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Denyse H. Morales v. Pnc Bank

August 4, 2011

DENYSE H. MORALES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PNC BANK, N.A., DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM

Currently pending before the Court is Defendant PNC Bank, N.A.'s Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Religious Discrimination and Retaliation Claims Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the following reasons, the Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

According to the facts set forth in the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff Denyse H. Morales is a forty-five year old, Hispanic/African-American female from Trinidad and a practicing Jehovah's Witness. (Am. Compl. ¶ 1.) During the times relevant to this action, she was employed as a Licensed Financial Sales Consultant at Defendant PNC Bank, N.A.'s ("PNC") branch facility in Rydal, Pennsylvania. (Id. ¶ 2.) She was originally hired on July 10, 2006, to sell certain financial products and services to customers of PNC. (Id. ¶¶ 28, 30.) As part of her job duties, and in addition to her required investment revenues, she was expected to achieve revenue sales from new loans, new checking and savings accounts, and new business accounts, which would then be referred to PNC's business bankers. (Id. ¶ 39.) Plaintiff's supervisors at the Rydal branch facility were Branch Manager Audrey Ackaa, who is a black female with a Nigerian national origin, and Raza Gilani, who is a Pakistani male. (Id. ¶ 38.)

During her first month of employment, Plaintiff did not meet her revenue requirements and, thus, was required to attend evening calling sessions to solicit business. (Id. ¶ 40.) According to Plaintiff, other similarly situated employees of PNC were not required to attend such sessions. (Id. ¶ 43.) These calling sessions were scheduled by PNC to take place on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights, until 7:30 p.m. (Id. ¶ 42.) Plaintiff explained to management, however, that she had religious obligations on Tuesday and Thursday nights that would prevent her attendance at the calling sessions. (Id. ¶ 42.) Ms. Ackaa responded that because PNC had to meet its goals, Plaintiff needed to make arrangements to attend the call sessions, as they were more important than any of Plaintiff's religious and other obligations. (Id. ¶ 44.) Plaintiff then advised Ms. Ackaa that she could attend Wednesday night call sessions provided she received sufficient advanced notice to properly plan her schedule. (Id. ¶ 45.) Ultimately, Plaintiff attended the required call sessions. (Id. ¶ 46.)

In October 2006, Defendant PNC sent invitations to its employees for a party scheduled to take place on Halloween, October 31, 2006. (Id. ¶ 47.) Upon Plaintiff's receipt of this invitation, she advised both Ms. Ackaa and Mr. Gilani that she would not be able to attend. (Id. ¶ 49.) When Mr. Gilani indicated that her attendance was "mandatory," she replied that, for religious reasons, she does not celebrate Halloween or participate in parties affiliated or associated with Halloween. (Id. ¶ 51.) Mr. Gilani responded that PNC spent a significant amount of money for the party, that management expected all employees to attend, and that Plaintiff did not have a good excuse for not attending. (Id. ¶ 52.) He went on to note that the party was not a religious event, but rather a way for PNC to express its appreciation for its employees, and that Plaintiff did not have to wear a costume. (Id. ¶ 53.) On the date of the party, employees brought costumes to work and changed into them after-hours before heading over to the nearby restaurant. (Id. ¶¶ 54-55.) When Ms. Ackaa again asked Plaintiff about her attendance, Plaintiff reminded her that she could not attend for religious reasons. (Id. ¶¶ 56-57.) Ms. Ackaa repeated Mr. Gilani's previous sentiment that this was an employee appreciation party and not a Halloween party. (Id. ¶ 58.) The following day, however, Plaintiff learned from other employees that there were pumpkin carving and costume contests. (Id. ¶ 59.) Ms. Ackaa told Plaintiff that she missed a great time, that she could not believe Plaintiff did not attend, and that Mr. Gilani was upset about her absence because it showed she was not a "team player." (Id. ¶ 60.) Plaintiff apologized and repeated that if it were an event without reference to Halloween and occurred on any night other than Tuesday or Thursday, when she had religious obligations,*fn1 she would have attended. (Id. ¶ 61.) Plaintiff was the only person from her sales team who did not attend the party. (Id. ¶ 62.)

Prior to this incident, Plaintiff's performance record was positive and she received several accolades. (Id. ¶ 63.) From this point forward, however, her relationship with management deteriorated. (Id. ¶ 64.) Shortly after the party, Mr. Gilani asked Plaintiff about her strategy to achieve the goals set by PNC for her. (Id. ¶ 65.) When Plaintiff explained that she was doing all that she could to meet her numbers, she was told that if she did not make her numbers, she would be subject to Disciplines in the form of corrective actions. (Id. ¶ 67.) Plaintiff believed that other similarly situated PNC employees were also not meeting their numbers at this time, but none were being scrutinized like she was. (Id. ¶ 68.) When she asked about the perceived disparate treatment, Ms. Ackaa told her not to worry about anyone but herself. (Id. ¶ 69.)

On June 5 and June 11, 2007, Plaintiff received corrective action notices for failure to meet her required numbers. (Id. ¶ 70.) In particular, Defendant PNC placed her on probation for not meeting her sales revenue requirements, even though other employees who also did not meet the requirement were not placed on probation. (Id. ¶¶ 72-73.) While on probation, she was denied commissions, bonuses, pay increases, and opportunities for promotions. (Id. ¶ 74.) Plaintiff inquired into PNC's failure to pay commissions, and Defendant advised that commissions, bonuses, and pay increases are not paid to an employee while on probation. (Id. ¶¶ 75-76.)

In November 2007, Plaintiff sent a letter to Mr. Gilani stating that she had done everything she could possibly do to meet her numbers. (Id. ¶¶ 78-79.) She expressed her desire to succeed and indicated that her success required assistance from the branch. (Id. ¶ 80.) As such, she requested the opportunity to study for the License Series 65, which would allow her the opportunity to offer a wider and more appropriate array of investment alternatives to the elderly customer base at the Rydal branch facility. (Id. ¶¶ 81-82.) Plaintiff's letter went on to raise her concern that her recent assignments to cover staffing shortages at other branches (Jenkintown for four months, Welsh Road, Abington, Glenside, and Willow Grove) were detrimentally affecting her ability to meet her required sales numbers, when other similarly situated employees were not moved as frequently as she was. (Id. ¶¶ 84, 86.) Finally, Plaintiff advised that, according to several of her customers, other employees at the Rydal branch were stating that Plaintiff no longer worked for PNC. (Id. ¶ 85.) None of Plaintiff's concerns were ever addressed by Defendant. (Id. ¶ 87.)

On November 30, 2007, shortly after her letter, Ms. Ackaa issued Plaintiff another Discipline for failing to achieve her investment revenue goals. (Id. ¶ 88.) Upon receipt of this Discipline, Plaintiff met with Ms. Ackaa, at which time Plaintiff again explained that she was limited in the products she could sell. (Id. ¶ 90.) She repeated her desire to study for the License Series 65 to put her in a better position to meet her stated objectives and sell products that were more compatible with the customer base she serviced. (Id. ¶¶ 91-92.) Ultimately, however, Ms. Ackaa told her that she needed to perform at a higher level for several months in order to be considered for the exam. (Id. ¶ 94.)

On January 18, 2008, Defendant PNC issued Plaintiff another corrective action for alleged poor performance and failure to meet revenue numbers. (Id. ¶ 95.) This notice stated that "[c]ontinued failure to meet the expectations set as outlined above may lead to even further Disciplinary Action, up to and including Termination." (Id. ¶ 96.) Several months later, on April 25, 2008, Plaintiff arrived for work and was terminated for her performance issues. (Id. ¶ 97.) Thereafter, on May 2, 2008, Plaintiff received a letter from Defendant notifying her that, in addition to terminating her employment, PNC had terminated her professional license. (Id. ¶ 98.)

Shortly after her termination, Plaintiff met with representatives from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") to initiate the filing of a Charge of Discrimination. (Id. ¶ 9.) According to Plaintiff, she specifically noted that she was a practicing Jehovah's Witness, and she discussed the facts surrounding her refusals to attend either the Halloween party or the calling sessions scheduled on her religious meeting nights. (Id. ¶¶ 10-12.) Further, she included allegations concerning religious discrimination and her concerns that the alleged adverse employment actions taken against her by Defendant were retaliatory. (Id. ¶ 13.) As part of the intake process, Plaintiff was required to complete and verify EEOC Intake Questionnaires. (Id. ¶ 14.) Ultimately, on June 2, 2008, Plaintiff, acting pro se, filed a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC, and requested that this Charge be dual-filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ("PHRC") in accordance with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"). (Id. ¶ 16.)

On December 29, 2009, the EEOC issued Plaintiff a "Dismissal and Notice of Rights" ("Right to Sue letter"), finding no evidence of discrimination. (Id. ¶ 24.) The Right to Sue letter also noted that Plaintiff had the right to file a lawsuit in federal court within ninety days from the date of that notice. (Id. ¶ 25.) As such, on March 29, 2010, Plaintiff initiated the current action in federal court. Following an initial Motion to Dismiss by Defendant, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on February 17, 2011, setting forth five counts for relief: (1) race discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), (2) religious discrimination under Title VII; (3) national origin discrimination under Title VII; (4) retaliation under Title VII; and (5) violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. (Id. ¶¶ 100-37.) Defendant, in turn, filed another Motion to Dismiss on March 17, 2011. Plaintiff provided her Response on July 13, 2011, and Defendant submitted a Reply Brief on July 22, 2011, making this matter ripe for disposition.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under Rule 12(b)(6), a defendant bears the burden of demonstrating that the plaintiff has not stated a claim upon which relief can be granted. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6); see also Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005). In Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), the United States Supreme Court recognized that "a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. at 555. Following these basic dictates, the Supreme Court, in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937 (2009), subsequently defined a two-pronged approach to a court's review of a motion to dismiss. "First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. at 1949. Thus, although "Rule 8 marks a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior era . . . it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions." Id. at 1950. Second, the Supreme Court emphasized that "only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Id. "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will, as the Court of Appeals observed, be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. Where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged, but not shown an entitlement to relief. Id.; see also Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232-34 (3d Cir. 2008) (holding that: (1) factual allegations of complaint must provide notice to defendant; (2) complaint must allege facts suggestive of the proscribed conduct; and (3) the complaint's "'factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'" (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555)).

Notwithstanding these new dictates, the basic tenets of the Rule 12(b)(6) standard of review have remained static. Spence v. Brownsville Area Sch. Dist., No. CIV.A.08-626, 2008 WL 2779079, at *2 (W.D. Pa. Jul. 15, 2008). The general rules of pleading still require only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief and need not contain detailed factual allegations. Phillips, 515 F.3d at 233. Further, the court must "accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Buck v. Hampton Twp. Sch. Dist., 452 F.3d 256, 260 (3d Cir. 2006). Finally, the court must ...


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