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Patrick-Perez v. Lackawanna County Sheriff's Office

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

August 13, 2019




         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, Lackawanna County Sheriff's Office and Lackawanna County. (Doc. 10). For the following reasons, the defendants' motion to dismiss will be DENIED.


         According to the facts set forth in the complaint[1], the plaintiff, an African-American male, has been employed by the defendant, Lackawanna County Sheriff's Office, as a deputy sheriff since 2003. During the times relevant to this action, he was assigned to the warrant division of the Sheriff's Office and, until 2016, was the only person of color employed by the Sheriff's Office.

         During the summer of 2015, the plaintiff was referred to as “Mo Brown, ” which he understood to be a racial slur, on a daily basis by his direct supervisor, Sgt. Glenn Ford. Additionally, the plaintiff received racially offensive text messages from Sgt. Ford, including one depicting former President Barack Obama as a terrorist. After incidents of African Americans being shot by law enforcement in other parts of the country, Sgt. Ford and Sgt. Jason Oakley would ask the plaintiff about African Americans burning down buildings and rioting, and told the plaintiff that “a civil war was coming again” and that “the enema is coming.” During this time, Sgts. Ford and Oakley would forward phone calls from African Americans to the plaintiff, remarking that the callers were “not even fucking speaking English, ” and would laugh about the plaintiff being able to understand what the callers were saying.

         On August 27, 2015, the plaintiff verbally complained to Sheriff Mark McAndrew about the above described incidents. Sheriff McAndrew responded by asking the plaintiff to hold off on moving forward with filing a grievance to allow him time to develop a policy to address fraternization and told the plaintiff that he would have an opportunity to address it before it was issued. However, on August 28, 2015, the plaintiff filed a grievance based upon his complaint to Sheriff McAndrew.

         On September 23, 2015, a meeting was held to try to resolve the plaintiff's grievance, as well as to discuss Sheriff McAndrew's fraternization policy that was aimed at correcting racially hostile environments. The defendants' human resource director, Brian Loughney, attended the meeting and concluded that the plaintiff's allegations were too general. The defendants ultimately decided to take no action and requested that the plaintiff withdraw his grievance. The plaintiff was told that Mr. Loughney would send him the new policy regarding harassment, hostile work environment, and retaliation, however, no new policy was made.

         In the following months, Sgt. Ford refused to speak to the plaintiff regarding assignments and would instead provide him with them on written notes. Sgt. Ford would only speak to the plaintiff if the plaintiff came to him with an issue that needed to be addressed.

         On or about January 28, 2016, the defendants removed the plaintiff from his position in the warrant office and placed him in the less desirable and more dangerous assignment of prisoner transport, effective February 22, 2016. After the plaintiff's complaint about this transfer, the defendants returned him to the warrant office on or about March 9, 2016, where Sgt. Ford continued his practice of giving the plaintiff his assignments via written notes while providing other, non-African American deputies their assignments verbally.

         Upon the plaintiff's return to the warrant unit, he learned that Sgt. Ford had sent four members of the warrant unit a text message stating that he was unhappy about the plaintiff's return to the unit. The plaintiff reported the text message to Mr. Loughney on March 17, 2016 and on April 4, 2016 after initially receiving no response. Mr. Loughney responded that Sgt. Ford's text message was “not problematic” and took no corrective action. On or about March 17, 2016, the plaintiff also informed Sheriff McAndrew that he did not feel safe at work. However, the plaintiff alleges that the racial harassment persisted despite his complaints.

         On or about April 7, 2016, the plaintiff discovered an e-mail that had been received and printed by Sgt. Ford that supported the election of Donald Trump as president and called for the extermination of “rabid, messy, mean raccoons.” The plaintiff understood the term “raccoons” to refer to African Americans, and perceived the e-mail to be another instance of racial harassment by Sgt. Ford. The plaintiff promptly complained about the e-mail to Mr. Loughney. However, Mr. Loughney informed the plaintiff that no action would be taken because he did not believe the e-mail to be a direct attack on the plaintiff and stated that nobody insinuated that the e-mail was about him.

         On June 2, 2016, the plaintiff was again transferred from the warrant unit to the prisoner transport unit, where he remained until May, 2017. Subsequently, on or about August 22, 2016, Sheriff McAndrew requested the plaintiff come to his office, whereupon he showed the plaintiff a picture of a black athlete running in a race while carrying a television. Sheriff McAndrew told the plaintiff it had come from the social media account of another Lackawanna County Deputy Sheriff and asked the plaintiff what he thought of the picture. The plaintiff told Sheriff McAndrew that he found it offensive and insisted that Sheriff McAndrew do something about it.

         The plaintiff filed a charge with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (“EEOC”) and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (“PHRC”) alleging discrimination and retaliation based on his race. The plaintiff cited his 2015 complaint to Mr. Loughney about Sgt. Ford's and Sgt. Oakley's conduct, the subsequent meeting, his first transfer to the prisoner transport division, and the subsequent investigation by the defendants. The plaintiff then filed an amended charge with the EEOC and PHRC alleging discrimination in violation of Title VII based on his race and retaliation for engaging in protected activity. In his amended charge, the plaintiff cited his second transfer to the prisoner transport division as well as the social media post shown to him by Sherriff McAndrew on August 22, 2016. On October 19, 2017, the EEOC issued its determination, concluding that the evidence obtained during its investigation established a violation of Title VII.

         On November 13, 2018, the plaintiff filed his complaint with this Court. (Doc. 1). The plaintiff's complaint contains six counts: (I) discrimination on account of race and color under Title of VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”); (II) retaliation under Title VII; (III) discrimination based on race, national origin, and color in violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”); (IV) retaliation in violation of the PHRA; (V) racial harassment under Title VII; and (VI) racial harassment in violation of the PHRA. On January 14, 2019, the defendants filed the instant motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, (Doc. 10), and filed a brief in support of their motion on January 28, 2019, (Doc. 11). On February 12, 2019, the plaintiff ...

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