Federal judge dismisses corrections officer's discrimination claims

By Nicholas Malfitano | Dec 22, 2015

U.S. District Court Judge Mark A. Kearney  

PHILADELPHIA – The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has dismissed a corrections officer’s claims of racial discrimination and a hostile work environment.

Judge Mark A. Kearney authored the Court’s opinion in the case and believed plaintiff Frank Kwaning did not utilize all administrative remedies available to him or have sufficient facts to support his claims.

Kwaning, a native of Ghana, is an officer employed with Community Education Centers, Inc. (CEC), at the George Hill Corrections Facility in Thornton, located in Delaware County.

In 2011, Kwaning learned his father in Ghana was in ill health, the severity of which required daily care. In order to assist his family with this care, Kwaning applied for annual two month-long sabbaticals from his duties under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Upon returning to work from Ghana in April 2014, Kwaning was delayed in arriving due to car trouble and told he would be disciplined if he was late; since his FMLA time had ended and his sick leave had been exhausted because of a collective bargaining agreement. Kwaning claimed this constituted “harassment and discrimination," when he arbitrated the issue and won.

After the resolution of this disagreement, Kwaning claimed CEC asked to see his travel documentation from Ghana. Kwaning produced the documents, but filed a grievance and claimed Caucasian officers were not subject to the same oversight.

CEC disagreed, but Kwaning alleged this difference was due to his ethnic origin.

Kwaning believed CEC violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Kearney explained Pennsylvania is a deferral state, which requires the filing of an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charge within 300 days of the alleged violation, and the filing of a PHRA charge within 180 days of that violation.

“Officer Kwaning dual filed his administrative charge on February 4, 2015. Any discriminatory act occurring before April 10, 2014, is time barred under Title VII. Any discriminatory act before August 8, 2014, is time barred under the PHRA. Because all of Officer Kwaning's claims occurred before August 8, 2014, his PHRA claims are time barred as a matter of law,” Kearney said.

Kearney further stated Kwaning failed to exhaust all remedies for his hostile work environment claim, in effect agreeing with CEC, and that his claims do not constitute an “adverse work action” under the requirements stipulated by Title VII. Kwaning’s FMLA claims fared similarly. 

“Additionally, we dismiss his FMLA claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted,” Kearney said. “Officer Kwaning does not define his claim under the FMLA. From a most liberal interpretation, we cannot find him complaining of interference with his FMLA rights, nor could he as he received all of the FMLA benefits he requested without restraint or interference.”

The Court dismissed all of Kwaning’s claims against CEC in their entirety, but did grant him the option to file an amended complaint consistent with their rendered opinion.

The plaintiff was represented by Stewart C. Crawford Jr. of the Law Offices of Stewart C. Crawford & Associates, in Landsdowne.

The defendants were represented by John P. Gonzales and Thomas J. Szymanski of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, in Philadelphia

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:15-cv-06021

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

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