DUBREY v. SEPTA et al
MEMORANDUM AND/OR OPINION. SIGNED BY HONORABLE CYNTHIA M. RUFE ON 1/15/2016. 1/15/2016 ENTERED AND COPIES E-MAILED.(sg, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
CIVIL ACTION NO. 11-4679
SEPTA, et al.,
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
January 15, 2016
Plaintiff has filed two related suits against her employer, Defendant Southeastern
Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), and individual SEPTA employees. The first,
which is the case currently at issue, alleged employment discrimination based on race and illegal
retaliation. 1 The second alleged retaliation related to the filing of the first case. The Court
allowed amendments to the Complaint and previously dismissed certain claims on motions to
dismiss and a prior motion for summary judgment. This case presently asserts a § 1983 claim
against SEPTA for hostile work environment, §1983 claims against SEPTA and SEPTA
employees James Jordan and Francis Cornely for retaliation, and §1985 claims against Mr.
Jordan and Mr. Cornely for conspiracy to violate federal rights. Before the Court is Defendants’
Second Motion for Summary Judgment, which asserts that the applicable statute of limitations
bars Plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim to the extent that it relates to the conduct of her
former supervisor, Anthony Sheridan. 2
See Civ. Act. No. 14-1370 (E.D. Pa.).
The Court previously granted in part and denied in part Defendant’s first motion for summary judgment.
In its May 7, 2015 Order, it expressly allowed this second motion to address whether any of Plaintiff’s claims are
barred by the applicable statute of limitations.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
The Court has previously set forth a summary of the record evidence in this case, and will
not repeat that recitation herein, but will only discuss the evidence necessary to provide context
for this ruling. 3 For purposes of resolving the motion for summary judgment, the Court views the
evidence in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff and draws all inferences in her favor. 4
Plaintiff is an employee of Defendant SEPTA. From 1994 until 2000, she worked as a
bus operator. On April 19, 2000, she was promoted to the position of Trial Preparation Specialist
in SEPTA’s Legal Department. Plaintiff’s performance evaluations indicated that she was
In her role as Trial Preparation Specialist, Plaintiff reported to the Trial Preparation
Supervisor, Anthony Sheridan, from 2000-2003. After she made several complaints about his
conduct towards her, she was assigned a different supervisor in the Legal Department in 2003.
Plaintiff has testified that Mr. Sheridan created a hostile work environment, testifying that he
gratuitously referred to her race in conversations, constantly criticized her, and caused her hurt
and humiliation for years, even after he was no longer her supervisor. 5 She also asserts that she
was assigned to the reception desk (performing duties below her pay grade, although her title and
pay were unchanged) from 2003-2006, in retaliation for her complaints about Mr. Sheridan’s
racially motivated mistreatment of her. 6 In her responses to interrogatories, Plaintiff indicated
that Mr. Sheridan most recently spoke to her in a derogatory manner in 2007. 7 Plaintiff testified
at deposition that she periodically complained about Mr. Sheridan to Legal Department
See Memorandum Opinion dated September 16, 2014.
Hugh v. Butler County Family YMCA, 418 F.3d 265, 267 (3d Cir. 2005).
Dubrey Dep. at 40-42.
Doc. No. 71-3, Answer to Interrogatory No. 3.
Doc. No. 71-3, Answer to Interrogatory No. 7.
supervisors, including SEPTA’s general counsel Mr. Staffieri, with her last complaint being
made verbally to Mr. Staffieri in “2009 maybe.” 8
In January 2011, Plaintiff claims that another SEPTA employee, Mr. Cornely, who
worked in the Claims Department, yelled at her in a disrespectful manner, referred to her race in
a demeaning way, and refused to apologize. 9 Also in 2011, Plaintiff filed a complaint with
SEPTA’s Equal Employment Opportunity office (“EOO”), complaining about a letter written by
Mr. Sheridan years earlier, which she had recently found on a department computer. 10
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Upon motion of a party, summary judgment is appropriate if “the materials in the record”
show “that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.” 11 Summary judgment may be granted only if the moving party
persuades the district court that “there exists no genuine issue of material fact that would permit
a reasonable jury to find for the nonmoving party.” 12 A fact is “material” if it could affect the
outcome of the suit, given the applicable substantive law. 13 A dispute about a material fact is
“genuine” if the evidence presented “is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the
nonmoving party.” 14
In evaluating a summary judgment motion, a court “must view the facts in the light most
favorable to the non-moving party,” and make every reasonable inference in that party’s favor. 15
Dubrey Dep. at 51-52.
Dubrey Dep. at 58-63.
Doc.No. 72-1 at 113-114.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a), (c)(1).
Miller v. Ind. Hosp., 843 F.2d 139, 143 (3d Cir. 1988).
See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).
Hugh v. Butler County Family YMCA, 418 F.3d 265, 267 (3d Cir. 2005).
Further, a court may not weigh the evidence or make credibility determinations. 16 Nevertheless,
the party opposing summary judgment must support each essential element of the opposition
with concrete evidence in the record. 17 “If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not
significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted.” 18 This requirement upholds the
“underlying purpose of summary judgment [which] is to avoid a pointless trial in cases where it
is unnecessary and would only cause delay and expense.” 19 Therefore, if, after making all
reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party, the court determines that there is no
genuine dispute as to any material fact, summary judgment is appropriate. 20
In Count III, Plaintiff alleges, inter alia, that her former supervisor, Mr. Sheridan, created
a hostile work environment, for which SEPTA can be held liable under Monell. 21 In the present
motion, Defendant argues that Plaintiff’s hostile work environment claims against SEPTA which
stem from Mr. Sheridan’s conduct are time-barred and must be dismissed.
Section 1983 claims are subject to a state’s statute of limitations governing personal
injury actions. 22 In Pennsylvania, this is two years. 23 As Plaintiff filed her complaint on July 26,
2011, she must allege either that the injurious conduct occurred on or after July 26, 2009, or that
Boyle v. County of Allegheny, 139 F.3d 386, 393 (3d Cir. 1998).
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986).
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (internal citations omitted).
Walden v. Saint Gobain Corp., 323 F. Supp. 2d 637, 641 (E.D. Pa. 2004) (citing Goodman v. Mead
Johnson & Co., 534 F.2d 566, 573 (3d Cir. 1976)).
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322; Wisniewski v. Johns–Manville Corp., 812 F.2d 81, 83 (3d Cir. 1987).
The claims against Mr. Sheridan personally were previously dismissed.
Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 280 (1985); Padilla v. Twp. of Cherry Hill, 110 F. App’x 272, 276 (3d
Cir. 2004); Bougher v. Univ. of Pittsburgh, 882 F.2d 74, 78-79 (3d Cir. 1989).
42 Pa. C.S. § 5524.
some conduct occurred after that date that constituted part of a continuing violation which began
Plaintiff relies upon the continuing violations doctrine, which states that “when a
defendant’s conduct is part of a continuing practice, an action is timely so long as the last act
evidencing the continuing practice falls within the limitations period; in such an instance, the
court will grant relief for the earlier related acts that would otherwise be time barred.” 25 To
benefit from this doctrine, a plaintiff must allege “at least one specific, timely violation.” 26
Plaintiff makes two arguments: 1) Mr. Sheridan’s discriminatory conduct, and her
complaints about that conduct, continued beyond July 26, 2009; and 2) Mr. Cornely’s 2011
conduct was part of a continuing practice of discrimination at SEPTA, and therefore the Court
can grant relief for earlier conduct by Mr. Sheridan that would otherwise be time barred.
Defendant challenges both arguments.
The Court first must determine whether Plaintiff’s general allegations of an ongoing
hostile work environment created by Mr. Sheridan are sufficient to overcome a statute of
limitations defense. In this regard, Defendant notes that Plaintiff fails to point to any specific act
by Mr. Sheridan evincing a continuing practice of harassment that falls with the applicable
limitation period. The Court agrees that Plaintiff has not put forth evidence of one or more
specific incidences of harassment after July 26, 2009. She alleges specific conduct and
complaints about Mr. Sheridan’s conduct early in her career in the legal department. In 2003, in
response to a complaint, she was assigned a new supervisor and she did not work under Mr.
Mandel v. M & O Packaging Corp., 706 F.3d 157, 165 (3d Cir. 2013) (“a court may consider the entire
scope of the hostile work environment claim so long as any act contributing to that claim took place within the
statutory time period.”).
Snyder v. Baxter Healthcare, Inc., 393 F. App’x 905, 909 (3d Cir. 2010) (internal quotation omitted).
Sheridan’s supervision again. She also recalled a specific incident which occurred in 2007. 27 But
Plaintiff only offers general testimony that Mr. Sheridan continued to cause her hurt and
humiliation thereafter, failing to point to any specific actions. 28
Plaintiff also fails to establish a link between any actions by Mr. Sheridan and any other
alleged acts of discrimination or retaliation. Plaintiff asserts that, in a 2011 incident, Mr. Cornely
yelled at Plaintiff in a disrespectful manner, refused to apologize, and possibly referred
disparagingly to Plaintiff’s race. Plaintiff argues that this conduct by Mr. Cornely was part of a
continuous pattern of discrimination begun by Mr. Sheridan. However, Plaintiff has failed to put
forth evidence from which a reasonable jury could infer that Mr. Cornely’s conduct—a single
incident, involving a different individual, who worked in a different department from both Mr.
Sheridan and Plaintiff—is a continuation of Mr. Sheridan’s alleged ongoing harassment, rather
than an unrelated act of discrimination. 29
Even if there were evidence bringing Mr. Sheridan’s conduct within the applicable statute
of limitations, Plaintiff fails to produce evidence that she put SEPTA on notice of the alleged
harassment by complaining to management-level employees, human resources, or the EEO,
about Mr. Sheridan’s conduct during the statute of limitations period. 30 She alleges that she
complained to SEPTA’s general counsel Mr. Staffieri periodically from “about” 2003-2009, 31
Doc. No. 71-3, Answer to Interrogatory No. 7.
In her deposition, Plaintiff said that “[i]t was years of abuse. . .” but she did not specify the years or
testify to any particular actions constituting discrimination by Mr. Sheridan after July 26, 2009. Dubrey Dep. at 42.
See, Dunn v. Bucks County Community College, 13-6726, 2014 WL 2158398, *4 (E.D. Pa. May 22,
2014); Horvath v. Rimtec Corp., 102 F. Supp.2d 219, 230 (D.N.J. 2000).
When a hostile work environment is allegedly created by a non-supervisory coworker, the employer is
liable only if the employer knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to take prompt and appropriate
remedial action. Huston v. Proctor & Gamble Paper Prod. Corp., 568 F.3d 100, 104 (3d Cir. 2009). After 2003,
Mr. Sheridan was not supervising Plaintiff, so Plaintiff must establish that SEPTA knew or should have known of
the alleged discrimination.
Dkt. No. 61 at 13.
but does not specifically allege that she complained to Mr. Staffieri on or after July 26, 2009.
Although Plaintiff argues, in her Response, that she reported Mr. Sheridan’s harassment to
SEPTA’s director of EEO in 2011, that EEO complaint did not mention racial harassment, nor
did it complain of any actions occurring after July 26, 2009. 32 The EEO complaint states that
Plaintiff asked to be removed from Mr. Sheridan’s supervision, eight years earlier, not because
of any race-based discrimination, but rather because she did not wish to supervise fellow
employee Jodi Stickland in the manner Mr. Sheridan was requiring. 33 Furthermore, in the EEO
complaint, Plaintiff did not complain about any recent events or acts of discrimination, but
challenged Mr. Sheridan’s account of her 2003 reassignment to the reception desk, which he had
set forth in a letter he dated April 21, 2006. 34
The Third Circuit instructs that Plaintiff “cannot revive [her otherwise] time-barred
allegations of discrimination or hostile work environment without alleging at least one specific,
timely violation.” 35 Consistent with the Third Circuit’s ruling, the Court holds that Plaintiff’s
claim that SEPTA is liable for the hostile work environment allegedly created by Mr. Sheridan
must be dismissed for failure to put forth evidence that some discrete act contributing to a hostile
work environment occurred within the applicable statute of limitations. The Court will therefore
grant Defendant’s Motion and enter summary judgment in favor of SEPTA on the time-barred
hostile work environment claim, to the extent that it arises out of the alleged conduct of Mr.
Sheridan and all conduct that predates the July 26, 2009 statute of limitations.
Doc. No. 72-1 at 113-114.
Id. Plaintiff apparently found this letter on a department computer in June 2011, while searching for
Snyder v. Baxter Healthcare, Inc., 393 Fed. App’x 905, 909 (3d Cir. 2010).
Defendant has not asked the Court to dismiss the hostile work environment claim in its
entirety. Based upon the Court’s ruling herein, the hostile work environment claim against
SEPTA now rests on essentially two episodes: 1) the 2011 incident involving Mr. Cornely; and
2) the 2013 meeting at which SEPTA General Counsel Jordan challenged Plaintiff’s participation
in this lawsuit and her deposition testimony suggesting that Mr. Cornely was a racist. It will be
for the jury to decide whether those incidents are sufficient to establish SEPTA’s liability for the
alleged hostile work environment.
For the reasons set forth above, the Court grants the Motion for Summary Judgment,
holding that Plaintiff may not present evidence regarding Mr. Sheridan’s contribution to the
alleged hostile work environment at SEPTA, nor any other evidence of discriminatory conduct
predating the July 26, 2009 statute of limitations, as claims based upon such evidence are timebarred by the applicable statute of limitations. An appropriate order follows.
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