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Hobson v. St. Luke's Hospital and Health Network

August 10, 2010

PETER HOBSON, PLAINTIFF
v.
ST. LUKE'S HOSPITAL AND HEALTH NETWORK, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James Knoll Gardner, United States District Judge.

OPINION

This matter is before the court on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint, or in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment, which motion was filed November 6, 2009.*fn1

Plaintiff filed a timely response to defendant's motion.*fn2

Defendant's Reply Brief was filed January 12, 2010.

SUMMARY OF DECISION

Because plaintiff failed in his second attempt to sufficiently plead either his gender discrimination claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or his claim that he was improperly regarded as disabled in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and therefore failed to sufficiently plead his claim under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, I grant defendant's motion to dismiss plaintiff's Amended Complaint and dismiss the Amended Complaint with prejudice.*fn3

Because I grant defendant's motion to dismiss, I dismiss defendant's alternative motion for summary judgment as moot.

While mistaken in his belief that his Amended Complaint remedied the flaws of his original Complaint, plaintiff's claims were not frivolous, and his belief was neither unreasonable, without foundation, nor groundless; and because attorneys' fees to a prevailing Title VII defendant are only to be sparingly awarded, I deny defendant's request for leave to file a motion for attorneys' fees and costs.

My reasons and analysis are articulated below.

JURISDICTION

This action is before the court on federal question jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The court has supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiff's pendent state law claims.

See 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

VENUE

Venue is proper because plaintiff alleges that the facts and circumstances giving rise to the cause of action occurred in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, which is in this judicial district. 28 U.S.C. §§ 118, 1391.

AMENDED COMPLAINT

This case arises from the termination of plaintiff's employment from defendant St. Luke's Hospital and Health Network. Plaintiff contends that his employment was terminated because he was perceived by his employer as disabled, and therefore his termination for the alleged sexual harassment of a female nurse was a pretext. Plaintiff also alleges that he was discriminated against because of his male gender.

Plaintiff filed his Amended Complaint on October 21, 2009. The Amended Complaint contains three counts: Count I alleges a claim for violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII").*fn4 Count II alleges a claim for violation of Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA").*fn5 Count III alleges that plaintiff's gender discrimination claim in Count I and disability discrimination claim in Count II each constitute a violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA").*fn6

STANDARD OF REVIEW

A claim may be dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A 12(b)(6) motion requires the court to examine the sufficiency of the complaint. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45, 78 S.Ct. 99, 102, 2 L.Ed.2d 80, 84 (1957) (abrogated in other respects by Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). Generally, in ruling on a motion to dismiss, the court relies on the complaint, attached exhibits, and matters of public record, including other judicial proceedings. Sands v. McCormick, 502 F.3d 263, 268 (3d. Cir. 2008).

Except as provided in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9, a complaint is sufficient if it complies with Rule 8(a)(2), which requires "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief."

Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Rule 8(a)(2) "[does] not require heightened fact pleading of specifics, but only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, 127 S.Ct. at 1974, 167 L.Ed.2d at 949.*fn7

In determining whether a plaintiff's complaint is sufficient, the court must "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210 (citing Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008)).

Although "conclusory or bare-bones allegations will [not] survive a motion to dismiss," Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210, "a complaint may not be dismissed merely because it appears unlikely that the plaintiff can prove those facts or will ultimately prevail on the merits." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 231. Nonetheless, to survive a 12(b)(6) motion, the complaint must provide "enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element[s]." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. at 1965, 167 L.Ed.2d at 940) (internal quotations omitted).

The court is required to conduct a two-part analysis when considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. First, the factual matters averred in the complaint, and any attached exhibits, should be separated from legal conclusions asserted therein. Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210. Any facts pled must be taken as true, and any legal conclusions asserted may be disregarded.

Id. at 210-211. Second, the court must determine whether those factual matters averred are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a "plausible claim for relief." Id. at 211 (quoting Iqbal, __ U.S. at __, 129 S.Ct. at 1950, 178 L.Ed.2d at 884).

Ultimately, this two-part analysis is "context-specific" and requires the court to draw on "its judicial experience and common sense" to determine if the facts pled in the complaint have "nudged [plaintiff's] claims" over the line from "[merely] conceivable [or possible] to plausible." Iqbal, __ U.S. at __, 129 S.Ct. at 1949-1950, 178 L.Ed.2d at 884-885. A well-pleaded complaint may not be dismissed simply because "it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable, and that a recovery is very remote and unlikely." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. at 1965, 167 L.Ed.2d at 940-941.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

This action commenced on October 15, 2008 when plaintiff Peter Hobson filed a Praecipe for Writ of Summons against defendant St. Luke's Hospital and Health Network in the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, as civil action number 4966 of 2008. Defendant filed a Praecipe for Rule to File a Complaint. A Rule to File a Complaint was issued and subsequently served upon plaintiff's counsel.

On November 5, 2008 plaintiff filed a Complaint in state court, which was subsequently served on defendant. On December 5, 2008 defendant removed the case to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania based on federal question jurisdiction.

On December 12, 2008 defendant filed Defendant's Motion to Dismiss the Complaint, or in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment.

On September 28, 2009, I issued an Order and Opinion granting defendant's motion to dismiss plaintiff's Complaint and dismissing plaintiff's Complaint without prejudice for plaintiff to file a more specific Amended Complaint consistent with that Opinion. The Order and Opinion dismissed as moot defendant's alternative motion for summary judgment and denied defendant's motion for attorney's fees and costs.

On October 21, 2009, plaintiff filed his Amended Complaint. On November 6, 2009, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint and, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment was filed, which motion is before the court for disposition.

FACTS

Accepting as true all of the well-pled facts in plaintiff's Amended Complaint, and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of plaintiff as the non-moving party, which I am required to do under the above standard of review, the pertinent facts are as follows.

Plaintiff Peter Hobson was employed by defendant St. Luke's Hospital and Health Network as a paramedic from March 1, 2005 until his termination on May 25, 2007 for allegations of sexual harassment of Cindy Stettner, a nurse at St. Luke's Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, campus.*fn8

Plaintiff was qualified for the position, and he always received good performance appraisals and regular salary increases. His Performance Evaluations for 2006 and 2007 were rated as excellent with no negative comments about his performance.*fn9

In July 2005 plaintiff's co-workers, Emergency Room Technician Maryanne Matey and paramedic Steven Dutt told plaintiff that Nurse Stettner was interested in meeting plaintiff and wanted to know if he were available.*fn10 Shortly thereafter, Nurse Stettner introduced herself to plaintiff inside the hospital emergency room, told plaintiff that she drives a Mercedes Benz and was buying a home in the west end of Allentown, Pennsylvania.*fn11

Plaintiff was cordial to Ms. Stettner, but did not pursue a relationship.*fn12 In August 2005 Ms. Matey told plaintiff that Ms. Stettner was still interested in seeing where things could go with him.*fn13

Between August 2005 and December 2005 plaintiff made no further attempts to converse with Nurse Stettner. During this time other Registered Nurses and hospital registration personnel made it difficult for plaintiff to properly perform his job duties. The lack of cooperation and hostility made it difficult for plaintiff to do his job.*fn14

On March 14, 2006 plaintiff sent a bouquet of flowers to Ms. Stettner as an apology because he felt he hurt her feelings.*fn15

Between May 2006 and February 2007 plaintiff had no contact with Nurse Stettner because he believed she had emotional problems. He intentionally avoided her, and applied for other jobs at the hospital that would take him away from the emergency room.*fn16

After February 2007 plaintiff and Ms. Stettner were able to be cordial to one another. On April 22, 2007 plaintiff left his business card on the windshield of Ms. Stettner's car in the hospital parking lot. The note included a compliment on how Ms. Stettner was dressed that day. She accepted ...


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