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Hardee-Guerra v. Shire Pharmaceuticals

December 18, 2009

HEATHER HARDEE-GUERRA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SHIRE PHARMACEUTICALS, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM

I. INTRODUCTION

This is a discrimination and breach of contract case arising under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, the Pennsylvania Human Rights Act, 43 P.S. § 951 et seq., 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq. of the Employment Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), and Pennsylvania common law of contract. Plaintiff claims that defendant terminated her employment based on her pregnancy, in violation of federal law and in breach of a contact between the parties, and that defendant improperly denied her ERISA benefits. Presently before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Counts IV, V, and VI of the First Amended Complaint, alleging breach of contract, detrimental reliance, and ERISA violations, respectively. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants the motion as to Count V and Count VI of the First Amended Complaint and dismisses those counts, but denies the motion as to Count IV.

Because the issues which led the Court to dismiss Count V and Count VI were raised in defendant's first motion to dismiss, and plaintiff thereafter filed the First Amended Complaint in an effort to address all such issues, leave to file another complaint will not be granted.

II. BACKGROUND*fn1

On September 1, 2006, plaintiff interviewed with defendant's representatives and was offered a job as Recruitment Coordinator. (Am. Compl. ¶ 7.) Defendant made an oral offer of "the terms and conditions of the position," including the rate of pay and the duration of the employment, in response to which plaintiff communicated her oral acceptance. (Am. Compl. ¶ 8.) Matterhouse Contract Staffing ("Matterhouse"), a company used by plaintiff as her "payroll coordinator,"*fn2 subsequently authored a written contract which detailed the terms of the oral agreement between plaintiff and defendant. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 9-10.) The document, entitled "Statement of Work," was issued by Matterhouse to defendant "in accordance with the Client Agreement... between Matterhouse and [defendant]," and was signed only by a principal of Matterhouse on September 8, 2006.*fn3 (Def.'s Mot., Ex. C.) The document provided that plaintiff would work for defendant 40 hours a week, specified hourly and overtime billing rates for plaintiff's work, and designated a term of employment beginning on September 11, 2006 and ending on January 15, 2007. (Def.'s Mot., Ex. C.) The document further stated that the "staffing relationship" would continue unless "one party gives the other party written notice of termination." (Def.'s Mot., Ex. C.)

Plaintiff began work on September 11, 2006, and was "supervised directly by defendant's employees," including Gina Meloni, Director of Recruitment. (Am. Compl. ¶ 11.) She was "fully integrated into defendant's workforce," insofar as she "used defendant's equipment... requested time off and vacation time from defendant, and her hours of work and manner in which her work was performed was controlled by defendant." (Am. Compl. ¶ 11.) Eventually, plaintiff was given a promotion and a corresponding pay raise, the terms of which were communicated directly to plaintiff by defendant. (Am. Compl. ¶ 15.)

In October 2006, plaintiff made plans to move out of state, and communicated those plans to Gina Meloni. (Am. Compl. ¶ 16.) In response, Meloni began "approaching [p]laintiff about a second employment contract and about becoming a permanent employee." (Am. Compl. ¶ 16.) Based on Meloni's representations, plaintiff changed her mind about moving, and instead purchased a house locally and decided to "pursue advancement with defendant." (Am. Compl. ¶ 16.)

In January 2007, plaintiff discovered that she was pregnant and advised defendant of her pregnancy.*fn4 (Am. Compl. ¶ 17.) Defendant's representatives advised plaintiff that defendant would renew plaintiff's contract to end on her estimated due date of September 30, 2007, and that the contract would provide for a pay increase in conjunction with her added responsibilities. (Am. Compl. ¶ 19.) Again, defendant orally communicated the terms of the contract to plaintiff, and plaintiff agreed to those terms. (Am. Compl. ¶ 19.) The agreement was conveyed to Matterhouse, which authored a second contract, providing for higher billing rates for plaintiff's work and an end date in September 2007.*fn5 (Am. Compl. ¶ 20.) Matterhouse did not "negotiate the terms of this contract with [p]laintiff." (Am. Compl. ¶ 20.) The contract was "merely a written confirmation of the terms previously entered into by and between [d]efendant and [p]laintiff." (Am. Compl. ¶ 20.)

From June 4, 2007 to June 8, 2007, plaintiff was absent from work due to complications with her pregnancy. (Am. Compl. ¶ 22.) On June 7, 2007, defendant posted an opening for plaintiff's position. (Am. Compl. ¶ 23.) When plaintiff returned to work on June 11, 2007, defendant advised plaintiff that her position had been offered to another employee, and that plaintiff was being demoted due to concerns about her pregnancy. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 24-26.) On June 19, 2007, plaintiff was terminated by representatives of defendant. (Am. Compl. ¶ 27.)

During the time that she worked with defendant, plaintiff requested to participate in defendant's employee benefits (ERISA) plan -- available to all employees who regularly worked more than 30 hours per week. Her request was denied on several occasions. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 12, 13, 18, 46, 47.)

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that, in response to a pleading, a defense of "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted" may be raised by motion. In analyzing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the Court "accept[s] all factual allegations as true, [and] construe[s] the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff...." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (internal quotations omitted).

"To survive a motion to dismiss, a civil plaintiff must allege facts that 'raise a right to relief above the speculative level....'" Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). A complaint must contain "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). To satisfy the plausibility standard, a plaintiff's allegations must show that defendant's liability is more than "a sheer possibility." Id. "Where a complaint pleads facts that are 'merely ...


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