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Mitchell v. Kensington Community Corporation for Individual Dignity

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

November 26, 2019



         In this employment discrimination case, Charles Mitchell (“Plaintiff”) alleges that Kensington Community Corporation for Individual Dignity (“KenCCID”) violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) by failing to accommodate him, retaliating against him, and discriminating against him; and violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by subjecting him to retaliation, discrimination, and a hostile work environment based on his national origin (African American). Presently before the Court is KenCCID's Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons that follow, KenCCID's Motion will be granted in part and denied in part.


         The following is a fair account of the factual assertions, as taken from both parties' Statement of Facts and briefs.

         A. Plaintiff's Employment with KenCCID

         Plaintiff, an African American born in the United States, spent twenty-five years working for Defendant KenCCID. KenCCID operates homes known as Community Living Arrangements (“CLAs”) that provide in-home services to individuals with intellectual, physical, and psychiatric disabilities. (ECF 21, Def. Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. A. Warrakah-Ali. Decl. ¶ 2 (“Warrakah-Ali Decl.”).) Although Plaintiff's specific role and job title varied, he worked in KenCCID's Maintenance department for the entirety of his employment. (Id. ¶ 6.) Plaintiff's general responsibilities included basic maintenance tasks (i.e., snow removal, painting, and simple repairs); submission of reports regarding the status of maintenance projects; and hiring of external contractors when necessary. (Id. ¶ 7.)

         According to Maku Warrakah-Ali (“Warrakah-Ali”), CEO of KenCCID, Plaintiff's job titles included: Maintenance Worker (1994); Maintenance Technician (1997); Maintenance and Vehicle Coordinator (2008); Maintenance Director (2010);[1] and Maintenance Coordinator (2014 until 2018 resignation). (Id.) None of these roles involved Plaintiff supervising other KenCCID employees; Plaintiff's supervisory authority was limited to temporary contractors. (Id. ¶ 10.)

         Plaintiff's direct supervisor changed during the years that he was employed by KenCCID. Warrakah-Ali supervised Plaintiff from 2003 until late 2014, at which time Francis Sivieri (“Sivieri”) took over supervision of Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 8.) On December 31, 2016, Glenn DeShields (“DeShields”), [2] hired as the Director of Human Resources, assumed responsibility for supervising the employees of KenCCID's Maintenance department, including Plaintiff. (Id.) After DeShields left KenCCID's employ in July 2017, Warrakah-Ali resumed ultimate supervision of the Maintenance department. (Id. ¶ 26.) Warrakah-Ali, Sivieri, and DeShields were all members of KenCCID's executive staff. (Id. ¶ 8.)

         B. Restructuring of KenCCID's Maintenance Department

         In 2014, KenCCID restructured its Maintenance department to create an additional Maintenance Coordinator position. (Id. ¶ 13.) This spot was filled by Lionel Labitan (“Labitan”), a native of Benin, Africa who, at the time of his promotion to the Maintenance department, worked for KenCCID in an entry-level position. (Id.) Friction between Plaintiff and Labitan surfaced almost immediately. Labitan sought out Warrakah-Ali to inquire about whether Plaintiff had supervisory authority over him, because Labitan reported that Plaintiff was giving him less desirable jobs. (Id. ¶ 15.) Warrakah-Ali clarified that Plaintiff and Labitan were equals, and that Plaintiff did not have supervisory authority. (Id.)

         The next year, in 2015, KenCCID hired a third Maintenance Coordinator, Ron Philips (“Philips”), an African American born in the United States. (Id. ¶ 16.) Plaintiff reported that he generally did not have problems with Philips, because an “understanding” existed between the two men. (Def. Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. B Pl. Dep. 75:19 (“Pl. Dep.”).) During the time when Plaintiff, Labitan, and Philips were employed as KenCCID's three Maintenance Coordinators, Sivieri reported “frequent bickering” in the department. (Warrakah-Ali Decl. ¶ 17.)

         The Maintenance department discord resulted in Warrakah-Ali's decision to temporarily change Plaintiff's position title to “Lead Maintenance Coordinator.” (Id. ¶ 20.) Warrakah-Ali discussed the proposed change with Plaintiff and Sivieri, and informed Plaintiff that because the change would be made only after it was explained to the entire Maintenance department, he was to keep the information confidential. (Id.) According to Warrakah-Ali, “within hours of th[e] meeting, ” Plaintiff leaked information about the promotion to several other KenCCID personnel. (Id.) Plaintiff's inability to maintain confidentiality led to the revocation of the title change. (Id.)

         C. Creation of Maintenance Supervisor Position

         The unresolved Maintenance department turmoil prompted Warrakah-Ali to authorize the creation of a Maintenance Supervisor position in early 2016. (Id. ¶ 17.) The purpose of the position was to resolve disputes, ensure jobs were distributed fairly, and complete specialized assignments. (Id.) The Maintenance Supervisor would be tasked with distributing the maintenance jobs and ensuring that they were timely completed. (Id. ¶ 25.) DeShields-the Director of Human Resources-was tasked with filling the position, but he supervised the Maintenance department until a hire was made. (Id. ¶ 18.) The Maintenance Supervisor position remained unfilled for approximately one year. (Id.) Sivieri reported to Warrakah-Ali that during this time, the tension in the Maintenance department increased, because Plaintiff felt he deserved the promotion due to his seniority. (Id. ¶ 19.)

         KenCCID promoted Labitan to the position of Maintenance Supervisor, effective January 15, 2017. (Id. ¶ 24.) Because all of Plaintiff's previous supervisors had been on KenCCID's executive team, this was the first time that Plaintiff was supervised by another Maintenance department member. (Id.) Although DeShields retained supervisory authority over the entire Maintenance department, Labitan's promotion to Maintenance Supervisor meant that Plaintiff would report directly to Labitan. (Id. ¶ 9.)

         D. Plaintiff's Interactions with Labitan

         Friction between Plaintiff and Labitan developed soon after Labitan started in the Maintenance department. The disagreements between Plaintiff and Labitan revolved around at least three topics: Labitan's offensive comments about African American people; Plaintiff's perception that Labitan and another Maintenance department employee talked negatively about him in French so he could not understand what they were saying; and work-related disputes about the quality of both Plaintiff's and Labitan's performance.

         First, in his deposition, Plaintiff explained that “from almost the beginning of when” Labitan started working for the Maintenance department, Labitan made derogatory comments about “black people [who were] born in this nation.” (Pl. Dep. 76:15; 76:5.) Plaintiff explained that Labitan made these comments during “general conversation[s]” about “life and women.” (Id. 79:18; 79:20.)

         A sampling of the comments that Labitan made to Plaintiff include:[3]

• “Black people are lazy and they have welfare.” (Id. 76:19-20.)
• “[African American] women are only used, good for play things.” (Id. 76:22-23.)
• “All [African American people] like to do is do drugs, stay on the corner and smoke blunts.” (Id.76:25; 77:2.)
• “[African American people] don't do nothing but sit on corners, drink beer and smoke weed.” (Id. 80:23-24.)
• “[American] black people don't utilize the free education, and all they do is sit on street corners and drink beer and smoke dope and be drug dealers.” (Id. 81:22-25.)

         Second, Plaintiff discussed the offense he took to conversations that were conducted in French by Labitan and Gildes Sewa, another native of Africa who worked in KenCCID's Maintenance department. According to Plaintiff, Labitan and Benin “talk[ed] about [Plaintiff] behind, when [he was] there in their language and they laugh[ed] and snickle [sic] and gigs [sic].” (Id. 83:15-17.) Plaintiff inferred that he was the subject of their conversations because he can “read body language” and “ha[s] common sense.” (Id. 85:19.)

         Third, Plaintiff and Labitan disagreed about the quality of Plaintiff's performance at work. According to Plaintiff, Labitan repeatedly criticized Plaintiff's job performance, telling him he was “lazy;” “[n]o good;” and did not “know what [he was] doing.” (Id. 109:6.) Plaintiff regularly reported Labitan's critiques of Plaintiff's work-related performance to management. (Id. 102:22- 25.) Plaintiff's anger at Labitan's criticisms was aggravated by his perception that Labitan came to work late and did not listen to Plaintiff's direction. (Id. 106:9-10.)

         E. Other Incidents Involving KenCCID Maintenance Department Employees

         In addition to the specific comments Labitan made, there were various incidents involving the employees of the Maintenance department that prompted Plaintiff to file reports of the perceived discrimination with KenCCID management.

         First, on March 14, 2016, an incident occurred involving Plaintiff, Philips, and Labitan at the local Lowe's hardware store. According to Plaintiff, after he provided an instruction to Philips and Labitan, Philips and Labitan told a Lowe's employee that Plaintiff “ain't nobody but the Uber driver.” (Pl. Dep. 62:22.) Plaintiff felt disrespected by the implication that he had no authority over Philips and Labitan, so he filed an Incident Report documenting the interaction with KenCCID. (Id. Ex. 7.)

         Second, some time in March 2016, an incident occurred involving a dispute between Philips and Plaintiff. The nature of the disagreement is not clear from the record, but during his deposition, Sivieri testified that it was brought to his attention that both Philips and Plaintiff had firearms. (Def. Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. D Sivieri Dep. 17:17-20 (“Sivieri Dep.”).) Neither firearm ...

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