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Williams v. Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

August 30, 2017


          Submitted Under Third Circuit L.A.R. 34.1(a) July 14, 2017

         On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania (D.C. No. 2:14-cv-01290) District Judge: Hon. Nora B. Fischer

          Christi M. Wallace Kraemer, Manes & Associates Attorney for Appellant

          Josh Shapiro John G. Knorr Thomas L. Donahoe Kemal A. Mericli Office of Attorney General of Pennsylvania Attorneys for Appellees

          Before: SMITH, Chief Judge, NYGAARD, and FUENTES, Circuit Judges


          FUENTES, Circuit Judge.

         Cheryl Williams, an African-American woman, claims that she was subjected to constant harassment at the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (the "Commission") by her supervisors, Joseph Retort and Adam Stalczynski. As a result of this treatment, she alleges she faced a hostile work environment and was ultimately constructively discharged from her position as a Human Relations Representative. She then filed this action against the Commission under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), [1] seeking damages for the loss of her job and the harm sustained to her physical and emotional health. She also included claims against her former supervisors, Retort and Stalczynski, claiming that they violated her federal rights under Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA")[2]and they are therefore liable for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[3] On defendants' motion, the District Court granted summary judgment in favor of all defendants.

         In this case, we address for the first time whether violations of Title VII and the ADA may be brought through § 1983. In light of the comprehensive administrative scheme established by Title VII and the ADA, we conclude that these claims, standing alone, may not be asserted under § 1983. And because we also agree with the District Court that Plaintiff Cheryl Williams presents no triable issues of fact on her Title VII claims against the Commission, we will affirm.



         Williams was originally employed at the Commission in the early 1990s, and she returned to the Commission in September 1999 as a Human Relations Representative in the Pittsburgh office. There, she was tasked with investigating complaints of discrimination, interviewing witnesses, negotiating settlements, conducting fact-finding conferences, and writing reports and conciliation recommendations. Williams also served as Chairperson of a union that represents Commission investigators, acting as the primary negotiator for matters related to their terms and conditions of employment.

         Williams was primarily supervised by Joseph Retort, a Caucasian man, from 2010 until her resignation in January 2014. She was also indirectly supervised by the Executive Director of the Pittsburgh office, a post held by George Simmons during most of Williams's time at the Commission. Eventually, Simmons retired and, in December 2012, Adam Stalczynski assumed the role of Executive Director. He supervised Williams until her resignation.

         Williams claims that, between 2009 and 2013, she suffered discrimination at the hands of various Commission personnel, primarily Joseph Retort and Adam Stalczynski. Specifically, she alleges that: (1) she was suspended without pay for five days in 2009 after she objected to the presence of Commission attorneys at fact-finding conferences, (2) the Commission refused to accommodate her workstation needs when they moved offices in 2010, [4] (3) Retort improperly placed her on a performance improvement plan for a few weeks in 2010, (4) she was struck by a Commission attorney in 2011 while attempting to leave Simmons's office, (5) her co-worker overheard a Commission attorney call Williams a "bitch" in 2012, [5] and (6) she was wrongly reprimanded for insubordination in August 2013 following a confrontation with Stalczynski regarding her requests for leave. Williams contends that each of these incidents, both individually and in their totality, were not the result of common workplace strife, but were unlawful instances of discrimination based on her status as an African-American woman.

         After leaving work in August 2013, Williams submitted a Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") request seeking leave from the Commission because she had leg pain and diffuse muscle aches from fibromyalgia. She was granted FMLA leave through February 2014, but never returned to work. She resigned from the Commission several months later.


         In November 2013, Williams lodged a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). She subsequently received a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC and filed a four-count amended complaint with the District Court. Only two counts of her complaint are relevant to this appeal:[6] (1) a claim against the Commission for discrimination, hostile work environment, and constructive discharge under Title VII; and (2) a § 1983 claim against her supervisors, Retort and Stalczynski, based on violations of Title VII and the ADA.[7]

         On defendants' motion for summary judgment, the District Court first entered judgment in favor of Retort and Stalczynski on Williams's § 1983 claim, concluding that Title VII and ADA claims cannot be vindicated through § 1983 because doing so would frustrate Congress's statutory scheme.[8] With respect to Williams's Title VII claim against the Commission, the District Court determined that Williams was required to file a complaint with the EEOC within 300 days of any alleged unlawful employment practice, and therefore any discrete discriminatory acts outside this period were not cognizable.[9] The Court then addressed every alleged adverse employment action and determined that, under the totality of the circumstances, these incidents were not severe or persistent enough to sustain a claim for hostile work environment or constructive discharge.[10] Thus, the District Court entered summary judgment for the Commission on Williams's Title VII claims.


         Williams maintains that the District Court erred by (1) granting summary judgment for Retort and Stalczynski on her § 1983 claims, and (2) granting summary judgment for the Commission on her Title VII claims. Both arguments are unavailing.


         Williams first contends that, contrary to the District Court's conclusion, her ADA and Title VII claims against Retort and Stalczynski are cognizable under § 1983. We, however, reject this argument and, in line with every circuit to address this issue, hold that plaintiffs may not seek ...

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