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Sorgini v. Wissahickon School District

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

April 5, 2017



          Tucker, C.J.

         Tucker, C.J. April 5, 2017 Presently before the Court are Plaintiff's Complaint (Doc. 1), Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 6), Plaintiff's Response to the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 9), Defendant's Reply to the Response (Doc. 12), Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Doc. 14), and Defendant's Amended Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 15). Upon consideration of the parties' motions and for the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss is DENIED.


         Plaintiff Mario Sorgini (“Plaintiff”) alleges that his employer, Defendant Wissahickon School District (“Defendant”), violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act of 1955 (“PHRA”), 43 P.S. §§ 951- 963 (2009 Cum. Supp. 2016). Plaintiff alleges that Defendant constructively discharged him because of his age and disabilities, and subsequently replaced him with a younger employee.

         In 2007, Plaintiff was hired as a building supervisor for Defendant's Stoney Creek Elementary School. Am. Compl. ¶ 8. Plaintiff was fifty-one years old at the time. Id. ¶ 5. Since 2007, Plaintiff suffered several physical impairments including heart and knee problems that affected his ability to walk or stand without pain for extended periods of time. Id. ¶ 7. These impairments culminated in Plaintiff suffering a heart attack and undergoing two knee surgeries. Id. ¶¶ 14-15. Plaintiff also suffered from diverticulitis. Id. ¶ 18. In addition, Plaintiff fell through a sky light while working at the school in July 2013, which led to chronic pain. Id. ¶ 17. While employed by Defendant, Plaintiff took a “significant” amount of time off for his surgeries, injury, and illness. Id. ¶¶ 15-18. In October or November 2013, Maureen[1], a night custodian at the Elementary School, informed Plaintiff that she overheard Mr. Abbamont, the school principal, and Mr. Saurman, Plaintiff's supervisor, discussing the need to terminate Plaintiff due to his illness and numerous sick leaves. Id. ¶ 19.

         On January 9, 2014, Mr. Abbamont met with Plaintiff and expressed concern that Maureen allowed her boyfriend on school premises without authorization. Id. ¶ 24. Plaintiff informed Mr. Abbamont that he had no knowledge of this activity. Id. Prior to this meeting, Plaintiff's employment performance had never been questioned and he had no disciplinary history. Id. ¶ 12.

         On January 10, 2014, School District officials including Ms. Rossi, the Human Resources (“HR”) director, Mr. Wade Coleman, the Chief Financial Officer, and Mr. Saurman, Plaintiff's supervisor, met with Plaintiff. Id. ¶¶ 29, 32. Ms. Rossi informed Plaintiff that if he did not resign immediately, he would be terminated for allowing Maureen's boyfriend on school premises. Id. ¶ 39. It is alleged that Ms. Rossi also told Plaintiff that he would not be eligible for disability pension benefits if he were terminated. Id. ¶ 61. Plaintiff claims that he signed a resignation letter during the meeting under the threat of immediate termination. Id. ¶ 43; Am. Mot. to Dismiss at 8. Plaintiff was not represented at the meeting, and claims that he was not informed of his right to contest termination. Am. Compl. ¶ 43. Plaintiff was fifty-eight years old when he resigned, and was subsequently replaced by an individual who was younger than forty.[2] Id. ¶¶ 5, 68.

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendant had a “liberal practice” of allowing individuals who were not school employees on school premises. Id. ¶ 54. For example, Plaintiff witnessed Mr. Abbamont allowing Maureen's boyfriend on campus. Id. ¶ 55. Plaintiff also witnessed other employees allowing individuals who were not school employees on school premises. Am. Compl. Id. These employees included two custodians, a secretary, and a teacher. Id. Neither the employees nor Mr. Abbamont were disciplined for their actions. Id. Unlike Plaintiff, these employees were not disabled and were either under the age of forty or younger than Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 67.[3]


         Plaintiff filed a timely charge of discrimination with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), which was cross-filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (“PHRC”). Id. ¶ 4. In a hearing before the Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation Board concerning whether Plaintiff was eligible for unemployment compensation benefits, the Referee ruled that Plaintiff did not voluntarily resign. Id. ¶ 60. Finally, Plaintiff received a Right to Sue Letter from the EEOC and subsequently filed his Complaint in this Court on April 19, 2016. Id.


         A court may dismiss a plaintiff's complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) when it does not “‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Gager v. Dell Fin. Servs., LLC, 727 F.3d 265, 268 (3d Cir. 2013) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). In light of the Supreme Court's rulings in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), the district court conducts a three-part analysis in evaluating a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Connelly v. Lane Constr. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 787 (3d Cir. 2016).

         First, the court “must ‘tak[e] note of the elements [the] plaintiff must plead to state a claim.'” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675). Second, the court “should identify allegations that, ‘because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.'” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). Accordingly, the court “must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions.” Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009). Lastly, after accepting the well-pleaded factual allegations and “‘assum[ing] their veracity . . . [the court must] determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.'” Connelly, 809 F.3d at 787 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). A complaint is plausible on its face when its factual allegations allow a court to draw a reasonable inference that a defendant is liable for the harm alleged. Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 128 (3d Cir. 2010). A plaintiff may survive a motion to dismiss if the “[f]actual allegations [are] enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         In Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, the Third Circuit held that the heightened standard of plausibility set forth by Iqbal and Twombly applies to pleadings in an employment discrimination context. 578 F.3d at 213. However, this heightened standard does not require a plaintiff to establish the prima facie case for discrimination in order to survive a motion to dismiss. Id. (“Even post-Twombly, it has been noted that a plaintiff is not required to establish the elements of a prima facie case . . . .”). Rather, to survive a motion to dismiss in an employment discrimination context, a plaintiff must present factual allegations that would “‘raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element[s]'” of the prima facie case. Id. at 213 (citing Philips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008)).

         IV. ...

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