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Duckett v. Commonwealth, Department of Health and Human Services

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 16, 2019



          Juan R. Sánchez, C.J.

         Plaintiff Danielle Duckett alleges that Defendant Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS), [1] her former employer, discriminated against her based on her sex by permitting a hostile work environment to exist during her employment. She brings this action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA).

         The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant DHS's motion for summary judgment and deny Duckett's motion for summary judgment.


         Duckett, a female, was employed by DHS in a supervisory role from March 31, 2014 until her January 3, 2017, resignation. Duckett Aff. ¶ 4(a), (d), (s). One of the employees Duckett supervised was Lee Franczyk. Id. at ¶ 4(e). Duckett alleges Franczyk's conduct created a hostile work environment.

         One of Franczyk's duties involved conducting regulatory field inspections of treatment providers for DHS licensing purposes. See Pl.'s Mot. Ex. C. These providers complained to Duckett that, between May and June of 2016, Franczyk engaged in sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior during field inspections. See id. Franczyk's behavior included inappropriate comments to provider staff, touching a patient's back and shoulders, and viewing pornographic material on his phone in a provider's office. See id. Duckett and her supervisor, Sandra Wooters, investigated the complaints. Duckett Aff. ¶ 4(i), (j). Individuals from relevant DHS bureaus were consulted and concluded the complaints “appeared” credible and Franczyk's behavior could “be considered a violation of” DHS's policy prohibiting sexual harassment. Pl.'s Mot. Ex. E. On September 6, 2016, Duckett communicated the nature of the investigation to Franczyk and informed him she would conduct a hearing concerning the allegations. Def.'s Mot., Ex. 4. On September 23, 2016, following the hearing, Duckett and Wooters informed Franczyk he was suspended five days for violating DHS policy prohibiting sexual harassment and for tardiness. Def.'s Mot., Ex. 5; see Pl.'s Mot. Ex. G.

         In September 2016, while the investigation was ongoing, Franczyk began monitoring the habits, and particularly the arrival times, of his coworkers. See Pl.'s Mot. Ex. F. Franczyk reported the perceived tardiness of a male coworker directly to Wooters. See Id. On October 11, 2016, Duckett, by email, brought this behavior to the attention of George Moore at DHS. Id. Duckett's email described another incident in which a female coworker observed a note Franczyk had created documenting her tardiness. Id.

         Franczyk's behavior toward Duckett, specifically, became hostile during and following the investigation. See Duckett Aff. ¶ 4(1), Pl.'s Mot., Ex. A (“It was after this investigation, that Franczyk targeted me heavily and repeatedly.”). Franczyk informed Duckett and Wooters he would “get rid of” them both for suspending him. Id. at ¶ 4(k). In a statement Duckett later provided to DHS personnel, she described Franczyk's behavior during this period:

During the investigation of the Sexual Harassment allegation against him . . . he stated he didn't want to talk to me face to face . . ., when I would ask him to process work he would throw things on the floor and get upset. One encounter he stopped me mid-sentence and said I was mean, and cold hearted for what I was doing to him - he further stated it was upsetting to him as a husband and a father. Once . . . after telling him what I needed him to process he threw something at the wall. After he received his discipline regarding the Sexual Harassment allegations- he got up and stormed out of my supervisor[‘]s office saying “I don't know how to talk to anyone” and then while I followed him down the hall . . . I heard him state[] “A fuckin bitch” while throwing his empty water bottle. . . .

Pl.'s Mot. Ex. G.

         Duckett also contends Franczyk began “stalking” her. Duckett Aff. ¶¶ 4(m), (n), Pl.'s Mot., Ex. A. Duckett observed Franczyk's car driving down her street on one occasion. Pl.'s Mot. Ex. G; see also Duckett Aff. ¶ 4(m), Pl.'s Mot. Ex. A (stating Franczyk was “casing” Duckett's house). Franczyk allegedly “stalked” Duckett on the internet as well. Duckett Aff ¶ 4(m), Pl.'s Mot. Ex. A. Duckett learned through a friend that Franczyk's wife had used Facebook to ask another individual about Duckett and had told that individual that Duckett “hadn't been nice to” Franczyk. Pl.'s Mot. Ex. G. Duckett suspected Franczyk had caused her to receive multiple messages notifying her of attempts to change her Facebook password. Id.

         On October 19, 2016, Duckett had to pull her car over due to mechanical problems and get roadside assistance. See Pl.'s Mot. Ex. G. Lug nuts to her tires were missing and her emergency brake line was cut. Id. The tow driver and dealership staff indicated to Duckett someone had done this to her car, and Duckett suspected Franczyk. See id. On October 20, 2016, Duckett emailed Wooters and George Moore at DHS, describing what had happened to the car, Franczyk's outbursts in the office, the allegation that Franczyk was driving on Duckett's block, the Facebook message by Franczyk's wife, and Duckett's suspicions about her Facebook password. See Pl.'s Mot. Ex. G. Additionally, Duckett informed Wooters and Moore that Franczyk had “been confrontational” with other staff and tracked their arrival times. Id.

         DHS contends it took several steps in response to Duckett's email. Based on police instruction, Moore determined DHS should not independently investigate the incident with Duckett's car while police were investigating. Moore Decl. ¶ 9, Def.'s Mot. Ex. 6. Moore and Wooters discussed the possibility of transferring Franczyk to either a different office or a different supervisor. Id. at ¶ 10. However, they determined transfer was not possible at the time because Duckett was the only supervisor for Franczyk's licensing section in his current office and because transfer to another office would require a substantiated allegation against Franczyk under the union agreement. Id.; Wooters Decl. ¶ 11, Def.'s Mot. Ex. 1. Moore and Wooters also “discussed” arranging Duckett and Franczyk's work schedules to minimize the times they were in the office together. Moore Decl. ¶ 11, Def.'s Mot. Ex. 6. Wooters increased her presence in the office and arranged for increased monitoring by security officers and increased lighting in the parking lot. Wooters Decl. ¶ 13, Def.'s Mot. Ex. 1. Wooters also “held several formal counseling sessions and informal discussions” with Franczyk “to address the various concerns about his behavior towards his co-workers.” Id. at ¶ 14. Duckett, for her part, contends she was informed only that Franczyk's union status prevented DHS from moving him from her supervision or office. Duckett Aff. ¶ 4(p), Pl.'s Mot. Ex. 1.

         On December 8, 2016, Duckett reported to Diane Murray at DHS that Franczyk had texted her and another female DHS employee a link to download a potentially malicious application on their phone. See Pl.'s Mot. Ex. K. On December 15, 2017, Duckett communicated her resignation, effective January 3, 2017, to DHS, informing DHS she was “forced to leave due to ongoing threats to [her] safety and the intolerable hostile work environment that has been created based on the employee” she supervised. Pl.'s Mot. Ex. L. Duckett had ...

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