United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
INES S. ZOHNI, Plaintiff,
THE SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PHILADELPHIA, and SHAUNEILLE TAYLOR, Defendants.
employment discrimination case, plaintiff claims she was
terminated from her position as a Special Education Teacher
at Richard R. Wright Elementary School (“Wright
Elementary”) after an illness during a holiday vacation
required her to extend her absence from work. Plaintiff filed
a Complaint on December 31, 2018, asserting claims of
disability, race, and ancestry discrimination. Presently
before the Court is defendants' partial motion to
dismiss. For the reasons that follow, defendants' Motion
is denied without prejudice.
was hired by the School District of Philadelphia (the
“District”) in 2008 and worked as a Special
Education Teacher at Wright Elementary until her suspension
in on January 13, 2014. Compl. ¶¶ 9, 16. The
District is governed by the School Reform Commission
(“SRC”) which has final policymaking authority
for the District. Id. ¶ 3. Plaintiff was
supervised by the principal of Wright Elementary, defendant
Shauneille Taylor. Id. ¶ 5.
avers in her Complaint that the District and Taylor
discriminated against her on the basis of both her
race/ancestry and her disability. Plaintiff was born in Egypt
and was the only employee of Middle Eastern ancestry working
at the school. Id. ¶ 10. During her employment
at Wright Elementary plaintiff suffered from major
depression, anxiety, and other ailments that affected her
vision, concentration, eating, sleeping and ability to drive
and walk. Id. ¶ 11. Plaintiff also suffered
from fatigue, weight loss, sweating and extreme hot and cold
sensitivity. Id. ¶ 11. Plaintiff has now been
diagnosed with Hyperthyroidism. Id. ¶ 11.
December of 2013, plaintiff traveled to Egypt for a vacation
during a school holiday break. Id. ¶ 13. She
became ill while she was in Egypt and was unable to return to
work by the expected return date of January 2, 2014.
Id. ¶ 14. She reported her illness through the
“AESOP substitute services computer network, ” as
required. However, due to a technical error, only two dates
on which she was absent were recorded - January 2 and 10,
2014. Id. ¶ 14. Plaintiff was unable to report
her absences by phone while in Egypt. Id. ¶ 14.
She further claims that on January 8, 2014, plaintiff's
father, Saleh Zohni, called Principal Taylor to report
plaintiff's illness and inability to return to work until
January 13, 2014. Id. ¶ 15.
Plaintiff arrived at Wright Elementary on January 13, 2014,
Taylor did not allow her to return to work. Id.
¶ 16. Instead Taylor suspended plaintiff without pay,
requested a hearing for plaintiff's unauthorized
absences, and recommended dismissal. Id. ¶ 16.
hearings were held on March 25 and April 28, 2014.
Id. ¶ 17. On June 2, 2014 the SRC prepared a
statement of charges and notice of a right to hearing, and
recommended dismissal of employment, stating “you are
hereby suspended without pay pending a decision on the . . .
recommendation of dismissal.” Id. ¶ 18.
On April 14, 2015, a formal hearing was conducted at which
Taylor testified. Id. ¶ 19. According to
plaintiff, at that hearing, Taylor “deliberately
misrepresented facts and circumstances related to the events
surrounding Plaintiff's going on vacation to Egypt and
her absences . . .with the intent on [sic] getting Plaintiff
fired . . . [Taylor's] actions were motivated by
Plaintiff's ancestry or ethnic characteristics and/or
Plaintiff's illness and disability.” Id.
¶ 24. On August 20, 2015, the SRC issued a decision on
plaintiff's employment and took action “approv[ing]
the [ ] District's recommendation of [plaintiff's]
dismissal as Special Education Teacher effective January 13,
2014.” Id. ¶ 20.
states that individuals of different ancestry and ethnic
characteristics were given lesser discipline, such as
suspension, or afforded progressive discipline before
termination for conduct more egregious than plaintiff's,
including violations of attendance and other school policies.
Id. ¶ 22. She further claims that defendants
failed to accommodate her disability by not authorizing her
leave in January of 2014. Id. ¶ 23.
filed her Complaint on December 31, 2018. The Complaint
includes the following claims: (1) violations of 42 U.S.C.
§ 1981 pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the
District (Count I); (2) violations of the Pennsylvania Human
Relations Act (“PHRA”) against the District and
Taylor (Count II); and (3) violations of 42 U.S.C. §
1981 against Taylor (Count III). Defendants filed a partial
motion to dismiss on April 8, 2019, seeking dismissal of
Counts I and III (Document No. 5). Plaintiff responded to the
Motion on April 22, 2019 (Document No. 6).
a telephone conference on June 20, 2019, in which counsel for
both parties presented argument on the Motion, the Court
denied the Motion without prejudice. That decision is
amplified in this Memorandum.
purpose of a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss is to test the legal
sufficiency of the complaint.” Nelson v. Temple
Univ., 920 F.Supp. 633, 634 n.2 (E.D. Pa. 1996). To
survive a motion to dismiss, plaintiff must allege
“sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state
a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)
(internal citations omitted). “A claim has facial
plausibility when the pleaded factual content allows the
court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is
liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. at
678. In assessing the plausibility of the plaintiff's
claims, a district court first identifies those allegations
that constitute nothing more than mere “legal
conclusions” or “naked assertion[s].”
Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 557, 564
(2007). Such allegations are “not entitled to the
assumption of truth.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.
The court then assesses “the ‘nub' of the
plaintiff['s] complaint-the well-pleaded, nonconclusory
factual allegation[s]”-to determine whether it states a
plausible claim for relief. Id. at 680. ...