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Mozdzierz v. Accenture

October 28, 2010


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


Steven Mozdzierz ("Plaintiff") filed this action against Accenture, LLP ("Defendant"), for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq., violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 951 et seq., breach of contract, and estoppel. Presently before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 27.) For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion will be granted.


Plaintiff's Verified Amended Complaint alleges that Plaintiff was employed as a software programmer with Defendant Accenture. (Am. Compl. ¶ 4, ECF No. 25.) While employed by Defendant, Plaintiff developed severe back pain that precluded him from performing his duties without accommodations by Defendant. Plaintiff went out on long-term disability in 2002. (Id. ¶¶ 5, 9.) Sometime between 2002 and 2004, a dispute arose between Plaintiff and Defendant regarding whether Defendant was providing Plaintiff with reasonable accommodations for his disability. (Id. ¶ 6.) In February 2004, Plaintiff filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") alleging employment discrimination in violation of the ADA. (See Def.'s Mot. Dismiss Am. Compl. 2, Jan. 18, 2008, ECF No. 27; Am. Compl. ¶ 7.) Plaintiff and Defendant, who were each represented by counsel, entered into a settlement agreement (the "Settlement Agreement") to resolve Plaintiff's claims arising out of his 2004 charge. (Am. Compl. ¶ 7; see generally Settlement Agreement, Def.'s Mot. Dismiss Ex. A, Jan. 30, 2007, ECF No. 9.) The Settlement Agreement provides in the third recital that Plaintiff's "employment with Accenture will cease at the end of 2004 pursuant to the applicable Accenture policies and procedures."*fn1 (See Settlement Agreement Recitals.) The Settlement Agreement also provides that Plaintiff would be paid $60,000 "in full settlement of all claims against Accenture." (Id. ¶ 1.) In return for the $60,000 payment, Plaintiff agreed to completely waive[] and release[] Accenture... from all... causes of action of any kind he has or may have against [Accenture] from the beginning of time through and including the date he signs this Agreement, including but not limited to all claims and causes of action brought in the [EEOC] Charges and/or related to or any way growing out of his employment with Accenture or the termination of that employment. (Id. ¶ 6.) The Settlement Agreement specifically states that Plaintiff waived any claims arising "under Accenture's handbook or personnel policies." (Id.) Plaintiff also agreed to "relinquish any and all rights to employment with Accenture following his termination at the end of 2004." (Id. ¶ 13.)

As of September 1, 2002, Defendant's disability leave-of-absence policy provided for a January 1, 2005, termination date for all employees who had been on disability leave since September 1, 2002, or earlier. This group of employees included Plaintiff. (Pl.'s Resp. Ex. C, ECF No. 29.) On December 9, 2004, Defendant sent a letter to its employees who had been on disability leave since September 1, 2002, informing them of a change in its policy regarding disability leave. As a result of an error, Plaintiff received this letter. (Am. Compl. ¶ 9; Def.'s Mot. Dismiss Am. Compl. 3-4.) The letter stated that instead of terminating Plaintiff on January 1, 2005, as Defendant's policies had previously indicated, Defendant had decided to allow employees who were on disability leave to retain their leave-of-absence status. (Pl.'s Resp. Ex. A.) As a result, Plaintiff canceled his Medicare benefits, which he had obtained to cover his healthcare when his employment terminated on January 1, 2005. (Am. Compl. ¶ 10.) When Defendant realized that it had sent this letter to Plaintiff, it sent a January 10, 2005, letter to Plaintiff explaining that his receipt of the December 9, 2004, letter was in error. (See Letter from Katherine Ovadia to Steven Mozdzierz, on file with Court.*fn2 ) The January 10 letter explained to Plaintiff that he would not be included in the policy change because "unlike other persons who received the [December 9, 2004] letter, you negotiated and entered into a confidential General Release and Settlement Agreement with Accenture in which you received money in exchange for, among other things, the relinquishment of your employment rights with Accenture after December 31, 2004." (Id.) Defendant terminated Plaintiff's employment and canceled his medical benefits shortly thereafter. (Am. Compl. ¶ 12.) Plaintiff filed a new charge with the EEOC on June 10, 2005, in which he checked the boxes on the form indicating discrimination based on "Retaliation" and "Other." (Def.'s Mot. Dismiss Am. Compl. Ex. 1.) The EEOC subsequently issued Plaintiff a right-to-sue letter. (Am. Compl. ¶ 17.) On October 24, 2005, Defendant and Aetna, which administers Defendant's benefits plan, terminated Plaintiff's disability benefits. (Id. ¶ 18.) Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendant on September 19, 2006, and Defendant moved to dismiss. (See ECF Nos. 3, 9.) Plaintiff subsequently amended his complaint. Defendant again moved to dismiss. (See ECF Nos. 25, 27.) The matter is now ripe for disposition.


Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides that a complaint may be dismissed for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). "To survive a motion to dismiss, 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 Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). In Iqbal, the Supreme Court set forth a two-part analysis that district courts must conduct when reviewing a complaint challenged under Rule 12(b)(6). See Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009) (describing Iqbal'stwo-step inquiry). The district court must first separate "the factual and legal elements of a claim," accepting all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true but rejecting legal conclusions. Id. at 210 (citing Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949); see also Iqbal, 129 1949-50 ("Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice [to state a claim]."). Under this analysis, well-pleaded factual allegations are to be given a presumption of veracity. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950. The district court must then "determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a 'plausible claim for relief.'" Fowler, 578 F.3d at 211 (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950). A complaint that merely alleges entitlement to relief, without alleging facts that show entitlement, must be dismissed. Id. A complaint that demonstrates entitlement to relief through well-pleaded facts will survive a motion to dismiss. See id. Given the nature of the two-part analysis, "'[d]etermining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will... be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.'" See McTernan v. City of York, 577 F.3d 521, 530 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950).


A. Count I-Discrimination in Violation of ADA Title I

Plaintiff alleges in Count I of the Amended Complaint that Defendant discriminated against him based on his disability in violation of Title I of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12112(a), 12112(b)(1), and 12112(b)(2).*fn3 Defendant argues that Plaintiff's disability discrimination action must be dismissed because Plaintiff has not exhausted his administrative remedies. (Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss Am. Compl. 6-8.) Plaintiff counters that his disability discrimination claim is within the scope of his previous EEOC charge and therefore it is not barred. (Pl.'s Resp. 4-11 (citing Waiters v. Parsons, 729 F.2d 233, 235 (3d Cir. 1984)).)

The ADA requires that a plaintiff exhaust his administrative remedies before pursuing an action in court for disability discrimination. Churchill v. Star Enters., 183 F.3d 184, 190 (3d Cir. 1999). However, a Plaintiff is not required to file a second EEOC complaint if the acts alleged "are fairly within the scope of the prior EEOC complaint, or the investigation arising therefrom." Waiters, 729 F.2d at 237. In Waiters, the plaintiff filed an informal complaint with the EEOC alleging that the promotion of a male co-worker instead of her violated the ADA. Id. at 235. The plaintiff subsequently filed a formal complaint with the EEOC alleging that she had suffered continuing discrimination in retaliation for her filing the informal complaint. Id. Approximately two years after she filed the formal EEOC complaint for retaliation, the plaintiff's employer conducted an investigation of her based on numerous allegations of misconduct. The plaintiff was terminated at the conclusion of the investigation. Id. at 236. The plaintiff brought suit under Title VII, alleging that her firing was in retaliation for exercising her rights under Title VII. Id. The district court dismissed the plaintiff's complaint, holding that she had failed to exhaust her administrative remedies as required by Title VII. Id. The Third Circuit reversed, finding that although "the allegedly discriminatory officials and acts are different, the core grievance-retaliation-is the same and, at all events, it is clear that the allegations of the appellant's complaint fall within the scope of the [EEOC's] investigation of the charges contained in the 1979 formal complaint." Id. at 238.

While the Third Circuit has stressed that whether an action falls within the scope of the EEOC charge is "fact specific," Robinson v. Dalton, 107 F.3d 1018, 1024 (3d Cir. 1997), courts in this circuit frequently find that an ADA or Title VII action falls within the scope of a previous EEOC complaint where the charge is the same in both cases. See, e.g., Waiters, 729 F.2d at 238 (finding that plaintiff's Title VII action was within the scope of previous EEOC investigation because "the core grievance-retaliation-is the same"); Albright v. City of Phila.,399 F. Supp. 2d 575, 584 (E.D. Pa. 2005) ("Because Albright alleges retaliation in her second EEOC charge, the related and continued retaliation in her third charge can be said to fall fairly within the scope of the prior EEOC complaint." (citations and internal quotation marks omitted)); Kiburz v. England, No. 04-2247,2005 WL 2314152, at *4 (M.D. Pa. Sept. 21, 2005) ("The court [in Waiters] emphasized that, despite the different circumstances and officials involved in the retaliation allegations asserted in the two complaints, the core grievance-retaliation-was the same in both instances.") (citing Waiters, 729 F.2d at 238); cf. Antol v. Perry,82 F.3d 1291, 1295 (3d Cir. 1996) (holding that plaintiff's sex discrimination claim was not within the scope of the EEOC's investigation of his disability discrimination charge); Flowers v. Univ. of Penn. Health Sys., No. 08-3948, 2009 WL 1688461, at *10 (E.D. Pa. June 16, 2009) (finding that plaintiff's retaliation claim did not fall within the scope of the EEOC investigation of his discrimination claim because "[t]he EEOC charge and Plaintiff's PCHR complaint never mention the word 'retaliation,' focusing instead on discrimination claims"); Wilson-Thomas v. Small Bus. Admin., No. 89-1669, 1989 WL 89279, at *3 (E.D. Pa. 1989) ("[U]nlike the situation in Waiters, the subject of plaintiff's prior EEOC complaint and Title VII action (race and sex discrimination) is entirely different from the subject of the case sub judice (retaliation). Accordingly, plaintiff must first file a timely charge with the EEOC concerning her claim of retaliation before she can proceed in this court.").

There is no requirement, however, that a district-court action under the ADA or Title VII must allege the same cause of action as the EEOC charge to be within the scope of the EEOC investigation. The fact-specific nature of the inquiry leaves ample room for exceptions. At least one district court in this circuit has found that a plaintiff had not exhausted administrative remedies on his retaliation claim even where he had previously filed a charge of retaliation with the EEOC against the same defendant. DeLa Cruz v. Piccari Press, 521 F. Supp. 2d 424, 434-35 (E.D. Pa. 2007) (finding that plaintiff's retaliation claim was not within the scope of his previous EEOC charge alleging retaliation because the facts supporting the second retaliation claim did not appear in the EEOC charge even though they occurred before plaintiff filed the EEOC complaint). Moreover, at least one district court in this circuit has found that a retaliation claim fell within the scope of the plaintiff's hostile work environment charge with the EEOC. E.E.O.C. v. Mask Enters., LLC, No. 07-359, 2008 WL 3891261, at *7 (W.D. Pa. Aug. 19, 2008) (finding that plaintiff's retaliation claim was "directly linked" to the hostile work environment charge she brought before the EEOC).

In the instant case, Plaintiff checked the "Retaliation" and "Other" boxes on his EEOC charge. He did not check the "Discrimination" box. In addition, Plaintiff does not allege in the EEOC charge that Defendant had discriminated against him because of his disability. (See ECF No. 27 Ex. 3.) Plaintiff argues that because he checked the "Other" box on the EEOC charge, "Plaintiff is entitled to the reasonable inference... that 'other', in light of the apparent scope of the investigation, must mean something more than retaliation. Since disability discrimination is the only other relevant focus, it is reasonable to conclude that's exactly what was considered." (Pl.'s Resp. 9.) We conclude that Plaintiff cannot use the "Other" box on the EEOC charge to bootstrap his way into a discrimination cause of action. If Plaintiff wished to allege discrimination, he should ...

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