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Guerriero v. Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

May 4, 2017

JOSEPH PATRICK GUERRIERO, Plaintiff,
v.
LOCK HAVEN UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA and PENNSYLVANIA STATE SYSTEM OF HIGHER EDUCATION, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION.

          Matthew W. Brann United States District Judge.

         I. Background

         Pending before the undersigned is Plaintiff, Joseph Patrick Guerriero's, third action in this venire against his employer, Defendants Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. The instant matter is a one-count complaint, which alleges retaliation in violation of both Title VII of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964[1] and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.[2] Defendants have moved to dismiss the action. For all of the foregoing reasons the motion will be granted. However, Plaintiff will be provided leave to amend pursuant to Rule 15(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         II. Discussion

         A. Standard of Review

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a defendant may file a motion to dismiss for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Such a motion “tests the legal sufficiency of a pleading” and “streamlines litigation by dispensing with needless discovery and factfinding.”[3] “Rule 12(b)(6) authorizes a court to dismiss a claim on the basis of a dispositive issue of law.”[4]This is true of any claim, “without regard to whether it is based on an outlandish legal theory or on a close but ultimately unavailing one.”[5]

         Beginning in 2007, the Supreme Court of the United States initiated what some scholars have termed the Roberts Court's “civil procedure revival” by significantly tightening the standard that district courts must apply to 12(b)(6) motions.[6] In two landmark decisions, Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, the Roberts Court “changed . . . the pleading landscape” by “signal[ing] to lower-court judges that the stricter approach some had been taking was appropriate under the Federal Rules.”[7] More specifically, the Court in these two decisions “retired” the lenient “no-set-of-facts test” set forth in Conley v. Gibson and replaced it with a more exacting “plausibility” standard.[8]

         Accordingly, after Twombly and Iqbal, “[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'”[9] “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.”[10] “Although the plausibility standard does not impose a probability requirement, it does require a pleading to show more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.”[11] Moreover, “[a]sking for plausible grounds . . . calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of [wrongdoing].”[12]

         The plausibility determination is “a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.”[13] No matter the context, however, “[w]here a complaint pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'”[14]

         When disposing of a motion to dismiss, a court must “accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and draw all inferences from the facts alleged in the light most favorable to [the plaintiff].”[15] However, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in the complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.”[16] “After Iqbal, it is clear that conclusory or ‘bare-bones' allegations will no longer survive a motion to dismiss.”[17] “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.”[18]

         As a matter of procedure, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has instructed that:

Under the pleading regime established by Twombly and Iqbal, a court reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint must take three steps. First, it must tak[e] note of the elements [the] plaintiff must plead to state a claim. Second, it should identify allegations that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Finally, [w]hen there are well-pleaded factual allegations, [the] court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.[19]

         I turn now to the Plaintiff's factual allegations, which I must accept as true on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion.

         B. Facts Alleged in the Complaint

         Plaintiff, Joseph Patrick Guerriero, hereinafter “Guerriero, ” has been employed by Defendants Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, hereinafter, collectively, “LHU, ” since 1998. Guerriero first filed a complaint against LHU in 2003, pursuant to the retaliation provisions of both Title VII and the PHRA. This action was settled by the parties, and subsequently dismissed in accordance with the settlement agreement in 2006.

         In 2008, Guerriero filed a second action against LHU. The 2008 action was, again, premised as a claim of retaliation in violation of Title VII and the PHRA. It also proceeded as a breach of contract action for breach of the 2006 settlement agreement. On November 10, 2009, following a jury trial, a verdict of sixty- thousand dollars ($60, 000) was returned in favor of Guerriero.

         The following paragraphs from the complaint comprise Guerriero's factual assertions.

         ¶ 13). In or around September of 2011, Defendants hired a new President, Michael Fiorentino. In an attempt to assist Mr. Fiorentino in his new position, Plaintiff sent an email offering his expertise and willingness to return to Defendants' athletics department.

         ¶ 14). Despite never having met Plaintiff and regardless of Plaintiff's extensive and laudatory career in athletics, Mr. Fiorentino responded dismissively of Plaintiff's offer stating that, after speaking to former Presidents, as well as the Chancellor, Mr. Fiorentino had no intention of assisting Plaintiff in any fashion in working in Athletics.

         ¶ 15). Nearly a month later in October of 2011, Defendants made unfounded allegations that Plaintiff had improperly provided benefits to a student-athlete in an attempt to harm Plaintiff's standing within his profession and to ensure that Plaintiff would not work within Athletics.

         ¶ 16). As a result of the allegations, Defendants forbade Plaintiff's professional interaction with student-athletes, as well as compelled Plaintiff to undergo training for supposed violations of NCAA rules and regulations.

         ¶ 17). Despite the aforementioned supposed violations, Plaintiff never received an admonishment, never received sanctions, and never received punishment of any kind on behalf of the NCAA.

         ¶ 18). The allegations were baseless and motivated by Defendants to marginalize Plaintiff's interaction within athletics, decrease his standing within his own profession and/or Athletics, and subject Plaintiff to unfounded criticism and shame.

         ¶ 19). Four months later, in or around February of 2012, Defendant removed then-Athletic Director Sharon Taylor from her capacity as Athletic Director.

         ¶ 20). Despite Plaintiff's extensive career in athletics, his previous and considerable experience as Assistant Athletic Director for Defendants, and Plaintiff's credentials being comparable to the eventual hires for Interim AD and Assistant AD, Defendants never offered Plaintiff the chance to interview nor was Plaintiff given any consideration for either position.

         ¶ 21). In a meeting a month later with Carl Poff and Dave Bower, Interim AD and Assistant AD, respectively, both informed Plaintiff that he was to “tread lightly” and that there were “others in the department” who “did not like him because of his previous suits.”

         ¶ 22). In the Spring of 2013, Defendants announced the position of “Summer Camps” director.

         ¶ 23). Once again, despite Plaintiff's past experience directing multiple camps and clinics on behalf of Defendants and other institutions, as well as his work as Assistant Athletic Director, Plaintiff was not spoken to nor granted an interview for the position of “Summer Camps” director despite him expressing his interest in the position.

         ¶ 24). Defendants' decision to not interview nor even consider Plaintiff for the position of Summer Camps director, despite his qualifications and past experience in this very field, was retaliatory conduct motivated primarily by their anger at Plaintiff for filing previous lawsuits against Defendants.

         ¶ 25). In the Fall of 2013, Plaintiff approached the then recently appointed Athletic Director, Mark Sherburne, offering to work on various projects within Athletics, even on a voluntary basis.

         ¶ 26). However, similarly to the response received from Mr. Fiorentino previously, Mr. Sherburne, despite never worked alongside Plaintiff, replied that Plaintiff was prohibited from working within Athletics, even on a voluntary basis.

         ¶ 27). Defendants were fully aware of Plaintiff's desire, experience, and wish to work in Athletics and continually refused to offer a position within athletics, even by way of a perk to Plaintiff on a voluntary basis. Defendants' motivation in not permitting Plaintiff to work within Athletics was primarily motivated by and in retaliation of their anger at Plaintiff for filing previous lawsuits against Defendants.

         ¶ 28). Next, in January of 2014, Plaintiff requested a meeting with Defendants' recently appointed Vice President of University Relations, Mr. Rodney Jenkins, to both introduce himself ...


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