PHILADELPHIA – A panel of appellate judges has ruled a former Temple University athlete's claims of sexual harassment, mistreatment and retaliation in the form of a loss of her athletic scholarship were time-barred, and upheld a prior granting of summary judgment.
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit judges Patty Shwartz, Robert E. Cowen and Julio M. Fuentes decided Jan. 4 to affirm the prior approval of summary judgment to defendants Temple University, Eric Mobley and Kristen Foley, and against plaintiff Ebony Moore.
Moore formerly competed in throwing events, such as discus, as a member of Temple University’s track and field team. On April 25, 2011, Moore’s great-uncle, Othello Mahone, forwarded to Temple University an e-mail from Moore which alleged she had been “bullied, sexually harassed, and otherwise mistreated” by her coaches and teammates.
Foley, then a member of Temple’s athletic department, convened a meeting on May 4, 2011, with Moore, Mahone, and then-Coach Mobley to address Moore’s allegations. Subsequent to the meeting, Moore sent Mobley an e-mail stating that she would not be attending the Atlantic 10 Championship – which Mobley viewed as the team’s most important competition of the year – that weekend because she had final examinations.
Coach Mobley then recommended Moore’s athletic scholarship not be renewed for the following year and removed her from the team; and on May 20, 2011, Moore was informed via letter that her scholarship would not be renewed. Moore filed a grievance with Temple’s Athletic Appeals Panel, which upheld the decision not to renew Moore’s athletic scholarship – but granted her a different scholarship to enable her to continue her studies. Moore ultimately graduated from Temple in December 2012.
On July 29, 2013, Moore filed a complaint in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, which was later removed to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. She alleged that the three defendants – Temple University, Coach Mobley, and Foley – “sexually harassed her, verbally abused her, and then removed her from the team and canceled her athletic scholarship because she complained about that mistreatment.”
In her suit, Moore raised claims, under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and 42 U.S.C. Section 1983. Both parties filed their own motions for summary judgment. The District Court denied Moore’s motion and granted the defendants’, concluding that Moore’s claims were time-barred.
Moore filed a timely notice of appeal to the Third Circuit, along with a motion to expand the record.
“We agree in full with the District Court’s well-reasoned opinion. The statute of limitations under Title IX and Section 1983 is two years. Moore’s claims accrued, and the statutes of limitations began to run, ‘when [she] knew or should have known of the injury upon which [her] action is based.’ Moore filed her complaint on July 29, 2013, thus, any claims that accrued before July 29, 2011 are time-barred,” the appellate court said.
“Moore’s claims concerning the non-renewal of her athletic scholarship accrued on May 20, 2011, when she received formal notice of the non-renewal, and thus these claims are untimely. Moore filed a grievance to the Appeals Panel as to this decision, but because the grievance procedure here ‘is a remedy for a prior decision, not an opportunity to influence that decision before it is made,’ the grievance does not delay the accrual of the cause of action,” the Third Circuit said.
The appellate court said it concurred with the District Court that the undisputed evidence shows that Moore was removed from the team in May 2011, due to that being supported by a number of pieces of evidence. While Moore argued on appeal that she was not removed from the team until after her grievance was ruled upon, the grievance procedure was designed to remedy prior decisions, not make initial decisions.
Further, the grievance proceedings here focused solely on the athletic scholarship, and not the decision to remove Moore from the team – meaning Moore’s claims regarding her removal from the team are also untimely, per the Third Circuit.
“Finally, as the District Court held, while Moore’s claim that the Appeals Panel retaliated against her for complaining about mistreatment is not time-barred, it does lack merit. Through Mahone, Moore objected to the treatment she received on April 25, 2011, and the Appeals Panel made its decision on July 28, 2011,” the Third Circuit said.
“Moore has presented no specific allegations suggesting that any member of the Appeals Panel had a retaliatory motive, and this temporal proximity, without more, is insufficient to show the causation necessary to survive summary judgment,” the Third Circuit added.
The defendants are represented by James Bucci and Casey R. Langel of Genova Burns, in Philadelphia.
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit case 16-3300
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:13-cv-05079
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at firstname.lastname@example.org