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Jones v. Pennsylvania State Police

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

December 21, 2016

RACHEL JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE, CRAIG ACORD AND MIKE TINNENY, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          WENDY BEETLESTONE, J.

         Plaintiff, Rachel Jones, brought this discrimination suit against her employer, the Pennsylvania State Police (“PSP”), her supervisor Sgt. Mike Tinneny, and her coworker, State Trooper Craig Acord. Before the Court is a partial motion to dismiss the Plaintiff's federal and state sex discrimination, retaliation and hostile work environment claims against the PSP and Sgt. Tinneny, which shall be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On May 9, 2011, Plaintiff was hired as a Pennsylvania state trooper. During the time pertinent to this lawsuit, she worked at the Trevose station, where she was the only female trooper.[1] From June of 2013 to June of 2014, she was in a romantic relationship with her co-worker at the Trevose Station, Craig Acord. This case centers on Acord's actions following their breakup, and the PSP's response.

         Almost immediately after the relationship ended, Acord began attempting to re-initiate contact. Several days after they broke up, he told Jones he wanted “to get back together” and asked her to dinner, which she rejected, telling him “the relationship was over and she did not want to meet with him.” Nonetheless, Acord persisted. Twice between July and September of 2014, while on duty in his patrol vehicle, he saw Jones in her personal vehicle and texted her asking where she was going. Four times between July of 2014 and February of 2015, Acord sent unsolicited gifts and flowers to Jones's apartment, and would leave candy and Pop Tarts in her work mailbox. He repeatedly asked Jones out on dates and to go on trips via text and in person, all of which she declined. On December 7, 2014, while she was practicing alone at her martial arts studio, he texted her asking her how practice had gone. This made Jones uneasy because she had not told him where she would be that day. She told him to stop texting her, but several days later he resumed.

         As time went on, Acord's behavior escalated. He would sit “uncomfortably close” to Jones in the Trevose station patrol room. They worked opposite shifts, with Jones normally scheduled from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. on alternate days and Acord on the 12:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. shift. When they overlapped at the Trevose station near the beginning or end of her shifts, Acord frequently sought to make contact with Jones. Throughout early 2015, Acord continued to send her unwanted texts, referring to Jones with pet names and asking her to move in with him. On March 27, 2015, she blocked his phone number on her personal phone. Undeterred, Acord attempted to reach out to Jones through the patrol vehicle Mobile Data Terminal. When Jones applied to a position in Harrisburg, Acord told her that he would follow her there. All of these behaviors caused Jones to “alter her work routine” to minimize the possibility of being in the station when Acord might be there.

         The first time Jones discussed Acord's behavior with a supervisor was around the beginning of April of 2015 when Corporal Kevin Mills noticed she was scheduled to go to the shooting range at the same time as Acord and “approached her about the matter.” Mills told Jones that he was aware of the situation, and offered to change their schedules so that Jones and Acord would not overlap at the shooting range, which Jones accepted. Mills asked whether she wanted him to report the matter to Tinneny. Jones declined, but agreed to update him if the situation did not improve.

         Jones next raised Acord's behavior with a supervisor after the following three incidents occurred. First, on May 9, 2015, while Jones was on duty and sitting at a computer in the patrol room, Acord again sat “uncomfortably close” to her. He told her three times, “you'll always be my weet.”[2] He then stood up, walked around behind her, and kissed her on the neck. Second, on June 8, 2015, after returning from a trip to Thailand, Acord approached Jones's car while she was parked in the station parking lot and told her, “I was thinking of you while I was there. I got you a present. I'll give it to you later.” Third, on June 10, 2015, while she was on patrol parked in a center turnaround, Acord (who was also on duty) pulled in and winked at her. When they were both back at the station house, while Jones was leaning over a table to take a photograph of a schedule, Acord took a photograph of himself and Jones from behind.

         On June 11, 2015, Jones contacted Corporal Hardeep Rai at about 9:30 a.m. and reported Acord's behavior. Rai indicated he would contact Tinney. Tinney told Jones to meet him in a Target parking lot nearby the station at about 10:30 p.m. When Jones arrived, Tinney told her to turn off her patrol vehicle computer. Jones explained the situation to Tinneny, who told her he would “take care of it and report to appropriate people.” Later that evening, at 11:21 p.m., Jones received a call from Lieutenant Joseph Sokolofski, who had spoken with Tinneny and asked follow-up questions.

         On June 15, 2015, Sokolofski called Jones and told her that Acord had been instructed not to have any contact with Jones that was not work related. Jones told Sokolofski she was still concerned that they might be scheduled to work together on certain days, and that their regular shifts had an hour of overlap at the beginning and end. Sokolofski told her to let him know if there was a problem, but that he did not feel there was a need for an investigation. That same day, Captain Brian Tobin and Sokolofski issued Acord a “supervisor notation, ” but after conferring with the Equal Employment Opportunity Director, Captain Wendell Morris, decided not to investigate further. Several days later, Jones received a call from Morris, who told Jones that she would still have to work the same shift as Acord, but that if she transferred to Harrisburg and Acord tried to follow, he could “try to block that.”

         In July, Jones continued to raise her concerns about working the same or overlapping shifts with Acord to Tinneny, but he was dismissive of her concerns and kept the schedules unchanged. Tinenny told her “you'll be fine” and that he was “washing his hands of the situation.” Believing that her supervisors' response was inadequate, Jones filed a formal complaint with the PSP's Equal Employment Opportunity Office on July 14, 2015, and with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on August 26, 2015. The PSP complaint initiated an investigation by the PSP's Internal Affairs Division (“IAD”). Sometime in August, Acord received a memorandum notifying him of this investigation. While the first investigation was pending, Acord remained at the Trevose station. In September of 2015, Tinneny denied Jones's request for overtime during the Pope's visit to Philadelphia rather than switching Acord's shift.

         Despite the pending investigation, Acord persisted. As alleged in the Amended Complaint, in September 2015 Acord came to the Trevose station on multiple occasions outside his shift and made or tried to make contact with Jones. Am. Compl. ¶ 35. On November 17, 2015, Jones saw Acord parked in a patrol vehicle in her neighborhood, which was outside his patrol area. Jones reported this to Tinneny, who changed Jones's schedule on certain days and made a report to IAD, beginning a second investigation. Both of the IAD investigations resulted in findings that the complaints were “not sustained.” Jones cites problems with how the investigations were handled, including not receiving any notification of the outcome, being denied access to the interviews, and the failure to consider as evidence messages from Acord to Jones sent over the MDT system.

         While the second IAD investigation was pending, Acord was moved to the Dublin station, although his name continued to appear on the Trevose station schedule. Meanwhile, Jones filed for a Protection From Abuse (“PFA”) order in commonwealth court, resulting in a temporary PFA issued on December 21, 2015 and a final (2-year) PFA issued on May 9, 2016. Following the finalization of the PFA, Jones was interviewed for a third IAD investigation and questioned with regard to the PFA, but was not told the subject of the investigation.

         In May of 2016, Jones was promoted to Corporal and transferred to Philadelphia. Acord is still at Dublin. On May 11, 2016, Jones received a right-to-sue letter dated May 4, ...


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