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Young v. City of Philadelphia Police Dep't

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

March 31, 2015

JASMINE YOUNG, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA POLICE DEPARTMENT, Defendant

For JASMINE D. YOUNG, Plaintiff: DAVID M. KOLLER, LEAD ATTORNEY, ERIN GREWE, KOLLER LAW PC, PHILADELPHIA, PA.

For CITY OF PHILADELPHIA POLICE DEPARTMENT, Defendant: SUZANNE REILLY, LEAD ATTORNEY, CITY OF PHILADELPHIA LAW DEPT., PHILADELPHIA, PA; CHRISTIAN KERSTETTER, PHILADELPHIA LAW DEPT, LABOR & EMPLOYMENT UNIT, PHILADELPHIA, PA.

MEMORANDUM

EDUARDO C. ROBRENO, JUDGE.

Plaintiff Jasmine Young brings this action against Defendant, the City of Philadelphia Police Department, alleging that Defendant discriminated against her based on gender, subjected her to a hostile work environment/sexual harassment, and retaliated against her, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (" Title VII" ) and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (" PHRA" ). Defendant has moved for summary judgment and, for the reasons that follow, the Court will grant the motion.

I. BACKGROUND[1]

Plaintiff, an African American woman, worked for the Philadelphia Police Academy from February 22, 2010, to September 30, 2010. Am. Compl. ¶ ¶ 29, 51. She was first appointed to the Philadelphia Police Academy as a recruit officer (" R/O" ). Id. ¶ 29. On August 16, 2010, she was promoted to police officer. Id. ¶ 30.

Shortly after Plaintiff joined the Academy, fellow recruit officer Hamin Chamberlain began texting Plaintiff on her personal cell phone. Def.'s Br. 4, ECF No. 32. He had obtained her phone number from the recruit class list, and had previously only spoken with her in group conversations with other recruit officers present. Pl.'s Br. 4, ECF No. 33.

Over the next few weeks, Plaintiff and R/O Chamberlain exchanged text messages about various topics. Def.'s Br. 4. He also repeatedly asked her out, although she never went out on a date with him. Pl.'s Br. 5. Plaintiff eventually sent R/O Chamberlain a text message asking if he had romantic feelings for her, and he admitted that he did. Def.'s Br. 5. She responded that she was not romantically interested in him, but she " would like to remain friends (c)." Id. Although R/O Chamberlain agreed (" Fo sho!" ), the two stopped exchanging text messages shortly thereafter. Id.

Plaintiff alleges that sometime in March 2010, R/O Chamberlain began harassing her. Am. Compl. ¶ 33. After she rejected his advances, he allegedly began following her, calling her via telephone, and swearing at her. Id. ¶ 38. In one incident on April 8, 2010, after being laughed at by classmates and threatening to " fuck the whole back row up," R/O Chamberlain called Plaintiff a " bitch" as they were leaving the classroom. Def.'s Br. 5. She retorted that he was a " dumbass" and " stupid," and the two exchanged further words before bystanders broke up the argument. Id. at 5-6.

According to Plaintiff, this was the last time she and R/O Chamberlain ever spoke to one another directly. See id. Ex. 2, Young Dep. 33:16-17. R/O Chamberlain continued to watch and follow Plaintiff without comment, however, and he posted remarks online about how Plaintiff ruined his life and would have to pay. Pl.'s Br. 6.

On the day of the classroom incident, Plaintiff submitted two memos to a supervisor, Sergeant Tim Fanning--one describing the incident, and another complaining of R/O Chamberlain's consistently harassing behavior. Id. She mentioned that after they stopped texting, R/O Chamberlain began making sarcastic and derogatory comments when she was around, including calling her a " bitch" numerous times and yelling " fuck you." Id. at 7. Sergeant Fanning encouraged Plaintiff to file an official complaint if she felt she was being harassed. Def.'s Br. 6.

Plaintiff filed a complaint regarding R/O Chamberlain's consistently harassing behavior with the Police Department's Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Unit on April 18, 2010. Id. The Police Department's Internal Affairs Bureau began investigating her claims, and in time R/O Chamberlain was transferred to another platoon. Id. at 7. Moreover, after complaining in May 2010 that R/O Chamberlain had been parking near her and staring at her when she returned to her car, he was directed to park in a separate area. Id. at 14.

Over the course of the roughly five-month-long investigation, Plaintiff alleges that she was retaliated against as a result of her EEO complaint. See id. Ex. 2, Young Dep. 248:18-249:7. In particular, she claims that she was subjected to inappropriate disciplinary actions and was disciplined more often after her complaint. Am. Compl. ¶ 47.

Violations of the Police Department's disciplinary policy may " result in a range of possible outcomes, including, but not limited to, writing a memorandum, receiving demerits, receiving a written warning, and/or receiving" a " duty day" (an added assignment to be completed during non-training hours). Pl.'s Br. 9-10. However, only demerits subject a recruit officer to rejection from the Academy. Id. This occurs when a recruit receives fifteen demerits. Def.'s Br. 8.

Plaintiff's disciplinary history began on April 2, 2010--a few weeks before she submitted her EEO complaint--when she received one " duty day" for failing to have her license at roll call. Id. at 9. Plaintiff concedes that she " earned" this discipline, and that it was not related to her later complaint or her gender. See id. Ex. 2, Young Dep. 65:21-66:6. Similarly unrelated were the two demerits and two duty days she received on April 20, 2010, for failing to have her pocketknife at roll call. See id. 71:4-14.

That same day, Plaintiff was ordered to write a memo to Sergeant David Lee for impermissibly stopping to talk with two other recruits in the hallway. Id. at 10. In this instance, Plaintiff claims that she was targeted because of her EEO complaint--based on the fact that Sergeant Lee singled her out and spoke directly to her, even though she had never had issues with him before her complaint. See id. Ex. 2, Young Dep. 74:15-75:15. Plaintiff concedes, however, that the other two recruits were ordered to write memos as well. See id. 75:9-11. Nevertheless, Plaintiff claims that her supervisors began to target not only her, but individuals with whom she interacted, so that other recruits would begin to isolate and exclude her. Pl.'s Br. 11.

Plaintiff asserts that some of the disciplinary actions taken against her in the weeks following these incidents were similarly based on her EEO complaint. On April 26, 2010, Plaintiff was disciplined for complaining in Corporal Robert Pawlowski's presence about the duty days she received for her missing-pocket-knife violation. Pl.'s Br. 11. According to Pawlowski, Plaintiff challenged her discipline in front of other recruits, and she continued to be defiant after he pulled her aside to reprimand her in the faculty room--" continually pursing her lips, huffing and puffing in disagreement, and tilting her head to the left almost laying on her shoulder." Id. Ex. 17, Pawlowski Mem. In accordance with the recruit officer regulations, Plaintiff received seven demerits and seven duty days for this insubordination, bringing her to an accumulated total of nine demerits as of April 26, 2010. Id. After being asked by Plaintiff, Corporal Pawlowski stated that the demerits had nothing to do with her EEO complaint. See Def.'s Br. Ex. 2, Young Dep. 88:16-89:14. When Plaintiff spoke with Captain William Maye about the incident on June 30, 2010, he stated that he did not understand why a recruit would receive so many demerits for her first insubordination offense. Pl.'s Br. 12. Although Plaintiff does not believe she received these seven demerits because of her gender, she does believe that it was because of her EEO complaint--given " the way that [Corporal Pawlowski] reacted about the situation" and the " weird look" he gave her when she asked him if it was because of her complaint. Def.'s Br. Ex. 2, Young Dep. 88:16-89:14.

Plaintiff received her next demerit in May 2010 for parking next to R/O Chamberlain. Id. Ex. 20, Lee Mem. When Sergeant Fanning asked her why she did not park where she and the other recruits were supposed to park, Plaintiff explained that she had been running late. Id. Ex. 2, Young Dep. 142:3-5. Plaintiff believes she received this demerit because of her EEO complaint, although the only support that she offers for this claim is Sergeant Fanning's remark that she " wanted this" --considering her request that R/O Chamberlain be moved to the other lot. Id. 154:13-155:4. Two weeks later, on June 11, 2010, Plaintiff was ticketed for speeding, which resulted in her receiving three additional demerits. Id. Ex. 22, Speeding Citation. Although Plaintiff does not believe she was issued demerits because of her EEO complaint, she does believe that, because of her complaint, she received three instead of a lower number in the regulation's up-to-five range. Id. Ex. 2, Young Dep. 163:20, 169:22-170:1.

On June 30, 2010, Captain Maye met with Plaintiff to discuss the thirteen demerits she had accumulated, informing her that two more demerits would result in her dismissal, and counseling her to be careful and stay out of trouble. Id. 176:20-177:5, 177:13-16, 177:17-19. Afterward, she received a duty day for failing to shine her boots for roll call, but no demerit. Id. 178:14-20. Plaintiff claims that the EEO complaint motivated this reprimand, and that even though she was trying to be careful, they were just " looking for something." Id. 179:4.

Other incidents occurred that did not result in discipline, but Plaintiff asserts that they were motivated by her EEO complaint. In one instance, she was reprimanded for wearing her tie too long. See id. 49:15-50:8. Plaintiff claims that males were never reprimanded that way about their uniforms. See id. 56:7-12. Similarly, Sergeant Lopez told her that her Adidas gym bag looked like a purse--which recruits may not carry--and asked if she thought that the Academy was a " fashion show." Id. 140:7-14. Plaintiff claims that no one ever criticized her bag before her EEO complaint, nor did anyone rebuke male recruits with similar bags. Id.

Plaintiff further alleges that another supervising officer permitted and encouraged sexist comments to be made in his presence during the class he taught at the Police Academy. Pl.'s Br. 28. Male recruits would state that female officers should be paid less than males because females do not perform the same duties, and that they should be relegated to the rape counseling unit. Id. Plaintiff also claims that a recruit named Acevedo made unwanted sexual comments and advances to Plaintiff, but nothing was done after she reported on the comments to Platoon Leader Case. Id. at 28-29. Similarly, a recruit named Zona was drinking at an Academy softball game with other officers and instructors present and, after calling Plaintiff over, he began singing loudly along with the radio: " black girls liked to get fucked all night long." Id. at 29 (internal quotation marks omitted). Although Zona was using such language in front of Corporal Pawlowski, Pawlowski merely commented that he was " not hearing any of this," and Zona received no discipline for the conduct. Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

On September 8, 2010, the results of the investigation into Plaintiff's EEO complaint were presented in a memorandum to Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. See Def.'s Br. Ex. 11, EEO Mem. The investigation included interviews of Plaintiff, R/O Chamberlain, Plaintiff's classmates, and ten of Plaintiff's instructors. See id. None of the witnesses could corroborate Plaintiff's claims of harassment by R/O Chamberlain, aside from some of the details of the classroom incident. See id. at 6, 8; Pl.'s Br. 9. Instead, the investigation found--as several of the witnesses testified--that Plaintiff had called R/O Chamberlain names, cursed at him, and insulted his intelligence multiple times. See Def.'s Br. Ex. 11, EEO Mem. at 3-5. One recruit, however, stated that other students made comments about R/O Chamberlain in class, and no one was disciplined for the comments. Pl.'s Br. 9.

As a result of those findings, Captain Maye, Commanding Officer of the Recruit Training Unit, submitted a " Request for Rejection During Probation" to his superior officers on September 28, 2010. See Def.'s Br. Ex. 28, Maye Request. The request stated that the investigation revealed that Plaintiff had " referred to [R/O Chamberlain] as various inappropriate names including, 'stupid, ugly, dumb ass, stalker, asshole, etc.'" Id. at 1. It also stated that the investigation indicated that Plaintiff did not tell the truth during the course of the investigation. Id. Accordingly, the request found additional violations by Plaintiff, in her use of obscene or disrespectful language, her verbal abuse of another person, and her failure to cooperate with the investigation. Id. As a result, Plaintiff received additional demerits, bringing her to a total of twenty-two--well over the threshold for a recommendation of rejection during probation. Id. After the request was approved by multiple individuals in the chain of command, including Police Commissioner Ramsey, Plaintiff was dismissed effective September 30, 2010--a month after R/O Chamberlain had himself been rejected. Id. at 22.

Plaintiff does not claim that she was terminated because of her gender, but she does believe " that she suffered increased harassment compared with her male counterparts because of her gender." Pl.'s Br. 19. Ultimately, Plaintiff claims that she was terminated because she filed an EEO complaint, given the way that she was treated after she made the complaint.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

After exhausting her claims via the proper administrative channels, see Am. Compl. ¶ ¶ 10-19, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on April 29, 2013. ECF No. 9. On May 10, 2013, Defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint. ECF No. 10. The Court granted the motion in part, dismissing Plaintiff's claims of race discrimination, her claims against Police Commissioner Ramsey, and her claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress. ECF No. 19. Three claims were allowed to proceed, however: (1) gender discrimination under Title VII and the PHRA; (2) hostile work environment/sexual harassment[2] under Title VII; and (3) retaliation under Title VII. Based on these claims, as set forth in her amended complaint, Plaintiff seeks various forms of relief, including: compensatory, punitive, and liquidated damages; damages for emotional pain and suffering; reasonable attorneys' fees, costs, and interest; and other injunctive and equitable relief. Am. Compl. 15-16.

At the conclusion of discovery, Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment on May 9, 2014. ECF No. 32. Essentially, Defendant argues that Plaintiff cannot make out a prima facie case for any of her claims. With regard to her gender discrimination claim, Defendant asserts that Plaintiff did not satisfactorily perform her job duties, and--more fatally--she testified that none of her adverse employment actions, including her termination, were based on her gender. As for her hostile work environment/sexual harassment claim, Defendant argues that not only did R/O Chamberlain not create a hostile work environment for her, but as soon as Defendant had reason to know about Plaintiff's concerns, it launched a sweeping investigation. Finally, of her retaliation claim, Defendant contends that Plaintiff has no evidence that her protected activity caused any of her adverse employment actions and, in fact, her long history of performance issues began before she engaged in any protected activity.

Plaintiff filed a response on May 27, 2014. ECF No. 33. Plaintiff argues that she has made out a prima facie case for each of her claims. This matter is now ripe for disposition.

III. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate if there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). " A motion for summary judgment will not be defeated by 'the mere existence' of some disputed facts, but will be denied when there is a genuine issue of material fact." Am. Eagle Outfitters v. Lyle & Scott Ltd.,584 F.3d 575, 581 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,477 U.S. 242, 247-48, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)). A fact is " material" if proof of its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the litigation; a dispute is " genuine" ...


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