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Kristina Galezniak v. Millville Health Center

January 18, 2012

KRISTINA GALEZNIAK, PLAINTIFF
v.
MILLVILLE HEALTH CENTER, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Kane

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff Kristina Galezniak commenced this action in the Court of Common Pleas of Columbia County, Pennsylvania, against Defendant Millville Health Center on August 12, 2011. Following removal to this Court, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the complaint in its entirety on October 17, 2011. (Doc. No. 5.) That motion has been fully briefed and is now ripe for disposition. For the reasons stated more fully herein, the Court will grant the motion to dismiss.

I. BACKGROUND*fn1

Plaintiff began working for Defendants as a certified nurse assistant in June 2008. (Doc. No. 1-1 ¶ 3.) On October 6, 2008, Plaintiff informed the head nurse on duty, Donna Julius, that she was pregnant. (Id. ¶ 4.) The next day, Plaintiff alleges that she was ordered to complete forms "to take a non-paid leave of absence and ultimately termination." (Id. ¶ 5.) Plaintiff was also told that because no light duty work was available, she would need to take a leave of absence. (Id. ¶¶ 5-6.) Plaintiff maintains that she did not request light-duty work, did not require any work restrictions, wanted to continue working, and did not want to take a leave of absence. (Id. ¶¶ 7-9.) Plaintiff further alleges that at least one other employee was assigned to light duty work as a result of a non-work related injury. (Id. ¶ 8.)

Following the end of her working relationship with Defendant,*fn2 Plaintiff began working at Blockbuster Video, with no restrictions or complications, until her child was born in May 2009. (Id. ¶ 10.) In February 2009, Plaintiff filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (Id. ¶ 12.) On February 22, 2010, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission issued a notice of the right to sue to Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 13; Doc. No. 1-1 at 15.)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993). In reviewing a motion to dismiss, a court may "consider only the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, and documents that form the basis of a claim." Lum, 361 F.3d at 221 n.3. The motion will only be properly granted when, taking all factual allegations and inferences drawn therefrom as true, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Markowitz v. Northeast Land Co., 906 F.2d 100, 103 (3d Cir. 1990). The burden is on the moving party to show that no claim has been stated. Johnsrud v. Carter, 620 F.2d 29, 33 (3d Cir. 1980). Thus, the moving party must show that Plaintiff has failed to "set forth sufficient information to outline the elements of his claim or to permit inferences to be drawn that those elements exist." Kost, 1 F.3d at 183 (citations omitted). A court, however, "need not credit a complaint's 'bald assertions' or 'legal conclusions' when deciding a motion to dismiss." Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906, 908 (3d Cir. 1997). Indeed, the Supreme Court has held that while the 12(b)(6) standard does not require "detailed factual allegations," there must be a "'showing,' rather than a blanket assertion of entitlement to relief. . . . '[F]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'" Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231-32 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Put otherwise, a civil complaint must "set out 'sufficient factual matter' to show that the claim is facially plausible." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1955 (2009)).

III. DISCUSSION

Plaintiff's complaint raises claims of: (1) discrimination based on sex in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, in Count 1 of the complaint; (2) wrongful discharge in violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act and the common law, in Count 2 of the complaint; (3) intentional infliction of emotional distress, in Count 3 of the complaint; (4) negligent infliction of emotional distress, in Count 4 of the complaint; and (5) violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, in Count 5 of the complaint. Defendant moves to dismiss the complaint in its entirety. Defendant first argues that the entire complaint must be dismissed for Plaintiff's failure to plead sufficient facts to support her claims. Defendant then argues that Plaintiff's individual claims fail as a matter of law. Specifically, Defendant alleges that: (1) Pennsylvania law does not support a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress or negligent infliction of emotional distress because such claims are barred when arising out of an employment relationship and Plaintiff has not pleaded the existence of "extreme or outrageous" conduct; (2) Plaintiff's common law wrongful discharge claim is preempted by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act; (3) Plaintiff's Pregnancy Discrimination Act claim fails because it is duplicative of her Title VII claim; and (4) Plaintiff's claims of employment discrimination fail because Defendant's employment policy is not discriminatory. The Court will consider Defendant's individual arguments in turn and, if necessary, will then consider whether Plaintiff's complaint must fail for lack of sufficient factual support.

A. Intentional Infliction of Emotion Distress and Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress Claims

Plaintiff alleges that "[i]n terminating Plaintiff due to the fact that she was pregnant, Defendant intentionally acted in such an outrageous and reckless disregard that Plaintiff suffered severe emotional torment and stress." (Doc. No. 1-1 ¶ 24.) Plaintiff makes a nearly identical allegation in regard to her claim of negligent infliction of emotion distress, substituting the word "negligently" for "intentionally." (Id. ¶ 27.) Defendant contends that Plaintiff's claims fail because claims of negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress arising out of an employment relationship are barred by the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act. Defendant further argues that even if such claims were not barred, they would fail because Plaintiff fails to make the necessary factual allegations to support such a claim. In response to Defendant's arguments, Plaintiff has offered a mere four sentences, including three conclusory sentences in which Plaintiff asserts, without citation to any authority, that the claims do not fail and one sentence outlining the elements of the cause of action. The Court must agree with Defendant.

Plaintiff's claims of negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress are squarely foreclosed by the Third Circuit's decision in Matczak v. Frankford Candy & Chocolate Company. In that case, Matczak alleged that Frankford fired him because of his disability, and that following his termination he cried "at least once a week." Matczak v. Frankford Candy & Chocolate Co., 136 F.3d 933, 940 (3d Cir. 1997). The Third Circuit held that these allegations could not support a claim of negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress because the exclusivity provision of the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act bars claims for both negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress arising out of an employment relationship. Id. (quoting Dugan v. Bell Telephone of Pa., 876 F. Supp. 713, 723-24 (W.D. Pa. 1994)); EEOC v. Creative Playthings, Ltd., 375 F. Supp. 2d 427, 438 (E.D. Pa. 2005) (holding that a claim for infliction of emotional distress based on retaliatory termination is barred by the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act). In the present matter, the sole basis for Plaintiff's claims of negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress is Defendant's alleged decision to terminate her employment. Accordingly, because Plaintiff's claims arise from an employment relationship, those claims are barred by the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act. See 77 Pa. Stat. § 481(a) (providing that the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act is the exclusive remedy for claims arising out of one's employment).*fn3

Even if Plaintiff's claims were not barred by the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act, the negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims would still fail. Claims of negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress are governed by state law, and Pennsylvania courts have narrowly construed such causes of action. Andrews v. City of Philadelphia, 895 F.2d 1469, 1486 (3d Cir. 1990). To establish liability for the infliction of emotional distress, a plaintiff must establish outrageous conduct on the part of the tortfeasor. To establish "outrageous conduct" in Pennsylvania, "it has not been enough that the defendant has acted with intent which is tortious or even criminal, or that he has intended to inflict emotional distress, or even that his conduct has been characterized by 'malice,' or a degree of aggravation that would entitle the plaintiff to punitive damages for another tort." Hoy v. Angelone, 720 A.2d 745, 754 (Pa. 1998) (quoting Restatement (Second) of Torts § 46, comment d; Daughen v. Fox, 539 A.2d 858, 861 (Pa. 1988)). Rather, "the conduct must be so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized society." Id. (quoting Buczek v. First Nat'l Bank of Mifflintown, 531 A.2d 1122, 1125 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1987)). "[I]t is extremely rare to find conduct in the employment context that will rise to the level of outrageousness necessary to provide a basis for recovery for the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress." Id. (quoting Cox v. Keystone Carbon, 861 F.2d 390, 395 (3d. Cir. 1988)). Courts have consistently held that claims based on termination of an employment relationship will not satisfy the outrageous conduct requirement of the torts of negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress. See, e.g., Garges v. People's Light & Theater Co., No. 09-cv-2456, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 115591, at *15 n.8 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 28, 2010) (collecting cases). Because Plaintiff's claims are based solely on the fact that she was terminated, albeit in an allegedly discriminatory manner, those claims must fail. See, e.g., Cox v. Keystone Carbon Co., 861 F.2d 390, 395 (3d Cir. 1988) (finding that "the only instances in which courts applying Pennsylvania law have found conduct outrageous in the employment context is where an employer engaged in both sexual harassment and other retaliatory behavior against an employee"); Madreperla v. Williard Co., 606 F. Supp. 874, 880 (E.D. Pa. 1985) (concluding that while summary judgment was not warranted on the plaintiff's age discrimination claim, plaintiff's claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress could not proceed because although plaintiff's legal rights may have been violated the termination did not amount to outrageous conduct).

In sum, Plaintiff's claims of negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress must fail. The Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act bars such claims because they arise out of the employment relationship. Further, termination, even termination alleging wrongful discharge and discrimination, has been found to not rise to the level of outrageous conduct. ...


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