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Lin v. Rohm and Haas Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

January 20, 2015

DR. MANHUA MANDY LIN, Plaintiff,
v.
ROHM AND HAAS COMPANY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM

WILLIAM H. YOHN, Jr., District Judge.

This motion in limine presents an intersection of Title VII retaliation law and Pennsylvania corporate law. Dr. Manhua Mandy Lin, a former Rohm and Haas employee, has accused Rohm and Haas of violating Title VII's antiretaliation provision by harming EverNu, her single-member Pennsylvania limited liability corporation (LLC). I previously denied defendant's motion for summary judgment with reference to Rohm and Haas's alleged retaliatory acts subsequent to 2004 against EverNu as part of Lin's retaliation claim. With this motion in limine, Rohm and Haas seeks to preclude Lin from collecting any ofEverNu's damages, ifl find that Rohm and Haas retaliated against Lin via EverNu in violation of Title VII. Rohm and Haas argues that Lin cannot collect EverNu's damages because they belong only to EverNu-not to her. It also contends that I cannot pierce EverNu's corporate veil to allow Lin to collect these damages. Although Lin can present Rohm and Haas's alleged acts against EverNu as retaliatory acts against her under Title VII, she cannot recover EverNu's damages based on such retaliatory acts. When Lin chose to structure EverNu as a Pennsylvania LLC, she relinquished her right to sue for EverNu's damages.

I. Background[1]

Lin started her legal journey in 1999. That year, Lin, who had worked as a research scientist at Rohm and Haas for ten years, filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against Rohm and Haas alleging discrimination and retaliation. Lin then left Rohm and Haas as part of an EEOC-mediated settlement that allowed Rohm and Haas to review any of her work for trade-secret violations before she published it. In March 2000, Lin sent a proposed presentation on her work with acrylic acid to Rohm and Haas for its review. Concluding that it revealed Rohm and Haas trade secrets, Rohm and Haas threatened to sue Lin to preserve the trade secrets. Lin presented the information anyway, and so Rohm and Haas sued her in June 2000 in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas, claiming that Lin had revealed Rohm and Haas trade secrets in her presentation. Lin responded by filing an EEOC complaint that same month in which she alleged that Rohm and Haas filed the Montgomery County lawsuit in retaliation for her earlier EEOC complaint.

About two years later, in June 2002, Lin filed a Title VII and Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) lawsuit in this judicial district (Lin I). Arguing that her March 2000 acrylic acid presentation complied with any obligations she owed to Rohm and Haas, she again claimed that Rohm and Haas was pursuing the Montgomery County litigation as retaliation for her earlier EEOC complaint. In January 2004, after holding that the Montgomery County litigation was not an adverse action under Title VII's antiretaliation provision, the Honorable J. Curtis Joyner of this court granted Rohm and Haas summary judgment on Lin's Title VII and PHRA retaliation claims.

While Lin I was pending, Rohm and Haas shifted its focus in the Montgomery County litigation from Lin's work with acrylic acid to Lin's work with methacrylic acid (MAA). In March 2003, Rohm and Haas learned that Lin was conducting Department of Energy (DOE)-funded research through EverNu-a single-member Pennsylvania LLC formed in 2000 by Lin. Soon after learning ofEverNu, in April 2003, Rohm and Haas moved to compel Lin to produce information on EverNu's grant proposal to the DOE. And in August 2003, it subpoenaed EverNu's corporate designee, demanding documents related to EverNu's incorporation, operation, and business and technical activities. Rohm and Haas in 2004 then requested that Lin produce any information on MAA that she had submitted to the DOE. Lin never produced any of this information, and on June 21, 2004, shortly after she lost Lin I, she filed another EEOC complaint, this time contending that Rohm and Haas had retaliated against her with these discovery requests.

Rohm and Haas nevertheless continued in Montgomery County to pursue MAA-related discovery and the case against Lin. In July 2004, Rohm and Haas successfully moved for court orders to enforce the MAA-related discovery requests. At Rohm and Haas's request, the court then sanctioned Lin for noncompliance. Rohm and Haas also sought and obtained a default judgment against Lin that enjoined her from using Rohm and Haas trade secrets and from continuing to research MAA, though the Pennsylvania Superior Court later overturned the MAA portion of the injunction.

Following this default judgment, Rohm and Haas contacted the DOE about Lin and EverNu. In a May 2008 letter, Rohm and Haas asked the DOE to sanction Lin and EverNu and also to disclose its plans for the MAA information that Lin and EverNu had generated. Rohm and Haas, through its in-house litigation chief, James Vouros, also sent six emails to the DOE in which it asked about the status of DOE funding for EverNu's MAA project.

A few years later, on May 13, 2011, Lin alone filed this lawsuit-EverNu is not a party. As relevant here, she claimed that Rohm and Haas violated the Title VII and PHRA antiretaliation provisions and intentionally interfered with prospective contractual relations. On March 26, 2012, in deciding Rohm and Haas's motion to dismiss, I held that Lin could not assert retaliation claims based on Rohm and Haas's August 2003 discovery requests and any prior events. Because she litigated and lost those claims in Lin I, she was barred from litigating them again here. But I also held that Lin could bring retaliation claims grounded in events after 2004.

Then on April 14, 2014, I denied Rohm and Haas's motion for summary judgment on the Title VII and PHRA retaliation claims. Although Judge Joyner in Lin I had held that the Montgomery County litigation was not an adverse action under Title VII's antiretaliation provision, I found that they could now constitute adverse actions given the Supreme Court's intervening decision in Burlington Northern and Sante Fe Railway Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53 (2006). As for Lin's tortious interference with prospective contractual relations claim, however, I held that she lacked standing to bring this claim because it belonged to EverNu. Responding to her claim that EverNu is her alter ego, I found that she had adduced no evidence showing that EverNu's corporate veil should be pierced to allow her to bring this claim for EverNu.

On September 12, 2014, with trial approaching on Lin's retaliation claims, Rohm and Haas moved to exclude/strike Lin's claims for EverNu's damages. As damages for Rohm and Haas's alleged retaliatory actions against her, Lin seeks lost licensing fees belonging to EverNu, lost profits in grants awarded to EverNu, and lost salary to Lin from EverNu as a derivative of the harm to EverNu that left EverNu unable to pay her. Highlighting my earlier ruling that Lin cannot bring EverNu's tortious interference with prospective contractual relations claim, Rohm and Haas argues that Lin also cannot collect EverNu's damages as part of her retaliation claims. Rohm and Haas also contends that I cannot pierce EverNu's corporate veil because veil piercing is never done for the shareholder's benefit and since EverNu is an entity that is separate from Lin, barring Lin from collecting its damages. After the parties argued this motion on October 9, I ordered additional briefing. With the parties' supplemental briefs submitted, I can now decide this motion.

II. Discussion

A. Title VII Law and EverNu's Damages

Under Title VII's antiretaliation provision, an employer may not "discriminate against" an employee "because [she] has opposed" a practice that Title VII forbids or has "made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated" in a Title VII proceeding. 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000e-3. This provision "provide[s] [employees with] broad protection from retaliation." Burlington, 548 U.S. at 67. Given this broad protection, Lin argues that Rohm and Haas must pay her personally for damages it caused EverNu as part of an alleged retaliatory campaign against her, and that it matters not that she and EverNu are separate entities under Pennsylvania corporate law. That position is ...


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