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Hepner v. Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals, Inc.

United States District Court, Third Circuit

May 24, 2013



JAN E. DuBIOS, District Judge.


This is a disability discrimination case. Plaintiff, William Hepner, is suing his former employer Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals, Inc., in connection with his termination in December 2011. Plaintiff alleges violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq., the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq., and retaliation for submitting a worker's compensation claim under state law. Defendant now moves to dismiss the Amended Complaint. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants in part and denies in part defendant's Motion to Dismiss.


Plaintiff was employed by defendant as a registered nurse for approximately twenty years and worked roughly 30 hours per week. (Am. Compl. at ¶10, 12.) In March 2011 plaintiff suffered an unspecified "work-related injury, " which "consisted of serious injuries to plaintiff's back." (Id. at ¶13, 17.) Following the injury, plaintiff requested that he be put on "light duty, " which included, "being prohibited from wearing a lead jacket, being restricted to lifting no more than 25 pounds, and being prohibited from performing CPR." (Id. at ¶20.) Plaintiff also submitted a claim for worker's compensation. (Id. at ¶14.)

Plaintiff claims that shortly after he requested assignment to light duty and submitted his worker's compensation claim, he "began to experience exhibited hostility from his management including but not limited to placing him out on involuntary leaves." (Id. at ¶22.) Plaintiff worked for defendant on light duty until September 2011, when he was placed on an involuntary medical leave of absence. (Id. at ¶23.) Specifically, plaintiff was informed that he was being placed on medical leave, [2] "because the company's policy was that if an employee is on light duty for 90 days and has not been restored to full duty that the employee will be placed on medical leave." (Id. at ¶24.) Plaintiff avers that he was placed on leave because of "management's perceptions of plaintiff's limitations, and/or because of his request for an accommodation." (Id. at ¶25.) Plaintiff also alleges that defendant failed to properly designate plaintiff's medical leave as FMLA leave or otherwise inform plaintiff of his rights and obligations under the FMLA. (Id. at ¶27.)

Plaintiff claims he could have returned to regular work in mid-November of 2011. (Id. at ¶29.) However, defendant refused to permit plaintiff's return to work and terminated plaintiff by letter dated December 2, 2011. (Id. at ¶31.) The letter stated the reasons for the termination: (1) plaintiff was "performing agency work during his September to October 2011 medical leave, " and (2) because plaintiff participated in a running event. (Id. at ¶32.) Plaintiff claims that he did not perform any outside "agency work" during his medical leave. (Id. at ¶33.) Plaintiff concedes that he "has a long history of participating in running events, " and "regularly exercised during his medical leave, " but he states that such exercise assisted "with his recovery and continued rehabilitation." (Id. at ¶34.)


Rule 12(b) (6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that, in response to a pleading, a defense of "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted" may be raised by motion. In analyzing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the Court "accept[s] all factual allegations as true, [and] construe[s] the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff...." Phillips v. County of Allegheny , 515 F.3d 224, 231, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (internal quotations omitted).

"To survive a motion to dismiss, a civil plaintiff must allege facts that raise a right to relief above the speculative level....'" Victaulic Co. v. Tieman , 499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). A 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 Twombly , 550 U.S. at 570). To satisfy the plausibility standard, a plaintiff's allegations must show that defendant's liability is more than "a sheer possibility." Id . "Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'" Id . (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 557).


The Amended Complaint asserts three "causes of action" in which plaintiff raises five distinct claims: (1) discrimination under the ADA, (2) retaliation under the ADA, (3) interference under the FMLA, (4) retaliation under the FMLA, and (5) retaliation for filing a worker's compensation claim. They are addressed in turn.

A. FMLA Claims

"Courts recognize two causes of action under the FMLA: interference claims, in which an employee asserts that his employer denied or otherwise interfered with his FMLA rights pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(1), and retaliation claims under 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(2), in which an employee asserts that his employer discriminated against him because he engaged in activity protected by the Act." Michels v. Sunoco Home Comfort Serv., 2004 WL 2897945, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 13, 2004).

Defendant argues that plaintiff has not pled an interference claim because he has not established a serious health condition and has not shown that he had FMLA leave remaining. Defendant also argues that certain of plaintiff's interference claims are improper because they do not involve the denial of a right under the FMLA. Finally, defendant argues that plaintiff's ...

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