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Robin Randler v. Kountry Kraft

October 24, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Conner


This is a civil action filed by plaintiff Robin Randler ("Randler") alleging numerous violations of federal and state law following the termination of her employment with defendant Kountry Kraft, Inc., t/d/b/a Kountry Kraft Custom Cabinetry ("Kountry Kraft"). Presently before the court is a partial motion (Doc. 6) to dismiss Counts IV and VI of Randler's complaint (Doc. 1) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons that follow, the court will grant the motion in part and deny it in part.

I. Background*fn1

This case arises out of numerous incidents that occurred between 2005 and February 2010 while Randler was employed at Kountry Kraft. Kountry Kraft is a Pennsylvania corporation engaged in the manufacture and sale of cabinetry, doors and appurtenant facilities. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 3, 4). Randler began her employment at Kountry Kraft on or about September 4, 2001, as a door sander. (Id. ¶ 4). Kountry Kraft promoted Randler to lead door sander in 2004. (Id. ¶ 14). In this position she performed a variety of functions such as readying doors and cabinetry for assembly and sale, until her termination on February 2, 2010.*fn2 (Id.)

Kountry Kraft has an employee handbook containing a number of policies on a variety of subjects including, but not limited to: nepotism, sexual harassment, email, discipline, and termination. (Id. ¶ 16). Randler alleges that these policies were not enforced. (Id.) According to Randler, Kountry Kraft employees were not advised or trained on how to address claims of harassment or discrimination. (Id. ¶ 7). From 2005 until her termination in February, 2010, Randler claims that she was subjected to various forms of sexual harassment and lewd pranks by Kountry Kraft agents, managers, and servants including, but not limited to: (1) a maintenance manger placing pubic hair on her workstation; (2) a co-worker presenting her with a pair of crotchless shorts; (3) co-workers placing depictions of a penis, breasts, and a vagina on her workstation; and (4) a plant manager throwing gum at Randler's chest and winking. (Id. ¶¶ 18, 19, 20). Randler avers that these events caused her extreme embarrassment, humiliation, and mental distress which manifested as physical illness. (Id. ¶ 23).

Randler approached her supervisors about the incidents, but she alleges that they took no action to remedy the harassment. (Id. ¶¶ 24, 25). Instead, Randler claims that after complaining about the harassment, Kountry Kraft retaliated against her by reducing her working hours and requiring her to make up work for other employees who could not properly perform their jobs, which ultimately led to her constructive discharge in November 2009. (Id. ¶¶ 27, 28).

Randler further avers Kountry Kraft violated its internal policies on nepotism by treating family members of management and other key employees differently than Randler. (Id. ¶ 29). Kathy Kellenberger ("Kellenberger"), the wife of a key Kountry Kraft employee and a co-worker of Randler, purportedly initiated a physical altercation with Randler. (Id. ¶¶ 30, 31). Randler complained to Kountry Kraft management about Kellenberger's actions, but Randler claims that only she was disciplined. (Id. ¶ 31). On February 2, 2010, Kountry Kraft terminated Randler's employment. (Id. ¶ 32). Randler contends that her termination was in retaliation for her complaints of harassment and discrimination. (Id. ¶ 34).

On February 14, 2011, Randler filed suit in the United States District of the Middle District of Pennsylvania. (Doc. 1). Randler's alleges six causes of action in her complaint: (1) sexual harassment in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2, and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 PA. CONS. STAT. 955; (2) retaliation; (3) violation of the PHRA, 43 PA. CONS. STAT. § 951, et seq.; (4) negligent supervision; (5) intentional infliction of emotional distress; and (6) wrongful discharge. On May 17, 2011, Kountry Kraft filed the instant motion (Doc. 6) to dismiss. Kountry Kraft asserts that Randler has failed to adequately plead her negligent supervision and wrongful discharge claims (Counts IV, and VI). (Doc. 6 ¶¶ 2, 3). The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

II. Standard of Review

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for the dismissal of complaints that fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). When ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Gelman v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 583 F.3d 187, 190 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008)); see also Kanter v. Barella, 489 F.3d 170, 177 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 350 (3d Cir. 2005)). Although the court is generally limited in its review to the facts contained in the complaint, it "may also consider matters of public record, orders, exhibits attached to the complaint and items appearing in the record of the case." Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 n.2 (3d Cir. 1994); see also In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997).

Federal notice and pleading rules require the complaint to provide "the defendant notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 232 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To test the sufficiency of the complaint in the face of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court must conduct a three-step inquiry. See Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130-31 (3d Cir. 2010). In the first step, "the court must 'tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.'" Id. (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, ---U.S. ---, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1947 (2009)). Next, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated; well-pleaded facts must be accepted as true, while mere legal conclusions may be disregarded. Id.; see also Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009). Once the well-pleaded factual allegations have been isolated, the court must determine whether they are sufficient to show a "plausible claim for relief." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, --- U.S. ---, 129 S. Ct. at 1950 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556); Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (requiring plaintiffs to allege facts sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level"). A claim "has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, --- U.S. ---, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. When the complaint fails to present a prima facie case of liability, however, courts should generally grant leave to amend before dismissing a complaint. See Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002); Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 116-17 (3d Cir. 2000).

III. Discussion

A. Count IV: Negligent Supervision

Kountry Kraft asserts that Count IV of Randler's complaint is preempted by the PHRA because Randler's negligent supervision claim is based entirely on the underlying sexual harassment allegations. (Doc. 7, at 3-4).It is settled that the PHRA preempts common law negligent supervision claims against employers when the "claims arise from and form an integral part of the PHRA-prohibited discriminatory conduct." Watkins v. Rite Aid Corp., No. 4:06-CV-00299, 2006 WL 2085992, at *4 (M.D. Pa. July 25, 2006) (collecting cases); see also Wolk v. Saks Fifth Ave. Inc., 728 F.2d 221 (3d Cir. 1984); WarmKessel v. East Penn Mfg., No. 03-02941, 2005 WL 1869458, at *8 (E.D. Pa. July 28, 2005). McGovern v. Jack D's, Inc., No. Civ. A. 03-5547, 2004 WL 228667, at *7 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 3, 2004) ...

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