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Dart v. County of Lebanon

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 23, 2014

BRENDA DART, Plaintiff.


SYLVIA H. RAMBO, District Judge.

In this civil action, Plaintiff, a former employee of Defendant County of Lebanon, alleges that the County unlawfully discriminated against her on the basis of her disability and religion, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 ("ADA"), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000 ("Title VII"), and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 951 ("PHRA"), and unlawfully retaliated against her for filing union grievances, initiating a workers' compensation proceeding, and exercising her rights to free speech and religion, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983") and the PHRA. (Doc. 21.) Additionally, Plaintiff asserts a pendant Pennsylvania common law tort claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. ( Id. ) Plaintiff claims that she was subject to verbal harassment, humiliation, and insults by her supervisor, and that, rather than taking appropriate action to end the harassment, her employer retaliated against her for reporting it. Further, Plaintiff claims that her employer failed to reasonably accommodate her disability. Presently before the court is Defendants' motion to dismiss (Doc. 22), which challenges whether Plaintiff sufficiently pleaded that she was subject to employment discrimination, retaliation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. For the reasons that follow, the court finds that Plaintiff has failed to sufficiently plead her causes of action and will grant Defendants' motion to dismiss in its entirety.

I. Background

As is required when deciding a motion to dismiss, the court will accept the well-pleaded factual averments set forth in the amended complaint (Doc. 21) as true and view them in the light most favorable to Plaintiff as the nonmoving party.

A. Factual Background

Defendant County of Lebanon ("the County") is the municipal government for Lebanon County, which is located within the Middle District of Pennsylvania. ( Id. at ¶ 8.) The County owns, operates, and manages Cedar Haven Nursing Home ("Cedar Haven").[1] ( Id. ) Defendant Melinda Peiffer ("Defendant Peiffer") is the Director of Human Resources for Cedar Haven ( id. at ¶ 9), and Defendant Edward Schlegel ("Defendant Schlegel") is Cedar Haven's Administrator ( id. at ¶ 10.) Plaintiff Brenda Dart ("Plaintiff") began her employment as an assistant beautician at Cedar Haven in 2005 ( id. at ¶ 15), and continued in that position until March 26, 2012 ( id. at ¶ 17). In this capacity, Plaintiff was employed full-time as a county employee ( id. at ¶ 15) and was a bargaining unit member, subject to a collective bargaining agreement between the County and the union, AFSCME. During the time period relevant to this action, Plaintiff and her supervisor, Deborah Krammes ("Supervisor Krammes"), were the only two beauticians employed at Cedar Haven. ( Id. at ¶ 17.)

Immediately upon the commencement of Plaintiff's employment, Supervisor Krammes began harassing her. At first, the harassment seemed to stem from Supervisor Krammes' belief that the County should have hired her friend, who she believed was a better stylist than Plaintiff, for the assistant beautician position. ( Id. at ¶ 22.) However, the harassment continued throughout the course of Plaintiff's seven year employment, with Supervisor Krammes repeatedly insulting Plaintiff and humiliating her in front of Cedar Haven residents and employees. ( Id. at ¶¶ 21-22.) For example, Supervisor Krammes was overly critical of Plaintiff's work and frequently told Plaintiff that she should be fired and would not be employable at a "real salon." ( Id. at ¶ 23.) She called Plaintiff "dumb" and "crazy, " and used other similarly derogatory remarks related to Plaintiff's alleged incompetence. ( Id. at ¶¶ 22-23.)[2] Supervisor Krammes was also rude and distant to Plaintiff, and interfered with Plaintiff's client relationships by accusing her of poor work performance, carelessness, and alleging that Plaintiff's customers were dissatisfied. ( Id. at ¶ 24.) This difficult work environment caused Plaintiff to suffer stress, depression, and anxiety, for which she sought treatment during two medical leaves in 2009 and 2011. ( Id. at ¶¶ 25, 27.)

In accordance with the County's harassment policy, Plaintiff reported Supervisor Krammes's conduct to Defendants Peiffer and Schlegel.[3] However, rather than addressing the harassment, Defendant Schlegel began subjecting Plaintiff to similar behavior "that continued through the years." ( Id. at ¶¶ 29, 35.) For example, Defendant Schlegel remarked to Plaintiff that "a blind person could do better than you" and asked, "do you want to sign your resignation now?" ( Id. )

Pursuant to her collective bargaining agreement, Plaintiff began filing grievances in 2009 against Supervisor Krammes for harassment, hostile work conditions, and false accusations of poor performance. ( Id. at ¶ 30.) Plaintiff claims that in retaliation for filing these union grievances, Defendant Schlegel terminated Plaintiff's employment on October 11, 2011, but immediately revoked the termination and instead changed Plaintiff's hours to nights and weekends. ( Id. at ¶ 31.) The new schedule reduced Plaintiff's clientele and interfered with her ability to attend church and Bible study. ( Id. at ¶ 32.) It also provided Supervisor Krammes with unbridled access and control over Plaintiff's clients because Plaintiff was not present to defend herself against Supervisor Krammes's false allegations regarding Plaintiff's work performance. ( Id. at ¶¶ 34-35.)

On October 24, 2011, Plaintiff reported Supervisor Krammes's harassment to County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz. ( Id. at ¶ 36.) In her email, Plaintiff wrote that she was "constantly being harassed by [her] boss" and that whenever she complained about it to Defendant Schlegel, she would receive a poor performance review. ( Id. at Ex. F.) Plaintiff also wrote that she "was told to work nights and weekends" so that "[Supervisor Krammes] cant [sic] harass [her], " even though "they" know that she had taken this particular position because the schedule enabled her to attend church activities on Saturdays and Sundays. ( Id. ) When she told Defendant Schlegel that the new schedule conflicted with her religious activities, he "said tuff [sic] not my problem." ( Id. ) Commissioner Litz responded that Plaintiff needed to pursue her complaints through the union. ( See id. )

On November 4, 2011, the County removed Plaintiff's Sunday hours. ( Id. at ¶ 37.) However, Plaintiff was still required to work Saturdays and evenings, which prohibited her from participating in certain religious activities. ( Id. )

Plaintiff took paid disability-related medical leave for extreme anxiety and depression from November 9, 2011, through November 29, 2011. ( Id. at ¶ 38.) Thereafter, the County approved additional non-paid medical leave for Plaintiff, pursuant to the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), beginning on December 23, 2011. ( Id. at ¶ 39.) On December 28, 2011, Plaintiff filed a workers' compensation claim for a work injury related to workplace harassment, but benefits were denied by the insurance carrier/third-party administrator. ( Id. at ¶ 40.)

On February 28, 2012, a few weeks prior to the expiration of Plaintiff's FMLA leave, Plaintiff's counsel issued a letter to the County in which she conditioned Plaintiff's return to work upon the following: (1) that Plaintiff's schedule return to Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.; (2) that Plaintiff no longer be required to report to Supervisor Krammes; and (3) that all "requests from [Cedar Haven] residents or their families be directed straight to [Plaintiff] not through her supervisor." ( Id. at ¶ 43, Ex. J.) In response, counsel for the County advised that Plaintiff's request for another supervisor was not feasible because Cedar Haven only employed one beautician supervisor. ( Id. at Ex. K, p. 2.) Counsel further advised that Cedar Haven was "constrained by union contracts and [Plaintiff]'s ability to work on the clinical side of its operation, " and that Cedar Haven did not have any alternate positions to offer Plaintiff at that time. ( Id. )

Due to the County's failure to accommodate her proposed restrictions, Plaintiff did not return to work when her FMLA leave expired on March 23, 2012. ( See id. at Ex. L.) Consequently, the County terminated her employment effective March 27, 2012.[4] (See id. )

Approximately three weeks after the termination of her employment, Plaintiff submitted an application for a docket specialist position in the domestic relations office for the County. ( Id. at ¶¶ 49-50, Ex. Q.) She was not hired for the position. Thereafter, Supervisor Krammes retired from her position as supervisor and was replaced by a part-time beautician with the Cedar Haven salon. ( Id. at ¶ 52.) Upon Supervisor Krammes's departure, the County did ...

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