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Carol A. Standen v. Gertrude Hawk Chocolates

August 10, 2012

CAROL A. STANDEN,
PLAINTIFF
v.
GERTRUDE HAWK CHOCOLATES, INC., DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Munley

MEMORANDUM

Before the court for disposition is defendant's motion to dismiss the plaintiff's amended complaint. (Doc. 18). The motion has been briefed and is ripe for disposition.

Background

Carol A. Standen ("plaintiff"), a fifty-one year-old female, is suing her former employer Gertrude Hawk Chocolates, Inc. ("defendant"). (Doc. 15, Am. Compl. at 1). She was employed as a Packaging Equipment Technician with the Maintenance Department at defendant's facility located in Dunmore, Pennsylvania from 1992 until her resignation. (Id. at 1-2). Plaintiff alleges she was forced to resign following six weeks of medical leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") beginning November 2008. (Id. at 1-2; ¶ 77). She contends that over the course of a four year period she suffered severe sexual harassment and retaliation for her complaints about the sexual harassment, which ultimately led to her forced resignation. (Id. at 2).

Plaintiff alleges that she was sexually harassed by three supervisors:

"Black,"*fn1 Philip Calachino ("Calachino") and Jim Pope ("Pope"). She also claims defendant retaliated against her based on her complaints to defendant's Human Resources department. Plaintiff alleges that Black continually made sexual comments and physically touched her despite her repeated requests for him to stop. (Id. ¶¶ 23-37). He subjected plaintiff to such behavior on several occasions, specifically on February 2004, Easter 2004, October 2004 and February 2006. (Id. ¶ 23). Black would lift his nose and make a sniffing noise when plaintiff walked by as if to sniff her body. (Id. ¶¶ 40-41). He would continually come up behind plaintiff, rub his groin area against her or pin his body against hers. (Id. ¶¶ 26, 33-34, 35-36). In 2006, Black lifted plaintiff's hairnet and put his tongue inside her ear. (Id. ¶¶ 37, 113). Plaintiff always objected to the touching and remarks and would push Black away. (Id. ¶ 29).

Between 2004 and 2008, plaintiff informed her immediate supervisor Calachino of the unwanted contact with Black. (Id. ¶¶ 22, 30). Specifically after the incident with Black in 2006, plaintiff met with Calachino and informed him that she would seek legal counsel if the unwanted sexual contact did not stop. (Id. ¶¶ 37-38). Calachino, however, also harassed plaintiff by touching her inappropriately and suggesting they meet outside of work to engage in sexual activity. (Id. ¶¶ 60-61, 67).

Plaintiff also endured harassment from her supervisor Pope. Pope made suggestive remarks to plaintiff and suggested that they meet in a trailer. (Id. ¶¶ 46, 47, 48). On July 16, 2005, Pope approached Skip Standen, plaintiff's husband, who at the time was her fiance, and stated "I hope you don't mind, I am going to make it hard on your girlfriend," over a conveyor belt issue. (Id. ¶ 68). On another occasion, Skip Standen said to Pope, "[I]t's a shame certain people can't stop riding Carol's ass and just let her do her job." (Id. ¶ 69). Pope replied, "I'd like to ride her ass and not about work!" (Id.) Plaintiff explains that there were several incidents where Pope sexually harassed plaintiff and created a hostile environment. (Id. ¶ 45).

During her encounters with Black, Calachino, and Pope, plaintiff expressed her disapproval with the sexual conduct, continually told them to stop and often felt compelled to physically remove herself from the situation. (Id. ¶¶ 22, 28-30, 32-38, 42, 61, 67). Plaintiff alleges that she brought complaints through the defendant's chain of command and was retaliated against for her allegations of sexual harassment. (Id. ¶¶ 17, 43-44, 79). In accordance with the employee handbook, plaintiff made complaints about the harassment to her immediate supervisor Calachino, her then second level supervisor Matt Zelewski ("Zelewski"), the Human Resource Manager Garton, the Vice President of Manufacturing Marcia Dian and the Chief Executive Officer David Hawk. (Id. ¶¶ 17-21, 79-80). Plaintiff claims that none of the male employees were subjected to any similar offensive conduct, nor was there any consequences for male employees committing such acts. (Id. ¶ 90).

Although plaintiff routinely made complaints pursuant to company policy, defendant's management failed to provide plaintiff with any relief. (Id. ¶¶ 17-21, 79-80). Plaintiff claims that she met with Garton dozens of times and she did not receive a single act of resolution. (Id. ¶¶ 81, 82). Plaintiff brought her complaints to Garton on or about Easter 2004, October 20, 2004, March 24, 2005, July 15, 2005, November 15, 2005, February 6, 2006, April 6, 2006, June 30, 2008, August 25, 2008, August 28, 2008, September 3, 2008, November 3, 2008 and November 11, 2008. (Id. ¶ 21). Garton often responded with comments such as, "Oh Carol, you know how guys are," "It's a factory, that's how guys are," "Carol, come on, it's just Jim [Pope]," or "Don't even go there," suggesting that, but for her gender, she would be free from defendant's workplace discrimination. (Id. ¶¶ 86-87).

Plaintiff claims that as a result of her internal complaint of sexual harassment she was labeled as a trouble maker and "head case" by managers, supervisors and co-workers. (Id. ¶ 43). Black reported plaintiff for being out of her area and accused her of having nothing to do. (Id. ¶ 44). Plaintiff claims that this was done so that she would be subjected to ridicule and potential discipline in retaliation for her complaints and refusal to submit to Black's sexual demands and comments. (Id.)

In 2004, plaintiff claims she was retaliated against by her then second level supervisor, Zelewski. (Id. ¶¶ 63-66). At a meeting with Zelewski, plaintiff informed him that she would have to seek recourse with Human Resources if he could not arrive at a resolution regarding her sexual harassment complaints. (Id. ¶ 63). He told plaintiff to leave his name out of any Human Resource reports and stated, "I can solve this problem right now, you shut your face or I'll put you right back on the line." (Id. ¶ 64). Plaintiff understood Zelewski's statement as a threat of downgrade in retaliation for her complaints. (Id. ¶¶ 65-66).

Plaintiff also claims she was laid off by Calachino over a slow summer period in the summer of 2005 before an associate of lesser seniority. (Id. ¶¶ 50-51). Plaintiff protested the lay off and stated that she was going to Human Resources, as she was not the lowest in seniority. (Id. ¶ 51). Plaintiff also alleges that in the summer of 2008, Pope was scheduled to be laid off. (Id. ¶ 54). However, Garton gave Pope of list of "important" tasks that needed to be taken care of so that Pope had to remain on the job. (Id.)

Plaintiff further claims that Skip Standen was fired in April 2009 in retaliation for her complaints to management. (Id. ¶ 74). At the time of his layoff, Skip was told by Human Resources that he would be called back to work soon. In October 2009, however, Skip received a letter from defendant telling him that his responsibilities were permanently eliminated. (Id. ¶ 75).

In her final effort to resolve the harassment, plaintiff submitted her written "last chance" complaint to Chief Executive Officer David Hawk on November 11, 2008. (Id. ¶¶ 17, 144). When Mr. Hawk visited plaintiff's work station that day, plaintiff personally informed him of the inappropriate sexual behavior of her supervisors and that she did not know how much more she could take. (Id. ¶ 169). Mr. Hawk stated that he was unaware of the situation, but would certainly look into it. (Id. ¶ 170). That afternoon, plaintiff was called to Garton's office for a conference where Garton and Calachino were present. (Id. ¶¶ 171). During the meeting, plaintiff recalled an incident occurring earlier that week where Calachino changed plaintiff's work shift as a result of plaintiff taking vacation time. (Id. ¶¶ 166-68, 173). In response to plaintiff's recollection, Calachino began swearing and was eventually removed from the meeting, which ended without a resolution as to plaintiff's complaints. (Id. ¶¶ 173-76, 179).

Ultimately, plaintiff explains that she endured all she could and went on FMLA leave in November 2008. (Id. ¶ 72). While on leave, plaintiff began seeking treatment for her psychological injuries. (Id. ¶¶ 71-73). Plaintiff was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. (Id. ¶ 78). She was instructed by her physician not to return to her position with defendant. (Id. ¶ 145). Plaintiff resigned.

Plaintiff alleges she initiated a timely Charge of Discrimination with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), which was cross-filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ("PHRC"). (Id. ¶ 2). She obtained a right-to-sue letter from EEOC on or about August 28, 2011. (Id. ¶ 10; see Doc. 30). Plaintiff filed the complaint in this court on October 25, 2011. (Doc. 1). Upon agreement of counsel, plaintiff filed a motion for leave to file an amended complaint, which was granted on March 27, 2012. (Docs. 14, 16).

On February 21, 2012, plaintiff filed an amended complaint, which contains three counts. (Doc. 15). Count I alleges sexual harassment in violation of Title VII. Count II asserts a claim of retaliation in violation of Title VII. Count III is brought pursuant to the Pennsylvania Human Relation Act ("PHRA"). Defendant filed the instant motion to dismiss/strike the amended complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and 12(f) on April 13, 2012. (Doc. 18). The parties fully briefed the motion. An oral argument on defendant's motion was held on July 31, 2012 (Doc. 29), bringing the case to its present posture.

Jurisdiction

Because this case is brought pursuant to Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1), the court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 ("The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States."). We have jurisdiction over plaintiff's state law claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a) ("In any civil action of which the district courts have original jurisdiction, the district courts shall have supplemental jurisdiction over all other claims that are so related to claims in the action within such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy under Article III of the United States Constitution.").

Legal Standard

A Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests the sufficiency of a complaint's allegations. Granting the motion is appropriate if, accepting as true all the facts alleged in the complaint, the plaintiff has not pleaded "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face," or put another way, "nudged [his or her] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). The Third Circuit interprets Twombly to require the plaintiff to describe "enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of" each necessary element of the claims alleged in the complaint. Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Moreover, the plaintiff must allege facts that "justify moving the case beyond the pleadings to the next stage of litigation." Id. at 234-35.

In relation to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), the complaint need only provide "'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests,'" Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation omitted). "[T]he factual detail in a complaint [cannot be] so undeveloped that it does not provide a defendant the type of notice of claim which is contemplated by Rule 8." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 232 (citation omitted). "Rule 8(a)(2) requires a 'showing' rather than a blanket assertion of an entitlement to relief." Id.

The issue is whether the facts alleged in the complaint, if true, support a claim upon which relief can be granted. In deciding a 12(b)(6) motion, the court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and give the pleader the benefit of all reasonable inferences that can fairly be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). However, "we are not bound to accept as true a ...


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