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McSparran v. Commonwealth

United States District Court, Third Circuit

December 17, 2013



WILLIAM W. CALDWELL, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff is Patricia McSparran. Defendants are the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (the Commonwealth); the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (the DEP); Kelly Heffner, the DEP's Deputy Secretary for Water Management; and Jeffrey Logan, the DEP's Executive Deputy Secretary for Management and Administration.

Plaintiff alleges she was subjected to harassment and then fired from her job as Director of the DEP's Bureau of Waterways Engineering and Wetlands on the basis of her sex. She also alleges her right to due process was violated when she was not given a hearing. She makes the following claims: (1) a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim based on her federal rights to equal protection; (2) a section 1983 claim based on her right to due process; (3) a claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. ; (4) a claim under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA), 43 Pa. Stat. Ann. §§ 951 et seq.; (5) a state-law claim for defamation; and (6) a state-law claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

We are considering Defendants' Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss.

II. Standard of Review

On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, "[w]e 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.'" Byers v. Intuit, Inc., 600 F.3d 286, 291 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoted case omitted).

A complaint need only contain "a short and plain statement of the claim, " Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), and detailed factual allegations are not required. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). Nonetheless, a complaint has to plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570, 127 S.Ct. at 1974. "The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. at 1965). "[L]abels and conclusions" are not enough, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. at 1964-65, and a court "is not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.'" Id., 127 S.Ct. at 1965 (quoted case omitted).

The court is not limited to evaluating the complaint alone; it can also consider documents attached to the complaint, matters of public record, and indisputably authentic documents. Delaware Nation v. Pennsylvania, 446 F.3d 410, 413 n.2 (3d Cir. 2006).

The Third Circuit has described the Rule 12(b)(6) inquiry as a three-part process:

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 relief.

Connelly v. Steel Valley Sch. Dist., 706 F.3d 209, 212 (3d Cir. 2013)(quoted cases omitted).

With ths standard in mind, we set forth the background to this litigation, as Plaintiff alleges it.[1]

III. Background

Plaintiff is a member of a protected class based on her gender. (Doc. 1, Compl. ¶ 11). She is "experienced and accomplished in the field of environmental protection." ( Id. ¶ 12). "On or about March 15, 2004, Plaintiff was hired as an Executive Assistant for the DEP in the Office of Water Management." ( Id. ¶ 13).

On June 9, 2006, she was promoted to Director of the Bureau of Waterways Engineering and Wetlands. ( Id. ¶ 14). "Except for her final weeks of employment, Plaintiff was the sole female Bureau Director in Water Management of DEP." ( Id. ¶ 15). Plaintiff complained to her supervisor, Cathleen Curran Myers, then the Deputy Secretary of Water Management, "that her salary was less than her male counterparts." ( Id. ¶¶ 14 and 16). On July 3, 2007, "Plaintiff was awarded an exceptional pay increase of two (2) steps" to minimize the salary disparity with her male counterparts and to recognize "her exemplary performance with increased responsibilities." ( Id. ¶ 18). Nonetheless, the "exceptional pay increase did not equalize the pay disparity." ( Id. ¶ 19).

In recommending Plaintiff for the pay increase, Myers wrote: Plaintiff's "problem solving experience and leadership abilities... greatly served the Bureau"; Plaintiff "enhanced existing as well as implemented new initiatives"; Plaintiff "demonstrated excellence in communicating with the public in response issues in the Delaware River Basin related to the new York reservoirs"; and Plaintiff's efforts in that regard "helped to spawn an integrated study related to the flooding and reservoirs." ( Id. ¶ 17 and Compl., Ex. B).

In 2009, John Hines, replaced Myers as Deputy Secretary. ( Id. ¶ 20). Hines supervised Plaintiff from 2009 through January 2011. ( Id. ¶ 21). During this time, Plaintiff complained to Hines "that she was treated differently and disparately than the other two (2) male bureau directors." ( Id. ). She also complained "that she was denied equal wages and overlooked for responsibility in Hines' absence as he favored the male directors." ( Id. ). "Hines refused to act on her complaints of disparate treatment." ( Id. ¶ 22). Further, "Hines subjected her to sexual harassment including unwelcome touching, leering and sexual advances and innuendos that she repeatedly rejected." ( Id. ¶ 23).

In January 2011, Hines was promoted, and Michael L. Krancer was appointed Acting Secretary. ( Id. ¶¶ 24 and 25). In an e-mail, dated February 16, 2011, Krancer thanked Plaintiff and another employee for their "terrific briefing paper on the H20 program and the two Montco projects" and said he appreciated their "workmanlike efforts." ( Id. ¶ 25, and Compl., Ex. C). In an e-mail, dated February 18, 2011, Krancer thanked Plaintiff for information she supplied about a particular project, saying "it [was] exactly what I was looking for." ( Id. ). In an e-mail, dated May 5, 2011, another DEP official thanked Plaintiff for giving him a "quick and comprehensive response to [his] late afternoon inquiry." ( Id. ).

In June 2011, defendant Heffner was promoted to the position of Deputy Secretary of Water Management, and became Plaintiff's direct supervisor. ( Id. ¶ 26). "Plaintiff complained on multiple occasions to Defendant Heffner that she was denied equal wages to her male counterparts and unequal work conditions." ( Id. ¶ 27). In response, "Defendant Heffner shunned the plaintiff and precluded her from business communication, information and meetings." ( Id. ). Further, "Defendant Heffner published falsehoods about the plaintiff alleging that she was not adhering to Heffner's supervisory directives and unwilling to comply with Administrative goals." ( Id. ). Moreover, "Defendant Heffner withheld business communication, cancelled one-on-one meetings, failed to respond to emails from the plaintiff and excluded the female plaintiff from essential meetings pertaining to her programs." ( Id. ¶ 28). Additionally, Defendant Heffner "circumvented the chain of command' and deliberately communicated with her subordinate staff to keep the plaintiff out of the loop and in the dark on policy changes and implementations." ( Id. ). Also, "[o]n occasion she invited male Jeffrey Means, then not associated with Water Management, instead of the plaintiff to internal meetings that he had no business or reason to be present [at]." ( Id. ). "The harassment, hostility and exclusion directly affected the [P]laintiff's ability to perform her job causing her emotional distress and harm." ( Id. ¶ 29).

During the time Heffner was Plaintiff's supervisor, Heffner did not prepare and present a performance review of Plaintiff. ( Id. ¶ 31). Hines did her last performance evaluation, dated January 14, 2011. ( Id. ¶ 30). He rated her as exceeding expectations on her management skills and described her as a "dedicated manager who is astute in understanding key details on issues as well as having the ability to shift out key issues for decisions." ( Id., and Compl., Ex. D).

Plaintiff avers that she continued with her excellent work, as evidenced by e-mails. ( Id., ¶ 33). On January 10, 2012, an official with a state senator thanked her for help she was giving on a certain project. ( Id., and Compl., Ex. F). On March 20, 2012, a DEP official thanked her for her participation in a meeting. ( Id. ). On April 3, 2012, a federal official thanked Plaintiff for her "assistance on granting ...

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