation, loss of promotional opportunity, benefits, and other damages. ( Id.¶ ¶ 53, 57, 60, 64, 67.)

B. Factual History [1]

At all relevant times, Plaintiff, Lena Sampson, resided in Williamstown, New Jersey. (Sampson Dep. 10, Defs.' Mot. Ex. 1.) Sampson has a bachelor's degree in health and physical education and a master's degree in education administration. ( Id. at 19.) Defendant Methacton is a School District located in Pennsylvania. (Compl. ¶ 7.) Defendant Dr. Timothy Quinn was the Superintendent of Methacton during the relevant times. (Defs.' Mot. 1.) Beginning in June of 2008, Defendant Robert Haney was the Human Resources Director at Methacton. ( Id.) Beginning in June of 2007, Defendant Judith Landis was the Principal of Methacton High School. ( Id. at. 2.)

1. Plaintiff's Hiring

In October of 2006, Plaintiff was interviewed by Dr. Jeff Miller, then Superintendent of Methacton, Fred Cummings, then Principal at Methacton High School, and Dr. William Kirk, Human Resources Director at the time. She was subsequently hired as the Assistant Principal at Methacton High School. (Sampson Dep. 23-25.) During the 2006-2007 school year, Plaintiff worked with Landis, who was also an Assistant Principal at Methacton. (Landis Dep. 12, Defs.' Mot. Ex. 42.) At the end of the 2006-2007 school year, Landis became the Principal of Methacton High School. (Landis Dep. 27.) On August 27, 2007, Plaintiff had a meeting with Landis and Cummings at which time the issue of Plaintiff's timeliness in arriving to work was discussed. (Sampson Dep. 40-41.) In conjunction with this meeting, Landis drafted a memorandum memorializing the meeting and the issues discussed. (August 2007 Mem., Defs.' Mot. Ex. 2.) Landis's letter outlined directives for Plaintiff to follow to verify her arrival time. ( Id.) This was the only such meeting when Plaintiff was initially employed as Assistant Principal at Methacton High School. (Pl.'s Resp. 16.) Until February of 2008, Plaintiff satisfied Landis's expectations as set forth at the August 27, 2007 meeting. (Landis Dep. 68.)

2. Plaintiff's Tenure at Arcola

In February of 2008, School District Human Resources Director Larry Feeley transferred Plaintiff to Arcola Intermediate School (" Arcola" ) to be the Assistant Principal to replace the former Assistant Principal, Don Bontempo. (Sampson Dep. 27; Landis Dep. 90-91.) In April 25, 2008, Dr. Mary Anne DelCollo, then the Principal at Arcola, conducted an Administrator Appraisal for Plaintiff. (April 2008 Admin. Appraisal, Defs.' Mot. Ex. 3.) The Appraisal reflected ratings that entirely met or exceeded expectations with an overall rating of " Meets Expectations." ( Id.) Dr. DelCollo's comments reflected that Plaintiff had " successfully transitioned to Arcola," and that DelCollo hoped Plaintiff's attendance would improve. ( Id.; Defs.' Mot. 2;

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Pl.'s Resp. 3.) In May of 2008, Dr. Quinn became the Superintendent for Methacton. (Quinn Dep. 11, Defs.' Mot. Ex. 41.)

On January 21, 2009, Superintendent Quinn appointed Plaintiff to the position of Acting Principal of Arcola for twelve weeks, effective February 2, 2009, while Dr. DelCocco was on medical leave. (Sampson Dep. 74; January 21, 2009 Letter, Defs.' Mot. Ex. 5.) As Acting Principal of Arcola, Plaintiff received an additional $1,000 per month in compensation. (Sampson Dep. 74-75.) The position was temporary and Quinn informed Plaintiff that there would be a procedure in place for selecting a permanent principal, if necessary. ( Id. at 75; Quinn Dep. 21.) In light of Dr. DelCocco's need for additional time off from work, Methacton approved an extension of Plaintiff's temporary status as Acting Principal at Arcola for the 2009-2010 school year. (Sampson Dep. 76; July 22, 2009 Letter, Defs.' Mot. Ex. 6.) As part of this temporary status extension, Plaintiff received an additional $1,050 per month in compensation. (Sampson Dep. 76.)

3. Plaintiff's Knee Injury

Starting in August of 2009, an injury to Plaintiff's knee caused her to walk with a limp. ( Id. at 63.) The injury caused pain and swelling. ( Id. at 38.) In September of 2009, Quinn came into Plaintiff's office as part of a weekly visit and saw her limping to her file cabinet. ( Id. at Dep. 66-67.) Quinn asked Plaintiff about her knee and she responded that it was swollen and hurting her. ( Id. at 67.) Plaintiff did not recall Quinn saying anything else about her knee. ( Id.) Quinn did not inquire, and Plaintiff did not volunteer, as to how Plaintiff was injured or about the severity of Plaintiff's injury. ( Id.) In November of 2009, Plaintiff was not able to walk around the building and fulfill her duties at Acting Principal at Arcola. ( Id. at 77.) Between August of 2009 and February of 2010, Plaintiff performed her job duties at Acting Principal at Arcola to the best of her ability. ( Id. at 65.)

On November 4, 2009, Quinn wrote a letter to Plaintiff to follow-up a previous meeting. (November 4, 2009 Letter, Defs.' Mot. Ex. 7.) At the meeting, Quinn told Plaintiff that handouts that she had used at a separate meeting were " garbage." (Sampson Dep. 107.) In the letter that Quinn sent to Plaintiff, Quinn referenced a dozen statements made by Plaintiff at that separate meeting that " deeply concern[ed]" him. (November 4, 2009 Letter.) Quinn characterized Plaintiff's attitude and offensive responses as " insubordinate and unprofessional." ( Id.)

Plaintiff visited her doctor, Dr. Charles Sharkey, on February 9, 2010. (Sampson Dep. 64.) Dr. Sharkey diagnosed Plaintiff with a tear of her meniscus. ( Id. at 38-40.) On March 4, 2010, Plaintiff requested to leave work early so that she could attend a medical appointment. ( Id. at 100; March 4-5, 2010 E-mails, Defs.' Mot. Ex. 11.) In response to Plaintiff's request to attend the appointment, Quinn wrote: " Yes. Good luck!" ( Id.) Two days later, Plaintiff took a leave of absence pursuant to the School District's employee policy and went on short-term disability in order to have surgery performed on her knee. (Sampson Dep. 86-87.) On March 8, 2010, Plaintiff had surgery on her knee. ( Id. at 71.) On March 10, 2010, Plaintiff informed Quinn, Human Resources Director, Robert Harney, and Jane Martin that her surgery had gone well, that she had a follow-up doctor's appointment on Friday, March 19, 2010, and that she planned to come back to work on Monday, March 21, 2010 " limp-free." (March 10, 2010 E-mails, Defs.' Mot. Ex. 12.) Quinn responded to Plaintiff, writing: " I am glad that everything went

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well! I hope that you recover quickly and are soon walking around the halls pain free! Take care." ( Id.) On March 14, 2010, Plaintiff e-mailed Quinn and Harney and indicated that her doctor recommended she stay out of work for one more week and that she wanted to use short-term disability leave to account for the days she would miss. (March 14-15, 2010 E-mails, Defs.' Mot. Ex. 14.) Harney replied that it was no problem and told Plaintiff to " get well soon." ( Id.) On Friday, March 19, 2010, Quinn e-mailed Plaintiff and asked her to report to his office on Monday morning, March 21, 2010 at 8 a.m. (March 19, 2010 E-mail, Defs.' Mot. Ex. 13.)

That same day, at Plaintiff's follow-up doctor's appointment, her doctor discovered scar tissue on her knee and gave her a prescription to be out of work for another four to six weeks. (Sampson Dep. 104.) Plaintiff did not communicate this update to Quinn until the Monday, March 21st meeting with Quinn. ( Id. at 104-05.) Plaintiff attended the meeting with Quinn, while on crutches, rather than contact him beforehand to inform him of her doctor's new prescription for additional time off " because [she] was fearful of the behavior that [Quinn] was displaying prior to [her] leave . . . ." ( Id. at 104.) During the meeting, Quinn was pleasant and professional, but seemed upset that Plaintiff had not previously contacted him about her return. ( Id. at 113.) Quinn accepted Plaintiff's prescription and said he would forward it to the Human Resources Director and extend Plaintiff's leave with an indication that they would stay in touch. ( Id. at 112-13.) Prior to taking leave, Plaintiff filled out paperwork provided to her by Harney, but did not complete paperwork with respect to the FMLA. ( Id. at 89-90.) Plaintiff was familiar with Methacton's policies and procedures, in particular, with the Family and Medical Leave Policy. ( Id. at 90.) Plaintiff went on leave and received compensation commensurate to her position at the time. ( Id. at 88; Pl.'s Resp. 6.)

4. Interviews For Permanent Principal Position at Arcola

While Plaintiff was on medical leave, Arcola began the process of interviewing candidates for the position of Principal at Arcola. (Sampson Dep. 91.) Plaintiff was given an interview for the position. ( Id.) Her interview lasted approximately thirty-five minutes, during which she was asked the same questions asked of every interviewee. ( Id. at 92-93; Harney Dep. 32.) During Plaintiff's interview, the interviewers took notes, seemed engaged in the interview, and never discussed Plaintiff's knee. (Sampson Dep. 93.) After the interview, the interviewers did not discuss Plaintiff's knee. (Landis Dep. 98.)

Seventeen candidates interviewed for the position of Principal at Arcola on May 4, 2010 and May 11, 2010. (Principal Interviews Candidate Scores, Defs.' Mot. Ex. 49.) Methacton ranked each candidate who had interviewed for the Principal position at Arcola. ( Id.; Landis Dep. 96-98.) Based on the composite scores of the first round interviews, Plaintiff had a cumulative score of 59.64%, which was approximately 34% lower than the top-rated interviewee and was the worst score by a wide margin. (Principal Interviews Candidate Scores.) Only four interviewees from the first-round were selected for second round interviews, which took place on May 18, 2010. ( Id.)

On May 17, 2010, while still on medical leave, Plaintiff was examined by Dr. Robert Ponzio, her orthopedic doctor. (Sampson Dep. 134; May 17, 2010 Letter, Defs.' Mot. Ex. 16.) Plaintiff had suffered a setback after spraining her surgically repaired knee during a confrontation with a dog, and Dr. Ponzio recommended that

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Plaintiff stay out of work for the remainder of the school year. ( Id.) On May 18, 2010, Plaintiff communicated that her leave of absence would be extended for another four weeks. (May 18-19, 2010 E-mails, Defs.' Mot. Ex. 17.)

On May 21, 2010, Harney mailed a letter to Plaintiff indicating her designation was being changed to Assistant Principal in light of her disability status, which inhibited her ability to perform the duties required of the Acting Principal. (May 21, 2010 Letter, Defs.' Mot. Ex. 18.) Plaintiff agreed that she could not perform the duties required of an Acting Principal at the time. (Sampson Dep. 136-37.) However, there is no indication that this was a permanent situation.

On May 28, 2010, Quinn prepared a Confidential Memorandum as part of his Weekly Report to the Board of School Directors. The Memorandum informed the Board members that Lucretia (" Lu" ) Page had been selected as the new Arcola Principal. (Confidential Mem., Defs.' Mot. Ex. 19.) Within that Confidential Memorandum, Quinn described three highly confidential administrative transfers, including John Smink from Assistant Principal at Arcola to the same position at Skyview Upper Elementary School, Ryan Creeden, Assistant Principal at Methacton High School to the same position at Arcola, and Plaintiff, from Assistant Principal at Arcola to the same position at Methacton High School. ( Id.) Quinn made these transfers pursuant to District Policy 309 (" Assignment and Transfer" ) to avoid having Page work at Arcola with people against whom she competed for the position as Principal. (Quinn Dep. 93-94; see also District Policy 309, Defs.' Mot. Ex. 22.) As part of her transfer to Methacton High School in the same capacity (Assistant Principal), Plaintiff's compensation was unchanged. (Harney Dep. 47-48.)

On June 7, 2010, Quinn called Plaintiff to inform her that she was being transferred from Arcola back to Methacton High School as Assistant Principal. (Sampson Dep. 140-41; June 7, 2010 E-mail, Defs.' Mot. 20.) That same day, Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC, alleging discrimination by Methacton on the basis of a disability. (Sampson Dep. 142; EEOC Complaint, Defs.' Mot. Ex. 21.) Methacton learned that Plaintiff's EEOC charges were pending on June 9, 2010. (Harney Dep. 42.) In July of 2010, Methacton learned that Plaintiff was alleging retaliation against Methacton. ( Id. at 44-45.)

5. Assistant Principal at Methacton High School

As Assistant Principal at Methacton High School, Plaintiff reported to Judith Landis, Principal at Methacton High School. (Sampson Dep. 150-52; Job Description, Defs.' Mot. Ex. 23.) In her role as Assistant Principal, Plaintiff was expected to arrive at school at 7:00 a.m. to, among other things, go to her office, check in her with secretary and confer with her about her day's agenda, organize and check in on substitute teachers, and answer questions from students and staff. (Sampson Dep. 52-53; Landis Dep. 239-40, 276; September 2010 E-mails, Defs.' Mot. Ex. 24.) On September 20, 2010, Landis addressed issues related to Plaintiff's attendance and lateness in arriving for work. Landis spoke with Harney and Quinn about Plaintiff's lateness becoming an issue and they advised her that they could not take action unless Landis could show them documentation on the issue. (Landis Dep. 112.) On ...


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