Pennsylvania Record

Monday, October 21, 2019

Judge denies Native American's post-trial motions in discrimination case against Philadelphia


By Karen Kidd | Jun 20, 2019

Independence Hall in Philadelphia | MorgueFile - kconnors

PHILADELPHIA – A social worker in the Philadelphia Prisons Department who claims she was passed over for promotions because she is a Native American and not Latina or African-American recently suffered setbacks in her case in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania when her three latest motions were denied.

In his 47-page memorandum issued June 13, U.S. District Judge Gerald J. "Jerry" Pappert denied three post-trial motions filed by Deanna Pierce who had asked for a new trial on municipal liability and damages and equitable and injunctive relief from retaliation in her case against the city. One of Pierce's motions was based on allegations that the city failed to produce certain evidence during discovery.

Pappert denied Pierce's motions "in their entirety." 

Pierce, a Native American, filed her discrimination suit against the city in December 2017 alleging the city promoted a Latina and two African-Americans ahead of her in Philadelphia's Department of Prisons, discriminated against her based on her race, harassed her and then retaliated against her for complaining about the discrimination.

A jury later found the city had not discriminated against Pierce but that the city did retaliate against her, for which the jury "awarded nominal damages," the background portion of Pappert's memorandum said.

"The jurors' verdict on the discrimination claim was firmly supported by the evidence they saw and heard," the memorandum said. "Pierce still insists that she presented to the jury overwhelming undisputed evidence that race was a motivating factor in defendant's decision not to promote her to HSPA (human services program administrator). The jurors saw and heard no such evidence."

In December, Pappert granted partial summary judgment to the city, saying there was "no evidence at all" that a supervisor "treated Pierce poorly" because of her race and that Pierce didn't make her case for her hostile work environment allegations.

"Notwithstanding Pierce's myriad allegations, there is no record evidence upon which a reasonable jury could find she was severely or pervasively discriminated against because of her race," Pappert said in his late December memorandum. "The alleged harassment is not severe, and while it may arguably have been pervasive, none of the conduct Pierce describes was based on race."

However, Pappert said in his December memorandum that Pierce's case could proceed to trial.

In her more recent motions, Pierce claimed the jury verdict had been "against the weight of the evidence as to whether race was a motivating or determinative factor in the city’s decision to not promote her," Pappert said in his latest memorandum.

Pierce argued, among other things, that a new trial is warranted because the court erred when it wouldn't allow her to depose Mayor Jim Kenney and that the city's counsel made improper statements during closing argument. Pierce also maintained the court erred when it ruled as inadmissible evidence that another employee had been promoted on the basis of race and that the jurors should have been asked to consider whether Pierce was discriminated against on the basis of her race as a non-Hispanic rather than on the basis of her race alone.

"The great weight of the evidence does not cut against the jury's verdict that race was not a motivating or determinative factor in the city's decision to not promote her," Pappert said in his June 13 memorandum.

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City of Philadelphia U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

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