Kegerise v. Susquehanna Twp. Sch. Dist.

Decision Date21 June 2018
Docket NumberNo. 1:14–cv–0747,1:14–cv–0747
Citation325 F.Supp.3d 564
Parties Susan M. KEGERISE, Plaintiff v. SUSQUEHANNA TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., Defendants
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Pennsylvania

Andrew W. Muir, Law Office of Andrew W. Muir, LLC, Wyomissing, PA, John A. Abom, Abom & Kutulakis, Carlisle, PA, for Plaintiff.

Andrew P. Dollman, Glenn R. Davis, Latsha Davis & Yohe & McKenna, P.C., Mechanicsburg, PA, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

Yvette Kane, District JudgeBefore the Court is Defendants Susquehanna Township School District (the "District"), Carol L. Karl ("Karl"), Jesse Rawls, Sr. ("Rawls"), and Mark Y. Sussman ("Sussman")'s second motion for summary judgment.1 (Doc. No. 152.) For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant in part and deny in part the motion.

I. BACKGROUND
A. Procedural Background

Plaintiff Susan M. Kegerise ("Plaintiff") initiated the above-captioned action on April 17, 2014, in connection with her previous employment as the superintendent of Susquehanna Township School District. (Doc. No. 1.) Plaintiff subsequently filed an amended complaint (Doc. No. 4), which Defendants moved to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) on July 15, 2014 (Doc. No. 12). In a Memorandum and Order dated January 7, 2015, the Court granted in part and denied in part the motion to dismiss (Doc. Nos. 34, 35), dismissing Plaintiff's claims for constructive termination, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress without leave to amend, and dismissing Plaintiff's FMLA retaliation claim with leave to amend (Doc. No. 35). Plaintiff then filed a second amended complaint on January 28, 2015. (Doc. No. 36.) By way of a joint stipulation filed on February 12, 2015 (Doc. No. 38), Plaintiff filed a third amended complaint on February 27, 2015 (Doc. No. 39), which sets forth nine (9) counts.2

Defendants filed a motion to dismiss certain counts in the third amended complaint on March 19, 2015 (Doc. No. 40), which the Court granted in part and denied in part (Doc. Nos. 43, 44). Accordingly, the following eight (8) claims remain before the Court: a due process claim against Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count II); a claim for breach of contract against the District (Count III); a claim for tortious interference with a contract against Karl, Rawls, and Sussman (Count IV); a claim for wrongful use of civil proceedings in violation of 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 8351, etseq. against Rawls and Sussman (Count VII); an FMLA retaliation claim against Defendants (Count VIII); a First Amendment retaliation claim against Defendants (Count IX); a retaliation claim under the Pennsylvania Constitution against Defendants (Count X); and a sex discrimination claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, etseq. against Defendants (Count XII). Defendants move for summary judgment on each of the aforementioned counts.3 (Doc. No. 152.) The Court heard oral argument on the motion on June 8, 2018, and having been fully briefed (Doc. Nos. 163, 167, 168), the motion is ripe for disposition.

B. Factual Background4
1. Plaintiff's Employment with the District and Federal Lawsuit

Plaintiff's employment as the superintendent of the District began in January of 2010. (Doc. No. 153 ¶ 1.) Plaintiff, whose employment was governed by an employment agreement/contract with the District, signed a second employment agreement (the "employment agreement") with respect to her role as superintendent on May 7, 2013.5 (Id. ¶ 2.) On April 17, 2014, Plaintiff filed the original complaint in this action against Defendants (Doc. No. 1). (Id. ¶ 16.) The complaint included, inter alia, a claim for "constructive termination." (Doc. No. 1.) Four days later, during a public meeting on April 21, 2014, the District's school board (the "Board") "took a vote ... which [the Board] represented as a vote to accept [Plaintiff's] resignation." (Doc. No. 153 ¶ 21.) Defendants Karl, Rawls, and Sussman were members of the Board at this time.6

The District "memorialized the Board's April 21, 2014 vote by letter dated April 22, 2014" that was signed by John Dietrich ("Dietrich"), who was then serving as the president of the Board. (Id. ¶ 22.) During this process, the Board did not provide Plaintiff "with notice stating that she had been ‘terminated.’ "7 (Id. ¶ 23.) Rather, the letter stated that the Board "voted to accept [Plaintiff's] resignation." (Id. ¶ 24.) Before voting to accept what it deemed Plaintiff's resignation, Dietrich "read a prepared statement on behalf of the Board" that reads as follows:

The Board hereby emphatically disputes any and all claims raised by [Plaintiff] at United States Middle District Court at docket 1:14–cv–00747–WWC, which includes "constructive discharge," however, it recommends that the Board accept the resignation of [Plaintiff] that is implicit with the term "constructive discharge." Do I have a motion to approve her resignation, effective 4/17/2014 as stated?

(Doc. No. 157 ¶ 168.)

2. Plaintiff's Sick Leave

Prior to the aforementioned events, while Plaintiff was superintendent, she notified the District's business manager "that she was under a doctor's care and that she would be off of work" around March of 2014.8 (Doc. No. 153 ¶ 3.) At the time Plaintiff "went out on sick leave, she had approximately 249 days of sick leave available to her." (Id. ¶ 13.) As superintendent, Plaintiff "did not personally develop and disseminate FMLA administrative regulations, but instead delegated that responsibility to [the District's] business manager" who, at that time, was Mike Frentz ("Frentz"). (Id. ¶¶ 10–11.) Plaintiff was advised by Frentz that pursuant to the District's own procedure, employees were required "to exhaust their sick leave prior to requesting FMLA leave." (Id. ¶ 12.) Plaintiff maintains that she took sick leave due to symptoms, "which included nose bleeds and cardiac issues" resulting from "job-related stress."9 (Id. ¶ 179.)

3. Interactions Between Plaintiff, the School Board, and Other Individuals Affiliated with the District During Plaintiff's Time as Superintendent
i. Undisputed Facts

As testified to by Kathy DelGrande ("DelGrande"), a Board member and school parent, Plaintiff was "subjected to inappropriate treatment by Board members" while serving as superintendent. (Doc. No. 157 ¶ 85.) Such treatment involved discussions by Board members on Facebook that, according to Plaintiff, included discussions of Plaintiff and her performance as superintendent in unfavorable terms. (Id. ¶ 100.) DelGrande testified that there were often "staged" situations at public Board meetings (id. ¶ 102), which Plaintiff claims were orchestrated so as to cause disruption and embarrass her. Moreover, Karl testified that "the leaders of the [F]acebook group" had discussed the idea of circulating a petition calling for Plaintiff's resignation. (Id. ¶ 105.) In a similar vein, DelGrande testified that "Rawls, Dietrich, and Sussman often walked into public meetings and knowingly told falsehoods to embarrass Plaintiff," such as statements indicating that teachers were leaving the District "because of the District [a]dministration." (Id. ¶ 118.) Additionally, Dr. Peter Sakol ("Sakol"), another Board member, testified that Plaintiff was "screamed at" by Board members. (Id. ¶ 122.)

ii. Disputed Facts10

Plaintiff also maintains that while she was superintendent, members of the Board attempted to embarrass her publicly on multiple occasions, and "publicly criticized Plaintiff for her [c]ontract," while refraining from doing so as to male superintendents who succeeded Plaintiff in her employment with the District. (Id. ¶¶ 86–88.) According to Plaintiff, such attempts to embarrass her included Rawls and Sussman's public announcement that they intended to file a complaint against the District and Plaintiff in federal court on October 31, 2013 (the "Rawls and Sussman lawsuit"), as well as Rawls and Sussman's "provid[ing] a copy of said [c]omplaint to the newspaper in which they criticized Plaintiff's contract." (Id. ¶¶ 89–90.) Plaintiff further claims that along with Karl and Sussman, Board members Dietrich and Clifton Edwards ("Edwards"), were "part of a small anti-Plaintiff Facebook group," through which negative information about Plaintiff was published (id. ¶ 100), and that while Plaintiff was superintendent, Board members "met with the leader of the Facebook group, Bonnie Finnerty, and arranged for people to show up at Board meetings to harass and embarrass [Plaintiff]." (Id. ¶ 103.)

Further, Plaintiff states that she was told by the Board "not to speak at Board meetings," and that when she did speak, she was "cut off" from doing so, while male superintendents did not receive such treatment when they spoke at Board meetings. (Id. ¶¶ 112–13.) Also in the context of Board meetings, Plaintiff avers that the Board permitted "nonresidents to criticize Plaintiff ... but did not allow it in the case of male superintendents," and also allowed "commentators critical of Plaintiff to go beyond the [three]-minute time limit," in addition to "refus[ing] to shut down inappropriate behaviors directed at Plaintiff." (Id. ¶¶ 114–16.) According to Plaintiff, the "Board regularly interfered with [her] ability to carry out her professional responsibilities" as superintendent. (Id. ¶ 121.)

4. Plaintiff's Performance as Superintendent

Plaintiff's tenure as superintendent was reportedly marked by various developments within the District. Specifically, while Plaintiff was the superintendent, the arrest record was reportedly lower than that during the tenure of a previous superintendent, David Volkman ("Superintendent Volkman" or "Volkman") (Doc. No. 122–6 at 42), and "township arrests" and "disruptions" allegedly decreased by eighty percent (Doc. No. 122–3 at 38). DelGrande testified that, consequently, "[t]hings were much calmer in the school." (Doc. No. 122–6 at 42:25.) According to DelGrande, during her daughter's senior year, "there was not one phone call that...

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