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Rudolf Booker and Maurice Robinson v. National Railroad Passenger Corporation

July 19, 2012

RUDOLF BOOKER AND MAURICE ROBINSON, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORPORATION, D/B/A AMTRAK, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM

I. INTRODUCTION

In this employment discrimination action, plaintiffs Rudolph Booker (incorrectly identified in the caption of the Complaint as "Rudolf Booker") and Maurice Robinson allege that their employer, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation ("Amtrak"), discriminated against them in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.; 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("§ 1981"); and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 951 et seq. Plaintiffs also assert claims for wrongful supervision and negligent supervision under Pennsylvania common law.

Presently before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint. For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

II. BACKGROUND*fn1

During the period of time covered by the Complaint, both plaintiffs were Amtrak employees based out of Amtrak's Philadelphia station. (Compl. ¶¶ 2, 3.) Plaintiffs are African-American males. (Id.)

A. Employment Background of Booker

Booker began working as a trackman at Amtrak in 1997. (Id. ¶ 9.) He has worked in various positions since then, including as a "welder helper, welder, truck driver[,] and foreman." (Id.) "He has been a qualified foreman for approximately 10 years and passed the supervisor test in 2009 qualifying to be a supervisor." (Id.) Booker has "repeatedly" applied for supervisor positions "up to the present time" but has not received any interviews. (Id.)

B. Employment Background of Robinson

Robinson began working as a trackman at Amtrak in 1999. (Id. ¶ 19.) He has worked in various positions since then and, on May 4, 2009, was promoted to become a Track Supervisor. (Id.) "At that time he was the only African-American supervisor in System Production in AMTRAK's Eastern Corridor and the only African-American supervisor on AMTRAK property with the exception of an African-American supervisor in Washington, D.C." (Id.)

Robinson avers that defendant's policies and practices have prevented him from obtaining "appropriate positions" for which he has applied. (Id.) He cites, inter alia, (1) an attempt by Amtrak management in 2005 and 2006 to prevent Robinson from obtaining a "spiker" position, (id. ¶ 24(b)); (2) the selection in March 2008 of a less qualified white male for an assistant supervisor position for which Robinson applied, (id. ¶ 24(c)); (3) defendant's failure to interview Robinson for a supervisor position for which he applied in 2008, while interviewing two white males who were less qualified and had been involved in an accident on the job, (id. ¶ 24(d)); and (4) defendant's practice of hiring outside contractors and relegating African-American employees to less desirable positions, (id. ¶ 24(e)).

Robinson also alleges that he has experienced discrimination "in terms of employment, overtime, leave, and break practices." (Id. ¶ 25.) Managers give white employees more opportunities to earn overtime and mileage expenses and assign Robinson to undesirable shifts. (Id. ¶¶ 25(a), (c), (f), (g), (j), (k).) At unspecified times, white superiors told Robinson, "I can put you anywhere," and told him that it was their job to "f*** them (blacks) out of their money." (Id. ¶ 25(b).) Robinson also alleges that he has been "singled out and discriminated against with respect to being ordered to perform unnecessarily dangerous tasks." (Id. ¶ 27.)

C. The July 2009 Incident*fn2

In July 2009, both plaintiffs were members of "a railroad tie removal or renewal gang." (Id. ¶¶ 10, 20.) Booker was a foreman on the gang, (id. ¶ 10), and Robinson was a supervisor, (id. ¶ 20). Plaintiffs' gang consisted "solely of blacks and other minorities" and was referred to as the "black gang." (Id. ¶¶ 10, 20.) The other ten gangs in the region "are comprised of whites who receive more favorable treatment." (Id.)

Plaintiffs' gang was accused of failing to repair a track correctly. (Id. ¶¶ 11, 21.) As a result, defendant conducted disciplinary proceedings against plaintiffs in late 2009 and early 2010. (Id.) Plaintiffs allege that the disciplinary proceedings violated Amtrak and union rules and resulted in a punishment that "far exceeded the circumstances." (Id.). Both plaintiffs were "put out of service and lost [their] job status" for purposes of seniority. (Id. ¶¶ 13, 23.) Even before the disciplinary hearing, Robinson's supervisor position was rescinded. (Id. ¶ 23.) Robinson avers that "this was the first time in history of the American Railway Association Supervisors' Association that a Supervisor's job had been taken, ever." (Id.) The loss of job status caused plaintiffs to lose benefits, "including pay level and eligibility for overtime," and it allowed "others with less experience to move past" plaintiffs "on the list of eligible jobs with higher pay." (Id. ¶¶ 13, 23.)

Plaintiffs allege that a systemic racial disparity in discipline caused them to receive this inappropriately severe punishment. They describe incidents in which "white employees who committed more serious infractions resulting in serious injury and property damage received lesser disciplinary sanctions or no sanctions at all." (Id. ¶¶ 12, 22.) "[I]nformation emanating from an AMTRAK hearing officer" reinforces their belief that "discipline is unevenly enforced as between minorities and whites." (Id. ¶ 14.)

Plaintiffs contend that this disparity in discipline is "a pretext deliberately calculated and effectuated to deprive [plaintiffs] of [their] status and seniority so that other white employees [are] able to get ahead of [them] and be eligible for certain jobs." (Id. ¶¶ 13, 23.) "Favored whites with inferior skills . . . are hired for better positions while minorities with more in the way of seniority and skills must submit to formal training and are otherwise bypassed from consideration for those better or preferred positions." (Id.)

Plaintiffs filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on or about August 19, 2010, "with respect to race, color[,] and retaliation with regarding [sic] past experience and continuing experience as to discriminatory practices complained of." (Id. ¶¶ 17, 33.) They received right-to-sue letters from the EEOC before commencing this lawsuit. (Id.) They do not allege that they filed separate charges with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ("PHRC") or that the EEOC charges were dual-filed.

III. LEGAL STANDARD

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that, in response to a pleading, a defense of "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted" may be raised by motion to dismiss. To survive a motion to dismiss, a civil plaintiff must allege facts that "'raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'" Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). A complaint must contain "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). To satisfy the plausibility standard, a plaintiff's allegations must show that defendant's liability is more than "a sheer possibility." Id. "Where a complaint pleads facts that are 'merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it 'stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

In Twombly, the Supreme Court used a "two-pronged approach," which it later formalized in Iqbal. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679; Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009). Under this approach, a district court first identifies those factual allegations that constitute nothing more than "legal conclusions" or "naked assertions." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557. Such allegations are "not entitled to the assumption of truth" and must be disregarded. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. The court then assesses "the 'nub' of the plaintiff['s] complaint-the well-pleaded, nonconclusory factual allegation[s]"-to determine whether it states a plausible claim for relief. Id.

IV. DISCUSSION

Defendant seeks dismissal of all of plaintiffs' claims. The Court begins by addressing the merits of plaintiffs' federal claims, then addresses the extent to which those claims may be time-barred. Finally, the Court proceeds to plaintiffs' state-law claims.

A. Merits of Claims Under Title VII and § 1981

Plaintiffs assert claims under both Title VII and § 1981 based on three theories: racial discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation.*fn3 "[T]he substantive elements of a claim under section 1981 are generally identical to the elements of an employment discrimination claim under Title VII." Brown v. J. Kaz, Inc., 581 F.3d 175, 182 (3d Cir. 2009). The analysis set forth in this part of the Memorandum thus applies equally to those ...


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