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Catherine Hightower v. Animas Corporation

October 10, 2012


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


Currently pending before the Court is Defendant Animas Corporation's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint. For the following reasons, the Motion is granted.


This employment discrimination action arises from the demotion and poor performance reviews given to Plaintiff Catherine Hightower while employed at Defendant Animas Corporation ("Animas"). (Compl. ¶¶ 22, 30.) According to the facts set forth in the Complaint, Plaintiff is an African-American female who was hired by Animas on or about February 16, 2006 as an "Assembler." (Id. ¶¶ 13--14.) On or about January 5, 2009, she was appointed to the position of "JDE Management Lead and Manufacturing Representative," a position she was led to believe was permanent. (Id. ¶¶ 16--17.) She had been receiving positive performance reviews in this new position, and was operating under the belief that she would be receiving a pay increase. (Id. ¶ 18.) She claims she did not receive this increase because she is an African-American female. (Id. ¶ 20.) After failing to receive the raise, she lodged a complaint with the company's ethics hotline. (Id. ¶ 21.)

In March of 2010, Plaintiff was demoted to a previously-held position of Lead Manufacturing Associate without explanation. (Id. ¶ 22--23.) Plaintiff claims she was replaced in this previous position with a Caucasian male. (Id. ¶ 24.) She believes this demotion was given because she is an African-American female. (Id. ¶ 26.)

Additionally, Plaintiff states that another Animas employee, Courtney Stevenson, was promoted over her and given a pay increase. (Id. ¶ 27--28.) Ms. Stevenson was a Caucasian female. (Id. ¶ 27.) Ms. Hightower claims that she was not informed of the availability of this position and was denied the opportunity to apply. (Id. ¶ 29.) After this series of events, Ms. Hightower filed another complaint with the company's ethics hotline in or about February 2010. As a result of this complaint, Ms. Hightower claims she was given a "lower rating" on her yearly evaluation and, as a result of this lower rating, received a lower bonus and compensation rate than she had received in previous years. (Id. ¶ 30--31.) Plaintiff believes she was treated differently than similarly situated male employees and similarly situated Caucasian employees. (Id. ¶¶ 33--34.)

Plaintiff filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on March 24, 2011 and requested cross-filing with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ("PHRC"). On or about March 12, 2012, she received a Notice of Right to Sue from the EEOC. She then filed this suit on June 6, 2012 alleging (1) violations under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") for discrimination and retaliation on the basis of race and gender, (2) violations under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA") for discrimination and retaliation on the basis of race and gender, and (3) violations under the Equal Pay Act of 1963 ("EPA") for providing lower pay on the basis of gender for equal work. On August 28, 2012 Defendant filed its Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint. Plaintiff filed a Memorandum in Opposition on September 24. Defendant then filed a Reply Memorandum in Support of its Motion on October 2. The Court will now consider the merits of Defendant's Motion.


Under Rule 12(b)(6), a defendant bears the burden of demonstrating that the plaintiff has not stated a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed. R. Civ. P.12(b)(6); see also Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005). In Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), the United States Supreme Court recognized that "a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. at 555. Following these basic dictates, the Supreme Court, in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), subsequently defined a two-pronged approach to a court's review of a motion to dismiss. "First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. at 678. Thus, although "Rule 8 marks a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior era . . . it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions." Id. at 678--79. Second, the Supreme Court emphasized that "only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Id. at 679. "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will, as the Court of Appeals observed, be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. A complaint does not show an entitlement to relief when the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct. Id.; see also Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232-34 (3d Cir. 2008) (holding that: (1) factual allegations of complaint must provide notice to defendant; (2) complaint must allege facts suggestive of the proscribed conduct; and (3) the complaint's "'factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level'") (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555)).

Notwithstanding these new dictates, the basic tenets of the Rule 12(b)(6) standard of review have remained static. Spence v. Brownsville Area Sch. Dist., No. Civ.A.08-626, 2008 WL 2779079, at *2 (W.D. Pa. July 15, 2008). The general rules of pleading still require only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief and need not contain detailed factual allegations. Phillips, 515 F.3d at 233. Further, the court must "accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Buck v. Hampton Twp. Sch. Dist., 452 F.3d 256, 260 (3d Cir. 2006). Finally, the court must "determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Pinkerton v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002).


Defendant moves to dismiss Plaintiff's Title VII and PHRA claims as being time barred. It also seeks to dismiss Plaintiff's EPA claim for failing to demonstrate that a male employee received higher compensation for equal work because the male employee did not perform equal work in the statutory period, and because he did not hold the same position at the same time as Plaintiff.

A. Whether Plaintiff's Title VII and PHRA Claims Are Time Barred

Both Title VII and the PHRA prohibit employers from discriminating against their employees on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or ...

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