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Jackson v. Pennsylvania State University

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 31, 2018

TRACEY JACKSON, Plaintiff,
v.
THE PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIVERSITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Matthew W. Brann United States District Judge

         The Pennsylvania State University (“PSU”) moved to dismiss Tracey Jackson's complaint.[1] For the reasons that follow, PSU's motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Ms. Jackson is a former employee of PSU. Her complaint alleges that she was wrongfully discharged on the basis of her age, and contains claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (Counts I and IV); the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (Counts II and VII); the Borough of State College AntiDiscrimination in Employment Ordinance (Counts III and VIII); the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (Count V); Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Count VI); and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Count IX).

         PSU's motion seeks to dismiss Counts III, V, and VIII of Ms. Jackson's Complaint.[2] It also seeks to dismiss Ms. Jackson's request for punitive damages, [3]but PSU later withdrew that portion of its motion.[4]

         When opposing PSU's motion, Ms. Jackson agreed that Count V should be dismissed.[5] Consequently, this Court will dismiss it with prejudice, and only address PSU's motion vis-à-vis Counts III and VIII.

         II. DISCUSSION

         PSU's sole argument in favor of dismissing Counts III and VIII is that Ms. Jackson failed to exhaust her administrative remedies before filing the instant suit-i.e., that she failed to file a complaint with the State College Human Relations Commission (“SCHRC”) before bringing her claim in this Court. In response, Ms. Jackson argues that her cross-filing with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (“PHRC”) satisfied the Ordinance's exhaustion requirement.

         The Borough of State College Anti-Discrimination in Employment Ordinance (“Ordinance”) provides a private right of action to those injured by workplace discrimination.[6] Section 908.b of the Ordinance states that such right of action “may be brought:”

(1) upon receipt by the aggrieved Person(s) of notice that the [SCHRC] has dismissed the compliant; or
(2) if no such notice is received, after (1) year from the date of the filing of the complaint.

         PSU argues that this Section required Ms. Jackson to file a complaint with the SCHRC in addition to the complaint she filed with the EEOC and the PHRC.

         Section 909 of the Ordinance, however, indicates that it “shall have no jurisdiction over matters which are the subject of pending or prior filings made by an aggrieved person before any state or federal court or agency of competent jurisdiction.” Consequently, if this Court reads Section 908.b as requiring filing with the SCHRC, Section 909 would necessarily require a plaintiff such as Ms. Jackson to choose between bringing a suit under the Ordinance and bringing a suit under state and/or federal antidiscrimination laws.

         Imposing such a choice, however, would violate another part of the Ordinance, Section 908.c, which states that “nothing in this Ordinance limits the right of an aggrieved Person to recover under any other applicable law or legal theory.” It would additionally violate the Ordinance's stated purpose-i.e., “to foster the employment of all persons in ...


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