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Hanes v. Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania

August 14, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Conner


This is the second in a series of employment discrimination actions filed by Jeffrey L. Hanes ("Hanes") against his employer, Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania ("Columbia Gas"). Hanes, who is an African-American male, alleges that Columbia Gas and several of its employees discriminated, retaliated, and conspired against him on the basis of his gender and race. Presently before the court is the motion to dismiss (Doc. 21), filed by Columbia Gas and three of its employees, Ronald H. Blymire, Jr. ("Blymire"), Ronald Lee Pryor ("Pryor"), and Charles M. Zambito ("Zambito").*fn1 For the reasons that follow, the motion to dismiss will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Factual Background*fn2

Hanes began his employment with Columbia Gas on May 8, 1989 as a laborer. (Doc. 19 ¶ 20.) In February of 2001, Hanes bid on and was awarded a Customer Service "B" position. (Id.) At the time, Hanes was the only non-Caucasian employee in the customer service department. (Id. ¶ 21.) All non-supervisory employees of Columbia Gas are represented by the United Steelworkers union. Columbia Gas and the union have entered into a series of contracts that govern various terms and conditions of employment with Columbia Gas and guarantee that all Columbia Gas employees are to "be treated equally in their terms and condition [sic] of their employment regardless of race or sex." (Id. ¶¶ 17, 19.) Hanes alleges that he is a party to these contracts "and/or holds a vested interest as a third-party beneficiary" thereof. (Id. ¶ 18.)

Between 2003 and 2006, Hanes alleges that he "was treated more adverse [sic] in the terms and conditions of his employment than similarly situated Caucasian and female employees" and that Pryor, Blymire, and Zambito*fn3 "agreed to make concerted decisions to negatively affect Plaintiff in his terms and conditions of employment." (Id. ¶¶ 22-23.) As early as 2003, Hanes began to file grievances regarding defendants' discriminatory practices, including the company's failure to hire racial minorities. Hanes also began to seek enforcement of those provisions of the union contract mandating the equal treatment of employees. (Id. ¶¶ 26, 28.) In 2004, defendants began to retaliate against Hanes for his grievances by "unjustly taking disciplinary action" against him.*fn4 (Id. ¶ 27.) This disciplinary action includes: (1) issuing Hanes two written reprimands stating that he had committed safety and health violations,*fn5 and (2) orally reprimanding Hanes "about his work log and about going to the shop in mid-day to obtain materials."*fn6 (Id. ¶¶ 34-35, 59.) Absent such discriminatory and retaliatory treatment, Hanes alleges that he would have been qualified for promotion to a Customer Service "A" position no later than August 2003. In fact, Hanes did not become qualified for such a promotion until February of 2005. (Id. ¶ 25.)

Before initiating the instant action, Hanes dual-filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ("PHRC") and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC").*fn7 (Doc. 19 ¶ 12.) On June 19, 2007, the EEOC issued a "Dismissal and Notice of Rights" letter to Hanes. The letter provided Hanes with ninety days in which to file a lawsuit in federal or state court. (Id. ¶ 14; see also id., Ex. 2.) The instant action followed on September 18, 2007. (See Doc. 1.) Hanes filed an amended complaint on January 22, 2008, alleging that defendants discriminated against him on the basis of his race and gender and retaliated and conspired against him in violation of: (1) Title VII of the Civil Rights Act ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a), (2) 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("§ 1981"), (3) 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) ("§ 1985"), and (4) the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), PA. STAT. ANN. tit. 43, §§ 951-963.*fn8 (See Doc. 19.) Defendants filed the instant motion to dismiss, which has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition. (See Doc. 21.)

II. Standard of Review

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for the dismissal of complaints that fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). When ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must "accept as true all [factual] allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Kanter v. Barella, 489 F.3d 170, 177 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 350 (3d Cir. 2005)). Although the court is generally limited in its review to the facts in the complaint, it "may also consider matters of public record, orders, exhibits attached to the complaint and items appearing in the record of the case." Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 n.2 (3d Cir. 1994); see also In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997).

Federal notice pleading rules require the complaint to "give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Sershen v. Cholish, No. 3:07-CV-1011, 2007 WL 3146357, at *4 (M.D. Pa. Oct. 26, 2007) (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, ___ U.S. ___, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007)). The plaintiff must present facts that, if true, demonstrate a plausible right to relief. See FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a) (stating that the complaint should include "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief"); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, ___ U.S. ___, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007) (requiring plaintiffs to allege facts sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level"); Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir. 2007). Thus, courts should not dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim if it "contain[s] either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements necessary to sustain recovery under some viable legal theory." Montville Twp. v. Woodmont Builders LLC, No. 05-4888, 2007 WL 2261567, at *2 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, ___ U.S. at ___, 127 S.Ct. at 1969). Under this liberal pleading standard, courts should generally grant plaintiffs leave to amend their claims before dismissing a complaint that is merely deficient. See Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002); Shane, 213 F.3d at 116-17.

III. Discussion

Defendants assert that Hanes' Title VII and PHRA claims have been improperly exhausted and that Hanes cannot recover compensatory or punitive damages pursuant to Title VII. The court turns first to the issues of exhaustion that pertain to the individual defendants.

A. Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies as to Individual Defendants

Defendants allege that Hanes failed to exhaust his administrative remedies with respect to his Title VII and PHRA claims against the individual defendants by neglecting to name them as parties in the administrative proceedings before the PHRC and the EEOC. (Doc. 21 ¶¶ 6, 8.) In response, Hanes concedes that he did not intend to assert Title VII claims against the individual defendants; therefore, these claims will be dismissed. (See Doc. 24 at 11.) Hanes makes no similar concession with respect to his PHRA claims. Accordingly, the court will consider whether Hanes has appropriately exhausted his PHRA claims against the individual defendants.

The general rule is that "a charge must be filed against a party with the EEOC before an action in the district court can be commenced."*fn9 Glus v. G.C. Murphy Co., 562 F.2d 880, 885 (3d Cir. 1977) (emphasis added); see also Pino v. Wyeth-Ayerst/AHPC, Nos. 95-3180, 95-4008, 1995 WL 708551, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 29, 1995) ("Exhaustion of the EEOC's administrative remedies against each particular defendant is a jurisdictional prerequisite to suit against him or her under [the PHRA]." (emphasis added)); Dreisbach v. Cummins Diesel Engines, Inc., 848 F. Supp. 593, 595 (E.D. Pa. 1994) ("The provision requiring the naming of the respondent in the EEOC charge is a jurisdictional prerequisite to the institution of suit against that party."). This general rule is intended "to give notice to the charged party and to provide an avenue for voluntary compliance without resort to litigation." Dreisbach, 848 F. Supp. at 595 (citing Glus, 562 F.2d at 888). However, the courts have crafted certain narrow exceptions to the requirement that all parties ...

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