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Mala R. Chinoy v. the Pennsylvania State University

March 6, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: William W. Caldwell United States District Judge


I. Introduction

We are considering the defendants' motion to dismiss. Plaintiff, Mala R. Chinoy, filed this lawsuit alleging that her termination from employment as a professor at the Penn State College of Medicine was illegally based on her race, color, ethnicity, ancestry, religion, and gender. She also complains of discriminatory actions while she was employed.

The institutional defendants are: The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State), a state-related educational institution; the Penn State Board of Trustees (the Board); and the Penn State College of Medicine (the Medical School), a state educational institution related to Penn State and Plaintiff's direct employer. The individual defendants are: Wiley Souba, Chair of the Department of Surgery at the Medical School and Plaintiff's direct supervisor; Peter Dillon, Interim Chair of the Department of Surgery at the Medical School and Plaintiff's direct supervisor; R. Kevin Grigsby, Vice Dean for Faculty and Administrative Affairs at the Medical School; and Robert Cilley, Division Chief in the Department of Surgery at the Medical School and Plaintiff's direct supervisor.

Plaintiff started this action by filing her original complaint on July 6, 2011. Plaintiff's amended complaint has six causes of action. In Count I, Plaintiff sets forth a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that all the defendants violated several of her constitutional rights, including her right to due process when they failed to renew her employment contract. In Count II, she makes a claim against the institutional defendants for violations of Title VII. In Count III, she makes a claim against the institutional defendants under the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d). In Count IV, Plaintiff makes a claim against all the defendants under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA),

43 Pa. Stat. Ann. §§ 951-963 (West 2009). In Count V, Plaintiff makes a claim under Title IX, 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a), against the institutional defendants. Finally, in Count VI, Plaintiff makes a state-law claim for tortious interference with contractual relations against the individual defendants Sourba, Dillon, and Grigsby.

Defendants' motion to dismiss, filed under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), makes the following arguments. First, Claim I (the section 1983 claim) and Claim IV (the PHRA claim) should be dismissed as against the individual defendants in their official capacities because official-capacity suits are really suits against the institutional entity, and the Penn State institutional entities have already been named in these counts. Second, the Board should be dismissed as a defendant because it is redundant of naming Penn State as a defendant. Third, the due-process claims in Count I should be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Finally, Defendants assert that Counts I through V should be dismissed to the extent they are based on events that are barred under the statute of limitations applicable to that count.

In considering a motion to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), "[w]e '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.'" Byers v. Intuit, Inc., 600 F.3d 286, 291 (3d Cir. 2010)(quoted case omitted). The court is not limited to evaluating the complaint alone. It may consider documents that form the basis of a claim. Lum v. Bank of America, 361 F.3d 217, 221 n.3 (3d Cir. 2004).

With this standard in mind, we set forth the background to this litigation, as Plaintiff alleges it.

II. Background

In pertinent part, the amended complaint alleges as follows. A naturalized citizen of the United States, Plaintiff is an Asian female born in India who practices the Hindu religion. (Doc. 12, Am. Compl. ¶ 14). Plaintiff has a Ph.D. and an M.B.A. (Id. ¶ 15).

In 1993, she began working for the institutional defendants as a professor in the Medical School's department of surgery. In 1997-98, she "was promoted to associate professor but forever denied the opportunity to apply for tenure and otherwise overlooked for tenure." (Id. ¶ 20). "Beginning [in] 2004, Defendants refused to increase the plaintiff's annual salary denying her pay increases given to White Christian males." (Id. ¶ 21). "On or about November 26, 2006, Plaintiff reported disparate treatment" to defendant Dillon "and she opposed being paid less than male counterparts." (Id. ¶ 29). Defendant Grigsby responded that "she should be given a pay cut instead of a pay raise." (Id.).

On "September 30, 2007, Defendants refused to renew the plaintiff's contract and discontinued financial compensation for the plaintiff's services, thereafter utilizing her skills, expertise, scholarly contributions and connections without remuneration until she was fully and finally separated December 2009 from employment and all association with The Pennsylvania State University and Penn State College of Medicine." (Id. ¶ 31). Defendant Grigsby falsely told "prospective employers" that the plaintiff had voluntarily resigned from her employment . . . [thereby] interfer[ing] with prospective employment contracts for Plaintiff . . . ." (Id. ¶ 32). He also falsely told prospective employers Plaintiff "was not a good team player." (Id. ¶ 34). Plaintiff alleges she was treated "differently and disparately because of her race, religion, color, ethnicity, ancestry and sex." (Id. ¶ 17).*fn1

III. Discussion

A. Counts I and IV Will Be Dismissed As Against the Individual Defendants in Their Official Capacities Defendants move to dismiss Counts I and IV (brought under section 1983 and the PHRA, respectively) as against the individual defendants in their official capacities.*fn2 A suit against an individual in his official capacity is actually one against the governmental entity employing him (here, the institutional Penn State entities by virtue of their relationship to Pennsylvania). See Kohn v. Sch. Dist. of Harrisburg, F. Supp. 2d , , 2011 WL 4402121, at *18 (M.D. Pa. 2011)(Caldwell, J.)("official capacity suits against individual defendants are really against the employing governmental entity")(citing Bittner v. Snyder County, 345 F. App'x 790, 792 (3d Cir. 2009) (nonprecedential)). Defendants thus contend a suit against the individual defendants is unnecessary since the institutional entities are already parties. See Stacey v. City of Hermitage, 178 F. App'x 94, 100 (3d Cir. 2006)(nonprecedential)("The City defendants correctly argue that any claims against the individual City defendants in their official capacities should be dismissed because these claims are treated as claims against the City itself."). Defendants emphasize that they are not seeking dismissal against the individual defendants in their personal capacities.

Plaintiff opposes this argument but seems to do so on the belief that dismissing official-capacity claims against the individual defendants would mean that the individual defendants would escape all liability on Counts I and IV. This is not the case. As Defendants concede, the individual defendants would remain liable on these claims in their personal capacities. We will therefore dismiss Counts I and IV as against the individual defendants in their official capacities only, as such suits are really against the institutional entities, and those entities have been named as defendants in Counts I and


B. The Board of Trustees Will Be Dismissed As

Penn State Has Been Named As a Party Defendants move to dismiss the Board from Counts I through V, the counts in which the Board has been named as a defendant, because Penn State has been named as a defendant in those counts and naming the Board is redundant.

In opposition, Plaintiff maintains that the Board is a proper defendant on all the claims, satisfying the relevant statutory requirements to be a defendant in Counts I through V.

We agree with Defendants' position that the Board is a redundant party. Spradlin v. Borough of Danville, No. 02-2237, 2005 WL 3320788, at *1 (M.D. Pa. Dec. 7, 2005)("Because the Borough itself as a named defendant would ultimately be liable for any judgment entered against the Borough Council, the Council is a redundant party to the case.")(citing Satterfield v. Borough of Schuylkill Haven, 12 F. Supp. 2d 423, 431 (E.D. Pa. 1998)). The issue is not, as Plaintiff argues, whether the Board can be a proper defendant on the claims, ...

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