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Wilson v. Pallman

July 15, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: O'neill, J.


Plaintiffs Emily Wilson, Clint Smith and Wendy King filed a complaint on September 24, 2008 alleging claims of federal employment discrimination and retaliation for claims arising under the First, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments pursuant to Bivens v. 6 Unknown Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e), under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 791 et seq., against defendants Richard Pallman in his individual capacity as State Executive Director for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Thomas J. Vilsack in his official capacity as Secretary of Agriculture.*fn1

Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on May 14, 2009. I have before me defendants' motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment and plaintiffs' response thereto.


Plaintiffs allege that Pallman and Vilsack discriminated against plaintiffs by assigning them to different geographic office regions.

Wilson claims that she was discriminated against on the basis of her gender and in retaliation for protected activity she engaged in when she was notified that her position "may be selected for layoff and/or reassignment." At the time of the events at issue, Wilson was a female program technician employed at the Perkasie, Bucks County, Pennsylvania FSA office. She alleges that she was notified of her reassignment to a different office location outside of the permissible 30 mile relocation radius "on or about December 15, 2006." Defendants assert that Wilson contacted an EEO counselor on February 28, 2007. Wilson asserts that the action at issue was her termination on April 3, 2007 and that her first EEO activity was filed on June 5, 2007. The EEO/OFO based its date of adverse action for the purpose of calculating the 45th day after the action/occurrence/incidence as December 3, 2007 and dates her initial contact with an EEO counselor to her referral on December 19, 2007.

King was a female program technician employed at the Dubois, Pennsylvania FSA office. King alleges that she requested and was denied a reasonable accommodation for a neck injury and that defendants "retaliated against her by terminating her position." King alleges that the discrimination and retaliation occurred when she was notified of the reassignment "on or about December 15, 2006." King contacted her EEO counselor on May 30, 2007 alleging that she was discriminated against on the basis of her gender and her disability when she was terminated from her position on April 3, 2007.

Smith was a male farm loan officer employed at the Mountour/Columbia County, Pennsylvania FSA office. Smith alleges that he was discriminated against in September 2007 when he was constructively discharged though he had argued in his administrative complaint that the gender and ethnic discrimination occurred when he was reassigned in October 2007.


I. Motion to Dismiss

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits a court to dismiss all or part of an action for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, I must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations of fact, and any reasonable inferences that may be drawn therefrom, in plaintiff's complaint and must determine whether "under any reasonable reading of the pleadings, the plaintiff[] may be entitled to relief." Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996) (citations omitted). Typically, "a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations," though plaintiffs' obligation to state the grounds of entitlement to relief "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65 (2007). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all of the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Id. (citations omitted). A well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it appears "that recovery is very remote and unlikely." Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, I do not "inquire whether the plaintiff[] will ultimately prevail, only whether [he is] entitled to offer evidence to support [his] claims." Nami, 82 F.3d at 65, citing Scheuer, 416 U.S. at 236.

II. Motion for Summary Judgment

Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides, in relevant part, that summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). An issue of material fact is genuine if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). Summary judgment will be granted "against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

The party moving for summary judgment has the burden of demonstrating that there are no genuine issues of material fact. Id. at 322-23. If the moving party sustains the burden, the nonmoving party must set forth facts demonstrating the existence of a genuine issue for trial. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. Rule 56(e) provides that when a properly supported motion for summary judgment is made, "an adverse party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of the adverse party's pleading, but the adverse party's response, by affidavits or as otherwise provided in this rule, must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). The adverse party must raise "more than a mere scintilla of evidence in its favor" in order to overcome a summary judgment motion, and cannot survive by relying on unsupported assertions, conclusory allegations, or mere suspicions. Williams v. Borough of W. Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460 (3d Cir. 1989). However, the "existence of disputed issues of material ...

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