Lantz v. Waynesboro Area School District et al
MEMORANDUM (Order to follow as separate docket entry) re 5 MOTION to Dismiss filed by Wendy Royer, Waynesboro Area School District, Diane McCallum, Sherian Diller. Signed by the Honorable Sylvia H. Rambo on October 14, 2016. (kjn)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
WAYNESBORO AREA SCHOOL
DISTRICT, DR. SHERIAN DILLER, :
DR. WENDY ROYER, and DR.
Civ. No. 1:16-CV-0224
Judge Sylvia H. Rambo
In this civil action, Plaintiff brings, inter alia, sex discrimination and
retaliation claims against her former employer and supervisors under Title VII and
the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. Presently before the court is Defendants’
motion to dismiss the complaint (Doc. 5), which challenges whether Plaintiff
sufficiently pleaded a cause of action. For the reasons that follow, Defendants’
motion will be granted in part and denied in part.
For purposes of disposition of the instant motion to dismiss, the court has
carefully reviewed the complaint and exhibits attached thereto, and will, as
required when deciding a motion to dismiss, accept as true all well-pleaded factual
allegations and view them in the light most favorable to Plaintiff.
Plaintiff Brenda Lantz (“Plaintiff”) obtained a college degree in teaching
with a plan to pursue a non-teaching career path in education. (Doc. 1, ¶ 1.)
Following college, she received a master’s degree in counseling and, up until 2014,
had been employed as a school counselor for Defendant Waynesboro Area School
District (“the District”) for the entirety of her professional life. (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 4, 1516.)
On January 31, 2014, Defendants Dr. Wendy Royer (“Royer”), the
assistant superintendent of the District, and Diane McCallum (“McCallum”), an
assistant principle at the District high school, notified Plaintiff that at the beginning
of the 2014 academic year, she would be transferred to a new position as an
English teacher at the high school. (Id. at ¶¶ 7, 8, 21.) At that time, Plaintiff had
sixteen years of experience as a counselor in the District with a perfect
performance record and had served for two years as chair of the counseling
department. (Id. at ¶ 21.) She had no teaching experience. (Id. at ¶ 22.) Royer
informed Plaintiff that she was being replaced by a male former English teacher
with no experience as a counselor and only a recent counseling certification. (Id. at
¶ 24.) Plaintiff protested that her reassignment violated her contractual rights under
a collective bargaining agreement that protected her from any such reassignment
and, further, that the reassignment was motivated by the District superintendent Dr.
Sherian Diller’s (“Diller”) desire to place a male in the high school counseling
office. (Id. at ¶ 25.) Royer did not deny that the gender of Plaintiff’s replacement
impacted the decision, stating instead, “Well, you know what? If it happens to
work out that way.” (Id. at ¶ 27.) In fact, Royer told at least two other District
employees that Diller wanted a male counselor at the high school. (Id. at ¶ 28.)
Plaintiff alleges that the decision to replace her with a male counselor was made by
Diller, but the decision as to which male was delegated to McCallum and Royer,
subject to Dr. Diller’s final approval.
On February 10, 2014, as a result of her reassignment, Plaintiff filed a
Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
(“EEOC”), which was cross-filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations
Commission (“PHRC”). (Id. at ¶ 32.) On May 13, 2014 and July 24, 2014,
respectively, the District was notified and served with the charge. (Id. at ¶ 33.)
According to the complaint, after the District was notified of Plaintiff’s
EEOC charge of discrimination, Royer, Diller, and McCallum began engaging in a
pattern of retaliation against her. For example, during the summer of 2014, they
directed Plaintiff to draft a curriculum incorporating technology and group work
for the class she would begin teaching in the fall. (Id. at ¶ 34a.) After several
consultations, Royer, Diller and McCallum approved Plaintiff’s proposed
curriculum as presented, including the accompanying required technology. (Id. at ¶
34b.) However, in August 2014, after the District and the individual defendants
were served with the charge, Plaintiff discovered that the necessary group tables
and laptop computers, which were essential to her curriculum, had not been
provided to her classroom. (Id. at ¶ 34c.) Plaintiff sent several emails to McCallum
and the high school principal regarding the missing tables and computers, but no
such equipment was provided until Plaintiff obtained tables directly from a school
custodian. (Id. at ¶ 34d-e.) During the second week of school, Plaintiff received
several obsolete computers that were inadequate for her curriculum. (Id. at ¶ 34g.)
As of November 30, 2014, Plaintiff had still not received any functioning laptops,
which severely interfered with her ability to deliver the educational goals set forth
in her curriculum. (Id. at ¶ 34i.) In addition to these issues, Plaintiff was also
assigned an “inordinately heavy teaching load compared to all other English
teachers at [the high school].” (Id. at ¶ 34j.)
On September 4, 2014, Plaintiff emailed the high school principal stating
that she felt the district was “setting [her] up to fail” by telling her to create a
course with technology and group work and then not providing her with the
appropriate equipment (Id. at ¶ 35.) Between September and November 2014,
Plaintiff took medical leave after her physician ordered her to stop working “due to
the deterioration of her health from the retaliatory conduct by [ ] Diller and Royer.”
(Id. at ¶¶ 36-37.) Thereafter, Plaintiff was on medical leave. (Id. at ¶ 37.) On
October 5, 2014, Plaintiff sent a “very detailed” letter to Diller, copying all District
school board members and the EEOC, outlining Diller’s discriminatory and
retaliatory conduct against her and requesting that it stop. (Id. at ¶ 38.) After no
remedial action was taken and because Plaintiff believed that “she was being
sabotaged in retaliation for her EEOC charge,” Plaintiff resigned from her
employment with the District on November 7, 2014, to be effective November 28,
2014. (Id. at ¶ 39.) In her resignation letter to Diller, Plaintiff stated that she was
resigning because of the discriminatory and retaliatory conduct she was
experiencing. (Id. at ¶ 40.) On November 21, 2014, Diller ordered Plaintiff to be
excluded from all District property and terminated Plaintiff’s email account. (Id. at
¶ 41.) The EEOC issued Plaintiff a notice of a right to sue on November 12, 2015.
(Id. at ¶ 3.)
Plaintiff initiated this action by filing a complaint on February 9, 2016.
(Doc. 1.) In her complaint, Plaintiff asserts that the District, aided and abetted by
Diller, Royer, and McCallum (collectively “Defendants”), violated Title VII of the
Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1991, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2, and the Pennsylvania
Human Relations Act (“PHRA”), 43 Pa. Con. Stat. § 951, by unlawfully
discriminating against her on the basis of sex when they reassigned her to a
teaching position in order to replace her with a male guidance counselor and
subsequently retaliated against her for the filing of her EEOC charge. (Id. at
Counts I-V.) Plaintiff also asserts that Defendants violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983
(“Section 1983”) when they deprived her of “her constitutionally protected right to
security in a tenured public employment position” without due process and/or in
retaliation for engaging in constitutionally protected conduct by reassigning and
constructively discharging her. (Id. at Count VI.) Finally, Plaintiff asserts a
punitive damages claim under Title VII and Section 1983 wherein she alleges that
the individual defendants “acted willfully, wantonly, recklessly and with
outrageous disregard and indifference” to Plaintiff’s constitutional rights. (Id. at ¶¶
On April 11, 2016, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint
for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted (Doc. 5), and a brief in
support (Doc. 6). On April 22, 2016, Plaintiff filed her opposition to Defendants’
motion to dismiss (Doc. 7), and Defendants replied on May 6, 2016 (Doc. 8). Thus,
the motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.
Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff’s complaint pursuant to Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For purposes of a motion to dismiss, Rule
12(b)(6) works in conjunction with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8, which
requires that a complaint set forth “a short and plain statement of the claim
showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). For a
complaint to survive dismissal, it “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted
as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570
(2007)). The plaintiff’s short and plain statement of the claim must “give the
defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.”
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)).
In evaluating the sufficiency of a complaint, a court must accept all wellpleaded factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of
the non-moving party. See Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d
Cir. 2008). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the
speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Further, “[a] pleading that offers
‘labels and conclusions’ or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of
action will not do.’ Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]’
devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.’” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (internal citations
omitted) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557). However, this “‘does not impose
a probability requirement at the pleading stage,’ but instead ‘simply calls for
enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence
of’ the necessary element.” W. Penn Allegheny Health Sys. Inc. v. UPMC, 627
F.3d 85, 98 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234). When conducting
this inquiry, the court considers “only the allegations in the complaint, exhibits
attached to the complaint[,] and matters of public record.” Schmidt v. Skolas, 770
F.3d 241, 249 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White
Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993)).
In its motion to dismiss, Defendants argue that Plaintiff failed to state a
claim as to each count of the complaint. The court will address each of Defendants’
arguments in turn.
Title VII and PHRA Discrimination Claims
Defendants first contend that Plaintiff has not suffered an adverse
employment action and cannot establish a prima facie case of gender
discrimination under either Title VII or the PHRA. Because the analysis and legal
principles for Title VII claims are the same for claims under the PHRA, the court
will address these arguments together. See Burton v. Heckmann Water Res., Civ.
No. 13-cv-0880, 2015 WL 1427971, *8 n.3 (M.D. Pa. Mar. 27, 2015) (citing
Daniels v. Sch. Dist. of Phila., 982 F. Supp. 2d 462, 479 (E.D. Pa. 2013)).
Under Title VII, it is unlawful “for any employer to fail or refuse to hire
or to discharge any individual, otherwise discriminate against any individual with
respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment,
because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex or national origin.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 2000e-2(a)(1). In order to establish a prima facie case of sex discrimination
under Title VII, a plaintiff must show by a preponderance of the evidence that “(1)
she is a member of a protected class; (2) she was qualified for the position in
question; (3) she suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) the adverse
action occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination.”
Samuels v. Postmaster Gen., 257 F. App’x 585, 586 (3d Cir. 2007) (citing Jones v.
Sch. Dist. of Phila., 198 F.3d 403, 410-11 (3d Cir. 1999)). Here, Defendants do not
dispute that Plaintiff is a member of a protected class based on her sex, that she
was qualified for the position in question, or that the events in question give rise to
an inference of discrimination. (Doc. 6, p. 5.) Rather, Defendants argue that
Plaintiff did not suffer an adverse employment action when she was transferred
from her position as a guidance counselor to an English teacher because she did
not suffer a loss in pay, status, or benefits. (Id. at pp. 11-13.) In response, Plaintiff
argues that her transfer constitutes an adverse employment action regardless of the
pecuniary effect because she was transferred to an undesirable position without
administrative support and faced a significant change in working conditions. (Doc.
7, pp. 5-8.)
The Third Circuit has held that a prima facie case of discrimination
cannot be established on a “one-size-fits-all basis” and instead depends on the facts
of the particular case. Jones v. Sch. Dist. of Phila., 198 F.3d 403, 411-12 (3d Cir.
1999). Generally, an employment action “must be ‘serious and tangible enough to
alter an employee’s compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of
employment.’” Tourellotte v. Eli Lilly & Co., 636 F. App’x 831, 842 (3d Cir. 2016)
(quoting Cardenas v. Massey, 269 F.3d 251, 263 (3d Cir. 2001)). “[E]mployment
actions such as lateral transfers and changes of title or reporting relationships have
[ ] been held not to constitute adverse employment actions.” Id. (citations omitted).
However, a reassignment can become an adverse employment action under Title
VII if the plaintiff can show a detrimental impact. Love v. United Parcel Serv., Civ.
No. 204-cv-964, 2006 WL 2806565, *3 (W.D. Pa. Sept. 28, 2006). A
“reassignment with significantly different responsibilities,” Greer v. Mondelez
Global, Inc., 590 F. App’x 170, 173 (3d Cir. 2014) (citing Burlington Indus., Inc.,
524 U.S. at 749), and “actions that reduce opportunities for promotion or
professional growth can constitute adverse employment actions.” Walker v.
Centocor Ortho Biotech, Inc., 558 F. App’x 216, 219 (3d Cir. 2014) (citations
Here, as a result of her reassignment, Plaintiff lost her position as a
guidance counselor and was placed in what she regarded as a less desirable
position teaching English. In her new capacity, she faced significantly different job
responsibilities and a loss of future opportunities for professional growth in the
position she had pursued for the entirety of her career. Viewing the facts in the
light most favorable to Plaintiff, they suffice to demonstrate that she was subjected
to a sufficient adverse employment action such that her Title VII and PHRA claims
should survive this stage of the litigation. See Gross v. Akill, Civ. No. 13-cv-3373,
2013 WL 5825431, *9 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 30, 2013) (alteration in original omitted)
(quoting Salvato v. Smith, Civ. No. 13-cv-2112, 2013 WL 3431214, *8 (E.D. Pa.
July 9, 2013)) (“[A]t the motion to dismiss stage of litigation[,] . . . if even one of
the [alleged] actions rises to the level of adverse employment action, Plaintiff’s
case must survive.”). Accordingly, the court finds that Plaintiff pleaded sufficient
facts to support a claim for relief under Title VII and the PHRA, and Counts I and
III will not be dismissed.
Title VII and PHRA Retaliation Claims
In moving to dismiss Plaintiff’s retaliation claims, Defendants argue that
Plaintiff did not raise these claims before the EEOC and therefore failed to exhaust
her administrative remedies. (Doc. 6, p. 13.) Plaintiff argues in response that her
retaliation claims should reasonably be expected to grow out of the discrimination
charge, which is the subject of the EEOC investigation. (Doc. 7, pp. 9-10.)
Title VII requires that a plaintiff exhaust his or her administrative
remedies by complying with certain procedural requirements prior to filing suit in
federal court. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5. Relevant to the matter sub judice, a
plaintiff may only bring a Title VII action after filing an administrative charge with
the EEOC. Id. The agency will then investigate the charge, and the plaintiff must
wait until the EEOC issues a “right to sue” letter before she can initiate a private
action. See id.; Barzanty v. Verizon Pa., Inc., 361 F. App’x 411, 413 (3d Cir. 2010)
(citing Burgh v. Borough Council, 251 F.3d 465, 470 (3d Cir. 2001)). “The ensuing
suit is limited to claims that are within the scope of the initial administrative
charge.” Twillie v. Erie Sch. Dist., 575 F. App’x 28, 31 (3d Cir. 2014) (citing Antol
v. Perry, 82 F.3d 1291, 1295-96 (3d Cir. 2009)). Claims are within the scope of the
original charge if “they arise during the pendency of the EEOC investigation, are
closely related to conduct alleged in the charge, or are explanations of the original
charge.” Waiters v. Parsons, 729 F.2d 233, 234 (3d Cir. 1984). Where the claims
raised under Title VII exceed the scope of the EEOC charge and any charges that
would naturally arise from the EEOC investigation, they are procedurally barred
for failure to exhaust the available administrative remedies. See Jones v. Calvert
Grp., 551 F.3d 297, 300 (4th Cir. 2009) (“[A] claim in formal litigation will
generally be barred if the EEOC charge alleges discrimination on one basis, such
as race, and the formal litigation claim alleges discrimination on a separate basis,
such as sex.”). “Where discriminatory actions continue after the filing of the EEOC
complaint, however, the purposes of the statutory scheme are not furthered by
requiring the victim to file additional EEOC complaints.” Waiters, 729 F.2d at 237.
The question presented herein is whether Plaintiff’s claim of retaliation
for the filing of her EEOC charge are reasonably related to the allegations of
discrimination set forth in her charge and can be brought now on that basis. Several
circuits to consider this issue have determined that a plaintiff may raise such a
retaliation claim for the first time in federal court, and this court finds those
decisions persuasive. See, e.g., Nealon v. Stone, 958 F.2d 584, 590 (4th Cir. 1992);
Malhotra v. Cotter & Co., 885 F.2d 1305, 1312 (7th Cir. 1989); Brown v.
Hartshorne Public Sch. Dist. No. 1, 864 F.2d 680, 682 (10th Cir. 1988); Kirkland v.
Buffalo Bd. of Educ., 622 F.2d 1066, 1068 (2d Cir. 1980). As noted above, the
“parameters of a civil action in the District Court are defined by the scope of the
EEOC investigation which can reasonably be expected to grow out of the charge of
discrimination, including new acts which occurred during the pendency of the
proceedings before the Commission.” Anjelino v. N.Y. Times Co., 200 F.3d 73, 94
(3d Cir. 1999). A claim alleging retaliation by an employer against an employee
for filing an EEOC charge is reasonably related to the initial charge of
discrimination. As the Second Circuit has explained:
In such cases the EEOC charge requirement is not excused
because the new claims likely would have been discovered by
the EEOC investigation. While this is possible, it is equally
possible that the retaliation would come after the EEOC
investigation was completed. Rather, in such situations, we
have related the exhaustion requirement based on the close
connection of the retaliatory act to both the initial
discriminatory conduct and the filing of the charge itself. The
EEOC already will have had the opportunity to investigate and
mediate the claims arising from the underlying discriminatory
acts alleged. Due to the very nature of retaliation, the principle
benefits of EEOC involvement, mediation of claims and
conciliation, are much less likely to result from a second
investigation. Indeed, requiring a plaintiff to file a second
EEOC charge under these circumstances could have the
perverse result of promoting employer retaliation in order to
impose further costs on plaintiffs and delay the filing of civil
actions relating to the underlying acts of discrimination.
Butts v. City of New York Dep’t of Hous. Pres. & Dev., 990 F.2d 1397, 1402 (2d
Cir. 1993) (citations omitted). Furthermore, “a plaintiff that has already been
retaliated against one time for filing an EEOC charge will naturally be reluctant” to
file a separate or amended charge, possibly bringing about further retaliation.
Jones, 551 F.3d at 302 (citing Malhotra, 885 F.2d at 1312).
In this case, Plaintiff dual filed an EEOC and PHRC charge of
discrimination alleging that Defendants discriminated against her on the basis of
her gender, and in the instant suit, she alleges that her filing of the charge prompted
Defendants to retaliate against her. The investigation of Plaintiff’s administrative
complaint was still ongoing when the events underlying her retaliation claim,
which reasonably relate to the underlying charge, occurred. Accordingly, at this
stage of the litigation, based on the limited record before the court, and construing
all allegations in the complaint in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the court
will deny Defendant’s motion insofar as it seeks to dismiss Plaintiff’s claims of
retaliation for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.
Aiding and Abetting Claims
Defendants next argue that Plaintiff’s claims against the individual
defendants for aiding and abetting should be dismissed for failure to set forth a
plausible claim for relief. The PHRA makes it illegal for “any person . . . to aid,
abet, incite, compel, or coerce the doing of any . . . unlawful discriminatory
practice . . . or to attempt, directly or indirectly, to commit any unlawful
discriminatory practice.” Hollinghead v. City of York, 912 F. Supp. 2d 209, 223
(M.D. Pa. 2012) (quoting 43 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 955(e)). Under the aiding and
abetting provision of the PHRA, a plaintiff “may advance . . . liability claims
against [persons] who bear responsibility for implementing an allegedly unlawful
discriminatory practice.” Id. (quoting D’Altilio v. Dover Twp., Civ. No. 06-cv1931, 2009 WL 2948524, *12 (M.D. Pa. Sept. 14, 2009)). “[L]iability under §
955(e) only extends to those who are in a supervisory role because ‘only
supervisors can share the discriminatory purpose and intent of the employer that is
required for aiding and abetting.’” Brzozowski v. Pa. Tpk. Comm’n, __ F. Supp. 3d
__, 2016 WL 758329, *7 (E.D. Pa. 2016) (quoting Holocheck v. Luzerne Cty.
Head Start, Inc., 385 F. Supp. 2d 491, 497 (M.D. Pa. 2005)).
Here, Plaintiff alleges that the individual defendants, Diller, Royer, and
McCallum, held supervisory positions and that they acted with the purpose and
intent to discriminate against her because of her gender. At this initial stage of the
litigation, the court finds these facts sufficient to state a claim for relief under 43
Pa. Cons. Stat. § 955(e), and therefore Count V will not be dismissed.
Section 1983 Claims
Defendants further argue that Plaintiff’s Section 1983 claims should be
dismissed for failure to plead sufficient facts to satisfy each claim. Section 1983 of
Title 42 of the United State Code offers private citizens a means to redress
violations of federal law committed by state officials. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In
pertinent part, the statute provides as follows:
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance,
regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the
District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any
citizen of the United States or other person within the
jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights,
privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws,
shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in
equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.
Id. “Section 1983 is not a source of substantive rights, but merely a method to
vindicate violations of federal law committed by state actors.” Pappas v. City of
Lebanon, 331 F. Supp. 2d 311, 315 (M.D. Pa. 2004) (quoting Gonzaga Univ. v.
Doe, 536 U.S. 273, 284-85 (2002)). To establish a claim under this section, a
plaintiff must demonstrate that: (1) the conduct complained of was committed by
persons acting under color of state law; and (2) the conduct violated a right,
privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States.
Harvey v. Plains Twp. Police Dep’t, 421 F.3d 185, 189 (3d Cir. 2005) (quoting
West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988)).
Procedural Due Process Claims
The Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause provides that no state
shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1. To establish a procedural due process claim, a
plaintiff must allege that “(1) he was deprived of an individual interest that is
encompassed within the Fourteenth Amendment’s protection of ‘life, liberty, or
property,’ and (2) the procedures available to him did not provide ‘due process of
law.’” Hill v. Borough of Kutztown, 455 F.3d 225, 234 (3d Cir. 2006) (quoting
Alvin v. Suzuki, 227 F.3d 107, 117 (3d Cir. 2000)).
Defendants contend that Plaintiff failed to state a procedural due process
claim because Plaintiff’s right to public employment as a guidance counselor is not
a protected property interest, and further, because Plaintiff cannot establish that she
was constructively discharged. (Doc. 8, pp. 10-12.) Plaintiff argues in response that
she had a property right to her specific position as a tenured guidance counselor
which was deprived by virtue of her reassignment and that Defendants deprived
her of her right to continued public employment by constructively discharging her.
(Doc. 7, pp. 13-14.)
Initially, the court declines to hold that the change in Plaintiff’s work
assignment was a deprivation of her property rights actionable under Section 1983.
As the Third Circuit has explained,
If we considered that a mere change in work assignment
deprived an employee of a property interest, as a practical
matter we would be federalizing routine employment decisions.
Additionally, under the guise of protecting employees’ rights,
we would be erecting a barrier to ordinary management
determinations regarding the assignment and duties of
Ferraro v. City of Long Branch, 23 F.3d 803, 806 (3d Cir. 1994). In essence,
“personnel decisions short of termination do not constitute a deprivation of a
property interest under the due process clause.” Id. (citing Wargat v. Long, 590 F.
Supp. 1213, 1215 (D. Conn. 1984).
As a tenured professional employee in education, however, Plaintiff did
retain a property right to continued public employment. Andresky v. W. Allegheny
Sch. Dist., 437 A.2d 1075, 1077-78 (Pa. Commw. 1981) (citing 24 P.S. §§ 111122, 11-1124)). While Defendants do not dispute that Plaintiff held such a
property right, they argue that Plaintiff failed to adequately allege that she was
constructively discharged from her employment. To establish a constructive
discharge claim, a plaintiff must show that her “employer knowingly permitted
conditions of discrimination in employment so intolerable that a reasonable person
subject to them would resign.” Mandel v. M & Q Packaging Corp., 706 F.3d 157,
169–70 (3d Cir. 2013) (quoting Aman v. Cort Furniture Rental Corp., 85 F.3d
1074, 1084 (3d Cir.1996)). An “employee's subjective perceptions of unfairness or
harshness do not govern a claim of constructive discharge;” rather, courts must
employ an objective test Id. (quoting Gray v. York Newspapers, Inc., 957 F.2d
1070, 1083 (3d Cir.1992)). Factors relevant to the determination include threats of
termination or suggested resignation, demotions, reductions in pay and benefits,
transfer to less desirable positions, alteration of job responsibilities, or poor
performance evaluations. Colwell v. Rite Aid Corp., 602 F.3d 495, 502-03 (3d Cir.
Plaintiff asserts that she resigned after Defendants transferred her to a
less desirable position, significantly altered her job responsibilities, assigned her an
“inordinately heavy teaching load” and intentionally withheld critical teaching
tools. Based on these allegations, the court finds that Plaintiff alleged sufficient
facts to support her claim that Defendants knowingly permitted conditions of
discrimination so intolerable that a reasonable person would resign. Accordingly,
the court will not dismiss Plaintiff’s procedural due process claim.
Defendants further argue that Plaintiff failed to adequately plead a policy
or practice to support a municipal liability claim, otherwise known as a Monell
claim. (Doc. 6, pp. 20-21.) A municipality may be found liable under Section 1983
“where the municipality itself causes the constitutional violation at issue.” City of
Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385 (1989) (citing Monell v. New York City Dept.
of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694-95 (1978)). To properly assert a claim for
municipal liability under Monell, a plaintiff “must demonstrate that the violation of
[her] rights was caused by the municipality’s policy or custom.” Thomas v.
Cumberland Cty., 749 F. 3d 217, 222 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Monell v. Dep’t of
Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978)). If the “policy or custom … violates the
Constitution or [if] the policy or custom, while not unconstitutional itself, is the
moving force behind the constitutional tort of one of its employees,” the
municipality will be found liable. Id. (quoting Colburn v. Upper Darby Twp., 946
F.2d 1017, 1027 (3d Cir. 1991)). A policy exists “when a ‘decisionmaker
possess[ing] final authority to establish municipal policy with respect to the action’
issues an official proclamation, policy, or edict.” Andrews v. City of Phila., 895
F.2d 1469, 1480 (3d Cir.1990) (quoting Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati, 475 U.S.
469, 481 (1986)). “A course of conduct is considered to be a ‘custom’ when,
though not authorized by law, ‘such practices of state officials [are] so permanent
and well settled’ as to virtually constitute law.” Id. at 1481 (quoting Monell, 436
U.S. at 690). “Municipal liability may be imposed for a single decision by
municipal policymakers under appropriate circumstances.” McGreevy v. Stroup,
413 F.3d 359, 368 (3d Cir. 2005) (quoting Pembaur, 475 U.S. at 480).
Here, Plaintiff alleges that Diller, Royer, and McCallum, as “high policy
making official[s],” established and acted upon an official District policy to hire “a
male school counselor at the high school,” and that, as a result of that policy,
Plaintiff was reassigned and later constructively discharged from her position.
(Doc. 1, ¶¶ 25, 28-30, 74.) However, the complaint fails to plausibly allege any
facts to show that these defendants had final policy making authority. Indeed, the
court is unaware of any precedent for finding that a vice principal of a single
school can be a policymaker for an entire school district. See Phila. Fed’n of
Teachers v. Sch. Dist. of Phila., Civ. No. 97-cv-4168, 1998 WL 196403, *11 (E.D.
Pa. Apr. 23, 1998). Further, there is no indication that the school board delegated
any final decision making authority to the district’s assistant superintendents. See
24 P.S. § 10-1082 (providing that assistant district superintendents may perform
only those duties assigned to them by the school board or the superintendent).
While it is plausible that a superintendent may carry such final authority, the
complaint lacks any facts to show that the school board in fact delegated such
authority to the superintendent for matters involving assignment and transfers.
Accordingly, the court finds that Plaintiff has failed to properly plead a Monell
claim, and Defendants’ motion will be granted in this respect.
Personal Capacity Claims
Finally, Defendants argue that Plaintiff’s Section 1983 claims against the
individual defendants in their personal capacities should be dismissed because
Plaintiff failed to establish a violation of a constitutional right. Personal capacity
actions “seek to impose individual liability upon a government officer for actions
taken under color of state law.” Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25 (1991). To be held
personally liable, “[an individual government defendant] in a civil rights action
must have personal involvement in the alleged wrongdoing,” which can be “shown
through allegations of personal direction or of actual knowledge and
acquiescence.” Blizzard v. Commander, Del. State Police Troop Nine, 725 F. Supp.
2d 469, 473 (D. Del. 2010) (quoting Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207
(3d Cir. 1988)). As the court has already addressed, Plaintiff has sufficiently
alleged a violation of her constitutional right to tenured employment. She has also
adequately alleged that the individual defendants personally acted to deprive
Plaintiff of that right. As such, the court finds that, at this stage of the litigation and
viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, Plaintiff has adequately
pleaded personal capacity claims against Diller, Royer, and McCallum under
Section 1983, and therefore, those claims will not be dismissed.1
Defendants also contend that Plaintiff is not entitled to punitive damages because she failed to
plead sufficient facts to support her claims under Title VII and Section 1983. Because the court
Based on the foregoing discussion, the court finds that Plaintiff failed to
plead sufficient facts to support a Monell claim. Accordingly, the court will
dismiss Count VII without prejudice and will grant Plaintiff leave to amend her
complaint to provide her with an opportunity to submit an adequate pleading. The
court finds that Plaintiff has alleged sufficient facts, however, to support her
remaining claims, and therefore, the balance of the complaint will not be
An appropriate order will issue.
s/Sylvia H. Rambo
SYLVIA H. RAMBO
United States District Judge
Dated: October 14, 2016
finds that Plaintiff has stated plausible claims for relief under those statutes, Plaintiff’s punitive
damages claim also survives Defendant’s motion to dismiss.
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