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Kellam v. Independence Charter School

August 17, 2010

JAMARR KELLAM, PLAINTIFF,
v.
INDEPENDENCE CHARTER SCHOOL, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This case is now before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 8). For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is DENIED.

Factual Background*fn1 Plaintiff is a black male who was employed by Defendant from September 2003 until November 16, 2004. Plaintiff was hired as a part-time Lunchroom Assistant, but was promoted to the position of full-time Lunchroom Assistant on September 1, 2004. Plaintiff states that he always performed his job in a satisfactory manner, and that the sole reason for his termination was a prior conviction for aggravated assault in 1999. Plaintiff asserts that he disclosed this criminal history on his application and that his termination came as a result of the enforcement of a blanket policy without any consideration of the nature of his job, the nature or seriousness of the offense, or the amount of time that had passed since his conviction. Defendant does not contest this fact, and, rather, asserts that it received notice from the Pennsylvania Department of Education in September of 2004 that the Department would strictly enforce 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 2702, which prohibits the employment of individuals who have been convicted of certain offenses (including aggravated assault) within five years of beginning employment.

Following his termination, Plaintiff filled out a Charge Questionnaire with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on March 15, 2005. This was converted into a formal Charge of Discrimination by EEOC personnel and was signed by Plaintiff on January 20, 2006, at which point it was dual filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ("PHRC"). In this charge, Plaintiff asserted that Defendant's blanket policy of firing or refusing to hire those with criminal histories has a disparate impact on black males, and that Defendant had, therefore, discriminated against him on the basis of his race. The EEOC issued a right-to-sue letter on January 28, 2010. Plaintiff then filed his Complaint in this Court on April 14, 2010.

Plaintiff's Complaint brings two charges against Defendant for its conduct. First, in Count I Plaintiff asserts that Defendant's employment practices violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Civil Rights Act of 1991. Count II then brings a similar charge pursuant to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"). Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages for lost wages and emotional pain and suffering, punitive damages, attorney's fees, costs and interest, as well as an allowance to compensate for negative tax consequences.

Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) requires a court to dismiss a complaint if the plaintiff has failed to "state a claim on which relief can be granted." In evaluating a motion to dismiss, the court must take all well-pleaded factual allegations as true, but it is not required to blindly accept "a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 283, 286 (1986). Although a plaintiff is not required to plead detailed factual allegations, the complaint must include enough facts to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).

Discussion

Defendant's sole argument in its Motion to Dismiss is that the statute of limitations has run on Plaintiff's claims, and that we should, therefore, dismiss his Complaint. Although the statute of limitations is an affirmative defense, courts have allowed defendants to assert affirmative defenses such as the statute of limitations by way of a motion to dismiss. Davis v. Grusemeyer, 996 F.2d 617, 623 (3d Cir. 1993). This is generally only permissible when the affirmative defense appears on the face of the complaint. ALA, Inc. v. CCAIR, Inc., 29 F.3d 855, 859 (3d Cir. 1994). When facts or matters outside of the complaint are necessary to establish the affirmative defense, raising it under Rule 12(b)(6) is usually not permitted. See Worldcom, Inc. v. Graphnet, Inc., 343 F.3d 651, 657 (3d Cir. 2003).

As an initial matter, the relevant dates are all included on the face of Plaintiff's Complaint and Plaintiff has also attached the Charge Questionnaire as well as the formal Charge of Discrimination filed with the EEOC and the PHRC. The applicability of the statute of limitations is, therefore, appropriately before this Court on a 12(b)(6) motion.

In states such as Pennsylvania that have laws that cover the complained of employment discrimination and agencies authorized to enforce these laws, plaintiffs have 300 days to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(c).

The purpose of this limitations period is both to protect those who promptly assert their rights as well as to protect employers from the burden of defending stale claims. Del. State Coll. v. Ricks, 449 U.S. 250, 256-57 (1980). Under the PHRA, however, plaintiffs have only 180 days from the act of discrimination to file suit. Woodson v. Scott Paper Co., 109 F.3d 913, 925 (3d Cir. 1997).

The parties do not dispute the facts in this case, but do disagree on the legal significance of these facts. Plaintiff completed the Charge Questionnaire at the EEOC 119 days after the allegedly discriminatory act, but the formal charge was not signed by him and filed until 430 days after the act of discrimination, and this was the first time that any notification of this charge was communicated to the PHRC. Defendant asserts that the completion of the Charge Questionnaire does not constitute the filing of a charge, and that Plaintiff's formal charge of discrimination was not made within the statute of limitations period. Defendant also asserts that regardless of whether the completion of a Charge Questionnaire constitutes a formal charge, this was not filed with the PHRC and Plaintiff took no action in relation to his PHRA claim until over 400 days after the discriminatory act, and that this claim, therefore, must be dismissed.*fn2 Plaintiff, however, argues that the filing of a Charge Questionnaire should be sufficient to meet the statute of limitations and that this Court should defer to the EEOC's interpretation of its guidelines concerning what constitutes the filing of a charge. Specifically, Plaintiff notes that the EEOC rejected the argument that the statute of limitations barred his claim as it interpreted its guidelines to make the completion of a Charge Questionnaire sufficient to constitute a charge. Plaintiff further asserts that this Court should equitably toll the statute of limitations on the PHRA claim from the time that the Charge Questionnaire was completed. Count I

First, we must determine whether the completion of the Charge Questionnaire constituted the filing of a charge with the EEOC. 29 C.F.R. § 1601.12(a) states that a charge must include at least the name, address, and phone number of the person making the charge, the name and address of the defendant, a statement of the facts on which the charge of discrimination is predicated, an approximate number of employees at the place of business, and whether the plaintiff has also filed a charge before the applicable state agency. "[A] charge is sufficient when the Commission receives from the person making the charge a written statement sufficiently precise to identify the parties, and to describe generally the action or practices complained of." Id. § 1601.12(b). In this case, it is the EEOC's position that the completion of a Charge Questionnaire is sufficient to constitute a charge before the agency. Although, on the one hand, a court should defer to reasonable interpretations of ambiguous statutory terms if the agency is granted the authority to issue regulations, Chevron, U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837, 843-45 (1984), on the other hand the Third Circuit has held that there is an important distinction ...


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