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Acevedo v. Stroudsburg School District

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

February 15, 2018

ANTOINE ACEVEDO, Plaintiff,
v.
STROUDSBURG SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant.

          CAPUTO, J.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          JOSEPH F. SAPORITO, JR. United States Magistrate Judge

         This is a pro se employment discrimination case. The plaintiff, Antoine Acevedo, has raised racial discrimination and retaliation claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and a Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against his former employer, the Stroudsburg Area School District (the “School District”). (Doc. 1).

         The School District has filed a motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 32). In support, as required by the local civil rules, the School District has submitted a statement of material facts, accompanied by a transcript of the plaintiff's deposition and several documentary exhibits, and a brief in support. (Doc. 32-1; Doc. 32-2; Doc. 32-3; Doc. 33; Doc. 34). Acevedo has filed a brief in opposition. (Doc. 36; see also Doc. 37). Acevedo has not filed a counter-statement of material facts, nor has he submitted any additional evidence to rebut the materials submitted by the School District. The School District has filed a reply brief. (Doc. 38).

         The defendant's summary judgment motion is ripe for disposition. For the reasons set forth herein, it is recommended that the defendant's motion be granted.

         I. Statement of the Case

          The material facts of this case are undisputed.[1]

         Acevedo is an African-American. He began working for the School District as a computer technician on or about December 6, 2012.

         As a computer technician, Acevedo's job requirements included an ability to interact with staff and administrators and to “consistently demonstrate tact, courtesy, reliability, and maturity while carrying out assigned duties.” (Doc. 32-3, at 4). Acevedo was informed of these requirements on the date of his hiring.

         On August 13 and 14, 2014, Acevedo and his co-worker, David Snook, attended a conference together. After the conference, Acevedo submitted a mileage reimbursement request, but he used the wrong form. As a result, the mileage reimbursement request was returned to him.

         On September 2, 2014, an administrative assistant, Edwina Drozd, emailed both Acevedo and Snook to remind them both to submit a conference expense report. She attached a copy of the School District's standard conference expense report form. Snook submitted a completed conference expense report that same day. Acevedo never submitted a conference expense report on the correct form.

         That same day, an incident occurred between Acevedo and Snook, concerning their conference expense reports. According to a statement given by Snook to police on September 2, 2014, Acevedo became “agitated” when he learned that Snook was submitting an expense report when Acevedo had already done so. Drozd intervened, attempting to explain that the request for resubmission on the correct form came from her. Snook told Acevedo that the revised expense report form was already completed and would be submitted. Acevedo entered Snook's cubicle and became “argumentative.” After Snook told Acevedo to take the issue to Steve Brodmerkel, an assistant superintendent with the School District, for clarification, Acevedo became “physically aggressive” and “pushed against” Snook, who was seated in his office chair. Snook stood up from his chair and stepped back. Acevedo reportedly “pressed against” Snook and yelled and spit in his face. Snook stepped back again and raised his hand to protect himself, at which time Acevedo shoved Snook. Drozd and another computer technician, Mike Glenn, told Acevedo to “calm down and consider his actions, ” at which time Acevedo left the office.

         Drozd and Glenn subsequently gave written statements consistent with Snook's statement to police. Both portrayed Acevedo as the aggressor. Glenn explicitly noted that Snook “did not respond in any physical manner.” Later that same day, September 2, 2014, Acevedo met with and provided a written statement of the incident to Stephen Brodmerkel, Assistant Superintendent for Personnel. According to Acevedo, the incident began with Snook telling Acevedo his expense report was “all wrong, ” in what Acevedo characterized as “a degrading tone of voice.” Acevedo returned to his cubicle, where Drozd intervened and spoke to him “in an unprofessional manner” about the expense report. Later, as Acevedo was walking by Snook's cubicle on the way out, Acevedo “mentioned to him in a calm voice that this duplicate paper work is getting to me.” Acevedo reported that Snook then went into a “rage like state” and began to scream at him. Acevedo reported that Snook jumped out of his chair “aggressively” and stepped toward Acevedo while reaching for his right hip, where Acevedo believed Snook kept a knife. Acevedo reported that both he and Snook were screaming at this point, standing two or three inches apart. Acevedo claimed that Snook then leaned his shoulder in toward Acevedo's chest, in response to which Acevedo raised his hand up to protect himself. Acevedo stated that he did not make initial contact, but instead merely responded to Snook's “aggressive movements with the chair, knife and leaning on [Acevedo's] chest.”[2] Brodmerkel advised Acevedo that he was suspended without pay, after notifying Acevedo of the charges against him and allowing him an opportunity to respond.

         On September 17, 2014, the School District Board of Directors (the “Board”) formally charged Acevedo with conduct warranting discharge, pursuant to 24 P.S. § 5-514 of the School Code. In particular, the Board found that “Acevedo's argumentative behavior and his spitting at David Snook, which constitutes an assault, is unacceptable employee behavior sanctionable with discharge.” The Board further found that Acevedo had lied and changed his story regarding the incident. Taken together, the Board found this conduct to constitute intemperance, violation of the state school laws, and improper conduct, all of which warranted discharge. Acevedo was provided with a formal “Notice of Termination, ” suspending him without pay until a hearing before the Board could be scheduled, if Acevedo so requested.

         On September 25, 2014, Acevedo wrote to the Board to request a hearing. On June 4, 2015, after at least one continuance of the matter, a hearing on Acevedo's termination was held before the Board. Acevedo appeared for the hearing, distributed a letter of resignation, [3] and abandoned the hearing without providing any testimony. The resignation was unqualified; it was not conditioned upon his obtaining payment for unused vacation or personal days.

         Following the hearing, the Board issued its opinion and adjudication on June 23, 2015, sustaining the suspension and terminating Acevedo for the same reasons given in the Notice of Termination. As a matter of school policy, because Acevedo was terminated, he was not entitled to accrued but unused vacation time.

         The School District has promulgated a harassment policy directing employees to report incidents of harassment or discrimination to Human Resources. In his complaint, Acevedo has alleged several incidents in support of his hostile work environment claim, but, as he acknowledged at his deposition, he never reported any of these incidents to Human Resources.[4]

         II. Legal Standard

         Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment should be granted only if “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). A fact is “material” only if it might affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute of material fact is “genuine” only if the evidence “is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In deciding a summary judgment motion, all inferences “should be drawn in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and where the non-moving party's evidence contradicts the movant's, then the non-movant's must be taken as true.” Pastore v. Bell Tel. Co. of Pa., 24 F.3d 508, 512 (3d Cir. 1994).

         The party seeking summary judgment “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, ” and demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the movant makes such a showing, the non-movant must set forth specific facts, supported by the record, demonstrating that “the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the jury.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52.

         In evaluating a motion for summary judgment, the Court must first determine if the moving party has made a prima facie showing that it is entitled to summary judgment. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 331. Only once that prima facie showing has been made does the burden shift to the nonmoving party to demonstrate the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 331.

         Both parties may cite to “particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for the purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers or other materials.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). “An affidavit or declaration used to support or oppose a motion must be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant or declarant is competent to testify on the matters stated.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4). “Although evidence may be considered in a form which is inadmissible at trial, the content of the evidence must be capable of admission at trial.” Bender v. Norfolk S. Corp., 994 F.Supp.2d 593, ...


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