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Ulearey v. PA Services, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

April 6, 2017

GRACE ULEAREY, Plaintiff,
v.
PA SERVICES, INC. d/b/a STONG PLUMBING and STEVE REED, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          STENGEL, J.

         Grace Ulearey brings this employment discrimination case against her former employer, alleging that she experienced sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. The defendants, Stong Plumbing and its president, Steve Reed, filed a motion to dismiss the claims against them for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), as well as a motion for a more definite statement pursuant to Rule 12(e) and a motion to strike Paragraph 13 of the Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(f). For the following reasons, the motion to dismiss is granted in part and denied in part, the motion for a more definite statement is denied, and the motion to strike Paragraph 13 is denied.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The plaintiff is an adult woman who resides in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. (Compl. ¶ 1.) According to the Complaint, defendant PA Services, Inc., d/b/a Stong Plumbing, is a Pennsylvania corporation with fifteen or more employees. (Id. ¶ 2.) Defendant Steve Reed, the owner/operator of Stong Plumbing, was the plaintiff's direct supervisor and the chief decision-maker regarding adverse employment actions against the plaintiff. (Id. ¶¶ 3, 9.)

         In August 2011, Reed hired the plaintiff as an Executive/Administrative Assistant. (Id. ¶ 8.) The plaintiff began to assume progressively higher responsibilities, such as managing business finances and performing human resources functions, and, at Reed's request, began to manage his personal finances. (Id. ¶10.) She also began to receive regular “bonus” payments into her bi-weekly pay, based on increasing responsibilities and work performance. (Id. ¶11.)

         Beginning in January 2013, Reed began to make derogatory and sexually explicit comments to the plaintiff both verbally and through text messages. (Id. ¶12.) She alleges that the text messages “described in vulgar, graphic detail [Reed's] desire to engage in various sexual activities with [the plaintiff]” which included “his desire to rape [the plaintiff] and urinate on her for his own perverse sexual gratification.” (Id. ¶ 13 (citing Compl. Ex. C).) The plaintiff repeatedly refused Reed's advances and demanded that he stop harassing her, but he refused and persisted in harassing her through August 2013. (Id. ¶14.) After the plaintiff did not engage in sexual intercourse with Reed and demanded that he stop harassing her, Reed stopped paying the “bonuses” that had been included in her paychecks prior to January 2013. (Id. ¶15.) The plaintiff alleges that the bonuses stopped because she demanded that he stop sexually harassing her, and not because of work performance issues or any other legitimate reason. (Id. ¶ 16.) She further alleges that the pervasive sexual harassment forced her to resign from her job at Stong Plumbing on or about July 26, 2013. (Id. ¶ 17.)

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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 “determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.” Pinkerton v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002).

         III. DISCUSSION

         The defendants move to dismiss counts one and three of the Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). They also move for a more definite statement pursuant to Rule 12(e). Additionally, the defendants move to strike Paragraph 13 of the Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(f). Having considered the Complaint and the parties' briefs, I will deny the defendants' motion to dismiss count one, and I will grant their motion to dismiss count three. I will deny the motion for a more definite statement, as well as the defendants' motion to strike Paragraph 13 of the Complaint.

         A. Count One: Sex Discrimination in Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e

         The defendants assert that they do not meet the definition of an employer under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, and therefore cannot be sued pursuant to that statute, because they did not have fifteen or more employees during the time period at issue. (Defs.' Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss 3.) The plaintiff asserts that, while she agrees that Title VII would not apply to the defendants if Stong Plumbing is not an “employer” as defined by the statute, the defendants' “unsubstantiated assertion” that Stong Plumbing did not have fifteen or more employees does not entitle them to a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal. (Pls.' Resp. Opp'n to Mot. Dismiss 4.) The plaintiff alleged in the Complaint that Stong Plumbing had fifteen or more employees during the relevant time period. (Compl. ¶ 2.) At the motion to dismiss ...


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