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Jeanne-Marie Curtis v. Unionville-Chadds Ford School District

May 1, 2013


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


Plaintiff, Jeanne-Marie Curtis, brings this action against defendant, Unionville-Chadds Ford School District (the "School District"), alleging violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-634; specifically, age discrimination (count I) and retaliation (count II). Before me is the School District's motion to dismiss Curtis's complaint in its entirety pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.*fn1 In addition to requesting dismissal of Curtis's age discrimination and retaliation claims, the School District requests that certain damages sought in Curtis's ad damnum clause be stricken as a matter of law. For the reasons set forth below, the School District's motion to dismiss will be granted with respect to Curtis's prayer for compensatory damages for pain and suffering and emotional distress; the remainder of the motion shall be denied.


On March 23, 2011, an unexpected indoor recess forced Curtis-a paraprofessional who has been employed by the School District since March 2004-to locate a classroom to host a group of third grade male students. (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 16-17.) The following day, Mark Ransford, the school principal (who is in his thirties), approached Curtis with a handful of wires that had been cut from one of the classrooms the day prior. (Id. ¶ 19.) Ransford asked Curtis which classroom she had used for the indoor recess, and Curtis responded that she could not recall. (Id. ¶ 20.) Ransford then took Curtis to each third-grade classroom and asked if she could identify any of the boys who may have been in the classroom from the previous day's recess. (Id. ¶ 21.) It was then that Curtis was able to recall the classroom that she had used for the indoor recess.(Id. 22.)

On March 25, 2011, Ransford visited Curtis and expressed his concern that she could not recall where she was or what she was doing the day before their last encounter, along with her repeated statements that she must have been having a "senior moment." (Id. ¶ 23.) Ransford also stated that he and Curtis would have a meeting with School District administrators to discuss the incident. Curtis responded that she found Ransford's remarks offensive, and warned him that he needed to be careful about making statements about a person's mental capacity or ability to perform their job. (Id. ¶ 25.) When Ransford then asked if she was threatening him, Curtis replied that she was not, but was warning Ransford about the seriousness of making untrue statements. (Id. ¶ 26.) Ransford stated that he was only repeating Curtis's comments about having "senior moments." (Id. ¶ 27.) At that point, Curtis informed Ransford that she was not willing to have any future meetings with Ransford without the presence of a third party, to which Ransford replied that they had a "serious problem." (Id. ¶¶ 28-29.)

Sometime in the remaining days of March, following the encounter with Ransford, Curtis filed a formal complaint with Sharon Parker, the School District's superintendent, alleging that Ransford harassed her on account of her age. (Id. ¶ 30.) On May 23, 2011, approximately two months after the filing of her complaint, Curtis emailed several School District administrators and asked for an update to her complaint's status. (Id. ¶ 31.) Sharon Allen-Spann, a human resources supervisor for the School District, replied to Curtis and explained that the complaint was under review and that she hoped to have a resolution within three days. (Id. ¶ 32.) Curtis met with School District administrators on May 27, 2011, to discuss her complaint, and on June 8, 2011, she confirmed that all of the written documents associated with her complaint were on file with the School District's human resources department. (Id. ¶¶ 33-24.) Parker retired from her position as superintendent at the conclusion of the 2010-2011 school year and was replaced by John Sanville (also in his thirties). (Id. ¶¶ 36-37.)

On September 15, 2011, Curtis stopped a group of fifth-grade boys from bullying some fourth-grade children. (Id. ¶ 38.) After separating the groups, she reprimanded the fifth-grade boys for their behavior and reported the incident to their teacher. (Id. ¶¶ 39-40.) The following day, the same group of fifth graders continued their bullying; again Curtis intervened. (Id. ¶ 41.) One student approached Curtis from behind and verbally assaulted her. (Id. ¶ 42.) Consequently, Curtis took a picture of that student. (Id. ¶ 43.) She then asked those fourth-grade students who felt bothered by the fifth graders to raise their hands, taking a picture of those who obliged. (Id. ¶ 44.)

On September 19, 2011, Curtis met with Ransford, the fifth-grade boys, and the school counselor to discuss the incident. (Id. ¶ 46.) Following the meeting, Curtis was asked to proceed to the School District's main campus for a meeting with Allen-Spann. (Id. ¶ 47.) When Curtis arrived, Allen-Spann informed her that she was being placed on a three-day paid leave while the School District conducted an investigation-requested by Ransford and driven by complaints received from parents-into alleged "abusive" treatment of the fifth grade boys. (Id. ¶¶ 48, 50.) Curtis denies that any abusive treatment occurred. (Id. ¶ 49.) At the conclusion of the investigation, however, Ransford found Curtis liable for abusive behavior. (Id. ¶ 53.) Consequently, she was forced to undergo counseling. (Id. ¶ 51.)

Curtis filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on September 23, 2011. (Id. ¶ 54.) She alleged that her suspension, the wrongful accusation of abusive treatment, and the mandatory counseling were acts of discrimination and retaliation for her complaint to the School District of unlawful age discrimination.*fn2 (Id. ¶ 52.)

In January 2012, while the EEOC's investigation was pending, Ransford called the same group of fifth grade boys into a meeting with Jennifer Smith, a School District employee in her thirties, who had reprimanded the boys for another incident of bullying. (Id. ¶¶ 55-56.) Curtis, a witness to the boys' behavior, was present for the meeting. (Id. ¶ 57.) In addition to scolding the boys for their misconduct, Ransford commended Smith for reprimanding the boys and reporting the incident to their teacher. (Id. ¶¶ 58-59.) Curtis asserts that Smith was neither disciplined nor suspended over the matter, despite handling the situation in a similar manner as Curtis had in September. (Id. ¶ 63.)

The EEOC issued a Notice of Right to Sue to Curtis on May 22, 2012. (Id. ¶ 12b.) A timely complaint followed. Curtis has since amended her complaint twice. The School District's motion to dismiss is now ripe for disposition.


When a motion under Rule 12 is "based on more than one ground, the court should consider the Rule 12(b)(1) challenge first since if it must dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the accompanying defenses and objections become moot and do not need to be determined." Jeffrey Banks, Ltd. v. Jos. A. Bank Clothiers, Inc., 619 F. Supp. 998, 1001 n.7 (D. Md.1985) (quoting 5 Wright & Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1350, at 548 (1969)). A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) challenges the existence of subject matter jurisdiction, and in response to the motion, the plaintiff bears the burden of persuasion. See Kehr Packages, Inc. v. Fidelcor, Inc., 926 F.2d 1406, 1409 (3d Cir.1991).

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). The pleading standard of Rule 8 "demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements" will not suffice. Id. at678 (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. See 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 ...

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