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Serine v. Marshall

United States District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania

February 25, 2015

ERICA A. SERINE, Plaintiff,
v.
MARSHALL, DENNEHEY, WARNER, COLEMAN & GOGGIN, and CHRISTOPHER E. DOUGHERTY, ESQ., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

SCHILLER, J.

Erica Serine sued her former employer, alleging a failure to reasonably accommodate a disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) (Count I) and the Pennsylvania Human Rights Act (“PHRA”) (Count II), unlawful termination in violation of the ADA (Count III) and the PHRA (Count IV), and intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count V). Plaintiff brings Counts I through IV only against Defendant law firm Marshall, Dennehy, Warner, Coleman & Goggin (“Marshall Dennehey”). She brings Count V against both Defendants.

Defendants moved to dismiss all counts. For the following reasons, the Court denies Defendants’ motion to dismiss Counts I, II, III, and IV. The Court grants Defendants’ motion to dismiss Count V and dismisses Defendant Christopher E. Dougherty from the case.

I. BACKGROUND

Serine is an attorney licensed in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. (Compl. ¶ 1.) From July 2010 to January 2013, she was an employee of Marshall Dennehey. (Id. ¶¶ 19, 107.) Marshall Dennehy has eight offices in Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia, Moosic, King of Prussia, and Doylestown, as well as offices in other states, including in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and Wilmington, Delaware. (Id. ¶ 7.)

Marshall Dennehy hired Serine as an associate attorney in July 2010. (Id. ¶ 19.) Her immediate supervisor was Eric A. Fitzgerald, the chairman of her practice group. (Id. ¶¶ 21-22.) Both Serine and Fitzgerald were based in Marshall Dennehy’s Moosic office, though Fitzgerald occasionally worked from the Philadelphia office. (Id. ¶¶ 19, 23.) Serine received favorable performance reviews throughout her tenure at Marshall Dennehy. (Id. ¶¶ 26-27.)

In June 2012, Plaintiff requested a transfer to Marshall Dennehy’s Philadelphia or Cherry Hill office, as she required little face-to-face supervision and her family preferred living in the Philadelphia area. (Id. ¶¶ 28, 36-38.) Fitzgerald discussed the request with Dougherty, a member of the firm’s Executive Committee, and later advised Serine that she would be allowed to transfer to the Philadelphia office as soon as she secured a residence in the area. (Id. ¶¶ 39-40, 43.) Serine and her family moved to the Philadelphia area on September 21, 2012. (Id. ¶ 44.) She worked from home during the week of September 24, 2012, and then reported to Marshall Dennehy’s office at 2000 Market Street on October 1, 2012. (Id.)

When Serine arrived at Marshall Dennehy’s Philadelphia office, she experienced anxiety, beginning with her elevator ride to the twenty-fourth floor and continuing throughout the workday. (Id. ¶¶ 46-48.) She was unable to sleep or eat and obsessively researched evacuation plans for high building floors. (Id. ¶¶ 50, 53.) She experienced extreme nervousness at work, particularly while riding the elevator or while away from a window. (Id. ¶¶ 49, 57.) Although her symptoms ranged widely, Serine generally refers to her condition as “claustrophobia.” (Id. ¶¶ 3, 60.) As a result, she left work early on October 2, 3, and 4, and worked from home on October 5 and 8. (Id. ¶¶ 51, 54.) On October 9, Serine advised Fitzgerald and the Marshall Dennehy Director of Human Resources that she could not return to the Philadelphia office due to her symptoms. (Id. ¶ 59.) Fitzgerald allowed her to work from home while she sought treatment with a psychologist. (Id. ¶¶ 61-64.)

Approximately two weeks later, Serine met with Fitzgerald and Dougherty to discuss her situation further. (Id. ¶ 65.) Dougherty questioned the sufficiency of her medical documentation and advised her that there was no place for her in the firm other than in the Philadelphia or Scranton offices. (Id. ¶¶ 68-69.) Dougherty denied her request to work from the King of Prussia, Doylestown, or Cherry Hill offices, citing the long commute, an apparent need to have face-to-face supervision by Fitzgerald, and her need to take the New Jersey bar examination. (Id. ¶¶ 71-79.) However, Dougherty permitted Serine to work from home for the next three months. (Id. ¶ 80.)

In December 2012, Fitzgerald gave Serine a highly favorable performance review and a $5, 000 raise, noting that her work performance had not suffered as a result of her health issues. (Id. ¶¶ 83-86.) When she once again requested a transfer to King of Prussia, Doylestown, or Cherry Hill, Fitzgerald advised her that she would need to return to the Philadelphia or Moosic office in order to remain employed by Marshall Dennehy. (Id. ¶ 88.)

On January 4, 2013, Fitzgerald advised Serine that Marshall Dennehy would permit her to work from home until February 1, 2013, at which point her employment would be terminated. (Id. ¶ 93.) Marshall Dennehy offered to continue her salary until March 1, 2013, contingent on Serine releasing the firm from liability stemming from the termination of her employment. (Id. ¶¶ 93-94.) She rejected the firm’s offer. (Id. ¶ 95.) Following several allegedly inaccurate and contradictory written correspondences, Fitzgerald advised Serine in person that she would be terminated at the close of business on January 23, 2013, with her salary continuing until February 1, 2013. (Id. ¶¶ 95-106.)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

In reviewing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a district court must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. See Powell v. Weiss, 757 F.3d 338, 341 (3d Cir. 2014). A court need not, however, credit “bald assertions” or “legal conclusions” when deciding a motion to dismiss. Anspach ex rel. Anspach v. City of Phila., Dep’t of Pub. Health, 503 F.3d 256, 260 (3d Cir. 2007); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

“Factual allegations [in a complaint] must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must include “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570. Although the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure impose no probability requirement at the pleading stage, a plaintiff must present “enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element[s]” of a cause of action. Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. ...


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