Daniels v. Sch. Dist. of Phila.

Decision Date20 January 2015
Docket NumberNo. 14–1503.,14–1503.
PartiesDorothy E. DANIELS, Appellant, v. SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PHILADELPHIA; Leslie Mason; Kenneth Christy; Rachel Marianno; Katherine Pendino.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit

776 F.3d 181

Dorothy E. DANIELS, Appellant
SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PHILADELPHIA; Leslie Mason; Kenneth Christy; Rachel Marianno; Katherine Pendino.

No. 14–1503.

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit.

LAR 34.1(a) Dec. 12, 2014.
Filed: Jan. 20, 2015.

776 F.3d 186

Olugbenga O. Abiona, Esq., Philadelphia, PA, Brian M. Rhodes, Esq., Springfield, PA, for Appellant.

Yvonne B. Montgomery, Esq., Joe H. Tucker, Jr., Esq., V. Amanda Witts, Esq., Tucker Law Group, Philadelphia, PA, for Appellee.


776 F.3d 187


GREENBERG, Circuit Judge.


In this discrimination action, plaintiff Dorothy E. Daniels appeals from an order for summary judgment entered on November 7, 2013, in favor of her former employer, the School District of Philadelphia (“SDP”). Daniels alleged in her complaint that SDP violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq.; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.; and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”), 43 Pa. Stat. § 951 et seq., both substantively and by retaliating against her because she opposed what she believed was SDP's discriminatory conduct in violation of the acts. Although Daniels was completely unsuccessful in the District Court, we address only her retaliation claim as she does not raise any other issue on this appeal. We conclude that Daniels did not provide sufficient evidence in opposition to SDP's motion for summary judgment to support a conclusion that SDP acted with a retaliatory animus with respect to her. Therefore, we will affirm the order for summary judgment.


In this opinion, we set forth undisputed facts and recite the facts in dispute in a light most favorable to Daniels as the nonmoving party. See McCabe v. Ernst & Young, LLP., 494 F.3d 418, 424 (3d Cir.2007). Thus, we are not making findings of fact for any purpose beyond these proceedings.

A. Daniels's Background

Daniels is an African–American educator born on January 2, 1950. She has a masters degree in elementary education and is certified as a reading specialist. From 2003 to 2008, Daniels worked as a guest teacher with Kelly Educational Staffing, and had a good relationship with the principals of the schools to which she was assigned.

In October 2008, following the end of Daniels's relationship with Kelly, SDP employed her as a teacher at Bregy Elementary School in Philadelphia. Her tenure at Bregy seems to have been reasonably successful for during that time her students' standardized test scores improved, and she received compliments from Bregy's principal and an SDP school superintendent. Moreover, Daniels's principal rated her as satisfactory in all categories in a year-end evaluation for the 2008–09 school year. At the end of that school year, however, Daniels was subject to a forced transfer because her position was eliminated due to enrollment or budget allocation changes. Accordingly, Daniels participated in a June 2009 site selection process for the upcoming school year. She elected to teach middle-year English at Thomas Mifflin School, and SDP gave her that assignment. Her troubles with SDP began almost immediately after that assignment.

B. Thomas Mifflin School

Leslie Mason was Mifflin's principal when SDP assigned Daniels to that school. On a parents' night on or about September 9, 2009, Mason stated that some of the teachers were old enough to be grandparents. Daniels, who was the oldest teacher in the room, took offense to the remark and complained to Mason that she found the statement ageist and offensive. Daniels contends that, following this incident, Mason became antagonistic toward her.

In accordance with SDP procedures regarding new teachers at a school, Mason

776 F.3d 188

observed Daniels teach several times during her year at Mifflin. Following these observations, Mason evaluated Daniels negatively, an assessment that Daniels contends was unwarranted. For example, Mason gave Daniels a poor evaluation for not using technology, even though Daniels did not have a Smart Board in her classroom and did allow her students to use laptops when she considered their use to be appropriate. Mason also repeatedly commented on the “terrible” appearance of Daniels's classroom, despite the circumstance that Daniels was one of just a few teachers not ordered to clean his or her classroom after an SDP walk-through inspection.

The relationship between Daniels and Mason was strained further because Mason often sent another teacher, Christine Lokey, to provide Daniels teaching support, an assignment that, in Daniels's view, interfered with her teaching regimen. Daniels did not ask for Lokey's assistance, and Mason did not send Lokey to any other teacher's classroom with the same frequency that she sent her to Daniels's classroom. The strain was exacerbated when Daniels learned from a student that Mason had called the student to her office to ask about Daniels's pedagogy.

At the end of the 2009–10 school year, Mason reduced the number of budgeted middle-year teachers for the upcoming year from three to two, an action that required Daniels to go through another forced transfer process. Although SDP's central office, rather than the local principal, decides which teachers to retain and which to transfer, Mason told two students that she “had written [Daniels] out of the budget and that [Daniels] wouldn't be returning in September 2010.” App. at 124. Even though SDP had made the decision to transfer Daniels months earlier, it did not notify Daniels of the decision until September 2, 2010. Consequently, Daniels was unable to participate in that summer's site selection process.

Daniels sent a letter dated September 6, 2010, to SDP's human resources and labor directors, complaining about Mason's treatment of her. In the letter, Daniels again complained about Mason's comment from a year earlier regarding the age of certain of the school's teachers. Daniels also complained that another Mifflin teacher told Daniels, “They call you old school.” Id. at 255. In the letter, Daniels further stated that Mason sent Lokey to her classroom “[a]lmost daily” and that this was not her practice with any other teacher. Id. at 254. Daniels raised the following additional matters in her letter: Mason sent other individuals to observe her; Mason herself observed Daniels's teaching at least three times and gave her negative evaluations based on her use of technology and classroom appearance; Mason would not assist Daniels in disciplining her students; Mason called students to her office to ask them about Daniels's pedagogy; and Mason had written Daniels out of Mifflin's budget without notification to Daniels notwithstanding Daniels's repeated request for information about her status for the upcoming year. Daniels concluded in her letter that she “experienced ageism, harassment, and a hostile environment continuously throughout the school year.” Id. at 255.

The next day, September 7, 2010, Daniels met with Lissa Johnson, the deputy chief in SDP's staffing office, to ascertain her teaching assignment for the upcoming year. Although Daniels and Johnson did not reach a conclusion during the meeting determining Daniels's assignment for the upcoming year, SDP unilaterally assigned Daniels to teach at E.H. Vare Middle School. However, Daniels did not learn of her assignment to Vare until September

776 F.3d 189

14, a week after her meeting with Johnson. Consequently, Daniels did not attend Vare on September 8, 13, and 14, days on which she would have been at Vare if she had known of her assignment to that school. On September 13 or 14, Johnson directed Vare administrators to designate Daniels as on “unauthorized leave without pay” until she reported. Id. at 213, 215. The record indicates that Johnson learned of Daniels's September 6 letter on September 16, when she received an e-mail from one of its recipients notifying Johnson that Daniels had complained that Mason had harassed her.

Around October 28, 2010, after Daniels had started teaching at Vare, she filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (“PHRC”).1 In the complaint, Daniels asserted an age discrimination claim based on Mason's comment at the parents' night meeting and Mason's frequent monitoring of her through Lokey and others, while younger teachers at Mifflin were not scrutinized similarly. Daniels also asserted a race discrimination claim based on her forced transfer from Mifflin and Mason's failure to give her timely notice of the transfer. On December 30, 2010, Daniels amended her PHRC complaint to include an age discrimination claim based on the forced transfer.

C. Vare Middle School

Daniels's troubles continued at Vare, where Rachel Marianno and Kenneth Christy served as the principal and assistant principal, respectively. For her first week or two at Vare, Daniels was not assigned to a classroom; instead, she was told either to remain in the main office or to go to the teachers' lounge. Moreover, even after she received a classroom assignment, it took weeks and...

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