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Jones v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority

United States District Court, Third Circuit

May 9, 2013



WILLIAM H. YOHN, Jr., District Judge.

Plaintiff, Michelle Precia Jones, brings this employment discrimination action against defendants, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority ("SEPTA") and Alfred Outlaw, alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"); the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 951 et seq. ("PHRA"); 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. ("FMLA"). She also asserts a claim of common law wrongful termination. Before me is defendants' motion to dismiss counts two, three, four, and six of Jones's amended complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons set forth below, I will grant defendants' motion in part and deny it in part.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

The relevant facts are as follows. Jones, a female, began her employment with SEPTA in May 1988 as a secretary in SEPTA's planning and construction department. (Am. Compl. § 9.) After a brief hiatus in 2000, she returned to work at SEPTA in 2001 as an administrative assistant in its revenue operations department. ( Id. § 10.) Outlaw, as director of revenue operations, was her supervisor. ( Id. ) Jones alleges that Outlaw subjected her to continual harassment beginning in 2001 and lasting until August 2010. ( Id. § 11.) She claims that he would constantly ask her about her deceased husband, despite "knowing it was still an emotional subject for Plaintiff." ( Id. § 13.) He made "numerous unwelcome sexual comments" to her and "asked Plaintiff to do for him what Plaintiff felt were sexual in nature [sic]." ( Id. § 23.) In July 2010, while Jones was looking at vacation pictures at her desk, Outlaw stopped to look. He made a comment "about Plaintiff's breast [sic], " stating that he was unaware that Jones was so "well endowed." ( Id. § 24.) Between 2001 and August 2010, whenever Jones would walk out of Outlaw's office, he would say "hmm, hmm, hmm..."; plaintiff asserts that this was a reference to her buttocks. ( Id. § 25.) Jones alleges that she "opposed Outlaw's sexual comments" by informing him that such comments were inappropriate and that he should stop. ( Id. §§ 24-25.)

Jones states that Outlaw would stand in front of her desk and look down her blouse, "starring [sic] at her breast [sic] and making faces." ( Id. § 26.) During a staff meeting in the summer of 2010, Outlaw stated that he wanted the females to wear skirts to work in order to show off their legs. ( Id. § 28.) In July 2010, "Outlaw asked Plaintiff to come into his office, told her that he saw on the Jefferson's show [sic], a scene where Florence was walking on George's back, and asked Plaintiff to... walk on his back." ( Id. § 29.)

Outlaw regularly assigned Jones work related to his personal business; this gradually became the majority of work he assigned to her. ( Id. §§ 31-32.) In the fall of 2009, Outlaw asked Jones to cut and paste another employee's signature on a performance evaluation because that employee was not available to sign it. Jones refused to do so. ( Id. § 33.)

Plaintiff alleges that she was not the only female targeted for harassment. Of the five other employees reporting to Outlaw, one was female-Victoria Watts Trontman-and four were male. Plaintiff asserts that Outlaw "consistently treated his male direct reports more favorable than the female [sic]." ( Id. §§ 14-15.) Outlaw would give the males "comp time" in contravention of SEPTA's compensation policy. ( Id. §§ 16-20.) On one occasion in August 2007, Outlaw allegedly harassed Trontman about pumping breast milk in a private room; in April 2006, he called Trontman at home and asked if she was breast feeding. ( Id. § 27.)

In August 2010, Jones took FMLA leave due to a sciatic nerve injury. She returned to work on November 17, 2010. ( Id. § 35.) On December 1, 2010, Outlaw called Jones into his office and accused her of forging his signature on time sheets. Jones denied the charge, but Outlaw suspended her from work that same day. ( Id. § 37.) On December 2, Jones called SEPTA's EEO/AA Department to complain about the sexual harassment she had faced. She also asserted that the suspension was retaliation for her refusing to do work for Outlaw's personal business and for her opposing his sexual comments. ( Id. § 38.) She submitted her discrimination and retaliation complaint on December 7, 2010; she has not since heard from SEPTA about the status of her complaint. ( Id. § 40-43.) SEPTA discharged her on February 22, 2011. ( Id. § 44.)

Jones initiated this lawsuit on November 23, 2012, and filed an amended complaint on April 1, 2013. Defendants move to dismiss counts two, three, four and six of the amended complaint under Rule 12(b)(6). These counts comprise Jones's "Title Violations [sic]" claim against SEPTA (presumably, her Title VII retaliation claim); her PHRA discrimination and retaliation claims against SEPTA and Outlaw; and her common law wrongful termination claim against SEPTA.[1]

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 ...

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