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Case 2:13-cv-01373-AJS Document 1 Filed 09/18/13 Page 1 of 15

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA













v.

Plaintiff,

KATIE LACAVA,





PITTSBURGH PUBLIC SCHOOLS,





Defendant.







Civil Action No.



JURY TRIAL DEMANDED





COMPLAINT

I. INTRODUCTION

1.

Plaintiff Katie LaCava (“LaCava”), a white female, was hired by Pittsburgh

Public Schools (“PPS”) in January 2009 and assigned in September 2009 to the Pittsburgh

Northview Accelerated Learning Academy (“Northview”) to teach students from grades 3-5 in

the emotional support classroom. She alleges that her PPS supervisors at Northview

discriminated against her on the basis of race, created a hostile work environment, retaliated

against her for complaining about discrimination, and that PPS subjected her to disparate

treatment and ultimately constructively discharged her in June 2010 based on her race and in

retaliation for complaining about discrimination.

2.

Northview Principal, Dr. MiChele Holly (“Holly”) and Assistant Principal

Deborah Hollis (“Hollis”), both black females, and LaCava’s supervisors, subjected Plaintiff to

discrimination, retaliation for opposing discrimination and disparate treatment based on her race,

including rating her performance “Unsatisfactory.” As a first or second year teacher in PPS this

meant that LaCava would be terminated at the end of school year and barred from rehire unless

Case 2:13-cv-01373-AJS Document 1 Filed 09/18/13 Page 2 of 15

she resigned. Holly and Hollis subjected LaCava to discriminatory treatment throughout her

tenure at Northview, and they ramped up their efforts after LaCava complained about the

paraprofessional assigned to her classroom, Faye Cosby (“Cosby”), a black female who was

friendly with Holly and Hollis and often socialized and ate lunch with them. Cosby was

assigned to the emotional support classroom to provide assistance as directed by LaCava.

Instead of assisting LaCava, Cosby spent her time paying her bills, planning her daughter’s

wedding, and at times, even sleeping. When LaCava complained about this to her supervisors,

Holly and Hollis, they met with LaCava and Cosby together, ostensibly to address the complaint.

At the meeting, Cosby became irate, and Holly called six school police officers to physically

remove LaCava from her own classroom.

3.

By subjecting LaCava to discrimination and a hostile work environment based on

her race and retaliation because Plaintiff complained about disparate treatment, Defendant

Pittsburgh Public Schools violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e

et. seq. (“Title VII”) , and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 P.S. §§ 951 et. seq.

(“PHRA”).



JURISDICTION AND VENUE

II.

4.

This Court has jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s federal law claims pursuant to

28 U.S.C. § 1331 and § 1343, and supplemental jurisdiction over her related state law claims

under 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

5.

Since all of the violations alleged occurred in Allegheny County, venue is proper

in the Western District of Pennsylvania under 28 U.S.C. § 1391.







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III.

PARTIES

6.

Plaintiff Katie LaCava is a 32 year-old white female who grew up and now

resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. LaCava is an experienced and accomplished teacher. She

has worked as a teacher since 2003, first as a Special Education Teacher in Virginia schools from

2003 until 2009, and then when she returned to Pittsburgh and was hired by Pittsburgh Public

Schools. She taught at the Northview Accelerated Learning Academy from September 2009

until June 2010, when she resigned in lieu of discharge. At all times relevant to this case,

LaCava was an “employee” of Defendant within the meaning of Title VII and the PHRA.

7.

Defendant Pittsburgh Public Schools operates, administers and is responsible for

the public school system in the Pittsburgh school district. PPS operates more than 50 schools

and employs more than 5,000 individuals. At all times relevant to this case, Pittsburgh Public

Schools was an “employer” within the meaning of Title VII and the PHRA.


FACTS

IV.

8.

LaCava has been a school teacher since 2003. She first worked as a special

education teacher in the public schools of Prince William County, Virginia and for a summer

session at Southwood Psychiatric Hospital in Pittsburgh.

9.

From 2003 until the 2009-2010 school year at Northview under Holly, LaCava

had always received high ratings from her supervisors.

10. While teaching in Virginia, LaCava maintained an application “on file” with PPS

because she grew up in Pittsburgh and desired to return to be closer to her family.

11.

In January 2009, LaCava was hired by PPS and assigned to teach kindergarten

and first grade students in the emotional support classroom at Fulton Elementary School. For the

Spring 2009 semester at Fulton, LaCava was rated “Satisfactory” and her supervisors had no



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complaints about her performance. In September 2009, LaCava was transferred to Northview

and assigned to teach third through fifth grade students in the emotional support classroom.

12.

Emotional support classrooms are special education classrooms designed to

provide emotional and behavioral support for students who have been assessed as in need of

therapeutic emotional support. Glade Run, a mental health services provider, assigned a full-

time therapist, Aaron Smith, a white male, to LaCava’s classroom. Faye Cosby, a

paraprofessional and a black female employed by PPS, was assigned to LaCava’s classroom as

an aide.

13.

At the beginning of the school year in early September 2009, the Northview

administration ordered one of LaCava’s students, age 9 or 10, to go home because she had not

taken her medication that day and was acting out.

14.

LaCava learned that no family member was available to pick up this student to

make certain she arrived home safely; nor were there any family members at home to attend to

her after she arrived.

15.

Based on LaCava’s years of prior teaching experience with special education

students who required medication, Plaintiff was highly concerned that a 9- or 10-year old girl,

who was off her medication, was being left to make her way home unaccompanied and that no

responsible family member was at home to make certain she was properly cared for.

16.

Even under these circumstances, Northview administration would not allow the

student to stay at school until they could contact her family members to arrange safe transit and

appropriate care. To protect the student, LaCava felt compelled to take the child home herself,

which she did.



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17. When Hollis learned that LaCava had taken the student home, she threatened to

“call the cops.” Later, Holly issued a written “Critical Incident” report in which she reprimanded

LaCava for taking the student home.

18.

Thereafter, LaCava took a number of steps to “fit in” at Northview. Among other

things, she volunteered for committees and regularly sought Holly’s advice and input on

teaching-related matters.

19.

Throughout the Fall 2009 semester, LaCava made certain she updated Holly

regularly on classroom activities and school-related matters by email and face-to-face. Plaintiff

expressed genuine enthusiasm about her work at Northview to Holly and her other supervisors in

the special education department.

20.

By mid-October 2009, Holly expressly recognized LaCava’s efforts and in an

email to LaCava wrote:

Your room is really progressing. I peeked in several times today
and they were all engaged. Keep up the good work.

In or around late fall and early winter 2009, LaCava began to experience

21.

problems with Cosby, the aide assigned to her room and a black female.

22.

Cosby’s job was to assist LaCava with lessons and keeping students on task.

Instead, she spent most of her time at work on personal matters—writing checks and paying

bills, planning her daughter’s baby shower and wedding, and doing things unrelated to her job.

23.

Smith, the Glade Run therapist assigned to LaCava’s classroom, alerted LaCava

several times throughout the Fall semester that Cosby had actually fallen asleep during lessons.

24.

During the 2009-2010 school year, all but one of the aides at Northview were

black. The black paraprofessionals regularly congregated in Holly’s office—apparently with

Holly’s permission or invitation—where they relaxed, chatted and ate lunch together.



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25.

Holly and Hollis maintained particularly warm and friendly relationships with this

group, often greeting these aides in the hallways with, “Hey, Diva!”

26.

Holly and Hollis did not treat white faculty and staff, including LaCava, in the

same friendly manner.

27. White faculty and staff were not invited or permitted to use Holly’s office to

congregate, relax and eat lunch.

28.

At a meeting with a literacy professional in January 2010, LaCava suggested that

additional training for the aides might be helpful.

29. When Cosby learned of LaCava’s suggestion, she became outraged and even

yelled at LaCava in front of her emotional support classroom students.

30.

After Cosby’s outburst in front of the students, LaCava met with Holly to discuss

the event and the problems with Cosby’s conduct and lack of assistance described above.

31.

In the discussion with Holly, LaCava reported Cosby’s lack of attention to her

duties and students.

32.

On or around January 15, 2010, Holly met with LaCava, Cosby, Hollis and a

special education professional, Rochelle Chatman, also a black female.

33.

LaCava understood the meeting was to discuss the problems with Cosby’s

classroom conduct that Plaintiff had raised earlier with Holly.

34. When the meeting began, Cosby became loud, belligerent and began yelling at

LaCava.

35.

LaCava became uncomfortable with Cosby’s verbal attack—and Holly’s apparent

indifference to it—and asked Holly to summon a union representative.

36.

Instead of summoning the union, Holly declared that the meeting was over.



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37. When LaCava stood up to leave, the others remained seated.

38.

LaCava asked Holly, “Is the meeting really over?” and said that if they were

going to continue the discussion she would like to remain.

39.

At this point, Holly called to summon the Pittsburgh Public School Police, stating

that LaCava “refused to leave [her] office.”

40.

In fact, after Holly called the School Police, LaCava left Holly’s office of her own

volition and returned to her classroom in an attempt to avoid any further problem.

41.

42.

After LaCava left, Holly did not call off the police.

Five officers responded, all of whom were black males, and Holly sent them after

LaCava in her classroom.

43. With the students still present, the five School Police officers, charged into the

emotional support classroom and ordered LaCava to leave school premises immediately.

44.

Shocked by this show of force and humiliated by being ordered to leave in front

of her students, LaCava left Northview immediately and without further incident, escorted by the

five School Police officers.

45.

LaCava’s students told LaCava that after she left Holly came to the classroom and

instructed all of them to write statements that LaCava had “slammed the door” as she was

leaving.

46.

47.

In fact, LaCava did not slam the door when she was ordered to leave.

As a result of these events, Holly put LaCava on administrative leave for eight (8)

days, from January 18-26, 2010.

48.

Cosby was never disciplined for her conduct in the meeting.



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49.

Also, Holly never addressed the issues LaCava raised about Cosby’s inattention to

her work and the students.

50.

Later, LaCava reported to a PPS official that Holly and Hollis were “targeting”

her because she complained about Cosby.

51.

LaCava also complained about the disparate treatment directly to Holly and Hollis

on several occasions from January 2009 until the end of the school year.

52.

LaCava requested a transfer elsewhere in the district in order to remove herself

from discriminatory treatment and the hostile environment at Northview.

53.

A week after LaCava returned from administrative leave, Holly placed her on an

Employee Improvement Plan (“EIP”).

54.

Over the next several months, Holly, Hollis, and Chatman regularly showed up in

LaCava’s classroom to “observe” her.

55.

56.

LaCava was also ordered to attend numerous “EIP meetings”.

During this time, Northview administrators began claiming that student discipline

referrals from LaCava were “lost.” As a result, LaCava’s students were not properly disciplined

for misconduct or acting out. The same administrators had never lost any discipline referrals

submitted by LaCava before the Cosby incident.

57.

During this time, Holly and Hollis issued highly negative evaluations of LaCava.

They focused on alleged poor student behavior and ignored the fact that the students in LaCava’s

classroom were placed there because they had a history or acting out and bad behavior.

58.

Even LaCava’s students saw that LaCava’s relationship with Holly and Hollis had

become strained, saying things like: “Ms. Hollis hates you,” and “Why don’t you just sue

Ms. Hollis for harassment?”



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59.

Although several reviews of LaCava evaluated her as making progress during the

EIP, on May 25, 2010, Holly assigned her a rating of “Unsatisfactory” for the school year.

60.

Holly cited classroom observations in justification of her rating such as:

Ms. LaCava’s classroom is often characterized by students who act
inappropriately and who are disengaged in the learning. She spent
an inordinate amount of time teaching to only one or two students
while the others misbehaved and roamed around the classroom. In
terms of lesson planning and preparation, objectives of the lesson
were not evident nor addressed in each lesson.

Holly’s evaluation conflicts with positive reviews of LaCava from other observers

61.

during the EIP, who, unlike Holly, offered helpful suggestions for improving her classroom

technique.

62.

For example, Kimberly Zangrilli (“Zangrilli”), a white female, assessed LaCava

during a March 8, 2010 observation as follows:

. . . Students were seated in there [sic] seats and followed along
while reading the story “Dear Mrs. LaRue.” Ms. LaCava would go
back and ask comprehension questions based on what was read.
She utilized context clues on a basic level with students and could
have extended the lesson to include other content areas (ie. math)
and literary terms. . . .

By contrast, Hollis focused only on poor student behavior and a week after

63.

Zangrilli’s review, wrote:

. . . Students continue to speak out without raising their hands
about anything. Ms. LaCava again reminds students to raise their
hands before speaking out. After the story, Ms. LaCava asks
students to give her three “big ideas” or facts from the story. One
student is playing with a paper airplane, another student’s head is
under the desk, and another student is playing with a book mark.
All students are not engaged. . . .

According to Smith, the classroom therapist, during Hollis’ March 15, 2010

64.

observation of the class, there were no emotional outbursts or behavioral problems.



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65.

In sharp contrast, Holly and Hollis were generous in their praise for Cosby in the

reviews they wrote for LaCava’s EIP observations, noting for instance in one report that,

“Ms. Cosby begins working with the Tri group where all students are engaged in the learning

process.”

66.

After Holly issued the “Unsatisfactory” rating to LaCava on May 25, 2010,

LaCava informed her union representative that she would need a half day off on May 26, 2010.

67.

The union representative assured her she would suffer no negative consequences

if she took a half-day off.

68. When LaCava requested the time from Holly, Holly responded that if she took the

half-day off, Holly would be consider it “job abandonment.”

69.

Needing the time off and believing she was entitled to it under the collective

bargaining agreement, LaCava left school early on May 26, 2010.

70.

As she left the building, LaCava was speaking with her union representative by

phone. Frustrated by the situation, LaCava told the union representative that it was “bullshit.”

71.

No students were within earshot when LaCava spoke on her phone, but Holly

overheard her.

72.

Even though LaCava was engaged in a private conversation and was exiting the

building, Holly again summed the School Police for assistance and again, the police arrived in

force.

73.

74.

75.

LaCava was the only teacher for whom Holly ever summoned the School Police.

Holly issued another written reprimand to LaCava for this incident.

Holly put LaCava on administrative leave again, and LaCava never returned to

Northview after this incident.



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76.

Due to stress and anxiety caused by Holly and Hollis’ treatment, LaCava sought

professional help from a psychologist, Donald Zandier.

77.

78.

Zandier recommended a leave of absence for LaCava.

Based on Holly’s “Unsatisfactory” rating, under PPS policy and practice LaCava,

then a “temporary professional employee,” would be discharged at the end of the school year.

79.

LaCava was advised by the union to resign rather than be fired, as a discharge

would make it virtually impossible for her to ever work again as a teacher.

80.

81.

82.

Accordingly, LaCava resigned to avoid being fired.

Under these circumstances, her leaving is a constructive discharge.

On information and belief, Holly and Hollis issued 5 “Unsatisfactory” ratings to

teachers at Northview for the 2009-2010 school year, including LaCava.

83.

84.

On information and belief, two (2) of them were black and three (3) were white.

On information and belief, the three (3) white teachers rated “Unsatisfactory”

were all “temporary professional employees” under the School Code, 24 P.S. § 11-1101(3) and

therefore, would be fired at the end of the school year.

85.

On information and belief, the three (3) white teachers resigned their employment

with PPS.

86.

On

information and belief,

the

two (2) black female

teachers rated

“Unsatisfactory” were tenured and thus did not face termination.

87.

88.

On information and belief the two (2) black teachers are still employed by PPS.

LaCava timely filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment

Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on November 10, 2010, which was dual-filed with the

Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (“PHRC”).



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89.

90.

91.

92.

93.

The EEOC issued a Notice of Right to Sue on June 20, 2013.

It has been over one year since LaCava’s Charge was dual-filed with the PHRC.

LaCava has exhausted her federal and state administrative remedies.

V. CAUSES OF ACTION





Count I – Violations of Title VII



The foregoing allegations are incorporated as if set forth in their entirety.

The conduct of PPS and its supervisors as described above subjected LaCava to

disparate treatment in the terms and conditions of her employment on the basis of her race

(white), unreasonably interfered with her ability to perform her job, and created an intimidating,

humiliating, and hostile work environment in violation of Title VII.

94.

The conduct of PPS and its supervisors in treating LaCava less favorably than

similarly situated black co-workers violates Title VII.

95.

By retaliating against LaCava for opposing conduct made unlawful under

Title VII, PPS violated Title VII.

96.

As a result of PPS’s conduct, LaCava lost wages and other emoluments of

employment, and suffered from severe emotional distress, anxiety, mental anguish, and

humiliation.

97.

98.

Count II – Violations of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act

The foregoing allegations are incorporated as if set forth in their entirety.

Based on the foregoing, in subjecting LaCava to disparate treatment and a hostile

environment based on her race, and retaliating against her for opposing conduct made unlawful

under the PHRA, PPS violated the PHRA.



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99.

As a result of PPS’s violations of the PHRA, LaCava lost wages and other

emoluments of employment; and she has suffered from severe emotional distress, anxiety,

mental anguish, and humiliation.



VI. PRAYER FOR RELIEF

WHEREFORE Plaintiff requests that the Court:


Assume jurisdiction of her case;

a)

b)


c)


d)


e)

f)


g)


h)








Find and declare that the Defendant discriminated against Plaintiff in the terms,
conditions, rights and privileges of her employment in violation of Title VII of the
Civil Rights Act of 1964, and enjoin such further conduct by the employer;

Find and declare that the Defendant discriminated against Plaintiff in the terms,
conditions, rights and privileges of her employment in violation of the
Pennsylvania Human Relations Act and enjoin such further conduct by the
employer;

Award Plaintiff such back pay, front pay, employment benefits and all other
emoluments of employment as if the discharge had not occurred;

Award Plaintiff compensatory and consequential damages and punitive damages;

Award Plaintiff such costs and expenses of suit, and reasonable attorneys’ fees,
expert witness costs, and such other relief as the Court deems necessary and
proper after trial of this matter;

Find for the Plaintiff and against the Defendant on all counts of this Complaint;
and

Order such other and further relief as may be deemed just and proper.



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Dated: September 18, 2013










Respectfully submitted,


/s/Emily Town
Emily E. Town
PA ID No. 309881
[email protected]
John Stember
PA ID No. 23643
[email protected]
STEMBER COHN &

429 Forbes Avenue
1616 Allegheny Building
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
T.: (412) 338-1445
F.: (412) 338-1446

Attorneys for Plaintiff

DAVIDSON-WELLING, LLC



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Case 2:13-cv-01373-AJS Document 1 Filed 09/18/13 Page 15 of 15

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA

v.

Plaintiff,

KATIE LACAVA,





PITTSBURGH PUBLIC SCHOOLS,





Defendant.











Civil Action No.



JURY TRIAL DEMANDED





JURY TRIAL DEMAND

Plaintiff demands trial by jury on all claims so triable in the above-captioned action.





Dated: September 18, 2013


Respectfully submitted,


/s/Emily Town
Emily E. Town
PA ID No. 309881
[email protected]
John Stember
PA ID No. 23643
[email protected]
STEMBER COHN &

429 Forbes Avenue
1616 Allegheny Building
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
T.: (412) 338-1445
F.: (412) 338-1446

Attorneys for Plaintiff

DAVIDSON-WELLING, LLC






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