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Shutterly v. Pennsylvania State University

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

April 10, 2014



TERRENCE F. McVERRY, District Judge.

Pending before the Court is the DEFENDANT'S PARTIAL MOTION TO DISMISS PLAINTIFF'S AMENDED COMPLAINT (ECF No. 16) filed by The Pennsylvania State University ("Penn State" or "Defendant") with brief in support (ECF NO. 17). Plaintiff Joy Shutterly filed a brief in opposition (ECF No. 18); Penn State filed a reply brief (ECF No. 19). Accordingly, the motion is ripe for disposition.

I. Background

The following background is drawn from the Amended Complaint, and the factual allegations therein are accepted as true for the purpose of this Memorandum Opinion. As the law requires, all disputed facts and inferences are to be resolved in favor of Plaintiff, the non-moving party.

A. Factual Background

Plaintiff is a forty-nine-year-old resident of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania and former employee of Defendant. At Penn State, Plaintiff worked in various telecommunications and networking services positions from September 1987 until her termination in March 2012. Most recently, Plaintiff held the title of Programmer/Analyst.

Around December 2008, Michelle Weaver became Plaintiff's supervisor and began a campaign allegedly designed to justify the termination of Plaintiff. For example, Weaver apparently took responsibilities away from Plaintiff and replaced them with menial tasks; removed Plaintiff from a project just before it was dropped by Defendant in order to cast her in a negative light; initiated meetings with Human Resource ("HR") representatives to make false and exaggerated claims about Plaintiff; placed Plaintiff on probation for fabricated performance-related issues; and threatened Plaintiff with dismissal should she discuss Weaver's actions with anyone. Before Weaver assumed her supervisory role, Plaintiff had never been disciplined by her employer.

In January 2012, Plaintiff filed a workplace complaint that purportedly described the "discriminatory conduct to which she was being subjected" by Weaver.. Pl.'s Am. Compl., ECF No. 13 at 4. Afterward, the conduct of Weaver and unidentified others allegedly "escalated as they retaliated against her for making complaints." Id. This so-called "escalation" allegedly included Defendant withholding notes from HR meetings that it was required to supply to Plaintiff and denying her the opportunity to make any verbal or written rebuttal(s) to the fabrications made regarding her job performance during the probationary period.

At some indeterminate point in time, Plaintiff provided Defendant with documentation that established that Weaver had fabricated some of Plaintiff's poor evaluation(s). The "appeals" filed by Plaintiff were, however, denied under the rational that the applicable HR process had been appropriately followed. According to Plaintiff, however, Defendant failed to properly investigate any of the issues which she raised in her internal complaints.

On February 16, 2012, Plaintiff attended a meeting with Weaver, HR Manager Susan Morse, and HR Generalist Deb Johnson. During the meeting, Weaver informed Plaintiff that she was being terminated "for failing to meet the expectations for her job." Plaintiff was later replaced by a "significantly younger" individual with less experience. Penn State also hired another "significantly younger" individual to fill an identical position.

Plaintiff now submits that the reason(s) given for her termination were "a pretextual attempt to conceal age discrimination and a hostile work environment designed to terminate her employment prior to her vesting in certain retirement benefits." Id. at 3. Moreover, at the time of her termination, Plaintiff was "less than five months away from vesting in a lifetime benefits plan." Id. at 5.

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on August 13, 2012, which was cross-filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ("PHRC"). The EEOC issued a Notice of Dismissal and Right to Sue Letter on April 9, 2013. This lawsuit followed.

Plaintiff commenced this action on July 3, 2013 by filing a three-count Complaint against Penn State, alleging violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"). In response, Defendant filed a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss in which it sought dismissal of the all three counts. Plaintiff filed a brief in opposition and moved to amend ...

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