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Ciocca v. Heidrick & Struggles, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

May 21, 2018



          R. BARCLAY SURRICK, J.

         Presently before the Court are Defendant's Motion to Clarify and Confirm Claims Alleged in Complaint (ECF No. 17), Plaintiff's Response in Opposition (ECF No. 18), Defendant's Reply to the Response (ECF No. 20), and Plaintiff's Sur-Reply (ECF No. 21). For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion will be denied.


         This employment discrimination case arises from Plaintiff Mary Ciocca's allegations that her employer, Defendant Heidrick & Struggles, Inc. (“H&S”), subjected her to discrimination and a hostile work environment based on her pregnancy and gender. Plaintiff was employed as an Office Manager by H&S's predecessor company, Design Strategies International (“DSI”) from approximately June 2011 until early March 2016, when DSI merged with H&S. (Compl. ¶¶ 18, 20-21, ECF No. 1.) Immediately after the DSI/H&S merger, Plaintiff's job title was changed to Project Development Coordinator, and she began reporting to H&S Principal, Amy Miller (“Miller”), and H&S Partners, Sarah Schwab (“Schwab”) and Steve Krupp (“Krupp”). (Id. ¶ 21.)

         In December 2015, Plaintiff began fertility treatment, which initially involved hormone therapy. (Id. ¶ 19.) Throughout March of 2016, Plaintiff continued her fertility treatment and regularly advised Miller of her treatment plan and appointments. (Id. ¶¶ 22-23.) On or about March 25, 2016, Plaintiff informed Miller that her treatments had failed and that she planned to pursue in vitro fertilization (“IFV”). (Id. ¶ 26.) Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff informed Miller of her IVF treatment plan and provided the dates of her scheduled appointments to Miller and her other supervisors. (Id. ¶ 27.) Between April and June 2016, Plaintiff attended numerous IVF treatment appointments before her work day began. (Id. ¶ 29.)

         After Plaintiff informed Miller of her IVF schedule, “Miller's demeanor negatively changed towards Plaintiff in the workplace, and Plaintiff began being unreasonably micromanaged and subjected to greater scrutiny.” (Id. ¶ 28.) On June 2, 2016, Plaintiff was summoned to a meeting with Miller and Schwab, at which she was placed on a 45-day performance improvement plan (“PIP”) and required to have follow-up meetings with Miller on a weekly basis. (Id. ¶¶ 30, 32.) At the June 2 meeting, Plaintiff unsuccessfully objected to, and requested an explanation of the reasons for, her placement on the PIP. (Id. ¶ 31.) Plaintiff's IVF treatment was successful, and on July 12, 2016, Plaintiff informed Miller and Krupp that she was pregnant. (Id. ¶ 33.) On July 18, 2016, even though Plaintiff had met or exceeded the requirements of the initial PIP, she was placed on an amended PIP for thirty additional days. (Id. ¶¶ 34-36.) On August 18, 2016, H&S terminated Plaintiff's employment for purportedly failing to improve on her performance deficiencies. (Id. ¶ 37.) According to Plaintiff, her “sex and pregnancy were motivating and/or determinative factors in Defendant's discriminatory treatment of Plaintiff, including but not limited to, the hostile work environment to which she was subjected and her termination.” (Id. ¶ 42.) Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant's discriminatory conduct “was severe and/or pervasive enough” to cause a reasonable person and Plaintiff to believe “that the conditions of employment had been altered and that a hostile work environment existed.” (Id. ¶ 48.)

         On or about September 15, 2016, Plaintiff dual-filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) and the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission (“PHRC”). (Id. ¶ 15, Ex. 1.) The EEOC issued Plaintiff a right-to-sue letter on August 23, 2017. (Id. ¶ 16, Ex. 2.) On November 20, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Complaint, which contained three counts. The counts alleged violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, 42 U.S.C. §§2000e-2000e-17 (Count I); violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601-2654 (Count II); and violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”), 43 Pa. Stat. and Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 951-963 (Count III). On January 25, 2018, the FMLA count was dismissed without prejudice by Stipulation and Order (ECF No. 9), thus limiting the claims at issue to those alleged in Counts I and III. On January 30, 2018, Defendant filed its Answer and Affirmative Defenses.[2] (ECF No. 11.)

         On March 23, 2018, we held an Initial Pretrial Conference, at which counsel discussed the parties' dispute regarding the nature of the claims alleged in Counts I and III of the Complaint. Plaintiff asserts that the Title VII and PHRA counts each encompass claims for pregnancy discrimination, sex discrimination, and hostile work environment. Defendant contends that those counts allege only pregnancy discrimination. At the conference, we directed Defendant to file a motion regarding this dispute within twenty days of the conference. On April 11, 2018, Defendant filed the instant Motion requesting an order “confirming that Plaintiff may pursue only pregnancy discrimination claims under Title VII and the PHRA.” (Def.'s Mot. Conclusion.) Plaintiff opposes the Motion. (ECF Nos. 18, 21.)


         Defendant has not identified a procedural rule authorizing the relief sought in the Motion to Clarify and Confirm Claims Alleged in Complaint, nor has Defendant suggested what legal standard should be applied to the Motion. Regardless of the Motion's title, it is effectively a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's sex discrimination and hostile work environment claims. However, by filing an Answer, Defendant relinquished the ability to challenge the sufficiency of the Complaint via Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) or 12(e). See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b) (“A [12(b)(6)] motion must be made before pleading if a responsive pleading is allowed.”); Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(e) (“[A] motion [for a more definite statement] must be made before filing a responsive pleading.”).

         At this stage of the case, Defendant's Motion is cognizable only if we construe it as one for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c).[3] See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(2) (“Failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted . . . may be raised . . . by a motion under Rule 12(c).”). The Motion does not refer to Rule 12(c). Nevertheless, we will analyze the sufficiency of the disputed claims under Rule 12(c). See Tri-Arc Fin. Servs. v. Evanston Ins. Co., No. 16-2681, 2016 WL 7178419, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 8, 2016) (“If a defendant files a motion to dismiss after it has already filed an answer, . . . “‘the motion must be considered a Rule 12(c) motion.'” (quoting Turbe v. Gov't of Virgin Islands, 938 F.2d 427, 428 (3d Cir. 1991))); Piester v. Hickey, No. 11-4720, 2012 WL 935789, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 20, 2012) (collecting cases applying Rule 12(c) to post-answer motions to dismiss).

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a), “[a] pleading that states a claim for relief must contain: . . . a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Where the sufficiency of a complaint is challenged under Rule 12(c), courts evaluate the motion under the same standard as a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Turbe, 938 F.2d at 428. A motion for judgment on the pleadings will be granted “only if, viewing all the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, no material issue of fact remains and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Knepper v. Rite Aid Corp., 675 F.3d 249, 257 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing Rosenau v. Unifund Corp., 539 F.3d 218, 221 (3d Cir. 2008)); see also Inst. for Scientific Info., Inc. v. Gordon & Breach, Sci. Publishers, Inc., 931 F.2d 1002, 1005 (3d Cir. 1991) (“[A Rule 12(c) motion] only has utility when all the material allegations of fact are admitted in the pleadings and only questions of law remain.” (citations and internal quotation marks omitted)).

         In evaluating a Rule 12(c) motion, the Court must “accept the complaint's well-pleaded allegations as true, and construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, but will not accept unsupported conclusory statements.” DiCarlo, 530 F.3d at 262-63. The pleadings must contain sufficient factual allegations so as to state a facially plausible claim for relief. See, e.g., Gelman v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 583 F.3d 187, 190 (3d Cir. 2009). A claim is plausible “‘when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'” Id. (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). Finally, a plaintiff is not required to establish the elements of a prima facie claim in order to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) or Rule 12(c) motion. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 213 (3d Cir. 2009). “A prima facie case is ‘an evidentiary standard, not a pleading requirement.'” Connelly v. Lane Const. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 788-89 (3d Cir. 2016) (quoting Swierkiewicz v. Sorema, N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 510 (2002)).

         III. ...

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