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Tricia A. Colbert v. Mercy Behavioral Health

January 13, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terrence F. McVerry United States District Court Judge


Before the Court for disposition is the MOTION TO DISMISS COUNTS III AND V OF THE PLAINTIFF‟S COMPLAINT, with brief in support, filed by Defendant Mercy Behavioral Health (Document Nos. 4 and 8), the BRIEF IN OPPOSITION filed by Plaintiff, Tricia A. Colbert (Document No. 9), and the REPLY BRIEF filed by Defendant (Document No. 10).

The Motion is now fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

Factual Background

As the law requires, at this stage of the proceeding all disputed facts and inferences are resolved in favor of Plaintiff, the non-moving party.

On September 16, 2011, Plaintiff Tricia A. Colbert filed this gender discrimination / sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit against her former employer, Mercy Behavioral Health. In her four-count Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that she was subjected to a sexually hostile work environment created by the comments and actions of her co-worker, John Zoeller ("Zoeller"). Plaintiff contends that she repeatedly complained to her supervisors of Zoeller‟s sexual harassment and in response, Defendant took a number of adverse employment actions against her, including ultimately terminating her employment on March 16, 2010.

On June 8, 2010, eight-four (84) days after termination of her employment, Plaintiff completed and signed an EEOC Intake Questionnaire, which she mailed to the EEOC on June 14, 2010, and which was received by the EEOC on June 15, 2010. By letter dated June 23, 2010, the EEOC notified Plaintiff that her "appointment to file a charge of employment discrimination" was scheduled by telephone for September 24, 2010. Plaintiff was interviewed by the EEOC as scheduled and on or about October 12, 2010, the EEOC mailed the formal charge to Plaintiff for her signature. On October 19, 2010, two hundred and seventeen (217) days after her termination, Plaintiff signed the formal Charge of Discrimination, as well as a Dual File Form, which indicated that Plaintiff wanted her charges also filed with the PHRC. The EEOC received the signed Charge of Discrimination on October 27, 2010, two hundred and twenty-five (225) days after Plaintiff‟s termination.

On November 10, 2010, the EEOC transmitted the charge of discrimination to the PHRC, which indicated that the EEOC initially received the charge on June 23, 2010, the date it received the Intake Questionnaire.*fn1

In Counts One and Two of her Complaint, Plaintiffs asserts gender discrimination / sexual harassment and retaliation claims against Defendant under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. In addition, in Counts Three and Four*fn2 of her Complaint, Plaintiff asserts gender discrimination / sexual harassment and retaliation claims under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 42 P.S. §§ 951, et seq ("PHRA").

Defendant has filed the instant motion to dismiss limited only to Plaintiff‟s allegations brought against it under the PHRA. Defendant seeks dismissal of these counts based on Plaintiff‟s alleged failure to exhaust administrative remedies with respect to those claims.

Standard of Review

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) challenges the legal sufficiently of the complaint filed by plaintiff. The United States Supreme Court has held 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." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, 555 (2007) (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)) (alterations in original).

The Court must accept as true all well-pleaded facts and allegations, and must draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in favor of the plaintiff. However, as the Supreme Court made clear in Twombly, the "factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. The United States Supreme Court has subsequently broadened the scope of this requirement, stating that only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). Thus, after Iqbal, a district court must conduct a two-part analysis when presented with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). First, the Court must separate the factual and legal elements of the claim. Id. Although the Court "must accept all of the complaint‟s well-pleaded facts as true, [it] may disregard any legal conclusions." Id. at 210-11. Second, the Court "must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a "plausible claim for relief.‟ In other words, a complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff‟s entitlement to relief. A complaint has to "show‟ such an entitlement with its facts." Id. at 211 (citing Iqbal 129 S. Ct. at 1949). The determination for "plausibility" will be ""a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.‟" Id. at 211 (quoting Iqbal 129 S. Ct. at 1950).

As a result, "pleading standards have seemingly shifted 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." Id. at 211. That is, "all civil complaints must now set out "sufficient factual matter‟ to show that the claim is facially plausible. This then "allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that ...

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