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Heverling v. Mcneil Consumer Pharmaceuticals, Co./Fort Washington, PA

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

February 23, 2017

ROBBIE HEVERLING, et at, Plaintiffs


          Christopher C. Conner, Chief Judge.

         Plaintiffs Robbie Heverling ("Heverling") and Nathan Hess ("Hess") commenced this action against defendant McNeil Consumer Pharmaceuticals, Co. ("McNeil").[1] Plaintiffs allege that McNeil fostered a hostile work environment and retaliated against them in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2000e-17, and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"). 43 Pa. Stat. & Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 951-963. Plaintiffs also advance a state common law claim for wrongful termination. (Doc. 1). McNeil moves to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. 12). The court will grant the motion.

         I. Factual Background & Procedural History

         McNeil is a corporation which manufactures pharmaceutical drugs. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 3, 5). McNeil employed plaintiffs as processing associates at McNeil's plant in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. (Id. ¶¶ 12-13). During the entire course of plaintiffs' employment, the Food and Drug Administration ("FDA") subjected McNeil to a consent decree which required McNeil to adhere to certain quality control and manufacturing standards. (Id. ¶ 14). Between January 2015 and May 2015, plaintiffs observed that management at the Lancaster plant consistently violated the consent decree and did not satisfy the FDA's Good Manufacturing Practices. (Id. ¶¶ 17-22). Plaintiffs specifically note that the plant's management allowed them to use contaminated tools and equipment in violation of FDA requirements. (Id. ¶ 17). Plaintiffs also aver that McNeil's management engaged in improper record keeping and that their shift supervisor failed to properly inspect plaintiffs' workplace for cleanliness and quality control. (Id. ¶¶ 18-22).

         Plaintiffs brought these issues to their shift supervisor. (Id. ¶¶ 23-24). Plaintiffs also approached two other shift supervisors about these problems. (Id. ¶¶ 25-30). None of the supervisors alleviated plaintiffs' concerns. (Id.) In May 2015, one of the machines at the plant malfunctioned, causing a batch of contaminated product to leave the facility. (Id. ¶ 31). Plaintiffs reported this incident to their supervisors. (Id. ¶ 32).

         Plaintiffs allege that McNeil initiated a Title VII investigation "nearly immediately after the aforementioned complaints were made." (Id. ¶ 33). McNeil interviewed most of the male employees in plaintiffs' shift during the investigation. (Id. ¶ 34). Investigators asked plaintiffs and others whether they ridiculed another male employee using sexually-charged language. (Id. ¶ 35). During his interview, Hess indicated that he never teased male employees in his shift. (Id. ¶ 36). Heverling told an investigator that he did tease other male employees in his shift, but that other male employees engaged in similar behavior and he never singled out the specific employee in question. (Id. ¶ 37). Both Hess and Heverling stated that other male employees in their shift subjected them to homophobic slurs. (Id. ¶ 39). Plaintiffs allege that "[a]s a result of . . . their participation in the Title VII investigation, " McNeil terminated them from employment on June 25, 2015. (Id. ¶ 40). Both plaintiffs received termination letters indicating that the reason for their terminations, inter alia, was inappropriate behavior towards other employees. (Id. at 16, 18). Plaintiffs contend that McNeil had "two primary motivations" for terminating their employment. (Id. ¶ 41). Plaintiffs cite "their reporting of sexual and homophobic slurs during the Title VII investigation[]" as well as their repeated complaints about McNeil's failure to adhere to the FDA's regulations and required practices. (Id.)

         Plaintiffs filed charges with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission on October 18, 2015. (Docs. 16-1, 16-2). The EEOC sent plaintiffs right-to-sue letters on January 12, 2016. (Doc. 1 at 14-15). Plaintiffs filed the instant complaint (Doc. 1) on April 11, 2016. Therein, they allege a hostile work environment claim, Title VII and PHRA retaliation claims, and a state law wrongful termination claim. (Id. ¶¶ 44-75). McNeil filed the instant motion (Doc. 12) to dismiss on June 13, 2016. The motion is fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

         II. Legal Standard

         Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for the dismissal of complaints that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008). In addition to reviewing the facts contained in the complaint, the court may also consider "matters of public record, orders, exhibits attached to the complaint and items appearing in the record of the case." Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 n.2 (3d Cir. 1994); Pension Ben. Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus.. Inc.. 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993).

         Federal notice and pleading rules require the complaint to provide "the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Phillips. 515 F.3d at 232 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly. 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To test the sufficiency of the complaint, the court must conduct a three-step inquiry. See Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130-31 (3d Cir. 2010). In the first step, "the court must 'tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.'" Id., at 130 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal. 556 U.S. 662, 675 (2009)). Next, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated; well-pleaded facts must be accepted as true, while mere legal conclusions may be disregarded. Id. at 131; see also Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside. 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009). Once the court isolates the well-pleaded factual allegations, it must determine whether they are sufficient to show a "plausible claim for relief." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556); Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. A claim "has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal 556 U.S. at 678.

         Courts should grant leave to amend before dismissing a curable pleading in civil rights actions. See Fletcher-Harlee Corp. v. Pote Concrete Contractors, Inc., 482 F.3d 247, 251 (3d Cir. 2007); Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002). Courts need not grant leave to amend sua sponte in dismissing non-civil rights claims pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), Fletcher-Harlee Corp., 482 F.3d at 251, but leave is broadly encouraged "when justice so requires." Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2).

         III. Discussion

         McNeil asseverates that plaintiffs' allegations, even accepted as true, fail to establish an entitlement to relief under Title VII, the PHRA, and Pennsylvania common law. The ...

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