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Fuhrman v. Quill Corp.

January 27, 2010

LEAH FUHRMAN AND RANDY FUHRMAN, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
QUILL CORPORATION, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Christopher C. Conner United States District Judge

(Judge Conner)

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the court is Defendants Automotion, Inc., and Precision Conveyor Concepts, Inc.'s Motions to Dismiss. (Docs. 36 & 38.) The court has jurisdiction in this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343 because the allegations in the Complaint (Doc. 1) implicate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, codified at 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2 ("Title VII"). The court exercises supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Prior to the commencement of this suit, Plaintiff Leah Fuhrman ("Ms. Fuhrman") filed a sexual discrimination/harassment complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the "EEOC") (EEOC Doc. No. 530-2008-01701) against Defendant Quill Corporation. (Doc. 1 at 5 & Ex. A.) The EEOC issued a right-to-sue letter on February 5, 2009. (Id. at 5 & Ex. A.) On May 5, 2009, Ms. Fuhrman and her husband, Randy Fuhrman ("Mr. Fuhrman") filed their Complaint in this action. (Id.) Plaintiffs' Complaint is timely and alleges state and federal law claims against Defendants Staples, Inc., and its wholly owned subsidiary, Quill Corporation (collectively, "Quill/Staples"), as well as Automotion, Inc. ("Automotion"), Precision Conveyor Concepts, Inc. ("Precision"), and Alexander Hernandez-Lopez ("Hernandez-Lopez"). (Id. at 2.) In addition to her Title VII sexual harassment claim, Ms. Fuhrman brings claims of negligence, assault, battery, false imprisonment, violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, codified at 43 Pa. Stat. Ann. §§ 951--963 (the "PHRA"), and intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED"). (Id.) Mr. Fuhrman brings a claim for loss of consortium. (Id.)

On August 19, 2009, the court ordered the parties into court-annexed mediation in accordance with Standing Order 04-3, In Re Authorizing Systematic Random Mandatory Mediation Referrals in Certain Case Types (M.D. Pa. Jul. 26, 2004). (Doc. 33.) Defendants Automotion and Precision (jointly, "A&P")*fn1 filed a Joint Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's claims against them (the "Motion") (Docs. 36 & 38) and a Brief in Support of the Motion (the "A&P Brief") (Docs. 37 & 39)*fn2 on August 31, 2009. We summarize A&P's arguments as to why we should dismiss Plaintiffs' claims against them as follows:

1. Because the EEOC complaint and resulting right-to-sue letter named only Quill as a prospective defendant, Plaintiffs have failed to exhaust their administrative remedies against A&P and are barred from asserting a Title VII claim against them;

2. Respondeat superior liability should not apply to Plaintiffs' claims for IIED, negligence, assault and battery, false imprisonment, and loss of consortium because Hernandez-Lopez acted outside the scope and course of his employment

3. In the employment context, A&P's treatment of Hernandez-Lopez's conduct towards Ms. Fuhrman was not sufficiently outrageous to support an IIED claim; and

4. Because A&P had no notice or reason to know of Hernandez-Lopez's violent tendencies, A&P did not breach its duty as an employer by failing to prevent the harassment and attack on Ms. Fuhrman.

(Doc. 37 at 5--17.)

Plaintiffs filed their Brief in Opposition to the Motion ("Plaintiffs' Brief") on September 15, 2009. (Doc. 40.)

The Motion is before the court and ripe for adjudication. Because resolution of the Motion could be dispositive with regard to Defendants A&P, we will rule on it now rather than await the outcome of the court-annexed mediation.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The gravamen of the Complaint is that Ms. Fuhrman was a victim of gender discrimination and sexual harassment in her workplace and that this treatment culminated in a physical and sexual assault by Hernandez-Lopez on October 22, 2007. Ms. Fuhrman alleges that she experienced sexual harassment while she was an employee of Quill/Staples, "including regular, insulting[,] and derogatory comments and conduct . . . which created a hostile and offensive work environment." (Doc. 1 at 2.)

In June 2007, Ms. Fuhrman began working as a production associate at the Quill/Staples facility in Lebanon, Pennsylvania (the "facility"). (Id. at 6.) She alleges that in October 2007, A&P had employees working for Quill/Staple at the facility. (Id. at 6.) Ms. Fuhrman was pregnant at that time. (Id. at 6.)

On October 8, 2007, Ms. Fuhrman alleges that Hernandez-Lopez and his fellow A&P employees "began approaching [her] numerous times throughout her work day and inquired into her marital status, pregnancy, physical appearance, [and] happiness with her spouse, and made derogatory statements of a sexual and hostile nature towards her." (Id. at 7.) Ms. Fuhrman alleges that she immediately notified the A&P employees that their behavior made her uncomfortable and was unwelcome. (Id. at 7.) She also notified her supervisor of the A&P employees' conduct and the fact that they were standing around staring at her and the other female Quill/Staples employees rather than working. (Doc. 1 at 8.) Ms. Fuhrman alleges that her supervisor laughed and responded, "I see you were popular with the Mexican workers." (Id. at 8.) In any event, the A&P employees' behavior towards Ms. Fuhrman allegedly continued unabated, culminating in a physical and sexual assault by Hernandez-Lopez. (Id. at 7.)

On October 22, 2007, Ms. Fuhrman alleges that Hernandez-Lopez followed her into a secluded area of the facility and requested that Ms. Fuhrman kiss him for his birthday. (Id. at 8.) Ms. Fuhrman refused, at which point Hernandez-Lopez allegedly physically and sexually attacked Ms. Fuhrman by "forcefully biting, grabbing at her face, head, and breasts, and pinning her" against some nearby warehouse racks. (Id. at 8, ¶¶ 46--47.) "Ms. Fuhrman demanded that he stop, and after approximately 20 minutes, she was able to break free and run to an employee at the other end of [the facility] for assistance." (Id. at 8, ¶¶ 46--47.)

Ms. Fuhrman alleges that the harassment and attack she suffered while employed at Quill/Staples caused her physical, emotional, financial, and professional injuries. (Id. at 10, ¶¶ 59--62.) Mr. Fuhrman alleges that he has lost the "comfort, companionship, and society of his wife" as a result of these events. (Id. at 29--30, ¶¶ 157--162.) Plaintiffs request actual, compensatory, and punitive damages, as well as attorneys' fees and costs. (Id. at 6--31.)

DISCUSSION

I. Motion to Dismiss Standard

Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a pleading must set forth a claim for relief which contains a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief; the complaint must provide the defendant with fair notice of the claim. See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the court must view the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and must accept all well-pleaded allegations as true. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Angelastro v. Prudential-Bache Sec., Inc., 764 F.2d 939, 944 (3d Cir. 1985). The issue in a motion to dismiss is whether the plaintiff should be entitled to offer evidence to support the claim, not whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail. See Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232 ...


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