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Robuck v. Mine Safety Appliances Co.

November 3, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Nora Barry Fischer


I. Introduction

Presently before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss Counts IV and V filed by Defendant Mine Safety Appliances Co.*fn1 (hereinafter "Defendant"). (Docket No. [19]). Defendant seeks dismissal of Plaintiff Dennis Robuck's (hereinafter "Plaintiff") retaliation claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") on the basis of sex and his retaliation claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA").*fn2 Id. at 2. Defendant asserts that Plaintiff has not pled sufficient facts to render his claims of retaliation plausible as required by the Supreme Court's decisions in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal,- -- U.S. ---, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). Id. For the reasons discussed herein, Defendant's Motion (Docket No [19]) is GRANTED.

II. Relevant Factual Background

Because this matter comes to this court on a Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss, the factual allegations set forth in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint are accepted as true. Hemi Group, LLC. v. City of N.Y., --- U.S. ---, 130 S.Ct. 983, 986-87 (2010)(citing Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164 (1993)). The pertinent facts are as follows.

Plaintiff states that he began working for Defendant in January 1997 as a temporary employee, and started working as a full-time employee on September 25, 2000. As such, he built, configured, calibrated, and shipped permanent gas detection instruments. (Docket No. 17 ¶¶ 5, 6). Plaintiff claims to suffer from hypertension, which requires him to avoid stress and to take long walks on a regular basis. Id. ¶ 1.

Plaintiff alleges that he has had problems with a female co-worker, Ruth Protzman. Id. ¶ 8. Ms. Protzman apparently takes walks on a regular basis as well. Id. ¶ 13. It appears that both Plaintiff and Ms. Protzman take walks during their lunch breaks. Id. Plaintiff claims to have made every attempt to avoid Ms. Protzman and admits that until February of 2007, Defendant made every attempt to keep the two separated. Id. ¶¶ 8, 9. Defendant apparently accomplished the separation by assigning Plaintiff and Ms. Protzman different walking routes. Id. According to Plaintiff, the original separation was successful because Plaintiff's lunch time was scheduled for noon, while Ms. Protzman's lunch time was scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Id. ¶ 9. Plaintiff insists that the present problem arose when Defendant decided to change Plaintiff's lunch hour to 11:30 a.m. in February of 2007. Id. Plaintiff maintains that Defendant refused to accommodate him by changing his lunch time back to noon, despite his continuing complaints. Id. Plaintiff contends that he made numerous complaints to his supervisor, Dan Bogler, stating that Defendant gave priority to Ms. Protzman over Plaintiff when attempting to separate the two of them. Id. ¶ 10.

The parties do not contest that Plaintiff's last day of work was October 29, 2007, that he was suspended as of that date, and that he was officially discharged as of November 6, 2007. (Docket No. 18 ¶ 11). Plaintiff claims that he received a letter from Defendant, signed by Margie Wood, dated November 6, 2007, which states that Plaintiff was being terminated for willfully disregarding workplace rules. (Docket No. 17 ¶ 12). Plaintiff contends that this reason for his termination was pretextual. Id. Instead, Plaintiff asserts that he was fired for walking on a road on which Defendant believed Ms. Protzman might also have been walking contemporaneously. Id. ¶ 13. Plaintiff insists, however, that Ms. Protzman was not walking on the road at that time and that she was not even at work on the date of Plaintiff's alleged offense. Id.

III. Relevant Procedural History

On or about January 22, 2008, Plaintiff filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). (Docket No. 17 ¶ 17). On May 1, 2008, Plaintiff received a form "Dismissal and Notice of Rights" from the EEOC. Id. ¶ 18. A day shy of two years later, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Lawrence County, Pennsylvania. (Docket No. 1-2 at 11). As Plaintiff's claims are founded on federal statutes, including Title VII and the ADA, Defendant filed a Notice of Removal with the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania on June 4, 2010. (Docket No. 1). Defendant then moved to dismiss the instant case on June 11, 2010, on the basis that Plaintiff had improperly asserted legal conclusions rather than factual statements as required by Twombly and Iqbal. (Docket No. 6). Plaintiff responded by requesting Leave to File an Amended Complaint. (Docket No. 10). Following the Court's grant of leave to amend, Plaintiff filed his Amended Complaint on July 28, 2010. (Docket No. 17). Defendant filed its instant Motion to Dismiss Counts IV and V and its supporting brief on August 16, 2010. (Docket Nos. 19, 20). In turn, Plaintiff filed his response on September 13, 2010.*fn3 (Docket No. 30). Defendant filed its reply brief on September 27, 2010. (Docket No. 31). As briefing has concluded, the motion is ripe for disposition.

IV. Legal Standard

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.'" Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 544); see also Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009); and FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2) (providing that a valid complaint requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim" showing entitlement to relief). The Supreme Court in Iqbal clarified that the decision in Twombly "expounded the pleading standard for "all civil actions.'" Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1953; Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210-11. The Court further explained that although a court must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in a complaint, that requirement does not apply to legal conclusions; therefore, the pleadings must include factual allegations to support the legal claims asserted. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949, 1953. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555); see also Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210; and Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir. 2008). The determination of whether a complainant has sufficiently pled a claim "is a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556); see also Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210-11 (holding that in light of Iqbal, a district court should first separate the factual and legal elements of a claim and then, accepting the "well-pleaded facts as true," "determine whether the facts" pled are sufficient to show a "plausible claim for relief."). Ultimately, to survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must plead "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

V. Discussion

A. Plaintiff's Retaliation Claim ...

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