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Devine v. Pittsburgh Board of Public Education

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

June 10, 2015



TERRENCE F. McVERRY, District Judge.

Now pending before the Court is the MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF No. 38), filed by Defendants Pittsburgh Board of Public Education (the "School District") and Louann Zwieryznski ("Zwieryznski") with a brief in support. Plaintiff ("Devine") filed a brief in opposition to the motion and Defendants filed a reply brief. The parties have thoroughly developed their respective positions regarding the Concise Statements of Material Facts ("CSMFs") and have submitted numerous exhibits (ECF Nos. 39, 40, 43, 49, 50, 51, 54, 55). The motion is ripe for disposition.

Factual and Procedural Background

This is an employment discrimination case. As set forth in the Second Amended Complaint[1], Devine asserts claims for race discrimination under Section 1983 and Title VII and for Retaliation under the Rehabilitation Act. Defendants seek summary judgment on all counts.

Devine has a Masters Degree in Education and a Reading Specialist Certificate. She began working for the Pittsburgh School District in 2009 as an intervention specialist. For the 2011-2012 school year, Devine accepted an assignment teaching kindergarten at the Faison Elementary School ("Faison"). Devine had some prior experience teaching kindergarten as a student teacher and as a substitute in a different school district. She was classified as a non-tenured teacher/temporary professional employee.

Zwieryznski commenced her position as principal at Faison in the 2011-2012 school year. Faison was a challenging school, with an extremely low academic achievement level and discipline issues. Faison Elementary serves urban minority students almost exclusively. Devine and Zwieryznski are both Caucasian. The other four kindergarten teachers at Faison in 2011-2012 were also Caucasian. The five first-grade teachers at Faison that year were African-American.

According to Plaintiff, Zwieryznski is very conscious of race and attributes the root of social and cultural problems to "white privilege." Zwieryznski allegedly favored black teachers. Devine avers that she raised legitimate concerns with Zwieryznski regarding persistent behavioral and emotional problems of some of her students, which caused Zwieryznski to stereotype her as the embodiment of "white privilege" who was unable engage with and handle urban black children. Devine contends that Zwieryznski began to orchestrate her potential dismissal and cover up the discrimination by performing a series of unduly critical observations of her classroom performance.

On January 13, 2012 Devine received a satisfactory rating for the first semester of the school year. By late January, Zwieryznski was contemplating putting Devine on an Employee Improvement Plan ("EIP") and asked Dr. Lisa Yonek to conduct a formal observation. The evaluation occurred on February 7, 2012 and Zwieryznski also attended. Yonek's report noted that Devine needed to interact with her students in a positive, caring and mutually-respectful manner and that she had to work to improve classroom management. Devine disagreed with these criticisms.

Devine was placed on an Employee Improvement Plan (EIP) on February 24, 2012. The EIP set forth the following areas for improvement:

1. Preparation
a. Evidences planning which incorporates elements of effective lesson design;
b. Aligns adopted curriculum, instructional practices and materials, and assessments to be consistent with school district student achievement standards;
c. Where applicable, works collaboratively with colleagues in planning and in other school-wide and system-wide activities designed to achieve targets and district goals;
2. Technique
a. Uses effective classroom management strategies;
b. Promotes student interest and active classroom participation;
c. Employs varied and developmentally-appropriate instructional strategies to match needs of students;
d. Motivates students through use of appropriate and positive reinforcement;
3. Student Reaction
a. Students are actively engaged in ...

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