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Ronald Eubanks v. Sunoco Logistics Partners

September 5, 2012


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


Plaintiff, Ronald Eubanks, brings this action against the defendant, Sunoco Partners, LLC*fn1 ("Sunoco"), alleging unlawful racial discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"); 42 U.S.C. § 1981; and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 Pa. Cons. St. § 951 et seq. ("PHRA"). Before me is Sunoco's motion to dismiss Eubanks's first amended complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)for failure to state a claim. For the reasons set out below, I conclude that dismissal would be inappropriate at this stage of the litigation.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

Eubanks, an African-American individual, was hired by Sunoco in April 1998. (1st Am. Compl. ¶¶ 15-16.) He continues to work there, and has most recently held the position of "instrument technician." (Id. ¶ 17.)

On March 18, 2009, Sunoco's area manager, Kimberly Legge, issued a written warning to Eubanks. (Id. ¶ 18.) The complaint specifies that Legge is Caucasian. (Id.) Eubanks received the warning in part because two company laptop computers were stolen from a company car that was unlocked and parked in front of his home. (Id. ¶ 19; Mem. of Law in Supp. of Sunoco's Mot. to Dismiss 1st Am. Compl. ("Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss") Ex. A.) In addition, the warning referenced two prior incidents, in 2004 and 2007, in which a company vehicle was struck and damaged while parked in front of Eubanks's home. (1st Am. Compl. ¶ 20; Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss Ex. A.) The warning cited the theft and the collisions as examples of Eubanks's "irresponsibility," and as a result of the warning, Eubanks lost the privilege of parking his company vehicle at his home. (1st Am. Compl. ¶¶ 20-21;Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss Ex. A.) The warning letter was also placed in Eubanks's personnel file. (Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss Ex. A.)

Eubanks further alleges that Francis Gillon, a Caucasian individual who performs the same duties as Eubanks and who is under the same supervision, was treated more favorably than him. (1st Am. Compl. ¶ 22.) Specifically, Gillon's company laptop was stolen from an unlocked company car parked at Gillon's residence, and Gillon was involved in an "at fault accident" while using a company car. (Id. ¶¶ 23, 25.) Gillonreceived no discipline as a result of either incident. (Id. ¶¶ 24-25.)

Based on these alleged facts, Eubanks claims that Sunoco has subjected him to "an ongoing pattern of discrimination based on his race." (Id. ¶ 26.) He commenced this action on April 5, 2012, and filed his first amended complaint on June 18, 2012. Sunoco filed its motion to dismiss the first amended complaint on June 28, 2012. It argues that the complaint fails to state a claim under Title VII, section 1981, or the PHRA because it does not adequately allege an adverse employment action as required by those statutes.

II. Discussion

A. Legal Standard

In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), courts must "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." Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). But "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements" will not suffice. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). The complaint must contain sufficient factual matter to be plausible on its face. Id. "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged"; a sheer possibility that a defendant acted unlawfully is not sufficient. Id.

Thus, the Third Circuit has developed a three-step approach. "First, the court must take note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim. Second, the court should identify allegations that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Finally, where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief." Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

B. Application

I begin by noting the elements Eubanks must plead. "In the absence of direct evidence of discrimination, a plaintiff may prove discrimination under the familiar burden-shifting framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). Under that framework, a plaintiff bears the initial burden of establishing a prima facie case of discrimination."Mieczkowski v. York City Sch. Dist., 414 F. App'x 441, 444 (3d Cir. 2011). To establish a prima facie case, Eubanks must show that "(1) [he] is a member of a protected class; (2) [he] was qualified for the position [he] sought to attain or retain; (3) [he] suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) the action occurred under circumstances that could give rise to an inference of intentional discrimination." Id. (quoting Makky v. Chertoff, 541 F.3d 205, 214 (3d Cir. 2008)). Once the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case of discrimination, the burden shifts to the defendant to articulate a legitimate reason for the adverse employment action. Makky, 541 F.3d at 214. If the defendant does so, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to show that the articulated reason is pretextual. Id.*fn2

The parties join issue solely on the question of whether the complaint sufficiently alleges an "adverse employment action."An adverse employment action is "an action by an employer that is 'serious and tangible enough to alter an employee's compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.'" Mieczkowski, 414 F. App'x at 445 (quoting Cardenas v. Massey, 269 F.3d 251, 263 (3d Cir. 2001)). "[A]n adverse employment action 'must be more disruptive than a mere inconvenience or an alteration of job ...

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