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Reynolds v. Aria Health

United States District Court, Third Circuit

May 31, 2013

TISHAWANA REYNOLDS, JEAN ELIZABETH JONES and MARIE SAVAGE, Plaintiffs
v.
ARIA HEALTH, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM

ROBERT F. KELLY, SENIOR JUDGE

Presently before the Court is Defendant, Aria Health’s (“Aria”), Partial Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s Second Amended Complaint against Plaintiff, Tishawana Reynolds (“Reynolds”), Reynolds’ Response, and Aria’s Reply. For the reasons stated below, the Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

On August 10, 2012, Reynolds and two other Plaintiffs, Jean Elizabeth Jones (“Jones”) and Marie Savage (“Savage”), filed a five-count Amended Complaint[1] against Aria asserting numerous causes of action related to their previous employment with Aria. On January 4, 2013, we ordered this action severed because nothing in the Amended Complaint indicated that these three Plaintiffs suffered their alleged injuries as a result of the same transaction or occurrence. (Doc. No. 11.) We further ordered Reynolds to file an Amended Complaint which Reynolds filed on February 6, 2013 (“Second Amended Complaint”).[2] (Doc. Nos. 11-12.) In Counts I and II, Reynolds alleges unlawful discriminatory discharge due to race, color and ethnicity/national origin and a racially hostile work environment claim pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”) 43 P.S. § 951 et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. (Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 41-48.) In Count III, Reynolds alleges a retaliatory discharge claim based upon these three statutes. (Id. ¶¶ 49-52.) In Count IV, Reynolds asserts a discriminatory failure to hire claim pursuant to these same statutes. (Id. ¶¶ 43-46.)[3] Lastly, in Count V, Reynolds asserts a promissory estoppel/detrimental reliance claim against Aria. (Id. ¶¶ 47-51.) Aria filed the instant Motion on February 27, 2013. (Doc. No. 13.) Reynolds filed a Response to the Motion on March 31, 2013, and Aria filed a Reply on April 12, 2013. (Doc. Nos. 14-15.) Aria argues in its Motion that all of Reynolds’ claims are “facially deficient, fail to allege valid causes of action and should be dismissed with prejudice except for Reynolds’ discriminatory discharge claim pursuant to Title VII, the PHRA and Section 1981.” (Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss at 2.)

Reynolds states that she is a “black Jamaican national of African heritage” who moved to the United States at age eleven, and was hired by Aria as a phlebotomist in May 2004. (Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 18- 19.) Reynolds asserts that she established an outstanding work record at Aria, except for one incident in which she initiated a complaint to management that a white employee had instigated an argument, and management automatically accepted the counter- accusation of that employee. (Id. ¶ 22.) This incident was apparently expunged from Reynolds’ employment record and she was consistently evaluated on her performance reviews as “meets” or “exceeds expectations.” (Id.) Reynolds states that she took advantage of a tuition reimbursement program at Aria and obtained a certificate as a respiratory therapist, and but for her termination, would have had a clear path to getting such a position at Aria. (Id. ¶ 23.) In February 2008, Reynolds asked Aria to take leave because she has a blind daughter with special needs who required her attention. (Id.) Reynolds applied for leave through the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., which allows a maximum of twelve weeks leave, and she was granted leave through May 12, 2008. (Id.)

As time for her return to work approached, Reynolds realized that she would need additional time with her daughter, so in early April 2008, she spoke to her supervisor, Mary Ellen Thrope (“Thrope”), who advised her that she could apply for a one-year leave made available under Aria’s policy. (Id.) Reynolds submitted the application, which was approved by Aria’s Human Resource (“HR”) department and was also signed by Thrope on April 25, 2008, granting approval for the one-year leave. (Id. ¶ 29.)

Reynolds asserts that in January 2009, she decided to return to work three months in advance of the expiration of her one-year extended FMLA leave, but was informed by Jennifer Abahazy (“Abahazy”), Director of HR, that she had been “taken off the books” in August 2008. (Id. ¶ 30.) Reynolds was advised by Abahazy that HR would get back to her, but they failed to do so despite Reynolds’ numerous phone calls to HR. (Id.) Reynolds concluded that she must have been wrongfully fired in August 2008, and therefore, she instituted proceedings with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (“PHRC”). (Id.)

Reynolds asserts that she has been treated less favorably that comparably situated Caucasian employees who were given leave from Aria for family reasons, but were offered their jobs back upon their returns. (Id. ¶ 34.) Reynolds states that Aria violated its own policy by terminating her, and failed to articulate a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason as to why she was fired and not rehired. (Id. ¶ 35.) Reynolds further asserts that she was subjected to a hostile work environment in that white nurses made false accusations about her, and she complained to HR about such, but HR never responded to her complaints. (Id. ¶ 37.) Reynolds also maintains that her application for a position as a respiratory therapist was denied because of her race, and in retaliation for having engaged in the protected activity of filing a claim with the PHRC. (Id. ¶ 38.)

On February 26, 2009, Reynolds filed a complaint of unlawful discrimination with the PHRC that was cross-filed with the EEOC. (Id. ¶ 18.) The PHRC dismissed the case on September 16, 2011, and the EEOC issued a notice of right to sue to Reynolds on February 28, 2012. (Id.)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a complaint. Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993). Under Rule 12(b)(6), the 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, the Supreme Court stated 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.” 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Following Twombly, the Third Circuit has explained than the factual allegations in the complaint may not be “so undeveloped that it does not provide a defendant the type of notice which is contemplated by Rule 8.” Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008). Moreover, “it is no longer sufficient to allege mere elements of a cause of action; instead ‘a complaint must allege facts suggestive of [the proscribed] conduct.’” Id. (alteration in original) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563 n.8). Furthermore, the complaint’s “factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. at 234 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “This ‘does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage, ’ but instead ‘simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element.’” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

Notwithstanding Twombly, the basic tenets of the Rule 12(b)(6) have not changed. The Knit With v. Knitting Fever, Inc., No. 08-4221, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 30230, at *6 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 8, 2009). The general rules of pleading still require only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, not detailed factual allegations. Phillips, 515 F.3d at 231. Moreover, when evaluating a motion to dismiss, the court must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations of fact in the plaintiff’s complaint, and must view any reasonable inferences that may be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Id.; 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).

III. DISCUSSION

Aria asserts that Reynolds’ claims are fatally flawed because:

1. Reynolds failed to meet the Title VII and PHRA prerequisites of exhausting administrative remedies before pursuing her racially hostile work environment claim, unlawful retaliation claim, failure to hire claim and ethnicity/national origin claim for unlawful discharge;
2. failed to plead sufficient facts to establish a viable racially hostile work environment cause of action;
3. failed to plead sufficient facts to establish a viable retaliation claim;
4. failed to plead a valid cause of action for promissory estoppel;
5. failed to plead a valid unlawfully discriminatory failure to hire claim; and
6. failed to plead a valid “pattern and practice” theory of discrimination.

(Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss at 4.) Aria further argues that if Counts II, III, and IV are not dismissed, Reynolds should be required to provide a more definite statement with respect to those claims so that it may adequately respond to these ...


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