WRAY v. SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PHILADELPHIA
MEMORANDUM AND/OR OPINION. SIGNED BY HONORABLE BERLE M. SCHILLER ON 2/4/16. 2/4/16 ENTERED AND COPIES E-MAILED.(mbh, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
SCHOOL DISTRICT OF
February 4, 2016
Odell Wray sued his former employer, the School District of Philadelphia (“the School
District”), alleging racial discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Specifically, Wray claims that he was fired because the school principal disapproved of his
The School District has filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that Wray cannot
establish proximate cause under Jones v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority,
796 F.3d 323 (3d Cir. 2015), between the principal’s alleged animus and Wray’s termination. For
the following reasons, the motion is granted.
Wray was a custodial assistant for the School District from August 14, 1992, until he was
fired on April 23, 2013. (Compl. ¶ 5.) At the time of his termination, Wray was assigned to
Motivation High School, where Yvonne Jones was the principal. (Id. ¶¶ 25-26.) Wray, an
African-American man, claims that Jones, an African-American woman, bullied him for dating
one of the white teachers. (Id. ¶¶ 26-46.) According to the Complaint, Jones told Wray that
“jungle fever” was not allowed at school. (Id. ¶ 30.) Jones allegedly told others that Wray was
walking around with a target on his back. (Id. ¶ 43.) On November 16, 2011, Jones called Wray
to her office and falsely accused him of leaving work during his shift. (Id. ¶ 45.) After admitting
her mistake, Jones allegedly told Wray that he might avoid these confrontations in the future if
he stuck to his “own kind.” (Id. ¶ 45.)
Wray entered the school building on November 28, 2011, at approximately 7 p.m., with a
female companion named Cassandra Hendricks whom Philadelphia Police Officers Glenn Fedon
and Maribelle Quiles recognized as a local prostitute. (Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. 1 [Police Report].)
When Wray and Hendricks exited the building about twenty-five minutes later, Officers Fedon
and Quiles stopped them for questioning. (Id. Ex. 2 [Dep. of Quiles].) Wray told the officers that
he had returned to the school to retrieve his debit card and to allow Hendricks to use the
bathroom. The police questioned Hendricks separately. (Id.) According to Officer Quiles,
Hendricks admitted that she and Wray had had sex inside the school building, and that this was
not the first time they had done this. (Id.) Wray disputed Hendricks’s account and maintained
that he was just driving her home.
The following day, on November 29, 2011, the two police officers returned to the school
to inform Jones about Wray’s actions. (Id. Ex. 14 [Investigative Report of Cook].) Jones notified
Tom Wilson, one of Wray’s supervisors, about the police report, and she asked that Wray be
transferred. (Id. Ex. 7 [Mem. of Wilson].) Jones also contacted School Police Officer Johnnie
Lampkins, who located surveillance footage showing Wray and Hendricks inside the building.
(Id. Ex. 15 [SRC Findings of Fact].) Officer Lampkins sent a report to the Office of School
Safety, which initiated a formal investigation led by Antoinette Cook, a retired police detective.
Cook submitted an investigative report dated January 10, 2012, to Chief Inspector Myron
Patterson, which referred to the police report and surveillance footage as evidence against Wray.
(Investigative Report of Cook.) This report was not addressed to Jones (Id.)
On November 30, 2011, Wray’s supervisor, Tom Wilson, wrote a memorandum to the
facilities coordinator, Matt Melady, recommending a hearing to contemplate Wray’s dismissal.
(Mem. of Wilson.) That same day, Melady wrote a memorandum to Tracie Gardner, a
disciplinary hearing officer, to recommend “a[n] immediate hearing and to request . . . the
termination of services of Mr. Wray.” (Id. Ex. 12 [Mem. of Melady].) The memorandum
included a chronological index of Wray’s disciplinary history, which, according to Melady,
showed “continuous insubordinate and disrespectful behavior.” (Id.)
On December 29, 2011, Gardner held a hearing to discuss the charges against Wray,
namely trespassing, inappropriate behavior, and allowing an unauthorized guest to enter the
school building. (Id. Ex. 13 [Mem. of Gardner].) On January 12, 2012, Acting Hearing Officer
Richard Cecchine conducted a second hearing on the matter. (SRC Findings of Fact.) On January
19, 2012, the School District advised Wray that it would recommend his immediate termination
to the School Reform Commission (“SRC”). (Answer ¶ 55.) Wray appealed the School District’s
recommendation for termination, and, on October 31, 2012, SRC Hearing Officer William
Capresseco held a hearing on the appeal. (Id. ¶ 58.) Jones did not participate in any of these
hearings. (Mem. of Gardner; SRC Findings of Fact.) Relying on Capresseco’s factual findings
and legal conclusions, the SRC fired Wray on April 18, 2013. (Answer ¶ 59.)
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Summary judgment is appropriate when the record discloses no genuine issue of material
fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); see
also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). In reviewing the record, “a
court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all
inferences in that party’s favor.” Armbruster v. Unisys Corp., 32 F.3d 768, 777 (3d Cir. 1994).
The moving party bears the burden of showing that the record reveals no genuine issue as to any
material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P.
56(a); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247. Once the moving party has met its burden, the nonmoving
party must go beyond the pleadings to set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine
issue for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585-86 (1986).
“There is no issue for trial unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a
jury to return a verdict for that party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. “Such affirmative evidence—
regardless of whether it is direct or circumstantial—must amount to more than a scintilla, but
may amount to less (in the evaluation of the court) than a preponderance.” Williams v. Borough
of W. Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460-61 (3d Cir. 1989).
A court may not consider the credibility or weight of the evidence in deciding a motion
for summary judgment. Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N. Am., Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d
Cir. 1992). Nonetheless, a party opposing summary judgment must do more than rest upon mere
allegations, general denials, or vague statements. Quiroga v. Hasbro, Inc., 934 F.2d 497, 500 (3d
Cir. 1991). If the nonmoving party’s evidence “is merely colorable, . . . or is not significantly
probative, . . . summary judgment may be granted.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act forbids employers from making adverse employment
decisions, such as termination decisions, based on race. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Jones did not
make the decision to fire Wray, because she lacked such authority. Moreover, Jones was not
present at any of the three disciplinary hearings conducted by the School District to discuss the
charges stemming from Wray’s conduct with a female companion on school grounds. Instead,
Jones reported Wray’s actions to his supervisors, who initiated the termination procedures.
(Mem. of Wilson.) Wray’s discrimination claim relies on Jones’s decision to report these actions
to Wray’s superiors. (Resp. to Mot. for Summ. J. at 3.)
The legal basis for Wray’s discrimination claim is the “cat’s paw” theory of liability. 1
The cat’s paw theory permits an employee to “hold his employer liable for the animus of a
supervisor who was not charged with making the ultimate employment decision.” Staub v.
Proctor Hosp., 562 U.S. 411, 415 (2011). There are two requirements for a successful cat’s paw
claim: (1) a supervisor who is not the ultimate decisionmaker must “perform an act motivated
by [discriminatory] animus that is intended . . . to cause an adverse employment action,” Staub,
562 U.S. at 422; and (2) “that act [must be] a proximate cause of the ultimate employment
action,” Id. Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Wray, this Court will assume here
that Jones’s decision to report Wray included a discriminatory animus toward Wray and was
intended to get him fired. Nevertheless, Wray’s claim fails on the second prong, because he
cannot establish proximate cause.
The Third Circuit’s decision in Jones v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation
Authority, 796 F.3d 323 (3d Cir. 2015), illustrates the challenges of establishing proximate cause
under a cat’s paw theory. In Jones, the plaintiff brought an action under Title VII alleging
The term “cat’s paw” is derived from a fable in which “a monkey induces a cat . . . to extract
roasting chestnuts from the fire. After the cat has done so, burning its paws in the process, the
monkey makes off with the chestnuts and leaves the cat with nothing.” Staub, 562 U.S. at 415
n.1. Here, Wray argues that Jones induced the School District to fire him; the School District
consequently is burned by the present lawsuit.
discrimination after she was fired for timesheet fraud. While there was no evidence that the
employer’s decision to terminate her was discriminatory, the plaintiff asserted a cat’s paw theory
of liability, alleging that her supervisor, Alfred Outlaw, harbored a discriminatory animus that
influenced the termination process. According to the plaintiff, Outlaw had sexually harassed her
in the past, and she had filed a complaint against him. When Outlaw discovered evidence that the
plaintiff had committed timesheet fraud, he seized on the opportunity to retaliate by reporting
this fraud to the inspector general. The court held that the plaintiff could not recover without
proximate cause, “[e]ven if . . . Outlaw’s accusation was based on animus,” and even if
“Outlaw’s conduct was a but-for cause of Jones’s termination, as she may never have been fired
for timesheet fraud had Outlaw not reported the matter.” Jones, 796 F.3d at 330 (citing Staub,
562 U.S. at 419).
In Jones, the court held that there was no proximate cause between Outlaw’s
discriminatory animus and the plaintiff’s termination, because the authorities conducting the
investigation did not merely adopt Outlaw’s accusations or rubberstamp his recommendations.
Id. at 331 (“[P]roximate cause will not exist when the employer does not rely on the supervisor’s
biased report in taking the ultimate adverse action.”). On the contrary, the authorities in that case
conducted an independent investigation. The court noted that the decision to terminate the
plaintiff was “based on an investigation independent from Outlaw.” Id. There was “no evidence
that Outlaw influenced the . . . investigation or SEPTA’s termination decision beyond getting the
ball rolling with his initial report of timesheet fraud.” Id. Finally, the Third Circuit distinguished
Jones from McKenna v. City of Philadelphia, 649 F.3d 171 (3d Cir. 2011), which had held that a
cat’s paw theory of liability could apply to Title VII complaints. The court stated that “this case
is a far cry from McKenna, where there was no evidence that the employer relied on anything
besides the allegedly biased supervisor’s say-so in deciding to terminate the employee.” Jones,
796 F.3d at 331 (citing McKenna, 649 F.3d at 179).
In this case, the School District has furnished undisputed evidence that the decision to
terminate Wray was based on the results of an investigation that was sufficiently independent
from Jones to preclude the jury from finding proximate cause as a matter of law. Rather than
rubberstamp Jones’s account of the facts, the School District commissioned an independent
investigation of the November 28, 2011 events and held three hearings conducted by three
different hearing officers at which Wray was present and Jones was absent. In making its final
determination, the SRC considered as evidence the police report, Investigator Cook’s
independent report, surveillance footage placing Wray and Hendricks at the scene, and Wray’s
admissions and contradictions at the hearings. (SRC Findings of Fact.) The written findings of
fact adopted by the SRC did not mention Jones. (Id.) Wray admitted that he permitted an
unauthorized guest to enter the school, which was a violation of School District policy. (Id.)
Additionally, a hearing officer noted that Wray was unable to identify his female companion by
name or state where she lived or what she did for a living, even though Wray claimed they were
friends and that he was driving her home. (Id.) In its decision to terminate Wray, the School
District also considered his prior disciplinary history, which had resulted in two suspensions,
including a ten-day suspension for a physical altercation with a student, after which both parties
required medical attention. (Id.)
There is no factual basis for Wray’s assertion that “it appears to be undisputed that the
decision-makers of Plaintiff’s termination relied on facts provided by Principal Jones.” (Resp. to
Mot. for Summ. J. at 1.)
Jones may have gotten the ball rolling on Wray’s termination by
sharing the police report with his supervisors. Indeed, Jones’s decision to share this information
may have been the but-for cause of Wray’s termination. However, the SRC’s decision to
terminate Wray was based on many types of evidence, such as surveillance footage, that were
independent from Jones’s sphere of influence. Even if Jones’s recitation of the events to Wray’s
supervisors or the investigators was embellished, as Wray alleges, the record simply lacks
sufficient evidence for a jury to find that the SRC blindly adopted the facts reported by Jones.
Therefore, as a matter of law, Jones did not proximately cause Wray’s termination, and the
School District is entitled to summary judgment.
In reviewing the School District’s motion for summary judgment, the Court assumed that
Jones was biased against Wray. However, the existence of a supervisor with a discriminatory
animus does not make an employee immune from termination. The School District terminated
Wray based on a finding that he had sex with a prostitute on school grounds, and based on the
cumulative impact of this incident with prior infractions. This Court does not need to determine
the accuracy of these findings. It is sufficient that the School District reached its decision on the
basis of an investigation and series of hearings independent from any supervisor with a
discriminatory animus. The School District’s motion for summary judgment is granted. An order
consistent with this Memorandum will be docketed separately.
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