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Sherie Cuturilo v. Jefferson Regional Medical Center

July 20, 2011


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


Presently before the Court is Defendant's, Jefferson Regional Medical Center's ("Jefferson"), motion to dismiss the amended complaint (Doc. # 16) filed by Plaintiff, Sherie Cuturilo ("Cuturilo"). For the reasons that follow, the motion will be denied.

A. Factual and Procedural History

Cuturilo was employed by Jefferson as a registered nurse. She suffers from an unspecified health condition that requires ongoing medical treatment. During the acute phase of this ailment, Cuturilo cannot work for intermittent periods of time.

Cuturilo informed Jefferson management about her medical situation and requested leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C. § 2601-54("FMLA"). Jefferson approved FMLA leave on an intermittent basis for Cuturilo to treat her condition as needed.

Sometime in 2009, Jefferson permitted FMLA intermittent leave for Cuturilo when she experienced an acute episode of her disorder. On or about September 3, 2009, Cuturilo was cleared to return to work. A flair up of her condition occurred on or about February 18, 2010, necessitating a three-day absence from work. Cuturilo's physician reinstated intermittent FMLA leave as of February 18, 2010, allowing her to be excused from work for one to three days per episode. Jefferson approved reinstatement of the leave. Subsequent thereto, Cuturilo took intermittent leave on two more occasions. Cuturilo alleges that she received complaints from her co-workers and supervisors that her FMLA leave was having a detrimental effect upon them.

Cuturilo was fired on or about April 29, 2010. Jefferson informed her that she was terminated because she violated the medical facility's confidentiality policy and provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 ("HIPAA") when she reviewed medical records of a relative being treated at Jefferson. Curturilo counters that the stated reason for her discharge was false because Jefferson was aware that she had been given permission by the patient to review his records.

On March 29, 2011, Cuturilo filed an amended complaint alleging that she was terminated in retaliation for exercising her FMLA rights. She also advances a state law slander action, claiming that several of Jefferson's agents knowingly made false statements to other Jefferson employees concerning the reason for her discharge. On April 20, 2011, Jefferson filed a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), claiming that the amended complaint's allegations do not include facts from which it can be concluded that Cuturilo's termination was related to her FMLA leave.

B. Standard of Review

The United States Supreme Court opinions in Bell

Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and, more recently in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009), have shifted pleading standards from simple notice pleading to a more heightened form of pleading, requiring a plaintiff to plead more than the possibility of relief to survive a motion to dismiss. The Supreme Court outlined a two-part analysis that courts should utilize when deciding a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). First, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated. In other words, while courts must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, they may disregard any legal conclusions. Second, courts then decide whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to demonstrate that the plaintiff has a "plausible claim for relief." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1950. A claim is facially plausible when the plaintiff pleads facts that permit a court to draw a reasonable inference that the defendant could be liable for the malfeasance alleged. Id. at 1949. In determining if the standard has been met, courts should consider the specific nature of the claim presented and the facts pled to substantiate that claim. In re Insurance Brokerage Antitrust Litigation, 618 F. 3d 300, 320, n.18 (3d Cir. 2010).

C. Discussion

1. FMLA Retaliation

FMLA was enacted in 1993 to balance the demands of the employer's workplace with the needs of families and to "entitle employees to take reasonable leave for medical reasons." 29 U.S.C. § 2601(b)(1-2); Sommer v. The Vanguard Group, 461 F.3d 397, 398-99 (3d Cir. 2006). Section 2615(a)(1) of the Act makes it unlawful for an employer to interfere with, restrain, or deny an employee's exercise or attempt to exercise FMLA rights. Additionally, the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has recognized that employees who have been ...

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