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Baker v. County of Northumberland

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

October 29, 2014

NICOLE BAKER, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF NORTHUMBERLAND, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM

MATTHEW W. BRANN, District Judge.

Defendant, the County of Northumberland, filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Plaintiff's Complaint, filed January 16, 2014, seeks redress for Defendant's alleged acts of sexual discrimination and retaliation, in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq (hereinafter "Title VII"), and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (hereinafter the "PHRA"), 43 P.S. § 953. For the reasons discussed, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss is granted in part and denied in part. Moreover, for the sake of clarity, Plaintiff is directed to amend her Complaint to allege sexual discrimination under Count III, rather than retaliation.

I. BACKGROUND:

On January 16, 2014, Plaintiff Nicole Baker initiated the above-captioned civil action by filing a Complaint with this Court alleging that she was unlawfully discriminated against because of her gender and that she was unlawfully retaliated against for filing a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (hereinafter the "PHRC") and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (hereinafter the "EEOC"). (ECF No. 1).

Plaintiff, a female, was employed by Defendant in the Northumberland County Sheriff's Office as a deputy sheriff from March 2010 until her position was eliminated on April 23, 2012. She alleges that during her time as a deputy sheriff she was subjected to various instances of workplace discrimination and disparate treatment based on her gender. She alleges, for example, that she was not permitted to call off work during her probationary period, when at least one other male deputy was permitted to do so, that she was written up for punching in a few minutes late while other male employees did not receive such discipline for similar conduct, that Defendant would make rules after Plaintiff would perform a task the way the other deputies would perform the task, and that she was the only deputy not assigned to courtroom work for a 2010 murder trial. Furthermore, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant did not take reports from Plaintiff seriously, such as when she found a high dosage narcotic pill on a fellow deputy's desk and when another male deputy physically removed Plaintiff's hands from an individual she was trying to restrain. Finally, Plaintiff alleges that the male employees did not speak to her for two consecutive weeks in February 2012.

On April 23, 2012, Plaintiff was informed that the Northumberland County commissioners eliminated one deputy sheriff position; the position terminated was hers, despite the fact that there were three less senior male deputies who retained their positions. Plaintiff was not informed why they cut her position over that of any other deputy.

Following her termination, on October 19, 2012, Plaintiff filed a complaint with the PHRC, which was cross filed with the EEOC. This complaint was served on Defendant on January 16, 2013. On February 15, 2013, a male deputy sheriff, Daniel Zettlemoyer, resigned from his employment with Defendant and on February 19, 2013, Defendant hired another male, James Souder, to fill the open position. At no time did Defendant make an effort to recall Plaintiff to fill the open deputy position. Defendant further failed to reply to Plaintiff's request for an explanation as to why she was not recalled from her layoff status for the open position.

In her Complaint, Plaintiff asserts three claims against Defendant. Count I is a claim of sexual discrimination in violation of Title VII and the PHRA for Defendant's actions in terminating Plaintiff's position over that of any other deputies; Count II is a claim of retaliation in violation of Title VII and the PHRA for failing to rehire Plaintiff when a position opened because of her PHRC and EEOC activity; and Count III is a sexual discrimination claim[1] in violation of Title VII and the PHRA for their actions in failing to rehire Plaintiff when the position opened.

On March 19, 2014, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Procedure 12(b)(6). (ECF No. 7). Defendant first argues that Plaintiff's request for punitive damages must be dismissed because punitive damages are not available to a Plaintiff in an action against a municipal defendant under both Title VII and the PHRA. Defendant next argues that Counts I, II, and III should be dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. This matter is now ripe for disposition.

II. DISCUSSION:

A. Motion to Dismiss Standard

When considering a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a court must view all allegations stated in the complaint as true and construe all inferences in the light most favorable to plaintiff. Hishon v. King & Spaulding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984); Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993). However, "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the [factual] allegations contained in the complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal citations omitted). In ruling on such a motion, the court primarily considers the allegations of the pleading, but is not required to consider legal conclusions alleged in the complaint. Kost, 1 F.3d at 183. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. At the motion to dismiss stage, the court considers whether plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence to support the allegations in the complaint. Maio v. Aetna, Inc., 221 F.3d 472, 482 (3d Cir. 2000).

A complaint should only be dismissed if, accepting as true all of the allegations in the amended complaint, plaintiff has not pled enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 561 (2007). "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will... be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 663-664.

"In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, we must be mindful that federal courts require notice pleading, as opposed to the heightened standard of fact pleading." Hellmann v. Kercher, No. 07-1373, 2008 WL 1969311 at * 3 (W.D. Pa. May 5, 2008) (Lancaster, J.). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 "requires only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ' in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds on which it rests, '" Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 554 ( quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). However, even under this lower notice pleading standard, a plaintiff must do more than recite the elements of a cause of action, and then make a blanket assertion of an entitlement to relief. See Hellmann, 2008 WL 1969311 at *3. Instead, a plaintiff must make a factual showing of his entitlement to relief by alleging sufficient facts that, when taken as true, suggest the required elements of a particular legal theory. See Twombly, 550 U.S. ...


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