Assistant Director of Operations Retaliation Claims Against Employer Thrown Out by Pennsylvania Federal Judge

Case Name: Abney v. SEPTA

Court: United States District Court – Eastern District of Pennsylvania

Date of Opinion: February 4th, 2022

Judge: Nitza I. Quinones Alejandro

Overview:  Defendant filed a summary judgment motion against the Plaintiff, arguing that his retaliation claims are invalid under Title VII.  The court granted the motion to dismiss.

Background:  Willie J. Abney started working for SEPTA in 1992 and was promoted to Assistant Director or Operations in 2014, where he supervised around 400 custodians, managers, and cashiers. In May 2017, Abney reported an incident to SEPTA’s Equal Opportunity Department involving a maintenance worker, who wore a head scarf, failed to comply with the uniform policy. Abney was told not to file a report because the head scarf was a religious accommodation.

In March 2018, a pregnant cashier submitted a complaint to the EEO complaining that the plaintiff “badgered” her about her uniform and taking breaks.  Based on numerous other complaints against Abney, he was subsequently demoted, which resulted in a salary reduction of around $40,000 per year.

Abney filed a complaint with this court alleging that SEPTA violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, claiming that SEPTA demoted him in retaliation for the numerous complaints he made to his employer.  SEPTA has moved for summary judgment, arguing that Abner failed to provide evidence that he engaged in protective conduct.

The judge notes that filing a “facially invalid” complaint with the EEOC is not considered protected under the anti-retaliation parts of the law. The court opines that Abner did not assert discrimination under any of Title VII’s protective grounds.

In addition, the court states that all of Abney’s complaints to his superiors were in connection with how he was treated when he was the subject of discrimination actions that were lodged by other employees. The court says that Abney has given no legal basis that complaints by a wrongdoer are protected conduct under Title VII.

Last, the court notes that none of Abney’s complaints contain discrimination charges under any of Title VII’s protected grounds.

Conclusion:  The summary judgment motion filed by SEPTA is granted.

Steven M. Cohen
Law Librarian | + posts

Steven M. Cohen is a law librarian at a midsize law firm in New York City.  He was the creator of Library Stuff, one of the first library blogs, which lasted over 15 years.  He obtained his MLS from Queens College in 2002.  His passions include legal research, reading novels, and rooting on his favorite sports teams.