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Miller v. Kutztown University

United States District Court, Third Circuit

December 10, 2013



LAWRENCE F. STENGEL, District Judge.

This is a civil rights action brought under Title IX against Defendant Dr. Robert Reynolds and his employer Kutztown University. The plaintiff, a former Kutztown student, alleges that Dr. Reynolds sexually harassed her while serving as her academic advisor. Kutztown University moves to dismiss the counts against it. For the foregoing reasons, I will deny Kutztown University's motion to dismiss and allow the case to proceed against Kutztown University.


In January 2010, the plaintiff transferred to Kutztown University (Kutztown). In June 2011, she was accepted as an undergraduate honors student into the General Studies Major with her individualized program of study focusing on Pennsylvania German Family History Research. Defendant Dr. Robert Reynolds, a professor and Executive Director of the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center (PGCHC) at Kutztown, was assigned to be the plaintiff's academic advisor at that time. As part of her individualized program, the plaintiff was required to work closely with Dr. Reynolds and the PGCHC. Dr. Reynolds was the instructor for much of the plaintiff's individualized coursework.[1]

In July 2011, Dr. Reynolds allegedly began to make uninvited and unwanted sexually-offensive remarks and advances towards the plaintiff.[2] The plaintiff objected to these unwanted advances, but Dr. Reynolds continued his advances. In September 2011, during a PGCHC-sponsored event, Dr. Reynolds allegedly made several sexualized comments about the plaintiff in the presence of his male colleagues. Additionally, during a meeting at his home, Dr. Reynolds allegedly groped and kissed the plaintiff without her consent. Dr. Reynolds allegedly threatened to commit suicide if the plaintiff reported him and also threatened to sabotage her academic career if he did not give in to his sexual advances.

In January 2012, the plaintiff requested a new academic advisor because of Dr. Reynolds's persistent sexual harassment and the severe emotional distress it caused her. On January 22, 2012, the plaintiff and her husband sent an email to Dr. Reynolds informing him of her request for a new advisor and demanding that he cease further contact with the plaintiff. On January 23, 2012, the plaintiff and her husband contacted Kutztown to inform them of Dr. Reynolds's sexual harassment.[3] The complaint alleges that Kutztown failed to investigate the allegation and undertake remedial action.

Thereafter, the plaintiff claims that the defendants "commenced a campaign of retaliation" against her by: excluding her from a lecture series which she helped organize, preventing her from meeting with the visiting scholar to procure research for a paper presentation at an academic conference, revoking her Pennsylvania German heritage Center Library privileges, and excluding her from participating in any PGCHC events.[4] In February 2012, Edward Quinter, a professor of German Studies, also refused to work with the plaintiff on an honors research project, after previously promising his assistance.

As a result of this retaliation, the plaintiff was forced to withdraw from her academic program in March 2012.[5] In April 2012, the plaintiff registered another complaint with Kutztown about Dr. Reynolds's behavior and the failure of Kutztown staff to investigate the previous complaint. Kutztown subsequently investigated her complaint and found that Dr. Reynolds did, in fact, act "inappropriately." Nonetheless, no disciplinary action against Dr. Reynolds was taken.

The plaintiff further claims that this retaliation is ongoing because she has been deprived of opportunities for awards and scholarships, thereby adversely affecting her career opportunities. In July 2012, Kutztown revoked the plaintiff's invitation to a previously scheduled campus visit from the German Ambassador to the United States. On June 30, 2013, the plaintiff was told by Dr. David Valuska, an emeritus professor of history and the President of the PGCHC Advisory Board, that he would not assist her with her honors research project because he did not want to have anything to do with her since he "had been told [she] was in trouble with the University."[6] On October 15, 2013, the plaintiff received an email from Robert Watrous, Associate Vice Provost, informing her that she was not permitted to participate in co-curricular activities.

Subsequently, the plaintiff filed this suit claiming: 1) a violation of Title IX against Kutztown University for retaliation (Count I), 2) assault and battery against Dr. Reynolds (Count II), and 3) intentional infliction of emotional distress against Dr. Reynolds (Count III).[7] The plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages along with fees and costs.[8] In response, Kutztown filed a motion to dismiss Count I under Rule 12(b)(6).


A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted examines the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Conley v. Gibson , 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). The factual allegations must be sufficient to make the claim for relief more than just speculative. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). In determining whether to grant a motion to dismiss, a federal court must construe the complaint liberally, accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Id .; see also D.P. Enters. v. Bucks County Cmty. Coll. , 725 F.2d 943, 944 (3d Cir. 1984).

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not require a plaintiff to plead in detail all of the facts upon which he bases his claim. Conley , 355 U.S. at 47. Rather, the Rules require a "short and plain statement" of the claim that will give the defendant fair notice of the plaintiff's claim and the grounds upon which it rests. Id . The "complaint must allege facts suggestive of [the proscribed] conduct." Twombly , 550 U.S. at 564. Neither "bald assertions" nor "vague and conclusory allegations" are accepted as true. See Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist. , 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997); Sterling v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transp. Auth. , 897 F.Supp. 893 (E.D. Pa. 1995). The claim must contain enough factual matters to suggest the required elements of the claim or to "raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of" those elements. Phillips v. County of Allegheny , 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 556). A court "may dismiss a complaint ...

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