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Witbeck v. Equipment Transport, LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

December 27, 2017




         Plaintiff Bryan Witbeck (“Plaintiff) asserts that Defendant Equipment Transport, LLC's (“Defendant”) decision to terminate his employment violated federal and state anti-discrimination and retaliation statutes and the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). Before the court for disposition is Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the reasons explained below, the court will grant the motion as to Count II insofar as Plaintiff is asserting an FMLA interference claim, but will deny the remainder of the motion.

         I. Background

         As recited in the complaint, Plaintiff was employed by Defendant for approximately four years as a full-time truck supervisor and occasionally as a commercial truck driver. (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 11-12.) As a result of a heart attack, Plaintiff suffers from ongoing heart and cardiovascular problems. (Id. at ¶ 16.) At times, these conditions “limited Plaintiffs ability to work, his breathing, [and] his respiratory and circulatory functions (among other impacts).” (Id. at ¶ 17.) In January 2016, he underwent surgery to have a defibrillator implanted in his chest. (Id. at ¶ 18.) As a result of this surgery, Plaintiff missed approximately two weeks of work in late January and early February 2016, and had some temporary medical restrictions, including limits with lifting, pushing and pulling. (Id. at ¶¶ 18-19.)

         Throughout his employment, Plaintiffs supervisors generally considered him to be a very good employee, but their demeanor and attitude toward him changed in 2015 as he began to experience his health problems. (Id. at ¶¶ 14, 17.) Leading up to and following his surgery, his supervisors became “very condescending toward [him] and expressed annoyance” with his requests for time off and light-duty jobs. (Id. . at ¶ 20.)

         On February 23, 2016, [1] following his return to work from his medical leave of absence, Plaintiff was terminated from his employment for “unsatisfactory performance, ” purportedly for providing false information to his manager regarding an accident that occurred earlier that same day. (Id. at ¶¶ 21-24.) However, prior to Plaintiff's termination, Defendant had already begun searching for his replacement. (Id. . at ¶ 26.)

         In response to his termination, Plaintiff filed a three-count complaint. (Doc. 1.) Count I asserts disability discrimination and retaliation claims in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101; Count II asserts interference and retaliation claims in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. §§2601; and Count III asserts discrimination and retaliation claims under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”), 43 Pa. St. Ann. § 951. On May 19, 2017, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the complaint in its entirety. (Doc. 7.) The parties then briefed the issues, bringing this matter to its current procedural posture.

         II. Standard of Review

         Defendant moves to dismiss Plaintiffs complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 requires that a complaint set forth “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). For a complaint to survive dismissal, it “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The plaintiffs short and plain statement of the claim must “give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)).

         In evaluating the sufficiency of a complaint, a court must accept all well-pleaded factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. See Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Further, “[a] pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.' Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertions]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (internal citations omitted) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557). However, this “‘does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage, ' but instead ‘simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element.” West Penn Allegheny Health Sys. Inc. v. UPMC, 627 F.3d 85, 98 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234).

         The Third Circuit has detailed a three-step process to determine whether a complaint meets the pleading standard. Bistrian v. Levi, 696 F.3d 352 (3d Cir. 2014). First, the court outlines the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim for relief. Id. at 365. Next, the court must “peel away those allegations that are no more than conclusions and thus not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Id. Finally, the court “look[s] for well-pled factual allegations, assume[s] their veracity, and then ‘determine[s] whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.'” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). The last step is “a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id.

         III. Discussion

         a. Discrimination Claims [2]

         Defendant first seeks dismissal of Plaintiff's claims of disability discrimination on the grounds that Plaintiff has failed to plead facts showing that he is disabled within the meaning of the ADA and that he suffered an adverse employment action because of his disability. Plaintiff argues ...

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