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Heard v. St. Luke's Hospital

September 28, 2009


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


This is an employment discrimination action removed from the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County, alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act,*fn1 the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act,*fn2 and the Family Medical Leave Act.*fn3 The defendant has filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint. For the following reasons, I will grant the motion in its entirety.


Ryan Heard worked as a security guard on the night shift at Saint Luke's Hospital for nearly seven years and enjoyed an exemplary performance record. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 5, 7, 11. The amended complaint alleges that Mr. Heard had requested a change in shift due to the stress he was suffering on that shift. Id. ¶ 11. He alleges that because the request was denied, his condition exacerbated. Id. ¶ 12.

On January 13, 2007, Mr. Heard was in a car accident on his way to work shortly before 11:00 p.m., and was subsequently arrested for driving under the influence. Though not specifically described in the amended complaint, the motion to dismiss informs that the accident occurred near the defendant hospital just minutes before Mr. Heard's shift was scheduled to begin. See Def. Exh. D. The motion also indicates that Mr. Heard's alcohol level was nearly twice the legal limit at the time of his arrest. Id. Mr. Heard signed a corrective action notice at work which indicated that he had been found to be impaired while on his way to work his scheduled shift. See Def. Exh. B.

On January 14, 2007, the day after the accident, Mr. Heard was diagnosed with major depression, and was approved for medical leave for approximately one month to seek treatment. Id. ¶ 13. The following day, he informed his manager that he would not return to work until cleared by his physician. Id. ¶ 14.

On February 8, 2007, Mr. Heard met with the defendant's managers who told him his employment was terminated because of an "incident that occurred on January 13, 2007 and his exhibiting 'poor judgment.'" Id. ¶¶ 15, 20. Mr. Heard insists that the incident occurred on his own time and had nothing to do with his job at the hospital. Id. ¶ 21. It was then that Mr. Heard first told the managers of his diagnosis of major depression, and asked to participate in the Employee Assistance Program. Id. ¶¶ 17, 22. The managers refused that request claiming that Mr. Heard did not meet the criteria for that discretionary program. Id. ¶ 24. The amended complaint alleges that the defendant found out about Mr. Heard's condition before his termination, and "attempted to use the plaintiff's DUI arrest as a pretext to hide its real motivation which was to discharge the plaintiff due to his major depression." Id. ¶ 18. In fact, Mr. Heard alleges that the hospital was aware of his "medical leave" as early as January 15, 2007, and that it sent Mr. Heard dated FMLA paperwork on January 26, 2007. Id. ¶ 26. The amended complaint further alleges that when Mr. Heard sought an accommodation due to stress caused by working the night shift, the defendant began to perceive him as being disabled. Id. ¶ 19.

Mr. Heard was informed in writing that he was being terminated because "your poor judgment on January 13, 2007 (intending to report to work as a security officer while intoxicated) posed serious safety risks, not only to yourself, but to our patients, visitors and staff." Id. ¶ 32; see also Def. Exh. C. A couple of days after an appeal meeting with the Human Resources representative, Mr. Heard was notified that the hospital decided to stand by its original decision to discharge his employment. Id. ¶ 31. At that appeal meeting, Mr. Heard requested admittance into the Employee Assistance Program for the second time, and was again refused. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 22, 24, 27. Mr. Heard alleges that the hospital refused his admittance because it perceived him as being disabled. Id. ¶ 25.


A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted examines the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). The factual allegations must be sufficient to make the claim for relief more than just speculative. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). In determining whether to grant a motion to dismiss, a federal court must construe the complaint liberally, accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Id.; see also D.P. Enters. v. Bucks County Cmty. Coll., 725 F.2d 943, 944 (3d Cir. 1984).

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not require a plaintiff to plead in detail all of the facts upon which he bases his claim. Conley, 355 U.S. at 47. Rather, the Rules require a "short and plain statement" of the claim that will give the defendant fair notice of the plaintiff's claim and the grounds upon which it rests. Id. The "complaint must allege facts suggestive of [the proscribed] conduct." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 564. Neither "bald assertions" nor "vague and conclusory allegations" are accepted as true. See Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997); Sterling v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transp. Auth., 897 F. Supp. 893 (E.D. Pa. 1995). The claim must contain enough factual matters to suggest the required elements of the claim or to "raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of" those elements. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).


In Counts I and II of the amended complaint, Mr. Heard alleges that he had a disability within the meaning of the ADA and the PHRA, respectively; that he could perform the essential functions of his job with a reasonable accommodation; and that the defendant refused to grant the reasonable accommodation even though it would not have constituted any significant hardship to the defendant. See Am. Compl. ยงยง 44, 45, 49, 50. In Count III, Mr. Heard alleges that his termination was motivated by a retaliatory animus because he had been out on FMLA leave immediately prior to his termination; that his termination represented an unlawful attempt to interfere with his rights under the FMLA and to retaliate against him for taking an FMLA leave; and that the ...

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