United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
E.K. PRATTER, United States District Judge
Andrea Sessoms brings this employment discrimination suit
against her former employer, the Trustees of the University
of Pennsylvania (“Penn”), under Title VII, the
Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Rehabilitation Act.
Penn has moved for summary judgment, arguing that Ms.
Sessoms's claims all fail as a matter of law. The Court
heard oral argument on May 4, 2017 and will grant Penn's
motion in its entirety.
Sessoms, an African American female, complains of sexual
harassment, disability discrimination, failure to
accommodate, racial discrimination, and retaliation in
connection with her employment as a Human Resources
Information Systems Coordinator at the University of
Pennsylvania Health System. At the time Ms. Sessoms began
working in Human Resources for the Penn, there was only one
other HRIS Coordinator in her department, a Hispanic male. In
2014, the department was reorganized, and Maria Colavita (a
white female) became the new manager of the HRIS Coordinator
team. Her supervisor was Margaret Alford (a white female).
Another white female was also hired as an HRIS Coordinator in
early 2014, Ms. Sessoms received a performance review, on
which she scored between a 2 (threshold) and a 3 (target).
Ms. Colavita characterized Ms. Sessoms's performance as
inconsistent, but also testified at a deposition that Ms.
Sessoms's performance was, at that particular point in
time, satisfactory. In April 2014, at the same time that Ms.
Sessoms's mother suddenly fell seriously ill, Ms.
Sessoms's work performance began to decline. Ms.
Sessoms's mother passed away in May 2014, and Ms. Sessoms
took two weeks of leave. Ms. Sessoms returned to work; her
performance continued to decline. Ms. Sessoms argues that
Penn offers no proof of this decline in work performance
beyond the testimony of Ms. Colavita, but admitted that
because of her grief over her mother's death and memory
problems, she may have made errors.
Ms. Colavita became her supervisor, Ms. Sessoms claims that
she was overlooked at meetings and verbally abused, unlike
her non-black, non-disabled co-workers. Ms. Sessoms also
claims that Ms. Colavita harassed her in a different way by
touching Ms. Sessoms's inner thigh during a one-on-one
meeting in September 2014, while discussing an incident in
the past between Ms. Colavita and a male supervisor. Ms.
Sessoms complained about Ms. Colavita's treatment of her
to Ms. Alford and to others on multiple occasions, to no
September 12, 2014, Ms. Sessoms received a written coaching
memo due to her poor performance, pursuant to the
department's policies. Ms. Sessoms claims that the
coaching was written by Ms. Colavita, but signed by Ms.
Alford. The written coaching was presented to Ms. Sessoms at
a meeting attended by her, Ms. Colavita, and Ms. Alford. Ms.
Sessoms claims that during that meeting, Ms. Colavita made a
derogatory comment about her disability - namely, that Ms.
Colavita said that her medical problems did not matter. On
that same date, Ms. Sessoms requested leave pursuant to the
FMLA because of acute stress disorder, major depressive
disorder, and memory issues. The request was approved. While
on leave, Ms. Sessoms filed a charge of discrimination with
the EEOC. After she had exhausted her FMLA leave, Ms. Sessoms
was permitted to take 12 more weeks of medical leave,
pursuant to Penn's employment policies.
March 4, 2015, after her expiration of 24 weeks of leave,
Penn reached out to Ms. Sessoms to invite her to submit a
Certificate of Return to Work and/or an Employee Request for
Reasonable Accommodation. On March 16, 2015, Ms. Sessoms
submitted these forms, on which she indicated that she could
not return to work without restrictions. The parties then met
to discuss possible accommodations on April 13, 2015. Ms.
Sessoms requested four items: (1) a part-time schedule, (2)
time upon returning to work to become reacquainted with
procedures, (3) ergonomic review of workspace,  and (4) transfer
to a supervisor other than Ms. Colavita. Penn offered all of
the accommodations except for reassignment to a new a
supervisor. Although she may have initially accepted
the offer or in some way indicated that acceptance was
likely, Ms. Sessoms eventually rejected the offered
accommodations, claiming that accepting them would be against
medical advice. Ms. Sessoms notes that she could have worked
for another analyst or senior coordinator, or in another
department, but that none of those options were offered to
her. She does not, however, identify any other open positions
for which she was qualified. On April 22, 2015, Ms. Sessoms
was terminated. According to Penn, the termination was solely
due to Ms. Sessoms's refusal to return to work with
reasonable accommodations. Ms. Sessoms was eventually
replaced with an African-American female with a disability.
Sessoms filed this suit in June, 2016, seeking damages for
failure to accommodate her disability; racial, gender, and
disability discrimination; and retaliation. After the
completion of discovery, Penn filed the pending motion for
summary judgment, seeking dismissal of all of Ms.
shall grant a motion for summary judgment “if the
movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any
material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). An issue is
“genuine” if there is a sufficient evidentiary
basis on which a reasonable jury could return a verdict for
the non-moving party. Kaucher v. Cnty. of Bucks, 455
F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). A factual
dispute is “material” if it might affect the
outcome of the case under governing law. Id. (citing
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248). Under Rule 56, the Court
must view the evidence presented on the motion in the light
most favorable to the non-moving party. See
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. However, “[u]nsupported
assertions, conclusory allegations, or mere suspicions are
insufficient to overcome a motion for summary
judgment.” Betts v. New Castle Youth Dev.
Ctr., 621 F.3d 249, 252 (3d Cir. 2010).
movant bears the initial responsibility for informing the
Court of the basis for the motion for summary judgment and
identifying those portions of the record that demonstrate the
absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Where the
non-moving party bears the burden of proof on a particular
issue, the moving party's initial burden can be met
simply by “pointing out to the district court that
there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving
party's case.” Id. at 325. After the
moving party has met the initial burden, the non-moving party
must set forth specific facts showing that there is a
genuinely disputed factual issue for trial by “citing
to particular parts of materials in the record, including
depositions, documents, electronically stored information,
affidavits or declarations, stipulations . . ., admissions,
interrogatory answers, or other materials” or by
“showing that the materials cited do not establish the
absence or presence of a genuine dispute.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(c). Summary judgment is appropriate if the non-moving
party fails to rebut by making a factual showing
“sufficient to establish the existence of an element
essential to that party's case, and on which that party
will bear the burden of proof at trial.”
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.
Failure to ...