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Brooks v. Valley Day School

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

May 28, 2015




Currently pending before the Court is the Motion by Defendant Valley Day School ("Defendant") to Dismiss Plaintiff Jeffery Brooks ("Plaintiff")'s Second Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the following reasons, the Motion is granted in part and denied in part.


Plaintiff is an adult individual who resides in Levittown, Pennsylvania. (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 7.) Defendant is a private school for students with behavioral and emotional needs. (Id. ¶ 8.) Plaintiff was employed by Defendant for approximately twenty-four and a half years. (Id. ¶ 11.) Plaintiff was a Finance Director at the time he was terminated from his employment with Defendant. (Id. ¶ 12.)

Plaintiff has suffered, and continues to suffer, from various mental health impairments, including, but not limited to, depression and panic attacks. (Id. ¶ 13.) Plaintiff's mental health impairments are long-standing permanent conditions, despite the medications Plaintiff takes. (Id.) Plaintiff was formally diagnosed with his mental health conditions over twenty years ago, and has continually treated his conditions through the ongoing care of physicians and use of anti-depressant medications. (Id. ¶ 14.) Plaintiff's mental health impairments, at times, substantially limit his ability to perform major life activities, including but not limited to sleeping, engaging in social interaction, working, and brain function. (Id. ¶ 15.) Plaintiff experiences difficulty engaging in social settings when meeting new people or when encountering new environmental settings, and also experiences difficulty communicating, interacting, and adapting under those circumstances. (Id. ¶ 16.) Plaintiff also has difficulty falling and/or staying asleep, sometimes up to five days per week, as a result of his mental health conditions, which leaves him fatigued and unable to fully function for extended periods of time. (Id. ¶ 17.) Finally, Plaintiff experiences extreme difficulty focusing, concentrating, and processing information during flare-ups of his mental health conditions, which at times impacts his ability to work. (Id. ¶ 18.)

During his employment with Defendant, Plaintiff informed Defendant's management of his disabilities and limitations. (Id. ¶ 19.) Towards the end of his employment, Plaintiff was working on a project involving an audit of the school lunch program ("the audit project"). (Id. ¶ 20.) Due to "the nature of the project, " as well as some personal issues occurring at home, Plaintiff began to have severe flare-ups of his disability, which often caused him to have panic attacks. (Id.) Plaintiff informed Defendant's management about his flare-ups and panic attacks, and requested that he be provided with some assistance with the audit project. (Id. ¶ 21.) Defendant's management, without engaging in any interactive process, refused to accommodate Plaintiff's request. (Id.)

Sometime in May 2013, shortly after Plaintiff informed management that he was experiencing symptoms related to his disability, Plaintiff was called to a meeting with the Board of Directors regarding the audit project. (Id. ¶ 22.) Prior to attending the meeting, Plaintiff asked his supervisor, Geoffrey Axe, whether he should inform the Board of Directors that his depression had recently been exacerbated. (Id. ¶ 23.) Mr. Axe told Plaintiff that he should not inform the Board of Directors because it would cause problems. (Id.) During the May 2013 meeting, Plaintiff was not reprimanded regarding his performance and was not threatened or told that he was going to be terminated. (Id. ¶ 24.)

Around the end of May 2013, Plaintiff requested, and was approved for, FMLA leave for appendix and liver problems. (Id. ¶ 25.) From that time until approximately the beginning of July 2013, Plaintiff took a medical leave of absence to care for and treat those conditions. (Id. ¶ 26.) Plaintiff returned to work from medical leave in July 2013. (Id. ¶ 27.) Upon returning to work, and shortly after informing Defendant's management about his exacerbated disability and panic attacks, [1] Plaintiff was threatened with discipline, ostracized, and spoken to "abruptly" by Defendant's management. (Id.) Approximately one week after he returned from his FMLA leave in July 2013, Plaintiff was called into a meeting with Mr. Axe, Plaintiff's supervisor, and Harlan Joseph, a member of Defendant's Board of Directors, to discuss the audit project. (Id. ¶ 28.) During that meeting, "Plaintiff was lead [sic] to believe that he may be issued discipline for his work but would not be terminated." (Id.) Also during that meeting, Plaintiff "again" informed Mr. Axe and Mr. Joseph that his depression had recently become exacerbated and that he was having panic attacks while working on the audit project. (Id. ¶ 29.)

On or about August 28, 2013, Plaintiff was terminated from his employment with Defendant without any explanation or reason. (Id. ¶ 30.) Plaintiff believes and avers that he was terminated because of his health conditions, requests for accommodations, and/or in retaliation for requesting and utilizing FMLA leave for his serious health conditions. (Id. ¶ 31.)

Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this case on September 25, 2014, and filed an Amended Complaint on November 21, 2014. On December 8, 2014, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint, which this Court denied as moot on January 5, 2015, in light of the Second Amended Complaint that Plaintiff filed on December 22, 2014. In the Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiff set forth claims for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq., the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2611 et seq., and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 P.S. § 951 et seq. (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 1.) Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss the Second Amended Complaint on January 8, 2015. Plaintiff responded on January 28, 2015. The Motion to Dismiss is now ripe for judicial consideration.


Under Rule 12(b)(6), a defendant bears the burden of demonstrating that the plaintiff has not stated a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6); see also Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005). In Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), the United States Supreme Court recognized that "a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds' of his entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. at 555. Following these basic dictates, the Supreme Court, in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), subsequently defined a two-pronged approach to a court's review of a motion to dismiss. "First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. at 678. Thus, although "Rule 8 marks a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior era... it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions." Id. at 678-79.

Second, the Supreme Court emphasized that "only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Id. at 679. "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will, as the Court of Appeals observed, be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id . A complaint does not show an entitlement to relief when the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct. Id .; see also Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232-34 (3d Cir. 2008) (holding that: (1) factual allegations of complaint must provide notice to defendant; (2) complaint must allege facts suggestive of the proscribed conduct; and (3) the complaint's "factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'" (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555)).

Notwithstanding these new dictates, the basic tenets of the Rule 12(b)(6) standard of review have remained static. Spence v. Brownsville Area Sch. Dist., No. Civ.A.08-626, 2008 WL 2779079, at *2 (W.D. Pa. July 15, 2008). The general rules of pleading still require only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief and need not contain detailed factual allegations. Phillips, 515 F.3d at 233. Further, the court must "accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Buck v. Hampton Twp. Sch. Dist., 452 F.3d 256, 260 (3d Cir. 2006). Finally, the court must ...

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