United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
JOHN R. PADOVA, District Judge.
Plaintiff Michael McDevitt brings this employment action against his employer, Defendant American Expediting Company ("AEC"), pursuant to the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA" or "the Act"), alleging that AEC denied him benefits under the FMLA and unlawfully terminated him for taking FMLA leave. AEC has moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that the Amended Complaint fails to state an FMLA claim upon which relief can be granted because it fails to plausibly allege that McDevitt is an "eligible employee" under the Act. We held argument on the Motion on July 29, 2015. For the following reasons, we grant AEC's Motion, but also give McDevitt leave to file a Second Amended Complaint.
The Amended Complaint (the "Complaint") alleges the following facts that are relevant to this Motion. Plaintiff Michael McDevitt began working as an Account Executive for Defendant AEC's subsidiary, One Hour Messengers, in December 1995 and was later promoted to Operations Manager. (Am. Compl. ("Compl.") ¶ 9.) McDevitt worked in AEC's Philadelphia office until 2012, when he was selected by AEC to open and operate a new office in Burbank, California. (Id. ¶¶ 11, 39.) McDevitt understood the job in California to be a temporary assignment. (Id. ¶¶ 12, 39.) In California, McDevitt was responsible for twenty-five other workers, but he continued to report to AEC's Philadelphia office, where he remained on the payroll. (Id. ¶¶ 13-15.) Additionally, McDevitt maintained residences in both Pennsylvania and California throughout his time in California, and he continued to pay Pennsylvania state taxes. (Id. ¶ 15.)
In March 2014, while still working in the California office, McDevitt requested eight to ten weeks of leave to care for his elderly mother. (Id. ¶ 16.) AEC granted this leave, which McDevitt understood to be protected by the FMLA, but AEC neither provided McDevitt with the required FMLA paperwork nor advised him to complete such paperwork. (Id. ¶¶ 17-19.) Upon returning to Philadelphia in June 2014, McDevitt continued to work for AEC by phone and e-mail without compensation. (Id. ¶¶ 21-22, 29.) Two weeks after McDevitt began his leave, AEC's Vice President Paul Rosenblatt asked McDevitt to return to work in California, but McDevitt requested more time to care for his mother. (Id. ¶ 23.) For approximately the next month, various employees repeatedly asked McDevitt for his return date. (Id. ¶ 24.) In late July, McDevitt informed AEC that he wished to stay in Philadelphia for the immediate future, and AEC assured him that he had a job in Philadelphia. (Id. ¶¶ 25-28.) McDevitt also informed AEC that he would return to California if it was his only option for retaining his job. (Id. ¶ 26.) In spite of McDevitt's offer in that regard, in mid-August 2014, AEC told McDevitt that his employment had been terminated due to his family situation and AEC's desire to take the company in another direction. (Id. ¶ 31.) Shortly thereafter, AEC announced the hiring of a new Operations Manager for the California office. (Id. ¶ 32.)
McDevitt filed the instant action on April 21, 2015. Although the Complaint contains just a single Count, the single Count asserts two separate FMLA claims - one for interference with McDevitt's FMLA rights and one for retaliation against McDevitt for his exercise of his FMLA rights. AEC has moved to dismiss the entire Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).
II. LEGAL STANDARD
When considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), we "consider only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, [and] matters of public record, as well as undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant's claims are based upon these documents." Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993)). We take the factual allegations of the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. DelRio-Mocci v. Connolly Props., Inc., 672 F.3d 241, 245 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing Warren Gen. Hosp. v. Amgen, Inc., 643 F.3d 77, 84 (3d Cir. 2011)). Legal conclusions, however, receive no deference, as the court is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.'" Wood v. Moss, 134 S.Ct. 2056, 2065 n.5 (2014) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)).
A plaintiff's pleading obligation is to set forth "a short and plain statement of the claim, " Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), which gives the defendant "fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (alteration in original) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). The complaint must contain "sufficient factual matter to show that the claim is facially plausible, ' thus enabling the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for [the] misconduct alleged.'" Warren Gen. Hosp., 643 F.3d at 84 (quoting Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009)). "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 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). In the end, we will grant a motion to dismiss brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) if the factual allegations in the complaint are not sufficient "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'" W. Run Student Hous. Assocs., LLC v. Huntington Nat'l Bank, 712 F.3d 165, 169 (3d Cir. 2013) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).
AEC argues that we should dismiss McDevitt's Complaint because it does not allege facts that support the conclusion that McDevitt is an eligible employee under the FMLA (and, thus, that McDevitt is entitled to bring a claim for either interference or retaliation under the Act). McDevitt counters that the Complaint sufficiently alleges that he is an eligible employee and that, in the alternative, the Complaint should not be dismissed because it alleges that AEC should be barred from challenging Plaintiff's eligibility for FMLA benefits under the doctrine of equitable estoppel.
A. The FMLA
The FMLA grants up to "12 workweeks of leave during any 12-month period" to certain individuals that it deems "eligible employees, " so that such employees may, for example, care for a family member with a serious health condition, and employers are prohibited from interfering with or denying this right. 29 U.S.C. §§ 2612(a), 2615(a). Because the Act only confers rights on "eligible employees, " only "eligible employees" may ordinarily bring a cause of action for retaliation or interference under the Act. See Sinacole v. iGate Capital, 287 F.App'x 993, 996 (3d Cir. 2008). Consequently, in order to state a valid FMLA claim for either interference or retaliation, a complaint must plausibly allege that the plaintiff is an "eligible employee" under the Act. Kiniropoulos v. Northampton Cnty. Child Welfare Serv., 917 F.Supp.2d 377, 390-91 (E.D. Pa. 2013) (dismissing a retaliation claim under the FMLA because the complaint did not validly plead that the plaintiff was an "eligible employee"); see also Bowman v. St. Luke's Quakertown Hosp., Civ. A. No. 12-797, 2012 WL 6527402, at *5 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 13, 2012) (holding that a complaint must plausibly allege that the plaintiff was an "eligible employee" to state a cognizable interference claim under the FMLA). To qualify as an "eligible employee, " an employee must be employed at a worksite with at least 50 employees or the employer must employ at least 50 employees within 75 miles of the worksite. 29 U.S.C. § 2611(2)(B)(ii) (the "50/75 Rule").
The FMLA's implementing regulations provide some guidance as to how to determine an employee's worksite. The regulations state that "[a]n employee's worksite under FMLA will ordinarily be the site the employee reports to or, if none, from which the employee's work is assigned." 29 C.F.R. § 825.111(a). "For employees with no fixed worksite, e.g., construction workers, transportation workers (e.g., truck drivers, seamen, pilots), salespersons, etc., the worksite is the site to which they are assigned as their home base, from which their work is assigned, or to which they report." Id. § 825.111(a)(2). Meanwhile, the regulations also provide that where an employee is jointly employed by two different employers, "the employee's worksite is the primary employer's office from which the employee is assigned or reports, unless the employee has physically worked for at least one year at a facility of a secondary employer, in which case the employee's worksite is that location." Id. § 825.111(a)(3). In addition, case law suggests that when an employee has multiple potential worksites, "the worksite' location necessarily will turn upon the facts and circumstances of each individual employee." ...