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Rogers v. East Lycoming School District

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

November 6, 2017

ALYSSA ROGERS, Plaintiff
v.
EAST LYCOMING SCHOOL DISTRICT, KEVIN STEELE, and MICHAEL PAWLIK, Defendants

          MEMORANDUM

          MALACHY E. MANNION UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Presently before the court is a motion to dismiss the plaintiff's complaint, (Doc. 1), pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), filed by the defendants, East Lycoming School District (“ELSD”), Kevin Steele, ELSD Athletic Director, and Michael Pawlik, ELSD Superintendent. (Doc. 9). The plaintiff, Alyssa Rogers, brings a gender discrimination claim, pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §2000e, and a 14th Amendment Equal Protection claim, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983, alleging that defendants prevented her from applying for an open position as an assistant coach with the school district based on her gender and the district's nepotism policy that was unequally enforced against her due to her gender. For the reasons discussed herein, the defendants' motion to dismiss is GRANTED IN ITS ENTIRETY.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiff filed the instant action in which she alleges that the ELSD's Athletic Director Steele and Superintendent Pawlik precluded her from applying for the Assistant Varsity Girls Basketball Coach position, based on her gender and familial relationship to the district's Head Basketball Coach, her father Ed Rogers. In March 2016, Craig Weaver, Sr. resigned as the assistant coach. Plaintiff alleges that when Ed Rogers told Steele he wanted plaintiff to be hired for the open paid assistant coach position, Steele stated that plaintiff could not have the job based on ELSD's nepotism policy “of not hiring family members [of] paid staff” which applied to “both the varsity and junior high level coaching positions.” Steele also told plaintiff that ELSD had a “policy against hiring family members as paid assistants as it was a conflict of interest and [she] would have no support in her pursuit of the assistant coaching position because she was the daughter of the head coach.” Plaintiff describes the hiring structure at ELSD for prospective assistant coaches as follows: first, coaching candidates submit applications and resumes to be reviewed by the head coach and Steele; second, interviews are conducted with the head coach and Steele; and third, Steele and Pawlik make the recommendation for hire to ELSD's School Board.

         Plaintiff states that in light of the discussions with Steele and his lack of support, she did not apply for the open assistant coach position. Also, based on the conversations with Steele, Ed Rogers resigned from his head coaching position. Weaver then applied for the head coaching position.

         While Weaver's application was pending, plaintiff's mother, Dr. Amy Rogers, who is a member of the ELSD School Board heard a rumor that Weaver wanted to have his two sons hired by ELSD as his paid assistant coaches. Amy Rogers then contacted Steele and asked him whether ELSD's policy against hiring family members as paid assistant coaches was still in effect. (See Doc. 3). Steele told Amy Rogers that “[a]s for bringing family members into paid positions, nothing has changed and that “[r]umors are rumors.” (Id.).

         Amy Rogers then discussed ELSD's nepotism policy with Pawlik and he “acknowledged that he first told a prior coach about the policy when the prior coach inquired about hiring his daughter as an assistant coach” and that “the policy was revisited by [ ] Steele during his conversation with Plaintiff.” Plaintiff alleges that despite these assurances from Steele and Pawlik that ELSD's nepotism policy did exist which precluded the hiring of family members as paid assistants when familial ties to the head coach were present, Weaver's two sons were hired by ELSD as paid assistant girls basketball coaches while Weaver was the head coach.

         Additionally, plaintiff alleges that before Ed Rogers became head coach, ELSD had hired a father and son as paid head and assistant coaches with the girls basketball team.

         As such, plaintiff alleges that the real reason she was told by Steele and Pawlik that a nepotism policy existed in ELSD was “for the sole purpose of discouraging her to apply for a paid coaching position due to her gender.” Plaintiff filed a charge of sexual discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). On January 26, 2017, she received a notice of the dismissal of the charge and of her right to sue from the EEOC. (Doc. 1 at 11). Having exhausted administrative remedies, plaintiff filed her complaint with this court on April 19, 2017. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff's complaint contains three counts, (I) Title VII Gender Discrimination against all defendants, (II) Violation of 42 U.S.C. §1983 (Equal Protection) against all defendants, and (III) Personal Liability against defendants Steele and Pawlik. Plaintiff alleges that Steele and Pawlik acted in their official and personal capacities. She also alleges that Steele and Pawlik acted recklessly and with a lack of regard for her rights which caused her to suffer monetary losses, loss of standing and reputation in the community, and humiliation. As relief, plaintiff seeks monetary damages, punitive damages, equitable relief, attorney's fees, and costs.

         Defendants were then served with the complaint and on May 5, 2017, they filed waivers of service. (Doc. 5).

         On June 23, 2017, defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint. (Doc. 9). After being granted leave to file their brief in support out of time, defendants filed it on July 19, 2017. (Doc. 15). Plaintiff filed her brief in opposition to the motion on August 2, 2017. (Doc. 18). Defendants then filed a reply brief on August 8, 2017. (Doc. 19).

         This court has jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§1331 and 1343. Venue is appropriate in this court since the alleged constitutional violations occurred in this district and all parties are located here. See 28 U.S.C. §1391.

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. Motion to Dismiss

         The defendants' motion to dismiss is brought pursuant to the provisions of Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). This rule provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, if the plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The moving party bears the burden of showing that no claim has been stated, Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005), and dismissal is appropriate only if, accepting all of the facts alleged in the complaint as true, the plaintiff has failed to plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, ” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974 (2007) (abrogating “no set of facts” language found in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). The facts alleged must be sufficient to “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. at 1965. This requirement “calls for enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of” necessary elements of the plaintiff's cause of action. Id. Furthermore, in order to satisfy federal pleading requirements, the plaintiff must “provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief, ” which “requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (brackets and quotations marks omitted) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. at 1964-65).

         In considering a motion to dismiss, the court generally relies on the complaint, attached exhibits, and matters of public record. See Sands v. McCormick, 502 F.3d 263 (3d Cir. 2007). The court may also consider “undisputedly authentic document[s] that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are based on the [attached] documents.” Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). Moreover, “documents whose contents are alleged in the complaint and whose authenticity no party questions, but which are not physically attached to the pleading, may be considered.” Pryor v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 288 F.3d 548, 560 (3d Cir. 2002). However, the court may not rely on other parts of the record in determining a motion to dismiss. See Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994).

         Generally, the court should grant leave to amend a complaint before dismissing it as merely deficient. See, e.g., Fletcher-Harlee Corp. v. Pote Concrete Contractors, Inc., 482 F.3d 247, 252 (3d Cir. 2007); Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002); Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 116-17 (3d Cir. 2000). However, “[d]ismissal without leave to amend is justified only on the grounds of bad faith, undue delay, prejudice, or futility.” Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 236 (3d Cir. 2004).

         B. Section 1983

         The school district and the school officials are state actors for purpose of §1983. See Kline ex rel. Arndt v. Mansfield, 454 F.Supp.2d 258, 262 (E.D.Pa. 2006).

         To state a claim under section 1983, a plaintiff must meet two threshold requirements: 1) that the alleged misconduct was committed by a person acting under color of state law; and 2) that as a result, she was deprived of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42 (1988); Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 535 (1981), overruled in part on other grounds, Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 330-331 (1986). If a defendant fails to act under color of state law when engaged in the alleged misconduct, a civil rights claim under section 1983 fails as a matter of jurisdiction, Polk Cnty. v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 315 (1981), and there is no need to determine whether a federal right has been violated. Rendell-Baker v. Kohn, 457 U.S. 830, 838 (1982).

         “A defendant in a civil rights action must have personal involvement in the alleged wrongs; liability cannot be predicated solely on the operation of respondeat superior.” Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207-08 (3d Cir. 1988). See also Sutton v. Rasheed, 323 F.3d 236, 249 (3d Cir. 2003)(citing Rode). “Personal involvement can be shown through allegations of personal direction or of actual knowledge and acquiescence.” Rode, 845 F.2d at 1207. Accord Robinson v. City of Pittsburgh, 120 F.3d 1286, 1293-96 (3d Cir. 1997); Baker v. Monroe Twp., 50 F.3d 1186, 1190-91 (3d Cir. 1995).

         With respect to actions against public officials acting in a supervisory capacity, the United States Supreme Court has held that claims must be differentiated based upon whether the defendant acted in his personal capacity or in his official capacity. Kentucky v. Graham,473 U.S. 159, 155-65 (1985). Personal capacity suits “seek to impose personal liability upon a government official for actions he takes under color of state law.” Id. (citing Scheuer v. Rhodes,416 U.S. 232, 237-238 (1974)). Official capacity suits “generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity for which an officer is an agent.” Id. (quoting Monell v. New York City Dep't Soc. Serv., 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978)). The Supreme Court has also held that official capacity suits cannot succeed against officials acting in their official capacity on behalf of the state. Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21 (1991). “The law is well established on this point, and courts sitting in the Third Circuit ...


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