Judge Dismisses Claim of Employee Who Repeatedly Failed to Land Athletic Department Job

Jul 21, 2017

A federal judge from the Middle District of Pennsylvania has dismissed the claim of a Lock Haven University employee, who sought a job in the athletic department, but was repeatedly turned away, allegedly in violation of both Title VII of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 19641 and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA).
 
In so ruling, the court noted that the lawsuit was flawed for a number reasons, such as the failure to obtain a right to sue letter from the EEOC, which is a pre-requisite.
 
Plaintiff Joseph Patrick Guerriero is an employee of Lock Haven University (LHU) of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.
 
Guerriero first filed a complaint against LHU in 2003, pursuant to the retaliation provisions of both Title VII and the PHRA. This action was settled by the parties, and subsequently dismissed in accordance with the settlement agreement in 2006.
 
In 2008, Guerriero filed a second action against LHU. The 2008 action was, again, premised as a claim of retaliation in violation of Title VII and the PHRA. It also proceeded as a breach of contract action for breach of the 2006 settlement agreement. On Nov. 10, 2009, following a jury trial, a verdict of $60,000 was returned in favor of Guerriero.
 
The events leading to the instant lawsuit started in September 2011, when the defendants hired a new president, and the plaintiff sent an email offering his expertise and willingness to work in the athletics department. Regardless of “the plaintiff’s extensive and laudatory career in athletics,” the president “responded dismissively of the plaintiff’s offer,” according to the complaint.
 
The plaintiff alleged that “nearly a month later in October of 2011, the defendants made unfounded allegations that the plaintiff had improperly provided benefits to a student-athlete in an attempt to harm the plaintiff’s standing within his profession and to ensure that the plaintiff would not work within athletics.
 
“As a result of the allegations, the defendants forbade the plaintiff’s professional interaction with student-athletes, as well as compelled the plaintiff to undergo training for supposed violations of NCAA rules and regulations. Despite the supposed violations, the plaintiff never received an admonishment, never received sanctions, and never received punishment of any kind on behalf of the NCAA.”
 
The plaintiff went on to paint an exhaustive picture of how the alleged defendants continuously retaliated against him, leading to his decision to ultimately file a lawsuit.
 
The court began its analysis by noting that Section 704(a) of Title VII states:
 
“It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to discriminate against any of his employees … because he has opposed any practice made an unlawful employment practice by this subchapter, or because he has made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under this subchapter.
 
“The elements of retaliation are the same for both Plaintiff’s Title VII and PHRA claims. The elements are ‘(1) plaintiff engaged in conduct protected by Title VII; (2) the employer took adverse action against plaintiff; and (3) a causal link exists between plaintiff’s protected conduct and the employer’s adverse action.’ Explaining the first element, the Honorable Samuel A. Alito writing for the United States Supreme Court stated, ‘Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision forbids employer actions that discriminate against an employee (or job applicant) because he has opposed’ a practice that Title VII forbids or has made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in a Title VII investigation, proceeding, or hearing.
 
“For purposes of the instant motion, LHU concedes that the plaintiff has stated a claim satisfying the first two elements. The defendants argue that the plaintiff has not stated a claim for the third element, the causal link. LHU argues that because the plaintiff’s claim lacks a temporal proximity between the conduct and alleged retaliation, there can be no inference of retaliation spanning 2011 to 2016, from federal lawsuits filed by Guerriero against LHU in 2003 and 2008. However, the argument about temporal proximity “must wait until another day,” wrote the court.
 
“There are two interrelated issues that I now raise sua sponte. First, the plaintiff has not attached a right to sue letter to his complaint, nor did he aver in his complaint that one has been issued to him. ‘A complainant may not bring a Title VII suit without having first received a right-to-sue letter.’ Second, without the date of the right to sue letter, this court has no method of determining whether this action was timely filed, as an action under Title VII must be brought within 90 days pursuant to the statute.
 
“Furthermore, the PHRA maintains the same requirement as Title VII that a plaintiff must first proceed administratively. The PHRA’s procedural requirements, laid out in § 959, require that:
 
“Any person claiming to be aggrieved by an alleged unlawful discriminatory practice may make, sign and file with the Commission a verified complaint, in writing, which shall state the name and address of the person, employer, labor organization or employment agency alleged to have committed the unlawful discriminatory practice complained of, and which shall set forth the particulars thereof and contain such other information as may be required by the Commission.”
 
Given the two issues, the court granted the motion to dismiss, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). However, it did the leave to door open for the plaintiff to re-file the complaint.
 
Joseph Patrick Guerriero v. Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education; M.D. Pa.; 4:16-CV-00740, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 68143; 5/4/17
 
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiff) Andrew Michael Smalley, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Office of Andrew Smalley, State College, PA. (for defendants) Jessica S. Davis, LEAD ATTORNEY, Office of Attorney General, Harrisburg, PA.