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Kegerise v. Susquehanna Township School District

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

November 2, 2017

DR. SUSAN M. KEGERISE, Plaintiff
v.
SUSQUEHANNA TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al. Defendants

          MEMORANDUM

          WILLIAM W. CALDWELL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. Introduction

         Defendants have moved us to stay this action until the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decides an appeal in a related state-law mandamus case. For the reasons set forth below, we will deny the motion.

         II. Background

         Plaintiff is Dr. Susan M. Kegerise, the former superintendent of the Susquehanna Township School District. The defendants are the School District; two members of the District's School Board, Jesse Rawls, Sr., and Mark Y. Sussman; and a former member of the Board, Carol L. Karl. Plaintiff filed this lawsuit asserting various federal claims mainly seeking redress for what she alleges was her improper discharge from her position as superintendent, including a claim that she was constructively discharged. The Board took the position that the claim of constructive discharge was also a resignation and so accepted that alleged resignation shortly after the federal suit was filed.

         On April 24, 2014, about two days after the Board's action, Kegerise filed a mandamus action in state court against eight members of the School Board in their official capacities, seeking reinstatement to her position. The trial court agreed with her and reinstated her as superintendent, including a requirement that she receive back pay and benefits. On appeal, with one member of the three-member panel dissenting, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court affirmed the trial court, holding that Plaintiff could invoke mandamus to be reinstated to her position. See Kegerise v. DelGrande, 147 A.3d 930, 940 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2016). Part of the court's reasoning was that a person could claim to have been constructively discharged from her position without actually having resigned the position. Id. at 934-35. The court also found that Kegerise had a clear right to reinstatement, thereby making mandamus relief appropriate, because, having been elected superintendent (and not having resigned), she had certain statutory obligations and a clear legal right to perform them, so that the Board had a corresponding duty to reinstate her. Id. at 938-39 and n.10.

         On May 17, 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted a petition for allowance of appeal to review the Commonwealth Court's decision. That appeal has been briefed and oral argument has been set for November 29, 2017. (Doc. 170).

         In regard to the instant action, Plaintiff initiated it by filing an original complaint on April 17, 2014. She then filed an amended complaint as of right, asserting ten causes of action. Defendants moved to dismiss all of the claims. In a memorandum and order of January 7, 2015, we dismissed some of the claims and granted leave to amend one of the dismissed claims, a retaliation claim under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601-2654. See Kegerise v. Susquehanna Twp. Sch. Dist., No. 14-CV-747, 2015 WL 106528, at *18 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 7, 2015).[1]

         Plaintiff filed a second amended complaint. By stipulation of the parties approved by the court, Plaintiff filed a third amended complaint on February 27, 2015. In addition to the amended FMLA claim, the third amended complaint presented two new claims, a Title VII claim that her discharge was based on her race and a Title VII claim that her discharge was based on her gender. Defendants moved to dismiss the FMLA claim and the two Title VII claims. By memorandum and order, filed July 13, 2015, we denied the motion as to the FMLA claim and the gender-based Title VII claim but granted it as to the Title VII race-based claim. Kegerise v. Susquehanna Twp. Sch. Dist., No. 14-CV-747, 2015 WL 4232534, at *6 (M.D. Pa. July 13, 2015). We did not grant leave to amend the latter claim. Id.

         As a consequence, Plaintiff has the following causes of action before this court: (1) a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the District, Karl, Rawls and Sussman that Plaintiff's right to due process was violated when the Board failed to give her notice and a hearing before her constructive discharge; (2) a state-law claim for breach of contract against the District when the District breached her written employment agreement in part by constructively discharging her and by failing to give her the notice and hearing required by the contract; (3) a state-law claim against Karl, Rawls and Sussman for tortious interference with her employment contract; (4) a state-law claim against Rawls and Sussman for wrongful use of civil proceedings; (5) an FMLA retaliation claim against the District, asserting that the Board terminated her for invoking her FMLA rights; (6) a First Amendment retaliation claim against the District, Karl, Rawls, and Sussman, alleging that Plaintiff was terminated in retaliation for filing the instant lawsuit; (7) a retaliation claim under the Pennsylvania Constitution against the District, Karl, Rawls, and Sussman duplicating the First Amendment retaliation claim; and (8) a Title VII claim against all defendants that her termination was based on gender.

         Thereafter, the parties undertook discovery, with the discovery period extended at least twice. (Docs. 107 and 147). Defendants filed an initial motion for summary judgment (Doc. 110), and then a second motion for summary judgment (Doc. 152) on August 18, 2017. Those motions are pending.[2]

         In the appeal before the state supreme court in the state-law mandamus action, the court granted review of the following three questions:

a. Whether the Commonwealth Court majority's holding that a claim of constructive discharge does not require actual resignation conflicts with the United State Supreme Court's holdings in Green v. Brennan, 136 S.Ct. 1769 (2016) and Pennsylvania State Police v. Suders, 124 S.Ct. 2342 (2004)[?]
b. Whether the Commonwealth Court majority's holding that a claim of constructive discharge does not require actual resignation conflicts with this Court's decision in Pennsylvania Labor Relations Bd. v. Sand's Ret. Corp., 240 A.2d 801 (Pa. 1968) or the Superior Court's decisions in Kroen v. ...

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