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Peake v. Pennsylvania State Police

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

June 10, 2015

WILLIAM C. PEAKE, Plaintiff,
v.
PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM ORDER

CATHY BISSOON, District Judge.

I. MEMORANDUM

For the reasons that follow, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 26) will be granted.

BACKGROUND[1]

William C. Peake ("Plaintiff") initiated this lawsuit on December 4, 2012, alleging racial discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ("Title VII"), as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq . Compl. (Doc. 1). Specifically, Plaintiff claims that the Pennsylvania State Police ("Defendant, " or "PSP"), terminated his employment as a probationary state trooper because he is African-American, and otherwise treated non-members of his protected class more favorably. See generally id.

As the parties are well acquainted with the facts, the Court will provide only a brief summary for context. Plaintiff enlisted in the PSP on May 4, 2009. See Def.'s Exhibit M (Doc. 29-2) at p. 120. Prospective PSP troopers must successfully complete an 18-month probationary period, which is comprised of six months of study at PSP training academy followed by a 12-month field training program. Def.'s Stmt. of Facts (Doc. 28) at ¶¶ 1-3. Plaintiff was one of four African-American graduates from his 88-member training academy class in late November 2009. Pl.'s Stmt. of Facts (Doc. 41) at ¶¶ 64, 66. For his field training, Plaintiff was assigned to the Uniontown barracks, which is part of PSP Troop B. Id. at ¶ 68. Seven other probationary troopers were assigned to Troop B, all of whom were white. Id. at ¶ 123.

On November 3, 2010, the scheduled end of Plaintiff's probationary period, Plaintiff was terminated. See Def.'s Exhibit M at p. 120; Def.'s Stmt. of Facts at ¶ 18. On that same date, Plaintiff was presented with a letter explaining that "as a result of [his] lack of solid job knowledge and basic police skills, along with officer/public safety concerns, [he] do[es] not meet the standards set forth of a [PSP] trooper." Def.'s Exhibit H (Doc. 29-1) at p. 145. In making the decision to dismiss Plaintiff, the Commissioner of the PSP relied on the recommendation of a Review Panel, id., which provided several factors in support of its recommendation, Def.'s Exhibit F (Doc. 29-1) at pp. 90-91. These factors included: mishandled accident investigations; reports with incorrect information and numerous other errors; written and verbal communication problems; and competency concerns voiced by Plaintiff's "CO, supervisors, peer troopers and outside agency personnel." Id.

The Review Panel's recommendations were based on a General Investigation Report (the "GIR"), which was the product of an investigation into Plaintiff's performance conducted during the 13th or 14th month of his probation. Def.'s Stmt. of Facts at ¶¶ 7, 8. Of the 19 district justices, assistant district attorneys, and PSP supervisors who were interviewed on Plaintiff's behalf, 13 recommended that the PSP not retain Plaintiff following his probation. Def.'s Exhibit B (Doc. 29-1) at pp. 33-40. None recommended that he be retained. Id.

The GIR reflected a number of Plaintiff's perceived shortcomings as a probationary trooper. First, Plaintiff was found to have treated two "reportable" vehicle accidents as "non-reportable." Id. at p. 32. Second, most of Plaintiff's supervisors who were surveyed noted pervasive and persistent issues with his report writing, including grammatical and spelling errors, inaccurate event narratives, and incorrect representations of fact. Id. at pp. 34-40. Sixteen "Report Correction Notices" were attached to the GIR, documenting occasions when such mistakes were brought to Plaintiff's attention. Id. at pp. 43-59. Problems with untimely reports were also noted, which, along with a couple missed magistrate hearings, were attributed to "his planning and time management." Id. at p. 36. Third, aside from Plaintiff's perceived written communication deficiencies, several individuals noted his difficulties in making himself understood verbally, both over the radio and in person. Id. at pp. 33, 35, 37, 38. One specific incident was recounted in which Plaintiff allegedly was unable to effectively convey the field sobriety test procedure to a suspected DUI offender. Id. at pp 38-39. Fourth and finally, multiple individuals described incidents supposedly handled improperly by Plaintiff. These included his failure to submit drug paraphernalia for testing, which resulted in dismissed charges in one instance, id. at p. 35, and a domestic assault investigation during which Plaintiff had to be instructed on the proper course of action, id. at pp. 36-37.

Plaintiff was the only one of Troop B's eight probationary troopers to be dismissed at the end of the probationary period. Pl.'s Stmt. of Facts at ¶ 120. The only other individual from Plaintiff's training academy class of 88 cadets to be terminated at the end of the training period was a white male assigned to PSP Troop M ("Trooper #9"). Id. at ¶ 124. However, prior to being terminated, Trooper #9 first was given multiple extensions of his probationary period, totaling in excess of seven months, so that he could attempt to address his performance deficiencies. Id. at ¶¶ 124-25, 132. Plaintiff argues that he "was judged by different and more harsh standards than [these] other probationary troopers, because of his race." Compl. at ¶ 31.

ANALYSIS

In the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit:

[c]laims of discrimination under Title VII are analyzed under the burden-shifting framework announced in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-04 (1973). In order to show a prima facie case of racial discrimination, a plaintiff must illustrate that: (1) he is a member of a protected class; (2) he was qualified for the position he held; (3) he suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) the circumstances of the adverse employment action give rise to an inference of discrimination. If a plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the employer must come forward with a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment decision. If the defendant ...

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