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Lombard v. Lassip, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

December 12, 2017

BRIDGIT LOMBARD Plaintiff,
v.
LASSIP, INC., f/ka/ Nathan Sports, Inc., Nathan Brands, Inc., and Penguin Brands, Inc., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GOLDBERG, J.

         Plaintiff Bridgit Lombard has sued her former employer Lassip, Inc. (f/k/a Nathan Sports, Inc., Nathan Brands, Inc, and Penguin Brands) (“the Company”), alleging several claims of discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. Plaintiff now seeks leave to amend her Complaint to (a) add claims against the Company for harassment, hostile work environment, and retaliation under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”), 43 P.S. § 951, et seq., and (b) add as a defendant the Company's principal owner, Jonathan Reichlin, on a theory of aiding and abetting the Company's PHRA violation. Upon consideration of the parties' briefs and the proffered Amended Complaint, I will deny the Motion.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND[1]

         In October 2010, Plaintiff was recruited for employment as the Company's Executive Vice President by Jonathan Reichlin, the Company's sole owner and chairman. Plaintiff accepted the position under the promise that she would enjoy equity ownership of 15% of the Company. In 2012, Plaintiff became Chief Executive Officer. (Compl. ¶¶ 21-23, 26.)

         Eventually, Reichlin decided to sell some assets of the Company and agreed that the Company would pay Plaintiff an additional bonus in recognition of her efforts. At the time of the sale in June 2013, however, Plaintiff received only a portion of her bonus, leaving a substantial balance due to her. After the sale, Plaintiff agreed to continue in the position as CEO of the Company based on Reichlin's offer to (1) personally guarantee payment of the outstanding balance of her bonuses; (2) raise her salary; and (3) provide her with share certificates equal to a continuing 15% equity share in the Company. (Id. ¶¶ 29, 31, 32.)

         At some point after her commencement of employment, Reichlin initiated a sexual relationship with Plaintiff. During the relationship, Reichlin made various personal loans to Plaintiff including (a) a loan of $200, 000 and (b) another loan of $1, 000, 000 for the purchase of a Philadelphia condominium. Throughout 2013 and 2014, Plaintiff's romantic relationship with Reichlin deteriorated, but Reichlin continued to subject Plaintiff to verbal abuse and coercive demands for sex. As Reichlin was in full control of the Company, Plaintiff had no vehicle by which to lodge a complaint. (Id. ¶¶ 33, 35-37, 39.)

         Thereafter, Plaintiff began a new relationship with another male co-worker. On April 14, 2015, Reichlin discovered this new relationship and immediately sent Plaintiff a demand for repayment of $75, 000-the outstanding amount on the first personal loan. Reichlin also demanded a meeting with Plaintiff, which allegedly turned into another unwanted sexual encounter. After this encounter, Reichlin persisted in harassing her, stating that if Plaintiff sustained her new relationship, he would not pay what he and the Company owed her. When Plaintiff threatened to leave her position, Reichlin, in an effort to induce her to stay, reaffirmed both the obligation owed to her by the Company in connection with the sale of assets, and his offer to forgive all of her debts to him personally. In reliance on these promises, Plaintiff agreed to and did remain CEO of the Company until it was sold. (Id. ¶¶ 40-49, 54.)

         Reichlin's behavior, however, did not change and he repeatedly forced Plaintiff into unwanted sexual acts. When Plaintiff expressly told Reichlin that she would not acquiesce in any further sexual encounters, Reichlin subjected her to increased sexual harassment both in front of co-workers and through texts and phone calls. (Id. ¶¶ 50-53.)

         On October 27, 2015, the remaining operational assets of the Company were sold and Plaintiff's employment with the Company ended. Following the sale, Reichlin retaliated against Plaintiff by: (a) failing to pay all monies owed to her; (b) sending messages soliciting a continued sexual relationship; (c) demanding repayment of all loans made to her, in breach of his prior forgiveness of those loans; and (d) sending Plaintiff a formal notice of mortgage foreclosure on June 16, 2016. Upon learning of Plaintiff's intent to pursue discrimination claims against him, Reichlin preemptively filed a state court complaint against her seeking mortgage foreclosure. (Id. ¶¶ 55, 56, 58.)

         On August 2, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (“PHRC”). The EEOC issued a right to sue letter on December 2, 2016.

         Plaintiff initiated the current lawsuit against the Company on March 2, 2017, alleging

(1) quid pro quo sexual harassment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964;
(2) hostile work environment in violation of Title VII; and (3) retaliation in violation of Title VII. At the time this Complaint was filed, however, Plaintiff's complaint under the Pennsylvania Human Rights Act (“PHRA”) was still pending. Plaintiff indicated her intent to later amend her Complaint and include PHRA claims for sexual harassment and retaliation against the Company and for aiding and abetting against Reichlin under the PHRA. (Compl. p. 1 n.1.)

         The PHRC administratively dismissed Plaintiff's claim on April 25, 2017. Thereafter, on May 11, 2017, Plaintiff filed the current Motion for Leave to Amend. Defendants filed a brief in opposition on ...


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