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Craig v. Thomas Jefferson University

July 7, 2009

ROBERT CRAIG, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THOMAS JEFFERSON UNIVERSITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Yohn, J.

Memorandum

Plaintiff Robert Craig brings this employment discrimination (failure to hire) suit against his former employer, Thomas Jefferson University ("Jefferson"), pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq., and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 951 et seq. Defendant moves for partial dismissal pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that some of plaintiff's claims are barred as untimely and that plaintiff has failed to state a disparate impact claim. Defendant also moves to strike plaintiff's request for liquidated damages.*fn1 For the reasons set forth below, the court will grant defendant's motion to partially dismiss, but will deny defendant's motion to strike.

I. Factual and Procedural Background*fn2

Plaintiff has a hearing disability: he is completely deaf in his left ear and has twenty percent hearing in his right ear. He wears a hearing aid and communicates by reading lips. (Am. Compl. ¶ 16.) Beginning in October 1985, plaintiff worked at Jefferson as a research assistant. Several times during his employment, he was laid off due to lack of grant funding; however, after all but the most recent layoff, plaintiff secured new employment (presumably funded by different grants) such that Jefferson continuously employed him from October 1985 until May 2006. (Id. ¶¶ 17-18.) From approximately 2004 through May 2006, Dr. Rene Daniel was plaintiff's direct supervisor at Jefferson. (Id. ¶ 19.) Plaintiff received good performance reviews throughout his employment, and his last performance review, dated July 2005, rated him as "highly effective." (Id. ¶ 20.)

In January 2006,*fn3 plaintiff learned that he would again be laid off due to grant funding reduction and thereafter sought other employment within and outside Jefferson. (Id. ¶¶ 17-18, 26.) Before his layoff in May 2006, plaintiff applied for two research positions with other Jefferson doctors: one position with Dr. Sergey Spitsin and one position with Dr. Phyllis Flomenberg. Plaintiff received neither position. (Id. ¶¶ 21-22.) Plaintiff also interviewed for two other positions at Jefferson: on or about June 27, 2006 with Dr. Phyllis Wachsberger and on or about October 5, 2006 with Dr. Francesco Del Galdo. Plaintiff received neither position. (Id. ¶¶ 23-24.) Plaintiff alleges that Dr. Daniel spoke with each of these other four Jefferson doctors and informed them of plaintiff's disability. (Id. ¶ 25.) On or about April 13, 2007, plaintiff applied for a position at Temple University ("Temple"). Also around that date, Dr. Daniel spoke with Dr. Satya Kunapuli of Temple about plaintiff. Plaintiff alleges that, based on this discussion, plaintiff did not receive the Temple position. Plaintiff further alleges that the Temple interviewer "implied [plaintiff] was not selected due to his disability." (Id. ¶¶ 27-28.) Plaintiff states that it was only then that he became aware (and was first able to become aware) "of the discriminatory practices he was subjected to at [Jefferson] in 2006 at the hand's of [d]efendant's employees and/or agents . . . when he was not selected for positions he had applied for with [d]efendant." (Id. ¶ 29.) Specifically, plaintiff alleges that Jefferson "set a course to fail to hire" him and that Dr. Daniel, acting with discriminatory animus, "intentionally sabotaged [plaintiff's] chances of obtaining employment with Temple University." (Id. ¶¶ 31-32.)

Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") and cross-filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ("PHRC") on May 15, 2007. (Def.'s Partial Mot. Dismiss Ex. 1; Pl.'s Resp. Ex. B.) Thus, at least 380 days elapsed between the time plaintiff applied for positions with Drs. Spitsin and Flomenberg and the time plaintiff filed his administrative charge. Approximately 322 days elapsed between the time plaintiff interviewed with Dr. Wachsberger and the filing of plaintiff's administrative charge. Approximately 222 days elapsed between the time plaintiff interviewed with Dr. Del Galdo and the filing of plaintiff's administrative charge. Approximately 32 days elapsed between the time plaintiff interviewed for the Temple position and the filing of plaintiff's administrative charge. As summarized above, plaintiff alleges the dates on which he applied or interviewed for the listed positions. Neither the complaint nor any other document on record with the court alleges or discloses the dates on which plaintiff learned that he would not be hired for any of these positions. As discussed below, however, in his response to defendant's motion, plaintiff twice concedes that it was before July 19, 2006 that he learned he did not receive the positions with Drs. Spitsin, Flomenberg, or Wachsberger and it was before November 16, 2006 that he learned he did not receive the position with Dr. Del Galdo. (Pl.'s Mem. Law Resp. Def.'s Partial Mot. Dismiss ("Pl.'s Mem.") 6, 8.)

On or about May 28, 2008, the EEOC mailed a right to sue letter to plaintiff. (Am. Compl. ¶ 13.) Plaintiff commenced this action on August 27, 2008, alleging ADA and PHRA violations and seeking damages, injunctive relief, and attorney's fees and costs. (Id. Requested Relief ¶¶ b-f.) Plaintiff lists liquidated damages as one of the many types of damages sought. (Id. Requested Relief ¶ d.)

II. Standard of Review

A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a complaint.*fn4 Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993). When evaluating a motion to dismiss, the court must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations of fact in the plaintiff's complaint and must view any reasonable inferences that may be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008); Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996).

The complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief[.]" Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). This statement must "'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). "While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitlement to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. (citations and alterations omitted). Furthermore, "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Id. (citations and footnote omitted); see also Phillips, 515 F.3d at 232.

In Ashcroft v. Iqbal, the Supreme Court discussed "[t]wo working principles" underlying Twombly. 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). "First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "Second, only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Id. at 1950 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

In keeping with these principles a court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.

Id. "[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not 'shown'-'that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Id. (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)).

III. Discussion

A. Timeliness

1. The ...


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