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Carrie Manning v. Sanofi-Aventis

August 14, 2012

CARRIE MANNING,
PLAINTIFF
v.
SANOFI-AVENTIS, U.S. INC. DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Munley

MEMORANDUM

Before the Court is Defendant Sanofi-Aventis, U.S. Inc.'s motion to dismiss Plaintiff Carrie Manning's complaint. (Doc. 5). The issues are fully briefed and the matter is ripe for disposition.

Background

Defendant Sanofi-Aventis, U.S. Inc., (hereinafter "defendant") employed Plaintiff Carrie Manning (hereinafter "plaintiff") from October 1995 to June 18, 2010. (Doc. 1, Compl. (hereinafter "Compl.") ¶ 1).Defendant terminated plaintiff's employment without notice and initially without cause on June 18, 2010. (Compl. ¶¶ 2-3; Doc. 1-2, Ex. A, Notice of Termination). At the time of her termination, plaintiff was employed as an executive pharmaceutical sales representative, her base salary was $108,000, and defendant regularly awarded plaintiff annual bonuses of approximately $20,000, for a total annual compensation of approximately $130,000. (Compl. ¶¶ 11, 13). During her fifteen-year career with defendant, plaintiff received positive performance evaluations and multiple promotions, awards and bonuses. (Id. ¶ 12).

In August 2009, defendant received an anonymous complaint that plaintiff had falsified sales calls. (Id. ¶¶ 19-21). Defendant investigated this accusation and found it to be without merit. (Id. ¶ 20). Defendant, however, reinvestigated the accusation in March of 2010. (Id. ¶ 23). Defendant informed plaintiff that the incident was being reinvestigated because the original anonymous complainant was dissatisfied with defendant's first determination that no misconduct had occurred. (Id. ¶ 24). Defendant had two meetings at the Marriott Hotel in Moosic, Pennsylvania with plaintiff, one of which was recorded, to question her about the alleged falsified sales calls. (Id. ¶¶ 25-28). On June 17, 2010, plaintiff sent defendant a written request to review her personnel file. (Id. ¶ 29; Doc. 1-2, Ex. F, Letter dated June 17, 2012). On June 18, 2010, defendant terminated plaintiff by letter. (Compl. ¶ 10; Ex. A, Notice of Termination). Plaintiff asserts that defendant later filled her position with an individual with substantially less experience and at a much lower salary. (Compl. ¶ 15 n.1).

On July 7, 2010, plaintiff made a demand for benefits under defendant's Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA") Separation Plan (hereinafter "Plan"). (Id. ¶ 16; Doc. 1-2, Ex. B, Letter dated July 7, 2010). Defendant replied on July 13, 2010, and asked that plaintiff outline in more detail why she believed she was entitled to the Plan's benefits. (Compl. ¶ 16; Doc. 1-2, Ex. D, Letter dated July 13, 2010). Plaintiff made a more complete demand for benefits in a letter dated July 15, 2010. (Compl. ¶ 16; Doc. 1-2, Ex. C, Letter dated July 15, 2010). On August 5, 2010, plaintiff and her counsel reviewed plaintiff's personnel file at defendant's office in Bridgewater, NJ and found that it made no reference to any alleged misconduct by plaintiff. (Compl. ¶ 30).

Under the Plan, employees terminated for specific reasons defined within the Plan are entitled to certain benefits, including three weeks of base pay per year of service with the company. (Id. ¶ 47; Doc. 1-2, Ex. I, Sanofi-Adventis U.S. Affiliate's Separation Plan (hereinafter "Ex. I, Plan"), at 7). Defendant employed plaintiff for 15 years, so if she qualifies for benefits under the Plan, she is entitled to the value of 45 weeks base pay, or $93,461.54. (Compl. ¶ 48).

On October 4, 2010, defendant denied plaintiff's demand for benefits, informing her that the circumstances of her termination are not included in the Plan's "Definition of Termination." (Id. ¶ 17; Doc. 1-2. Ex. E, Letter dated Oct. 4, 2010). Additionally, defendant stated for the first time in the October 4 letter that plaintiff was terminated for "misconduct," which is explicitly excluded from the Plan's Definition of Termination. (Compl. ¶ 18; Doc. 1-2, Ex. E, Letter dated Oct. 4, 2010). On November 17, 2010, plaintiff appealed defendant's initial denial of her benefits to the Plan Administrator.*fn1 (Compl. ¶ 32; Doc. 1-2, Ex. G, Letter dated Nov. 17, 2010).

On January 20, 2011, the Plan Administrator denied plaintiff's appeal. (Compl. ¶ 33; Doc. 1-2, Ex. H, Letter dated Jan. 20, 2011).

On June 14, 2011, plaintiff filed her complaint. In her two-count complaint, plaintiff alleges violations of §§ 502(a)(1)(B) and 510 of ERISA, encoded at 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B) (hereinafter "§ 502(a)(1)(B)") and 29 U.S.C. § 1140 (hereinafter "§ 510"). Defendant responded to plaintiff's complaint by filing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), (Doc. 5), bringing this case to its current posture.

Jurisdiction

This court has federal question jurisdiction over complaints brought under §§ 502 and 510 of ERISA. See 28 USC § 1331 ("The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.").

Standard of Review

This case is before the court pursuant to defendant's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted filed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. When a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is filed, the court tests the sufficiency of the allegations in the complaint. The "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 Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Put another way, granting the motion to dismiss is appropriate if plaintiff has not "nudged [her] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. 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. ...


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