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Preston v. Vanguard Investment Firm

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

June 20, 2017

JOAN P. PRESTON
v.
VANGUARD INVESTMENT FIRM, ET AL.

          MEMORANDUM

          KEARNEY, J.

         Dissatisfied with a November 30, 2015 valid final judgment dismissing her previous claim for race and age discrimination against her former employer, Joan Preston again sues her former employer The Vanguard Group, Inc. ("Vanguard") but now adds the attorneys who represented Vanguard in her earlier discrimination case and adds a religious discrimination claim she plead in her administrative claim but did not plead in her earlier case. Her claims are barred by res judicata and, given amendment would be futile, we dismiss Ms. Preston's complaint against Vanguard and its former lawyers.

         I. Background

         A. Ms. Preston's December 22, 2014 Complaint

         Ms. Preston first sued her former employer, Vanguard, on December 22, 2014. Ms. Preston alleged Vanguard discriminated and retaliated based on her race and age, violating the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 ("ADEA"), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA").

         Ms. Preston admitted previously filing a Charge of Discrimination ("the Charge") with the Pennsylvania Human Resources Commission, alleging discrimination based on her age, race, and religion.[1] In the Charge, Ms. Preston alleged her manager, Seth Fisher, prohibited Ms. Preston from listening to radio stations "dealing with [her] religion."[2] Ms. Preston also claimed her co-workers harassed her because of her religion.[3] Despite alleging these facts in the Charge, Ms. Preston did not allege religious discrimination in her first Complaint.

         On March 24, 2015, Ms. Preston filed an Amended Complaint, again alleging Vanguard discriminated and retaliated based on race and violated Title VII, PHRA, and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and age discrimination in violation of the ADEA and PHRA.[4] Ms. Preston again alleged the same facts regarding her Charge. She did not allege a claim for religious discrimination although she argued religious discrimination in the Charge. On November 30, 2015, after granting summary judgment in favor of Vanguard, the Honorable Gerald J. Pappert entered final judgment discussing all claims in the Amended Complaint.[5]

         B. Ms. Preston's February 22, 2017 Complaint

         Rather than filing a timely appeal from Judge Pappert's November 30, 2015 Order, Ms. Preston filed a second action asking this Court to "overturn" Judge Pappert's decision.[6] In a February 22, 2017 pro se complaint, Ms. Preston again alleges age and race discrimination, based on the same facts plead on March 24, 2015.[7] Unlike earlier, Ms. Preston also adds religious discrimination, alleging her "gospel tracts [and] greeting cards were moved [and] shifted on [her] desk, " and she alleges being reprimanded for listening to Christian music on the radio.[8]

         Ms. Preston also claims age, race, and religious discrimination against Vanguard's lawyers, Klehr Harrison Harvey Branzburg LLP.[9] Ms. Preston supports this claim with the same facts alleged against Vanguard.[10]

         II. Analysis

         Vanguard and Klehr Harrison move to dismiss Ms. Preston's complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Vanguard argues Ms. Preston's claims of age and race discrimination are barred by res judicata, and Klehr Harrison argues Ms. Preston fails to state a claim against it. Vanguard makes no arguments regarding Ms. Preston's claim of religious discrimination.

         A. Ms. Preston's race and age discrimination claims against Vanguard are barred by res judicata.

         "A final judgment on the merits of an action precludes [ ] parties or their privies from relitigating issues that were or could have been raised in that action."[11] Our court of appeals identifies the three elements of claim preclusion: "(1) a final judgment on the merits in a prior suit involving; (2) the same parties or their privities; and (3) a subsequent suit based on the same cause of action."[12] "In deciding whether two suits are based on the same 'cause of action, ' we take a broad view, looking to whether there is an essential similarity of the underlying events giving rise to the various legal claims."[13]

         Ms. Preston's current complaint against Vanguard alleges essentially similar facts to those in her previous complaint claiming race and age discrimination.[14] Ms. Preston alleges two co-workers harassed her daily, Seth Fisher unsuccessfully raised the issue to Vanguard, Ms. Preston requested video surveillance, and the video surveillance produced no evidence of wrongdoing.[15] These underlying facts mirror those alleged in her March 24, 2015 Amended Complaint and earlier Charge.[16]

         Because Ms. Preston's current claims of race and age discrimination are subsequent claims involving the same parties as those of a previous valid final judgment, and because the two suits stem from essentially similar underlying events, we dismiss Ms. Preston's race and age discrimination claims under res judicata[17]

         B. Ms. Preston's claim of religious discrimination is barred by res judicata and dismissed, sua sponte.

         Ms. Preston now claims Vanguard discriminated against her based on her religion. Ms. Preston alleges the same facts to support her religious discrimination claim as those alleged in her Charge.[18] In her Charge, under the subheading "Religious Discrimination, " Ms. Preston alleged Vanguard prohibited her from listening to Christian radio stations.[19] Ms. Preston also alleged Vanguard moved and stole items from her work space.[20] In a letter attached to the present complaint, Ms. Preston alleges the same ...


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