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Romanaskas v. Earthbox, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

February 23, 2018

JOHN ROMANASKAS, Plaintiff
v.
EARTHBOX, INC., Defendant

          Mariani, Judge.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Martin C. Carlson, United States Magistrate Judge

         I. Statement of Facts and of the Case

         Much preliminary litigation in federal court now turns on construing the heightened pleading standards announced by the United States Supreme Court in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), which eschew pleadings that are no more than “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements” and instead enjoin courts to:

[B]egin by identifying pleadings that because they are no more than conclusions are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.

Iqbal at 679.

         There is, however, a temptation which lurks within these heightened pleading standards. In some instances these pleading standards, which were designed to curb litigation-based formulaic assertions of claims, can lead to the opposite result, motions to dismiss which argue that well-pleaded facts are simply talismanic recitals of a cause of action, and reasonable inferences are mere conclusory statements.

         So it is in this case.

         This case began as a pro se Title VII workplace retaliation lawsuit. The operative pleading in this case is now the plaintiff's second amended complaint. (Doc. 27.) Liberally construed, Romanaskas' second amended complaint alleges that the plaintiff was employed by Earthbox since 2007. (Id., ¶11.) In 2013, Romanaskas allegedly observed an Hispanic supervisor engaging in aggressive and discriminatory behavior targeting African-American employees. (Id., ¶¶13-16.) Romanaskas voiced his concerns regarding racial discrimination to Earthbox management in late May or early June, 2013. (Id., ¶17.) According to Romanaskas after raising these concerns he “was asked to leave the room.” (Id.)

         Romanaskas alleges that he was not alone in raising these concerns. Romanaskas also insists that he was not the only employee terminated for voicing concerns regarding racially discriminatory workplace practices. According to Romanaskas, a co-worker, Sherry Kneller, witnessed similar discriminatory conduct and was also terminated for voicing her concerns. (Id., ¶18.)

         Romanaskas alleges that in early August 2013, he was ordered by an Earthbox manager, Frank DiPaolo, not to communicate with Earthbox's Human Resources department regarding his workplace concerns. (Id., ¶20.) Romanaskas was then terminated on August 19, 2013, and was initially told that the reason for his termination was that he communicated concerns to the Human Resources department when he was ordered not to do so. (Id., ¶21.) Romanaskas alleges that one year later Earthbox altered its justification for his termination to cite a non-discriminatory, and non-retaliatory basis for its actions. (Id.) Romanaskas also alleges that emails documenting his complaints of discrimination in the workplace were deleted by Earthbox after his abrupt termination. (Id., ¶29.)

         It is against the backdrop of these well-pleaded factual allegations that we consider the legal sufficiency of Romanaskas' workplace retaliation claim. For its part, Earthbox vigorously denies and assails Romanaskas' allegations, flatly contending that they are not true and that the plaintiff was fired for workplace misconduct. Earthbox advances these arguments with great passion, but the arguments also necessarily invite us to foray beyond the pleadings themselves, something we may not do when considering a motion to dismiss. Instead, with our scrutiny confined to the well-pleaded facts set forth in the second amended complaint, we find that those well-pleaded facts set forth a legally sufficient claim.

         Therefore, we recommend that this motion to dismiss be denied.

         II. ...


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