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Rodney Grasty v. World Flavors

August 11, 2011

RODNEY GRASTY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WORLD FLAVORS, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

August ____, 2011

Presently before this Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 8) and Plaintiff's Response in Opposition thereto (Doc. 9). For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Defendants' Motion.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, an African-American resident of Pennsylvania, initiated this action against Defendants, his former employer and several of his former managers, for workplace discrimination and retaliatory discharge. Defendant World Flavors, Inc. ("World Flavors") is a Pennsylvania corporation that manufactures seasonings and ingredients for the food industry. At all relevant times, Defendant Ed Sellers was the corporation's plant manager, Defendant Chris Knoll was the corporation's day supervisor, and Defendant Brian Hafner was the corporation's general manager.

The facts construed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff are as follows. On October 12, 2010, World Flavors hired Plaintiff as a cleaner to work the night shift. Shortly after Plaintiff's hire, the night shift supervisors Ron and Debbie, both of whom are Caucasian, began referring to Plaintiff as "little black guy" and "little black boy." Plaintiff alleges he complained to Defendants Sellers and Knoll about the racially offensive references, but Defendants took no action.

On October 21, 2010, Plaintiff was injured when a mixer fell on his hand at work. After the accident, Plaintiff was reassigned to the morning shift. Plaintiff avers that after his reassignment, the night supervisors and other co-workers continued to make racially offensive comments to him. Plaintiff claims he once again complained to Defendant Sellers, but Sellers failed to address his complaints. Plaintiff alleges the hostility directed towards him became so blatant that another employee stole his steel-toed boots and wore them in the workplace. When Plaintiff reported the theft to Defendants, they refused to investigate and told Plaintiff to simply buy a new pair of boots. According to Plaintiff, no one was ever disciplined for the theft. Plaintiff alleges Defendants responded to his repeated complaints by reducing his work hours.

In December 2010, Plaintiff informed Defendants that, if they refused to address his complaints, he would file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Plaintiff alleges Defendant Sellers merely laughed at Plaintiff's threat and World Flavors' management responded by telling Plaintiff that "he should just quit." On January 26, 2011, Defendants terminated Plaintiff's employment. As justification for his termination, Defendants allege Plaintiff made "threatening statements" to his supervisors, an allegation Plaintiff denies.

Plaintiff further alleges that he filed a worker's compensation claim, but fails to include the exact date that he filed the worker's compensation claim in the Complaint. He does, however, indicate that he worked light duty for a short period after he was injured, that Defendants terminated his employment on January 26, 2010, and that his employment was terminated soon after he filed his worker's compensation claim.

On March 11, 2011, Plaintiff filed a Complaint (Doc. 1) in federal court alleging Defendants wrongfully retaliated against him and terminated his employment for complaining to management about the racially hostile work environment and for filing a worker's compensation claim. Plaintiff's Complaint contains the following three counts: Count I for retaliation in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("Section 1981"); Count II for discriminatory termination and hostile work environment in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981; and Count III for worker's compensation retaliation in violation of Pennsylvania's public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine. In his prayer for relief, Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief, back pay, punitive damages, and attorneys' fees and costs. On May 3, 2011, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 8). On May 13, 2011, Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition thereto (Doc. 9) The Court now addresses this pending motion.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

"A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain ... a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a). The statement required by Rule 8 must give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007).

On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court is required to accept as true all allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and to view them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 (3d Cir. 1994). A complaint should be dismissed only if the alleged facts, taken as true, fail to state a claim. See In re Warfarin Sodium Antitrust Litig., 214 F.3d 395, 397--98 (3d Cir. 2000). In making this determination, the question before the court is not whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail, but whether the plaintiff can prove any set of facts consistent with his or her allegations that will entitle him or her to relief. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974) (explaining that the Court's role is limited to determining whether a plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence in support of her claims); Semerenko v. Cendant Corp., 223 F.3d 165, 173 (3d Cir. 2000).

While a court will accept well-pled allegations as true for the purposes of the motion, it will not accept bald assertions, unsupported conclusions, unwarranted inferences, or sweeping legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations. Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Though detailed factual allegations are not required, the United States Supreme Court has recognized that "a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). In Twombly the Court made clear that it would not require a "heightened fact pleading of specifics," but only "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570. A "pleader is required to 'set forth sufficient information to outline the elements of his claim or to permit inferences to be drawn that these elements exist.'" Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir.1993) (citation omitted).

In 2009 the United States Supreme Court revisited the requirements for surviving a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss in Ashcroft v. Iqbal,129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009). There the Court made clear that "threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements [are] not suffice" to defeat a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Id. at 1949.

In evaluating whether a Plaintiff has met the pleading requirements, a district court must identify "the 'nub' of the ... complaint-the well-pleaded, nonconclusory factual allegation [s]." Id. "[O]nly a complaint that states a plausible claim ...


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