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Gilliam v. Verizon Pennsylvania, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

March 7, 2014

LOUIS GILLIAM, Plaintiff,
v.
VERIZON PENNSYLVANIA, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

ROBERT C. MITCHELL, Magistrate Judge.

Presently before the Court is a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), filed by the Defendant, seeking to dismiss this action on the ground that it was not filed within 90 days of Plaintiff's receipt of a right to sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). For the reasons that follow, the motion will be denied.

Plaintiff, Louis Gilliam, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to 2000e-17 (Title VII), alleging that Defendant, Verizon Pennsylvania, Inc. (Verizon), discriminated against him on the basis of his race (African American) and in retaliation for complaining about racial discrimination when it terminated him from his position as a Systems Technician on April 20, 2012.

Facts

Plaintiff worked at Verizon from on or about May 18, 1998 until he was terminated on April 20, 2012, (Am. Compl. ¶ 9.)[1] He received outstanding performance reviews during the thirteen years and eleven months as an employee and was never issued a disciplinary action. (Am. Compl. ¶ 11.)

On March 16, 2012, United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents entered a Verizon store searching for Plaintiff for allegedly conspiring to distribute cocaine. In order to protect Verizon's reputation, Plaintiff did not return the company vehicle to the store, but instead contacted his supervisor to inform him of his whereabouts and returned the vehicle to a Verizon garage closest to his last job site of the day. DEA agents, with the assistance of Verizon security, searched both the returned vehicle and Plaintiff's personal vehicle but found no incriminating evidence in either vehicle. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 12-15.) The DEA arrested Plaintiff on March 18, 2012 for allegedly conspiring with others to possess with the intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine. (Am. Compl. ¶ 16.)

On April 20, 2012, Verizon notified Plaintiff of his termination, citing three reasons for the discharge: 1) improper/unauthorized utilization of the company's motor vehicle; 2) involvement in the sale or transfer of illegal drugs; and 3) failure to cooperate with the company's investigation. Verizon also claimed in Plaintiff's termination letter that he violated its Code of Business Conduct and the NFO work rules. (Am. Compl. ¶ 17.)

Plaintiff asserts that he did not commit the alleged misconduct and notes that the United States Attorney filed a motion to dismiss the criminal complaint, which was granted by this Court on December 11, 2013.[2] He further indicates that he cooperated at all times with Verizon's investigation. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 18, 21-22.)

Rather, Plaintiff alleges that he was treated in a discriminatory fashion by Verizon's Senior Investigator, John Yock, during the investigation and that Yock's behavior when conducting interviews of African-American technicians and employees of Verizon was well-known. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 26-28.) Plaintiff and his union representative complained about Yock's behavior, but no action was taken. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 29-30.) Finally, Plaintiff challenges the "improper use of a company vehicle" reason cited in his termination letter, noting that a Verizon investigator told him that Verizon was only concerned about the allegation concerning the distribution of drugs. (Am. Compl. ¶ 32.)

Procedural History

In the original Complaint, Plaintiff alleged three claims of employment discrimination: Count I alleged a claim of racial discrimination in violation of Title VII, Count II alleged a claim of retaliation in violation of Title VII and Count III alleged claims of discrimination under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 P.S. §§ 951-63 (PHRA). On December 23, 2013, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss (ECF No. 8). In response, on January 10, 2014, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint, which eliminated the PHRA claims in Count III.

On January 27, 2014, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint (ECF No. 17). Plaintiff filed a brief in opposition on February 10, 2014 (ECF No. 19). Defendant filed a reply brief on February 24, 2014 (ECF No. 20).

Standard of Review

The Supreme Court has issued two decisions that pertain to the standard of review for a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The Court held that a complaint must include factual allegations that "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "[W]ithout some factual allegation in the complaint, a claimant cannot satisfy the requirement that he or she provide not only fair notice' but also the grounds' on which the claim rests." Phillips v. County of Allegheny , 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir. 2008). In determining whether a plaintiff has met this standard, a court must reject legal conclusions unsupported by factual allegations, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements;" "labels and conclusions;" and "naked assertion[s]' devoid of further factual enhancement.'" Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678 (citations omitted). Mere "possibilities" of misconduct are insufficient. Id. at 679. District courts are required to engage in a two part inquiry:

First, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated. The District Court must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions.... Second, a District Court must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show the plaintiff has a "plausible claim for relief."... In other words, a complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief. A complaint has to "show" such an entitlement with its facts.

Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside , 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009) (citations omitted).

The Court of Appeals has indicated that:

While the language of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(c) indicates that a statute of limitations defense cannot be used in the context of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, an exception is made where the complaint facially shows noncompliance with the limitations period and ...

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