United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
DEBORAH M. STEWART, Plaintiff,
KEYSTONE REAL ESTATE GROUP LP, Defendant.
MATTHEW W. BRANN, District Judge.
Plaintiff Deborah M. Stewart brought the current action against her former employer alleging claims of gender discrimination and 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. The Court has jurisdiction over this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1367.
The Parties have briefed the issues and they 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 Deborah Stewart was a female employee of Defendant Keystone Real Estate Group, LP. Stewart was involved in a private romantic relationship with a female co-employee, Amanda Thomas. Pl.'s Am. Compl. ¶ 33, Jun. 25, 2014, ECF No. 4 [hereinafter "Compl."]. Stewart 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 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., Compl., ¶¶ 102, 143, 154. Stewart also alleges that over the course of her tenure, Rager, Miller, and other Keystone employees made inappropriate and vulgar sexual advances toward her, including exposing themselves and soliciting sexual favors from Stewart. See, e.g., Compl., ¶¶ 40-42.
Ultimately, Keystone terminated Stewart from her job. She alleges that this termination was based on both sexual orientation and gender discrimination. The Defendant seeks to dismiss both Stewart's gender discrimination claim under federal 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 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 the, (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).
1. 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 Stewart 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); ...