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Jennifer Brown v. Davita Inc.

November 10, 2011

JENNIFER BROWN,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
DAVITA INC., CHRISTOPHER PAUL, LINDA GAETO AND JILL TORTUAL, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Jennifer Brown filed this case against her former employer, DaVita Dialysis ("DaVita"), and DaVita employees Christopher Paul, Linda Gaeto, and Jill Tortual ("the DaVita employees"). Plaintiff contends that DaVita discriminated against her on the basis of her race and retaliated against her when she complained about the alleged discrimination. She also alleges that the DaVita employees defamed her by making baseless disparaging statements about her abilities as a nurse.

Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings as to Plaintiff's Defamation Claim. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants defendants' motion.

II. Background*fn1

DaVita employed plaintiff as a staff nurse at a dialysis clinic in Philadelphia. (Compl. ¶ 14.) Plaintiff, an African-American woman of Jamaican origin, worked for DaVita from January 9, 2007, until defendant Paul terminated her on November 1, 2007. (Id. ¶¶ 14, 21.) Plaintiff alleges that she was subject to racial discrimination at DaVita, especially while she was under defendant Paul's supervision from September to November 2007. (Id. ¶¶ 15-17.) Plaintiff also alleges that the DaVita employee defendants defamed her on three occasions during her employment at DaVita:

(1) On November 5, 2007, "in front of the staff and all the patients," defendant Paul stated that plaintiff "would not take responsibility for [her] arguments with Gaeto," "was at fault for the problems with Gaeto," "was not a good employee," "was not a fit in the unit," and "was too negative." (Id. ¶ 19a.)

(2) On October 29, 2007, in plaintiff's presence and in front of plaintiff's patient Z.T., who was receiving dialysis, defendant Gaeto said "[t]hat's some scary shit" in reference to something on plaintiff's computer. (Id. ¶ 19b.)

(3) On an unknown date, defendant Tortual said to defendant Paul and plaintiff that plaintiff "did not know how to do her work." (Id. ¶ 19c.)

Plaintiff "stated to [defendant] Paul during their termination meeting that he was slandering her and that she would retain an attorney." (Pl. Jennifer Brown's Reply Opp'n Defs.' Mot. J. Pleadings ("Pl.'s Reply Mem.") 8.) Plaintiff submitted a verified complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ("PHRC") on or about December 13, 2007. (Compl. ¶ 9.) Her complaint included "extensive discussion" of the alleged defamatory statements. (Pl.'s Reply Mem. 9.)

The EEOC took no action on plaintiff's claim and issued her a right-to-sue letter, which she received on June 1, 2009. (Compl. ¶ 10.) Likewise, the PHRC took no action on plaintiff's claim, and the one-year period it had to do so expired on December 14, 2008. (Id. ¶ 11.) Despite what she told defendant Paul, plaintiff did not retain a lawyer until she received the right-to-sue letter. (Pl.'s Reply Mem. 8.) Plaintiff filed her Complaint in this case on August 26, 2009.

Defendants argue that they are entitled to judgment on the pleadings on plaintiff's defamation claim because the claim is untimely under Pennsylvania's one-year statute of limitations for defamation actions. (Defs.' Mem. L. Supp. Mot. J. Pleadings Pl.'s Defamation Claim ("Defs.' Mem.") 3-4.)*fn2 Plaintiff responds that the statute of limitations was tolled because her complaint with the EEOC was timely and because she did not know of the statute of limitations "until she learned of the existence of [a defamation] claim from her counsel," whom she retained after receiving the right-to-sue letter in June 2009. (See Pl.'s Reply Mem. 9-10.)

III. Standard of Review

A motion for judgment on the pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) is analyzed under the same standard as a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See Bangura v. City of Phila., 338 F. App'x 261, 264 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Turbe v. Gov't of Virgin Islands, 938 F.2d 427, 428 (3d Cir. 1991). A motion for judgment on the pleadings will only be granted if "the plaintiffs would not be entitled to relief under any set of facts that could be proved." Green v. Fund Asset Mgmt., L.P., 245 F.3d 214, 220 (3d Cir. 2001). In determining whether a plaintiff has stated a claim for relief, the court must view the facts and inferences to be drawn from the ...


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