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Houghton v. Dauphin County Emergency Jury Trial Demanded Management Agency

April 20, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Sylvia H. Rambo


This case involves employment discrimination and retaliation claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000 et seq. ("Title VII"), and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 951 et seq. ("PHRA"). Presently before the court is the Motion to Dismiss of Defendants Dauphin County Emergency Management Agency ("EMA"), Dauphin County, Michael Zeigler, Mark Rothermel,*fn1 and John Harlacker (Doc. 5). Because Plaintiff, Kirsten Houghton, primarily responds with attempts to clarify the precise nature of the claims set forth in a rather inartfully drafted complaint, the court will grant Plaintiff leave to amend the complaint, as set forth here.

I. Background

On February 19, 2007, Houghton filed a three-count complaint (Doc. 1), alleging 1) employment discrimination on the basis of her gender, consisting of sexual harassment and a hostile work environment; 2) retaliation for complaining about her work conditions; and 3) discrimination and retaliation on the basis of her pregnancy.

The facts as alleged in the complaint are as follows. Houghton began working for Defendant EMA on October 10, 2003, as a Dispatcher at its Communications Center. (Doc. 1 ¶ 8.) During the period from January 21, 2005, through August 15, 2005, male co-workers would regularly download pornographic images to their work computers and openly display the images. (Id. ¶¶ 9-10.) Pornographic magazines, television programs, and movies were regularly available and openly viewed by male co-workers. (Id. ¶¶ 11-12.) In addition, male co-workers regularly and openly referred to female co-workers as "skirts" or "bitches." (Id. ¶13.) All of the foregoing occurred in Houghton's presence while at work. (Id. ¶¶ 9-13.)

During Houghton's training, her shift supervisor, Defendant Michael Zeigler, was demeaning and insulting to her, but not to similarly situated male co-workers. (Id. ¶¶ 14-15.) Houghton complained to Zeigler, but he continued his behavior and regularly and consistently publicly embarrassed Houghton. (Id. ¶¶ 16-17, 33.) On or about April 6, 2005, Houghton complained to Zeigler about the sexual harassment and hostile work environment. (Id. ¶ 18.) Zeigler responded that "this type of harassment has been happening for many years since women have started working here, and it will continue for years to come." (Id. ¶ 19.) He took no corrective action. Zeigler also advised Houghton to talk to other female co-workers regarding ways to learn to deal with the harassment. (Id. ¶¶ 19-20.)

On or about April 6, 2005, Houghton also informed Zeigler that she was pregnant; Zeigler expressed frustration that her pregnancy would result in Houghton's absence during the winter holidays. (Id. ¶¶ 43-44.) On or about April 27, 2005, Zeigler denied Houghton the opportunity to receive any police training, a prerequisite for promotion opportunities, stating that it was due to her pregnancy. (Id. ¶¶ 45-46.) Houghton did not receive police training from that time through the time of her discharge, about four months later. (Id. ¶¶ 36, 47.)

On May 11, 2005, Houghton again reported sexual harassment and a hostile work environment to Zeigler, as well as to Defendants Mark Rothermel, Training Manager, and Jack Harlacker, Communications Center Manager. (Id. ¶ 21.) In response, Rothermel accused Houghton of lying and being intimidated by men, extended her training period to June 6, 2005, and informed Houghton that at that time a decision would be made regarding whether she would be terminated. (Id. ¶ 22.) Harlacker indicated that Houghton should return with further complaints in three weeks, if she were still employed by Defendants. (Id. ¶ 23.)

On June 3, 2005, Houghton complained to Kay Sinner, the Employment and Affirmative Action Manager, but her complaints were not investigated. (Id. ¶¶ 24-25.)

From June 7 through July, 2005, Zeigler denied Houghton the opportunity to utilize her fire training, which is a prerequisite for promotion opportunities, and said she had made things worse for herself by complaining. (Id. ¶ 34-35.)

On August 16, 2005, Defendants terminated Houghton, even though she had performed better than or equal to similarly situated co-workers who had not complained regarding the work environment. (Id. ¶ 36.)

Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on March 19, 2007. The issues have been briefed and are ripe for disposition.

II. Legal Standard -- Motion to Dismiss

In deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule 12(b)(6), the court is required to accept as true all of the factual allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from the face of the complaint. Worldcom, Inc. v. Graphnet, Inc., 343 F.3d 651, 653 (3d Cir. 2003). "The complaint will be deemed to have alleged sufficient facts if it adequately put[s] the defendants on notice of the essential elements of the plaintiff['s] cause of action." Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996). The court will not dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim "unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim ...

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