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McAssey v. Discovery Machine Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 20, 2017

JAMES McASSEY, Plaintiff
v.
DISCOVERY MACHINE, INC., et al., Defendants

          Magistrate Judge Carlson

          ORDER

          Yvette Kane, District Judge

         THE BACKGROUND OF THIS ORDER IS AS FOLLOWS:

         From June 2010 until May 2015, Plaintiff James McAssey worked as the Vice President of Business Development for Defendant Discovery Machine Inc. (“DMI”). (Doc. No. 1 ¶¶ 20, 22.) Plaintiff asserts that he experienced a “serious brain incident” in 2009 and has occasionally suffered acute headaches as a consequence of hydrocephalus. (Id. ¶ 21.) Defendant Anna Griffith, owner and chief executive officer of DMI, allegedly commented “on occasion that she did not want Plaintiff to represent DMI.” (Id. ¶¶ 4-5, 21.) Defendant Anna Griffith also purportedly subjected Plaintiff to unwelcome and unsolicited acts that included, inter alia, sexual requests, “lying to Plaintiff about DMI client contact, ” and “going out to meals to provide the Plaintiff alcohol.” (Id. ¶ 25.)

         On February 24, 2016, Plaintiff filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against Defendants DMI, Anna Griffith, Todd Griffith, Howard Lewis, Molly Lusk, and Vanessa Chapla, alleging violations under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. (“Title VII”), the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §12101, et seq. (“ADA”), and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 P.S. § 951, et seq. (“PHRA”). (Doc. No. 1.) In his complaint, Plaintiff alleges, inter alia, that Defendants subjected him to a hostile work environment and terminated him for his refusal to be subjected to continued harassment and because of his disability. (Id. ¶¶ 26, 27[1], 32, 33[2].) Plaintiff also asserts that Defendants Todd Griffith, Howard Lewis, Molly Lusk, and Vanessa Chapla “aided and abetted Ms. [Anna] Griffith's harassment against Plaintiff.” (Id. ¶ 6.)

         On March 21, 2016, Defendants filed a motion to transfer venue to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). (Doc. No. 10.) Judge Timothy J. Savage granted the motion on April 18, 2016 and the above-captioned case was transferred to the Middle District of Pennsylvania on April 28, 2016. (Doc. Nos. 18-19, 21.) Pending at the time of transfer was Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. No. 13.) In their motion to dismiss, Defendants argue that the complaint is “devoid of any factual allegations” involving Todd Griffith, Howard Lewis, Molly Lusk, and Vanessa Chapla, fails to state a claim for disability discrimination under the ADA and PHRA, and fails to state a claim for retaliation under Title VII. (Id. at 10-14 & n.19.)

         On January 18, 2017, Magistrate Judge Carlson issued a Report and Recommendation, recommending that this Court grant in part and deny in part Defendants' motion to dismiss. (Doc. No. 40.) Specifically, Magistrate Judge Carlson recommends that this Court: (1) dismiss without prejudice Plaintiff's ADA claim;[3] and (2) decline to dismiss Plaintiff's Title VII claim regarding sexual harassment and retaliation, but direct Plaintiff “to file a more definite statement” concerning his Title VII claim. (Doc. No. 40 at 17-18, 22-23.) Defendants filed objections to the Report and Recommendation (Doc. Nos. 44, 44-2), and the parties each filed briefs addressing Defendants' objections (Doc. Nos. 45, 47).

         In their objections, Defendants contend that the Report and Recommendation did not address whether Plaintiff adequately alleged a PHRA claim against Todd Griffith, Howard Lewis, Molly Lusk, and Vanessa Chapla. (Doc. Nos. 44 at 2; 44-2 at 2.) Defendants reason that only a “supervisory employee can be shown to have aided and abetted the employer's discriminatory actions in violation of the PHRA, ” (Doc. No. 44-2 at 12-13) (quoting Cohen v. Temple Physicians, Inc., 11 F.Supp.2d 733, 737 (E.D. Pa. 1998)), and that Plaintiff failed to allege that Todd Griffith, Howard Lewis, Molly Lusk and Vanessa Chapla were supervisors (id. at 13). Plaintiff responds that the complaint adequately alleges that Defendants Anna Griffith, Todd Griffith, Howard Lewis, Molly Lusk, and Vanessa Chapla committed “acts of discrimination as Plaintiff's supervisor or fellow employee” and are liable under 43 Pa. Stat. § 955(e). (Doc. No. 45 at 4, 8.)

         The Report and Recommendation correctly recognized that “[t]he analytical framework used to evaluate a disability discrimination claim under the PHRA is effectively indistinguishable from that under the ADA.” (Doc. No. 40 at 9) (quoting Wilson v. Iron Tiger Logistics, Inc., 628 F.App'x 832, 835-36 (3d Cir. 2015)). Similarly, as a general rule, “[c]laims brought under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act … [are] ‘interpreted coextensively with Title VII claims.'” Faush v. Tuesday Morning, Inc., 808 F.3d 208, 213 (3d Cir. 2015). However, the Report and Recommendation did not squarely address whether Plaintiff adequately alleged an aiding and abetting claim under the PHRA against Todd Griffith, Howard Lewis, Molly Lusk, and Vanessa Chapla.[4] (Doc. Nos. 40; 44 at 2.) Accordingly, the Court now turns to the Defendants' PHRA challenge.[5]

(e) [A]ny person, employer, employment agency, labor organization or employee, to aid, abet, incite, compel or coerce the doing of any act declared by this section to be an unlawful discriminatory practice, or to obstruct or prevent any person from complying with the provisions of this act or any order issued thereunder, or to attempt, directly or indirectly, to commit any act declared by this section to be an unlawful discriminatory practice.

43 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 955(e); see Snyder v. Pennsylvania, No. 09-1814, 2010 WL 4362440, at *7 (M.D. Pa. Oct. 27, 2010) (citing Dici v. Com. of Pa., 91 F.3d 542, 551-52 (3d Cir. 1996)). “[D]istrict courts sitting in the Third Circuit have consistently held that ‘[l]iability under § 955(e) attaches only to supervisory employees.'” Suero v. Motorworld Auto. Grp., Inc., No. 16-686, 2017 WL 413005, at *5 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 31, 2017) (collecting cases). This approach to § 955(e) liability tracks “the theory that only supervisors can share the discriminatory purpose and intent of the employer that is required for aiding and abetting.” See, e.g., Holocheck v. Luzerne Cty. Head Start, Inc., 385 F.Supp.2d 491, 497 (M.D. Pa. 2005) (Vanaskie, J.) (citing Bacone v. Philadelphia Housing Auth., No. 01-419, 2001 WL 748177, *2 (E.D. Pa. June 27, 2001)).

         Here, in his complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Todd Griffith, Howard Lewis, Vanessa Chapla, and Molly Lusk are “employees and/or officers of DMI” who “aided and abetted” Anna Griffith's harassment and, more generally, aided and abetted “the harassment and discrimination.” (Doc. No. 1 ¶¶ 6, 29, 40) The three exhibits Plaintiff attaches to his complaint similarly only permit the Court to draw the following inferences therefrom: (1) Howard Lewis is a chairman of DMI's board and a paid consultant (id. at 17, 24); (2) Plaintiff notified Howard Lewis of Anna Griffith's “vulgare and abuse treatment” on April 27, 2015 (id. at 17; see Doc. No. 1-1 at 1); (3) Howard Lewis responded on April 27, 2015 that “sometimes people have a bad day” and mentioned approaching “things differently next time” (Doc. No. 1 at 17, 24); and (4) the termination letter was provided to Plaintiff by Anna Griffith, Todd Griffith, and Howard Lewis (Doc. No. 1-1 at 1, 8).

         Upon review of the complaint and the exhibits attached thereto, the Court finds that Plaintiff fails to adequately allege an aiding and abetting claim under the PHRA against Todd Griffith, Howard Lewis, Vanessa Chapla and Molly Lusk. First, Plaintiff fails to allege or otherwise permit this Court to reasonably infer that Todd Griffith, Howard Lewis, Vanessa Chapla and Molly Lusk were Plaintiff's supervisors. Second, although the complaint makes references to the conduct of “Defendants” and “foregoing acts, ” Plaintiff fails to plead factual allegations that support the conclusory assertion that Todd Griffith, Howard Lewis, Vanessa Chapla, and Molly Lusk aided and abetted PHRA violations. (Id. ¶¶ 40, 41.) Therefore, the Court will dismiss without prejudice Plaintiff's aiding and abetting claims under the PHRA for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         ACCORDINGLY, upon independent review of the record and applicable law, on this 20th day of ...


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