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Blocker v. Community Education Centers, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

April 7, 2014

ANGELINA BLOCKER, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMUNITY EDUCATION CENTERS, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM

GENE E. K. PRATTER, District Judge.

Ms. Blocker is suing Community Education Centers, her former employer, alleging that she was wrongfully terminated from her job in retaliation for having filed a prior EEOC complaint and for advocating against the mistreatment of African-American employees and prisoners. Specifically, she characterizes her claims as being for wrongful termination, breach of contract, breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing, negligent misrepresentation/fraud, unjust enrichment, negligence, Title VII retaliation, PHRA retaliation, libel, slander, gross negligence, respondeat superior, harassment, emotional distress, and spoliation. Defendant Community Education Centers moves to dismiss all of Ms. Blocker's claims and has moved to strike several paragraphs from the Complaint. The Court held oral argument on March 18, 2014, and received supplemental briefing thereafter. The Court will grant the Motion in part and deny it in part.

BACKGROUND

According to her 37-page Complaint, [1] Ms. Blocker, an African-American female, began her employment at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility as a corrections officer on August 2, 2002.[2] Ms. Blocker was involved in union activities throughout her employment. This led to her role as a "vocal advocate for co-workers who were also the victims of illegal discrimination at the hands of the prison." Compl. ΒΆ 3. Ms. Blocker's employment was subject to a collective bargaining agreement. In pertinent part, that collective bargaining agreement states:

It is the specific intention of the parties that the grievance and arbitration procedures set forth herein are the exclusive and sole mechanism for the resolution of any grievances, disputes, disagreements or claims made under or related to this Agreement or arising from employment at the facility. In cases where a statutory, non-contractual right is at issue, this provision does not prevent an Officer from pursuing an action in a court of law after first utilizing the grievance procedures stated herein. However, an Officer may not obtain or enforce an award more than once nor pursue a court action if an adverse arbitration award is entered. This provision does not obligate the Union or the Officer to pursue arbitration if after full consultation, either decides not to pursue arbitration.

Collective Bargaining Agreement, Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. C, Section 11.7.F.

On December 29, 2010, Ms. Blocker was terminated from her job. The reason given for her termination was refusal of a post assignment, but Ms. Blocker contends this reason was merely a pretext. She filed a discrimination complaint with the EEOC and PHRC, and, after mediation, she was reinstated with back pay in January, 2011. A year and a half later, on June 25, 2012, she was again terminated by the same supervisor who had been named in her previous EEOC/PHRA complaint.[3] This time the reason given was exaggerating an incident report, which she asserts she did not do. She claims that she witnessed a supervisory employee hit a subordinate (both African-American women) and that she reported accurately what she saw in an incident report. She also claims that while some video evidence of the incident was preserved, other video evidence was destroyed. Ms. Blocker alleges more generally that African-American officers were terminated for minor infractions that would garner only a warning when committed by white corrections officers, and that even Caucasian corrections officers who committed serious infractions maintained their employment. After her termination, Ms. Blocker exhausted her administrative remedies and received a right-to-sue letter.

Ms. Blocker also alleges that she was subject to harassment, including receiving a photograph of herself with a noose drawn around her neck after being elected president of the union in 2007. She claims that she observed mismanagement at the prison and informed corporate officers, but that nothing was done to remedy the mismanagement.

LEGAL STANDARD

I. Motion to Dismiss

A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of a complaint. Although Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, " Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), "in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests, '" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citation omitted) (alteration in original), the plaintiff must provide "more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do, " id.

To survive a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must plead "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Specifically, "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. The question is not whether the claimant "will ultimately prevail... but whether his complaint [is] sufficient to cross the federal court's threshold." Skinner v. Switzer, 131 S.Ct. 1289, 1296 (2011) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, assessment of the sufficiency of a complaint is "a context-dependent exercise" because "[s]ome claims require more factual explication than others to state a plausible claim for relief." W. Penn Allegheny Health Sys., Inc. v. UPMC, 627 F.3d 85, 98 (3d Cir. 2010).

In evaluating the sufficiency of a complaint, the court adheres to certain well-recognized parameters. For one, the court "must consider only those facts alleged in the complaint and accept all of the allegations as true." ALA, Inc. v. CCAIR, Inc., 29 F.3d 855, 859 (3d Cir. 1994); see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (stating that courts must "assum[e] that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)"); Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010) ("[A] court must consider only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, as well as undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant's claims are based upon these documents."). The Court also must accept as true all reasonable inferences that may be drawn from the allegations, and view those facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Rocks v. City of Philadelphia, 868 F.2d 644, 645 (3d Cir. 1989); see also Revell v. Port Auth., 598 F.3d 128, 134 (3d Cir. 2010). That admonition does not demand the Court turn its back on reality. The Court "need not accept as true unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences, " Doug Grant, Inc. v. Greate Bay Casino Corp., 232 F.3d 173, 183-84 (3d Cir. 2000) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted), and "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 678; see also Morse v. ...


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