SEPTA

PHILADELPHIA – An appellate judge has affirmed a ruling of summary judgment on behalf of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) and one of its supervisors, in an employment discrimination litigation.

Judge Cheryl Ann Krause said in a ruling published Nov. 4 that plaintiff Roslyn Oden’s appeal of the granting of summary judgment was denied and the original decision of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania upheld.

Oden filed suit against SEPTA and her former supervisor Stacey Richardson in October 2014 under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, specifically, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA).

“In 2011, after more than 20 years as a SEPTA bus operator, Oden was medically disqualified from the position due to a diagnosed sleep disorder and other disabilities, and, with the approval of her doctor, assumed a position as a SEPTA cashier,” Krause said.

“Upon starting the position, Oden approached Richardson, her new supervisor, with requests for accommodation for Oden’s disabilities – namely, flexible reporting times, use of sick time, personal time, and break time. Instead of discussing accommodations with Oden, Richardson allegedly stated that Oden would have to transfer to another department. Oden did not transfer and continued working as a cashier,” Krause added.

Per court records, on Jan. 31, 2013, Richardson observed Oden “sleeping or being inattentive at a cashier booth” and began an investigation into Oden’s conduct. Based on three hours of video footage, the investigation uncovered multiple violations of SEPTA employee rules.

“For example, Oden was reading from her cellular phone for 40 minutes, and she later left her cashier booth for 75 minutes, which resulted in 20 unregistered fares. Because of these violations, SEPTA terminated Oden’s employment on Feb. 27, 2013,” Krause said.

Oden filed a discrimination against SEPTA with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, and with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on July 26, 2013.

Oden then proceeded to the District Court, where she brought discrimination and retaliation claims against SEPTA under the ADA and against SEPTA and Richardson under the PHRA, as well as Equal Protection and First Amendment claims against Richardson individually under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983.

Ultimately, the District Court granted summary judgment to SEPTA and Richardson due to failure-to-accommodate claims were time-barred under the ADA and the PHRA, Oden not being able to establish that SEPTA and Richardson’s non-discriminatory reasons for terminating her were pre-textual; and Oden not establishing that Richardson treated similarly-situated employees differently from Oden in violation of the Equal Protection Clause – nor did Oden make statements on a matter of public concern that would merit First Amendment protection.

This decision lead Oden to appeal.

Krause said Oden did not challenge the District Court’s rationale that the failure-to-accommodate claims were time-barred.

“Oden did not file her administrative discrimination charge with the relevant agencies until July 2013 – well beyond the 300-day deadline for ADA claims and the 180-day deadline for PHRA claims,” Krause said.

Krause said the appellate court concurred with the trial court on Oden not establishing the non-discriminatory reasons for her termination as pre-textual.

“She does not deny serious violations of SEPTA’s employee rules, and thus has not provided any evidence that would allow a reasonable jury either to disbelieve SEPTA’s nondiscriminatory and non-retaliatory reasons for terminating her, or to believe that any discriminatory or retaliatory animus would have ‘had a determinative effect’ on her termination,” Krause explained.

Finally, the Third Circuit Court determined no error in the finding of claims against Richardson individually.

“To establish her Equal Protection claim, Oden was required to ‘prove the existence of purposeful discrimination’ by showing that she ‘received different treatment from that received by other individuals similarly situated.’ Oden failed to produce such evidence,” Krause said.

“Although Oden mentions another cashier whom Richardson did not discipline, that cashier was not ‘similarly situated” because she was not alike ‘in all relevant aspects.’ Oden, for example, left her cashier booth for 75 minutes while there is no evidence that the other cashier left her assigned work location at all,” Krause stated.

Krause said Oden fared no better on her First Amendment retaliation claim, which was predicated on whether the speech in question involves “a matter of public concern” or merely “matters of purely personal interest,” such as “mundane employment grievances.”

“Here, the speech on which Oden relies is her request for her individual accommodations. We have held, however, that requests of this nature fall squarely into the category of ‘mundane employment grievances’ and are not protected speech under the First Amendment. The District Court thus correctly granted summary judgment on Oden’s Section 1983 claims,” Krause said.

The plaintiff is represented by Olugbenga O. Abiona in Philadelphia.

The defendants are represented by Amy C. Lachowicz and Lauri C. Kavulich of Clark Hill, also in Philadelphia.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit case 15-3676

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania 2:14-cv-06197

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

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