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Murphy v. McLane Eastern, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

February 28, 2017

ANTONIO MURPHY, Plaintiff
v.
McLANE EASTERN, INC. and McLANE/EASTERN, INC. t/d/b/a McLANE PA, Defendants

          MEMORANDUM

          JAMES M. MUNLEY UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Antonio Murphy (hereinafter “plaintiff”) asserts Defendants McLane Eastern, Inc. and McLane Eastern, Inc.'s t/d/b/a McLane PA (collectively “defendants”) decision to terminate his employment violated federal and state anti-discrimination statutes and the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601-2619, 2631-2654 and 5 U.S.C. § 6381-6387 (hereinafter “the FMLA”). Before the court for disposition is defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's FMLA claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the reasons explained below, we will grant in part and deny in part defendants' motion.

         Background

         The instant discrimination lawsuit arose from plaintiff's employment with defendants. Plaintiff, an African American male suffering from demyelinating disease, [1] severe vertigo, and an inoperable brain tumor, worked full-time at defendants' Jessup, Pennsylvania location from November 2012 until September 2014. (Doc. 1, Compl. (hereinafter “Compl.”) ¶¶ 21, 23, 26, 32-33, 71). Plaintiff picked products off various conveyor belts and packaged them into shipping totes. (Id. ¶¶ 24-25). Prior to his termination, plaintiff received satisfactory performance appraisals and had no performance-related write-ups or discipline issues. (Id. ¶¶ 27-28).

         In July 2014, plaintiff passed out at work. (Id. ¶ 29). An ambulance arrived and transported plaintiff to the hospital. (Id.) As a result of this medical event, plaintiff requested FMLA leave. (Id. ¶ 47). Defendants approved plaintiff's medical leave request. (Id. ¶ 48). Thereafter, in August 2014, plaintiff used one day of medical leave.[2] (Id. ¶ 48).

         On September 18, 2014, plaintiff fell behind at his assembly line station, causing his line to back up. (Id. ¶ 52). Two of defendants' employees assisted plaintiff, including co-worker Lisa Murphy. (Id. ¶ 53). After completing a tote, Lisa Murphy “stormed off”. (Id. ¶ 59). The defendants then called plaintiff into the human resource manager's office. (Id. ¶ 60). The human resource manager stated that a female employee alleged plaintiff touched her in an inappropriate manner. (Id. ¶ 61). Plaintiff adamantly denied this allegation. (Id.) The defendants immediately sent plaintiff home and terminated his employment on September 22, 2014. (Id. ¶ 71).

         In response to his termination, plaintiff filed a four-count complaint. (Doc. 1). Count I alleges a racial discrimination claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (Id. ¶¶ 94-103). Count II states a disability discrimination claim pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. (Id. ¶¶ 104-18). Count III avers racial and disability discrimination claims under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 951, et seq. (Id. ¶¶ 119-34). Count IV asserts interference and retaliation claims pursuant to the FMLA. (Id. ¶¶ 135-57). On August 15, 2016, defendants filed a motion to dismiss Count IV-plaintiff's FMLA interference and retaliation claims. (Doc. 9). The parties then briefed the issues, bringing this matter to its present procedural posture.

         Jurisdiction

         The court has federal question jurisdiction over this FMLA action. See 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (“The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.”); 28 U.S.C. §§ 1343(a)(3), (4) (granting district courts jurisdiction over civil actions brought to redress deprivations of constitutional or statutory rights by way of damages or equitable relief). We have supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiff's state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

         Legal Standard

         The defendants filed their motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The court tests the sufficiency of the complaint's allegations when considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. All well-pleaded allegations of the complaint must be viewed as true and in the light most favorable to the non-movant to determine whether, “‘under any reasonable reading of the pleadings, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.'” Colburn v. Upper Darby Twp., 838 F.2d 663, 665-66 (3d Cir. 1988) (quoting Estate of Bailey by Oare v. Cty. of York, 768 F.2d 503, 506 (3d Cir. 1985)). The plaintiff must describe “‘enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of' [each] necessary element” of the claims alleged in the complaint. Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)). Moreover, the plaintiff must allege facts that “justify moving the case beyond the pleadings to the next stage of litigation.” Id. at 234-35. In evaluating the sufficiency of a 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) (citations omitted). The court need not accept legal conclusions or unwarranted factual inferences. See Curay-Cramer v. Ursuline Acad. of Wilmington, Del., Inc., 450 F.3d 130, 133 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997)).

         Discussion

         Defendants move to dismiss plaintiff's FMLA claim. The FMLA entitles “employees to take reasonable leave for medical reasons, for the birth or adoption of a child, and for the care of a child, spouse, or parent who has a serious health condition.” 29 U.S.C. § 2601(b)(2). “Eligible employees are entitled to ‘12 workweeks of leave during any twelve-month period.'” Lichtenstein v. Univ. of Pittsburgh Med. Ctr., 691 F.3d 294, 300 (3d Cir. 2012) (quoting 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1)).

         The FMLA contains two relatively distinct provisions prohibiting employers from: (1) interfering with an employee's exercise of their right to take reasonable leave for medical reasons; and (2) discriminating or retaliating against an employee who exercises this right. 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a); see also Lichtenstein, 691 F.3d at 301 (explaining that under the FMLA, employers may not interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of or attempt to exercise FMLA rights, and employers may not discharge or in any other manner discriminate against any individual for opposing any practice made unlawful) (internal quotations omitted); Callison v. City of Phila., 430 F.3d 117, 119 (3d Cir. 2005) (same). Stated differently, interference claims derive from the denial of some benefit or protection afforded by the FMLA, whereas retaliation ...


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