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Daniels v. University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

May 14, 2015

BARBARA DANIELS, Plaintiff,
v.
UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH MEDICAL CENTER, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION Re: ECF No. 11

MAUREEN P. KELLY CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

Presently before the Court is the Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 11) filed by University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (“Defendant”), pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) with respect to all claims pled in Barbara Daniels’ (“Plaintiff”) Complaint of August 26, 2014 (ECF No. 3). Plaintiff’s claims are asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. (“Title VII”), and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. (“ADA”). (Id.). This Court exercises subject-matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 (federal question jurisdiction) and 1343 (civil rights). For the reasons that follow, Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss will be GRANTED, in part, and DENIED, in part.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is an African American female formerly employed as Internal Adjuster/ Research Support for Defendant[1] beginning April 15, 2011. (ECF No. 3 at 2). Plaintiff was supervised by Senior Director of Claims Operations Ronald Lacy, a Caucasian male. (Id.). At some point during her tenure, Plaintiff sought a work-related accommodation from Defendant for Lymphedema, which rendered Plaintiff unable to walk or sit for extended periods without ready access to a restroom to relieve the buildup of excess fluid in her body. (Id.). Defendant granted Plaintiff the ability to work from home as an accommodation. (Id.).

While working from home, Plaintiff experienced difficulties meeting performance expectations. (Id.). Plaintiff attributed these difficulties, in part, to technical issues she experienced while connecting to work via her home computer. (Id. at 3). Additionally, Plaintiff’s job assignments were frequently changed prior to completion of pre-existing assignments and without adequate training or instruction. (Id.). Neither of these issues was factored into Plaintiff’s performance reviews, and there was no discussion of the potential need for further accommodation in order for Plaintiff to complete her fluctuating duties satisfactorily. (Id.).

As a result of her inconsistent performance, Plaintiff was ultimately terminated on October 7, 2012. (Id. at 2). During Plaintiff’s term of employment, Rebecca Shutter and Alexis Nestor, both Caucasian, held the same position as Plaintiff. (Id.). Neither had a disability requiring an accommodation similar to Plaintiff. (Id.). Nonetheless, Ms. Shutter and Ms. Nestor also failed to meet performance standards. (Id.). Ms. Shutter was not terminated, however, and while Ms. Nestor was initially terminated, she was later re-hired for the same position. (Id.).

Plaintiff thereafter filed her Complaint[2] in this Court on August 26, 2014. (ECF No. 3). Plaintiff alleges therein that Defendant’s conduct towards her throughout the duration of her employment and at the time of her termination constituted race-based disparate treatment in violation of Title VII, and disability-based disparate treatment in violation of the ADA. (ECF No. 3 at 3). Plaintiff’s Civil Cover Sheet also includes an unspecified claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, but Plaintiff does not explicitly address this claim. (ECF No. 3-1 at 1). In response to the Complaint, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss Complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) on February 3, 2015, with an accompanying Memorandum of Law. (ECF Nos. 11, 12). Plaintiff filed her Reply and accompanying brief on March 4, 2015. (ECF Nos. 14, 15). Defendant filed its Reply on March 18, 2015. (ECF No. 17). The matter is now fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires that a complaint contain a short and plain statement of a claim, and show that the pleader is entitled to relief. Dismissal of a complaint or portion of a complaint is warranted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) when a claimant fails to sufficiently state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Avoiding dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) requires a pleading party’s complaint to provide “enough factual matter” to allow the case to move beyond the pleading stage of litigation; the pleader must “‘nudge his or her claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.’” Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 – 35 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Bell Atlantic Co. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556, 570 (2007)).

In assessing the merits of a claim subject to a motion to dismiss, a court must engage in a two-part analysis. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 – 11 (3d Cir. 2009). First, factual and legal elements of a claim must be distinguished. Id. Second, it must be determined whether the facts as alleged support a “plausible claim for relief.” Id. In making the latter determination, the court must be mindful that the matter pleaded need not include “detailed factual allegations, ” Phillips, 515 F.3d at 231 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555), and the court must construe all alleged facts, and draw all inferences gleaned therefrom, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id. at 228 (citing Worldcom, Inc. v. Graphnet, Inc., 343 F.3d 651, 653 (3d Cir. 2003)). Moreover, a pleading party need only “put forth allegations that ‘raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element[s].’” Fowler, 578 F.3d at 213 (quoting Graff v. Subbiah Cardiology Associates, Ltd., 2008 WL 2312671 (W.D. Pa. June 4, 2008)). A well-pleaded complaint, even when “it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of . . . facts is improbable, ” will not be dismissed as long as the pleader demonstrates that his or her claim is plausible. Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 – 56). Additionally, when a Plaintiff proceeds pro se, the Court must interpret his or her pleadings liberally. Rhett v. New Jersey State Superior Court, 260 Fed. App’x 513, 515 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Erikson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)) (“[A] pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers”).

Nevertheless, the facts provided do need to raise the expectation of relief above a purely speculative level, and must include more than “labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Phillips, 515 F.3d at 231 – 32 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 554 – 56). Rule 8(a)(2) “requires a ‘showing’ rather than a blanket assertion of an entitlement to relief.” Id. at 232. “[T]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Fowler, 578 F.3d at 211 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)).

Through its Motion to Dismiss, Defendant contends that Plaintiff’s ADA and Title VII claims are time-barred. A statute of limitations is an affirmative defense which is typically raised in an answer. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(c)(1). However, “the limitations defense may be raised on a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) ... if ‘the time alleged in the statement of the claim shows that the cause of action has not been brought within the statute of limitations.’” Bethel v. Jendoco Const. Corp., 570 F.2d 1168, 1174 (3d Cir. 1978) (quoting Hanna v. U.S. Veterans’ Admin. Hosp., 514 F.2d 1092, 1094 (3d Cir. 1975)). Further, Defendant’s reliance on a statute of limitations may be considered to the extent documents of public record establish that Plaintiff’s causes of action against the named Defendants have not been brought within the applicable limitations period for each of her claims. Schmidt v. Skolas, 770 F.3d 241, 249 (3d Cir. 2014).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Timeliness of Complaint


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