683 Fed.Appx. 151 (3rd Cir. 2017), 15-3302, Holt v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

Docket Nº:15-3302
Citation:683 Fed.Appx. 151
Opinion Judge:RENDELL, Circuit Judge:
Party Name:DAVID HOLT, II, Appellant v. COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA; STEVEN JOHNSON, Capt.; KRISTAL TURNER-CHILDS, Sgt.; PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE DEPARTTMENT; LT. GERALD BRAHL, PA State Police Department; CAPT. KATHY JO WINTERBOTTOM, PA State Police Department
Attorney:Brian M. Puricelli, Alexis Lehmann[++], Law Office of Brian Puricelli, Warrington, PA, Counsel for Appellant. Claudia M. Tesoro (Argued), Office of Attorney General of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, Counsel for Appellees.
Judge Panel:Before: MCKEE, Chief Judge,[+] HARDIMAN, and RENDELL Circuit Judges
Case Date:March 20, 2017
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
 
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Page 151

683 Fed.Appx. 151 (3rd Cir. 2017)

DAVID HOLT, II, Appellant

v.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA; STEVEN JOHNSON, Capt.; KRISTAL TURNER-CHILDS, Sgt.; PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE DEPARTTMENT; LT. GERALD BRAHL, PA State Police Department; CAPT. KATHY JO WINTERBOTTOM, PA State Police Department

No. 15-3302

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

March 20, 2017

Argued September 22, 2016.

Page 152

NOT PRECEDENTIAL

Editorial Note:

This opinion is not regarded as Precedents which bind the court under Third Circuit Internal Operating Procedure Rule 5.7. (See Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure Rule 32.1)

On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. (District Court No.: 5-10-cv-05510). Magistrate Judge: Honorable David R. Strawbridge.

Holt v. Pennsylvania, (E.D. Pa., June 25, 2014, Aug. 19, 2015)

Brian M. Puricelli, Alexis Lehmann++, Law Office of Brian Puricelli, Warrington, PA, Counsel for Appellant.

Claudia M. Tesoro (Argued), Office of Attorney General of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, Counsel for Appellees.

Before: MCKEE, Chief Judge,+ HARDIMAN, and RENDELL Circuit Judges

Page 153

OPINION [*]

RENDELL, Circuit Judge:

Sergeant David Holt, an African American State Trooper, sued his employer, the Pennsylvania State Police (" PSP" ), and three of his supervisors, Captain Johnson, Lieutenant Brahl, and Captain Winterbottom, claiming race discrimination and retaliation under § 1983 (Equal Protection Clause and First Amendment), Title VII, and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (" PHRA" ) for conduct involving ten separate episodes over a roughly three year period. This case was tried to a jury twice. Holt secured favorable verdicts on some claims but not others. The Magistrate Judge set aside all but one of those favorable jury verdicts and granted judgment as a matter of law for the Defendants. Holt now appeals from those rulings and others.

We have struggled mightily in this case to understand which issues Holt has raised on appeal, even after holding oral argument and requesting two additional letters from the parties. As best we can tell, Holt's claims fall into two categories: challenges to the Magistrate Judge's judgments as a matter of law and challenges to certain procedural rulings during trial. We will proceed chronologically.

In short, we will affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand with instructions to reinstate one portion of the jury's verdict.

I. BACKGROUND

Holt began his employment with the PSP in 1994 and attained the rank of

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sergeant in 2006. The conduct underlying Holt's claims began in late 2008. At this time, Holt was serving in Troop L, Reading Station under the command of Johnson.

A. The Phillips Incident

Late in 2008,1 a district justice complained to Holt's superiors that Holt was discussing a pending case of a colleague's mother, named Phillips, with the Assistant District Attorney outside the proper channels. Johnson initiated an Internal Affairs Division (" IAD" ) investigation into Holt that resulted in discipline. Winterbottom, one of the Defendants and Holt's future commander, was employed by Internal Affairs at this time and worked on the investigation. Holt claims Johnson's initiation of the IAD investigation discriminated against him based on race in violation of § 1983.

B. Non-Selection for Commander at Jonestown or Schuylkill Stations

After a series of other episodes, such as Johnson's removal of Holt from the Officer of the Day roster and Johnson's reassignment of Holt to Staff Services Sergeant, a less desirable position, Holt filed a complaint with the PSP's Equal Employment Opportunity (" EEO" ) Office alleging that Johnson had repeatedly discriminated against him based on race. The complaint was filed on April 6, 2009. Johnson learned of this complaint between April 6 and May 5, 2009.2 Sometime in April, Johnson also " sustained" the investigation into the Phillips incident, which Holt claimed lack any basis.

Two months later, in July 2009, two station commander positions opened up within Troop L, one at Jonestown and one at Schuylkill Haven. Holt requested to be assigned to either position. Captain Johnson denied his request and instead assigned two white officers. Holt claims, among other things, that Johnson's adverse hiring decision violated Title VII because it was retaliation against Holt for filing the EEO complaint.

Then, in October 2010, Holt filed this lawsuit naming Johnson and the PSP.3

C. Roll Call Comments Incident

In the spring of 2011, Holt requested a voluntary transfer from Troop L to Troop T and requested further that he be assigned to the King of Prussia Station, rather than the Pocono Station. At Troop T, Lieutenant Brahl would become Holt's direct superior while Captain Winterbottom (formally of Internal Affairs and now heading Troop T) oversaw Brahl.

While Holt's transfer was pending, Brahl made several disparaging and offensive remarks about Holt to Holt's future colleagues at a roll call meeting. Witnesses testified that Brahl said Holt " was not wanted in Troop T," that he " was a lazy piece of shit," " stupid," and as long as he and Winterbottom were in charge, he would be " banished" to Pocono. J159. Brahl reportedly said that Holt was " another Wayne Mason," Mason being another black sergeant, and that " [he] got Wayne Mason out in a year, [he would] get Holt in six months." J159. Holt claims that Brahl's comments constituted race discrimination

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under the Equal Protection Clause in violation of § 1983.

Holt then emailed Winterbottom about his request to be assigned to King of Prussia and to voice his concerns about the comments that were being made by Brahl, which he had heard through the grape-vine. Winterbottom did not respond.

D. The " Schizophrenic Memo" Incident

Upon Holt's acceptance to Troop T, Winterbottom assigned Holt to Pocono.4 Then, after additional troubles with Brahl, Holt again emailed Winterbottom that he was contemplating another discrimination complaint and to remind her of his lawsuit. They met on July 18, 2011, but Holt testified that the meeting went poorly, describing her response to his complaints as " nasty[,] confrontational[,]" and indifferent to his allegations of racial discrimination. J162.

In August 2011, Holt missed a deadline and was ordered by Winterbottom to explain why in a memorandum. He stated that he had missed it " inadvertently" as a result of " schizophrenic" instructions of his superiors. J2211. Winterbottom then initiated an IAD investigation into Holt on the ground that the memorandum was insubordinate and disrespectful, which resulted in discipline and loss of one day's pay. Holt claims Winterbottom's initiation of the investigation was, among other things, retaliation for his lawsuit in violation of his First Amendment rights.

E. The Day Off Incident

Finally, in September 2011, Holt decided to take a day off but failed to inform Brahl. Brahl then...

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