Nicholas Malfitano Jan. 19, 2016, 3:33pm


PHILADELPHIA – A Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) Trial Preparation Specialist suing her employer for claims of hostile work environment and retaliation may not introduce evidence predating the suit’s statute of limitations, a federal judge ruled.

A Friday decision from Judge Cynthia M. Rufe of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania stated plaintiff Michelle Dubrey is time-barred from introducing any evidence taking place before a July 2009 statute of limitations period, in her pending case against SEPTA.

Dubrey began working for SEPTA in 1994 as a Bus Operator, serving in that capacity until 2000, when she was promoted to the position of Trial Preparation Specialist in SEPTA’s Legal Department. Per the suit, Dubrey’s supervisor from 2000 to 2003 in this role was Anthony Sheridan.

Dubrey claims Sheridan “created a hostile work environment, testifying that he gratuitously referred to her race in conversations, constantly criticized her, and caused her hurt and humiliation for years, even after he was no longer her supervisor.” Dubrey made complaints regarding Sheridan’s alleged behavior and was assigned a different supervisor in 2003.

Dubrey also asserts she was assigned to the reception desk (performing duties below her pay grade, although her title and pay were unchanged) from 2003 to 2006, in retaliation for her complaints about Mr. Sheridan’s alleged racially-motivated mistreatment of her. Sheridan allegedly last made improper remarks to Dubrey in 2007.

Dubrey also alleged racially demeaning treatment from Claims Department employee Francis Cornely in 2011 and filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regarding this and a letter written about her by Sheridan years earlier, which Dubrey discovered on a department computer.

SEPTA argued the filing of Dubrey’s complaint on July 26, 2011, meant the standard two-year statute of limitations was in effect, and any alleged improper conduct on Sheridan’s part had to have taken place on July 26, 2009 or later.

Rufe agreed.

“Defendant notes that plaintiff fails to point to any specific act by Mr. Sheridan evincing a continuing practice of harassment that falls with the applicable limitation period. The Court agrees that plaintiff has not put forth evidence of one or more specific incidences of harassment after July 26, 2009,” Rufe said.

Rufe added Dubrey failed to establish a link between Sheridan’s alleged behavior and other incidents of alleged discrimination, such as Cornely’s.

“Plaintiff has failed to put forth evidence from which a reasonable jury could infer that Mr. Cornely’s conduct – a single incident, involving a different individual, who worked in a different department from both Mr. Sheridan and plaintiff – is a continuation of Mr. Sheridan’s alleged ongoing harassment, rather than an unrelated act of discrimination,” Rufe stated.

Rufe said Dubrey also failed to show she made SEPTA management aware of Sheridan’s alleged conduct during the statute of limitations period.

“The Court grants the motion for summary judgment, holding that plaintiff may not present evidence regarding Mr. Sheridan’s contribution to the alleged hostile work environment at SEPTA, nor any other evidence of discriminatory conduct predating the July 26, 2009 statute of limitations, as claims based upon such evidence are time-barred by the applicable statute of limitations,” Rufe said.

The plaintiff is represented by Olugbenga O. Abiona and Brian Matthew Rhodes in Philadelphia.

The defendants are represented by Danielle Banks, Caitlin E. Oberst and Michelle K. Carson of Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young, in Philadelphia.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:11-cv-04679

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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