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Tinneny v. Weilbacher

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

January 19, 2017

MARK TINNENY, Plaintiff,


          DuBois, J.

         This action is brought by pro se plaintiff Mark Tinneny against the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education (“SCEE”), Echelon Protection and Surveillance, LLC (“Echelon”), and other associated defendants. Plaintiff filed two suits-Civil Action Nos. 15-753 and 15-4305- consolidated in this action before the Court. The Complaints include multiple claims under federal law: (1) violation of the Fair Housing Act, (2) hostile work environment under Title VII, (3) violation of the Equal Pay Act, (4) retaliation under Title VII, and (5) violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and several state-law claims: defamation, wrongful discharge, assault, battery, and invasion of privacy.

         Presently before the Court are two Motions to Dismiss filed by defendants. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants in part and denies in part SCEE defendants' Motion and dismisses plaintiff's hostile work environment, Equal Pay Act violation, First Amendment violation, defamation, and wrongful discharge claims with prejudice. The Court grants Echelon defendants' Motion in part and dismisses plaintiff's invasion of privacy claim against Echelon defendant John Doe #1 with prejudice, and denies the Motion in all other respects.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Parties

         Plaintiff's Complaints assert claims against numerous defendants. Plaintiff has named SCEE, an environmental non-profit organization, and its Board of Trustees as defendants. Also named as defendants are SCEE's director, Mike Weilbacher; two members of SCEE's Board of Trustees, Tom Landsmann and Binny Meigs; and two SCEE employees, Steve Goin and Anna Mueser. Additionally, plaintiff has named as defendants Echelon Protection and Surveillance, LLC, a private security company hired by SCEE, and three John Doe defendants employed by Echelon.

         B. Factual Background

         The facts as alleged in plaintiff's Complaints are summarized as follows. Beginning on April 24, 2013, plaintiff was employed by SCEE as a part-time groundskeeper. Compl. in Civil Action No. 15-753 (“Compl. I”) ¶ 8; Compl. in Civil Action No. 15-4305 (“Compl. II”) ¶ 16. As part of his employment, plaintiff entered into a one-year residential lease with SCEE for the historic “Weil House, ” located on SCEE's property. Compl. II ¶ 17.

         Plaintiff alleges that SCEE discriminated against him on the basis of his gender. Specifically, he claims that certain female “30-hour-a-week” employees held the title of “manager, ” and were awarded benefits like paid leave and medical benefits. Plaintiff, also a 30-hour-a-week employee, was denied those benefits. Compl. II ¶¶ 24-46. Plaintiff was also subjected to a culture of sexual harassment. He avers that on January 24, 2014, defendant Tom Landsmann, a member of the SCEE Board, called plaintiff a “fucking pussy, ” insulted plaintiff's intelligence, and then used the same expletives a second and third time. Compl. II ¶¶ 49-59. As punishment for this incident the Board forbade Landsmann from interacting with employees, Compl. II ¶ 66, though that penalty was not enforced on at least one occasion. Compl. II ¶¶ 68-72.

         On April 17, 2014, plaintiff met with his supervisor, Gregory Sean Duffy. Compl II. ¶ 73. Plaintiff told Duffy that he planned to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. Id. Duffy responded, “If you do, that will be a problem! I will guarantee that everyone that works here will hate you.” Compl. II ¶ 75. Shortly after that conversation, plaintiff filed his first charge of discrimination with the EEOC (EEOC Charge No. 530-2014-03124) on April 24, 2014. Compl. I ¶ 12; id. Ex. A. Plaintiff was subsequently isolated from all SCEE social events, Compl. II ¶ 82, a rumor began that he was “dangerous, ” Compl. II ¶¶ 83, 84, plaintiff was banned from communicating with the president of the SCEE Board (identified in the Complaint as Wagner) and Mike Weilbacher (the SCEE director), Compl. II ¶ 87, and he was demoted to a “20-hour-a-week employee.” Compl. II ¶¶ 90-91.

         On June 26, 2014, plaintiff claims that he witnessed Duffy purchase drugs on the grounds of a preschool at SCEE. Compl. II ¶ 96. Plaintiff notified “two employees of the drug deal, one of whom, Rick Schubert, was a senior manager, ” Compl. II ¶ 98, and sent Weilbacher a copy of a “tipline report” he had filed with the Philadelphia Police Department, Compl. ¶ 102. Later that afternoon, Duffy informed plaintiff that SCEE had decided not to renew plaintiff's lease “for financial reasons.” Compl. II ¶ 99.

         Plaintiff subsequently began picketing on the Weil House property. Compl. II ¶ 117. On June 26, 2014, SCEE called the police about plaintiff's protest activities. Id. Plaintiff overheard defendant Steve Goin tell the police that plaintiff was “mentally ill” and “may be schizophrenic.” Compl. II ¶ 118. That same day, Weilbacher sent an email to “SCEE parents” stating that plaintiff was being “closely monitored” and that “[a]s an additional precaution, a boundary has been established around the house he has inhabited; no visitors, children, or groups are able to access parts of our property near that boundary.” Compl. II ¶ 123. Defendant Anna Lehr Mueser, wrote a letter issued that same day repeating Weilbacher's statement, and claiming that “[w]e are in the process of evicting the former employee, ” who “refuses to leave.” Compl. II ¶ 125. Plaintiff was officially terminated on July 7, 2014. Compl. II ¶ 104. Plaintiff filed a second charge of discrimination with the EEOC (EEOC Charge No. 530-2014-03124) on August 19, 2014, alleging retaliation. Compl. I Ex. B.

         On July 10, 2015, SCEE obtained a Permanent Injunction Order against Tinneny from the Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia County. Doc. No. 1, at 100. That injunction, inter alia, forbids Tinneny from protesting at the Weil House, and trespassing on SCEE property (excluding the Weil House and vehicular ingress and egress). SCEE hired Echelon Protection and Surveillance, LLC (“Echelon”) “to protect [SCEE's] interests under the injunction.” Echelon Br. at 7.

         While providing those security services, Echelon employees (John Doe defendants # 1-3) attempted to run plaintiff over with their vehicles, Compl. II ¶¶ 128, 141, and pointed a loaded firearm in his direction. Compl. II ¶¶ 135-137. John Doe # 3's vehicle “grazed Plaintiff's leg, causing him to fall back.” Compl. II ¶ 142. Finally, John Doe # 1 “hid[ ] behind trees and bushes, taking pictures of Plaintiff.” Compl. II ¶ 129.

         C. Procedural Background

         Tinneny is the plaintiff in two suits, both of which are presently before the Court in one consolidated action. At the time the actions were filed, plaintiff was represented by counsel.

         The first case, Civil Action No. 15-753, was originally filed in federal court on February 17, 2015. In that action Tinneny asserts one claim under the Fair Housing Act for retaliatory eviction against SCEE. On July 14, 2015, Tinneny brought a second action in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, in which he asserted various federal and state claims against all defendants. Defendants removed that case to federal court on August 5, 2015, and the case was assigned Civil Action No. 15-4305. The SCEE defendants and Echelon filed separate Motions to Dismiss on August 12 and 13, 2015, respectively.

         On December 9, 2015, plaintiff's counsel filed a Motion to Withdraw. The Court held a hearing on January 22, 2016, and granted the Motion. The Court also consolidated the two actions. Tinneny proceeded to litigate the case pro se. After several delays at Tinneny's request, the Court, also at Tinneny's request, referred the case to the Attorney Panel for Pro Se Plaintiffs in Employment Cases for appointment of counsel by Order dated May 6, 2016. (Doc. No. 54). However, no counsel agreed to represent Tinneny.

         By Order dated December 6, 2016, at Tinneny's request, the Court dismissed plaintiff's Fair Housing Claim against SCEE with prejudice. (Doc. No. 65). SCEE defendants' Motion to Dismiss or, in the alternative, Motion for a More Definite Statement, and Echelon defendants' Motion to Dismiss are currently pending before the Court. Tinneny responded to the two Motions on January 9, 2017.


         Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits a party to respond to a pleading by filing a motion to dismiss for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” To survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint must allege facts that “‘raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'” Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). A complaint must contain “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A district court first identifies those factual allegations that constitute nothing more than “legal conclusions” or “naked assertions.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557. Such allegations are “not entitled to the assumption of truth” and must be disregarded. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. The court then assesses the remaining “‘nub' of the plaintiff['s] complaint-the well-pleaded, nonconclusory factual allegation[s]”-to determine whether the complaint states a plausible claim for relief. Id. In an employment discrimination action, a plaintiff need not fully establish each element of the prima facie case. However, the complaint must plead facts that “raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal proof of [the] claims.” Connelly v. Lane Const. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 789 (3d Cir. 2016).

         Plaintiff is proceeding pro se in this case. “The Court is mindful of the instruction that it should broadly construe normal pleading requirements when handling pro se submissions.” Scott v. Com. Dep't of Pub. Welfare, No. 02-cv-3799, 2003 WL 22133799, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 28, 2003) (DuBois, J.).


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