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Thomas v. Keystone Real Estate Group LP

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 31, 2015

AMANDA R. THOMAS, Plaintiff,


MATTHEW W. BRANN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Amanda Thomas brought the current action against her former employer alleging claims of gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and hostile work environment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, and a sexual orientation discrimination claim under the State College, Centre County, Pennsylvania, Anti-Discrimination Ordinance 1967. Before the Court is Defendant Keystone Real Estate Group, LP's Motion to Dismiss and Motion to Strike, and the Plaintiff's Motion to Disqualify Counsel. The Court has jurisdiction over this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1367.

The Parties have briefed the issues, the Court held a hearing, and these matters are ripe for resolution. For the following reasoning, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss is granted, and Defendant's Motion to Strike is granted in part and denied in part.


Plaintiff Amanda Thomas was a female employee of Defendant Keystone Real Estate Group, LP. Stewart was involved in a private romantic relationship with a female co-employee, Deborah Stewart. Pl.'s Am. Compl. Second ¶¶ 25-27, Apr. 30, 2014, ECF No. 8 [hereinafter Pl.'s Compl.]. Thomas alleges that she was subjected to a sustained pattern of discriminatory verbal attacks for her sexual orientation and failure to conform to gender stereotypes regarding her sexual preferences. See generally Pl.'s Compl. Keystone's Chief Operating Officer Mary Frantz Adams, Human Resource Manager Matthew Rager, and Maintenance Coordinator Glen Miller, were the principal alleged perpetrators of this discrimination, along with other Keystone employees. See, e.g., Pl.'s Compl., ¶¶ 83, 95, 118. Thomas also alleges that over the course of her tenure, Rager, Miller, and other Keystone employees made inappropriate and vulgar sexual advances toward her, including exposed themselves and soliciting sexual favors from Thomas. See, e.g., Pl.'s Compl., ¶¶ 82-83.

Ultimately, Keystone terminated Thomas from her job. She alleges that this termination was based on both sexual orientation and gender discrimination. The Defendant seeks to dismiss both Thomas' gender discrimination claim under federal law and state law, and sexual orientation discrimination claim under municipal law. The Court now analyses Defendant's arguments under the motion to dismiss standard.


A. Motion to Dismiss

1. Motion to Dismiss Standard

"To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 662. The standard seeks to eliminate those claims that do not present "enough" factual matter, assumed to be true, "to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence" in support of the claims. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. Where a plaintiff fails to nudge his "claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, [his] complaint must be dismissed." Id., 550 U.S. at 570.

To determine the adequacy of a complaint under this standard, a court should: (1) identify the elements of the claim(s); (2) review the complaint to strike conclusory allegations; and (3) consider the well-plead components of the complaint and evaluate whether all elements previously identified are sufficiently alleged. Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011). All well-pleaded facts must be accepted as true at this juncture. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009).

2. Gender Discrimination Claim

Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., provides that "[i]t shall be an unlawful employment practice... to discriminate against any individual... because of... sex." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e 2(a)(1). To state a prima facie case of gender discrimination, a plaintiff must prove that: (1) she is a member of a protected class; (2) she was qualified for the position; (3) she suffered an adverse employment action; (4) the adverse employment action occurred under circumstances that give rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination. See, e.g., Wooler v. Citizens Bank, 274 Fed.App'x 177, 180 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Texas Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdline, 450 U.S. 248, 253 (1981)). The flashpoint of contention on this Motion is the fourth element: the Defendants argue that Thomas cannot demonstrate that her termination occurred under circumstances that give rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination because it is predicated on allegations of sexual orientation discrimination, which Title VII does not protect against.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has stated that, "[h]arassment on the basis of sexual orientation has no place in our society.... It is clear, however, that Title VII does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation." Bibby v. Philadelphia Coca Cola Bottling Co., 260 F.3d 257, 261 (3d Cir. 2001). Congress has repeatedly rejected legislation that would have extended Title VII's reach to protect against sexual orientation discrimination. See, e.g., Employment Nondiscrimination Act of 1996, S.2056, 104th Cong. (1996); Employment Non Discrimination Act of 1995, H.R. 1863, 104th Cong. (1995)1 Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 1994, H.R. 4636, 103d Cong. (1994).

Thomas may, however, state a claim for gender discrimination based on her failure to conform to gender stereotypes. This theory originated with the United States Supreme Court decision in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228 (1989), where the Court reviewed the sex discrimination claim of a woman, Ann Hopkins, whose candidacy for partnership in the accounting firm was placed on hold amidst comments that she was "macho, " "overcompensated for a being a woman, " and could use "a course at charm school." Price Waterhouse, 490 U.S. at 235. Further, the partner who informed Hopkins why her candidacy was on hold advised her to "walk more femininely, talk more femininely, dress more femininely, wear make-up, have her hair styled, and wear jewelry." Id.

A plurality of the Court emphasized that "[w]e are beyond the day when an employer could evaluate employees by assuming or insisting that they matched the stereotype associated with their group." Id. at 251. The Court continued that "in the specific context of sex stereotyping, an employer who acts on the basis of a belief that a woman cannot be aggressive, or that she must not be, has acted on the basis of gender." Id. at 250.

Other courts have held that this reasoning is applicable to male employees abused because they are perceived as insufficiently masculine. See, e.g., Kay v. Independence Blue Cross, No. Civ. A. 02-3157, 2003 WL 21197289 (E.D. Pa. 2003). The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has found that "a man who is harassed because his voice is soft, his physique is slight, his hair is long, or because in some other respect he exhibits his masculinity in a way that does not meet his coworkers' idea of how men are to appear and behave, is harassed because of' his sex." Doe v. City of Belleville, 119 F.3d 563, 581 (7th Cir. 1997).

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit addressed the gender stereotyping theory in Bibby v. Philadelphia Coca Cola Bottling Co., 260 F.3d 257 (3d Cir. 2001). The court explained that a plaintiff may demonstrate that harassment was discrimination based on sex in violation of Title VII by showing that the "harasser was acting to punish the victim's noncompliance with gender stereotypes." Id. at 264. The court held, however, that Bibby could not bring a claim for gender stereotyping because:

[H]e did not claim that he was harassed because he failed to comply with societal stereotypes of how men ought to appear or behave.... His claim was, pure and simple, that he was discriminated against because of his sexual orientation. No reasonable finder of fact could reach ...

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