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Kramer v. Mauch Chunk Trust Co.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 10, 2019

MARY KRAMER, Plaintiff



         Pending before the court, in this employment, age and disability discrimination action filed by plaintiff Mary Kramer, is a motion to dismiss the amended complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) filed by her former employer, defendant Mauch Chunk Trust Company (“MCTC”). (Doc. 9). Based upon the court's review of the motion and related materials, the defendant's motion will be GRANTED IN PART and, DENIED IN PART with respect to plaintiff's claims related to her termination. The plaintiff's disability discrimination claim will proceed. The plaintiff's age discrimination claim will be dismissed. The plaintiff's common law wrongful discharge claim will be dismissed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The plaintiff has brought the instant action alleging discrimination and retaliation under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. §621, et seq., and the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act, (“ADAAA”), 42 U.S.C. §12112. She also brought a Pennsylvania common law claim of wrongful discharge. She filed her original complaint on July 3, 2018. (Doc. 1).

         After being served, the defendant filed a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. (Doc. 5).

         Plaintiff then filed an amended complaint on October 25, 2018, (Doc.7), the operative pleading for this case. In Count I, plaintiff asserts a claim under the ADAAA alleging that defendant discriminated against her based on her unidentified disability of which she made her supervisor, Lee Zink, aware she had. She also alleges that Zink regarded her as disabled due to her medical conditions. In Count II, plaintiff raises an age discrimination claim under the ADEA. In Count III, plaintiff raises a common law wrongful discharge claim alleging that her termination was in violation of Pennsylvania public policy.

         As relief, plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages as well as front pay and back pay. Plaintiff also seeks declaratory and injunctive relief declaring that the alleged conduct of defendant to be unlawful and enjoining its “past and continued effects.” On November 8, 2018, defendant filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) seeking the dismissal of all claims. (Doc. 9). Defendant simultaneously filed its brief in support of its motion. (Doc. 10). On November 23, 2018, plaintiff filed her brief in opposition. (Doc. 11). Defendant filed a reply brief on December 7, 2018. (Doc. 12).

         This court's jurisdiction over the plaintiff's federal claims is based on 28 U.S.C. §1331. The court can exercise supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiff's state law claim under 28 U.S.C. §1337.


         According to the amended complaint, plaintiff was terminated by defendant based on her age in violation of the ADEA and based on her actual and perceived disability in violation of the ADAAA.[1] During her employment with defendant, plaintiff alleges that she was subjected to discriminatory and disparate treatment by defendant's employees based on her age and disability. Plaintiff, who was 60 years old, also alleges that after defendant hired her on January 23, 2017 as a Trust Officer, it retaliated against her for failing to agree to answer questions from state bank auditors as Zink suggested and, for failing to agree not to report Zink's conflict of interest and unethical conduct to state regulators regarding his investment recommendations and decisions for defendant. In particular, plaintiff alleges that in July 2017, defendant was audited by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities, and that before the audit began, Zink met with her and told her he needed to “groom” her regarding how to respond to the auditors. She also alleges that Zink told her that if anyone found out that he was making investment recommendations and decisions for both defendant's individual and trust clients, he would “lose every license” he has. Plaintiff avers that Zink told her that if she was not comfortable being “groomed” to answer the auditors' questions, she should “work from another office that week.” Plaintiff then states that she did not respond to Zink. Subsequently, plaintiff avers that Zink directed the auditors away from her because he feared that she would disclose his unethical investment decisions and recommendations on behalf of defendant.

         On July 20, 2017, the day before plaintiff was scheduled to have an exit interview with the state auditors, Zink informed her that she was terminated because she was “not right” for the job and was “not a good fit” despite the fact that she was not afforded any prior notice or discipline, no investigation, no opportunity to challenge the reasons for her termination, and no exit interview with defendant's Human Resources Department.

         The court will first discuss plaintiff's ADAAA discrimination claim.

         A. ADAAA CLAIM

         Plaintiff claims defendant violated the ADAAA since she was discriminated against and terminated due to an actual or perceived disability. She alleges that she was “treated in a different and disparate manner with regard to discipline and workplace standards than . . . non-disabled employees.” The ADA prohibits discrimination “against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.” 42 U.S.C. §12112(a). To establish a prima facie case of disability discrimination under the statute, the plaintiff must show: “(1) [s]he is a disabled person within the meaning of the ADA; (2) [s]he is otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodations by the employer; and (3) [s]he has suffered an otherwise adverse employment decision as a result of discrimination.” Taylor v. Phoenixville School Dist., 184 F.3d 296, 306 (3d Cir. 1999) (citing Gaul v. Lucent Technologies, 134 F.3d 576, 580 (3d Cir. 1998)). The ADA defines an “individual with a disability” as a person who has: “(a) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual; (b) a record of such impairment; or (c) being regarded as having such an impairment.” 42 U.S.C. §12102(1).

         Thus, to establish a “disability” under the ADA, plaintiff must prove that she is substantially limited in performing a major life activity. See 42 U.S.C. §12102. As noted, the ADAAA expanded the scope of disability and construed the definition of disability in favor of broad coverage. Nonetheless, the ADAAA's definition of “disability” still remains as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual.” 42 U.S.C. §12102(1). “[M]ajor life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.” 42 U.S.C. §12102(2)(A). “The determination of whether an individual is substantially limited in a major life activity must be made on a case by case basis.” Albertson's, Inc. v. Kirkingburg, 527 U.S. 555, 566, 119 S.Ct. 2162 (1999) (citation omitted).

         Further, with respect to the “‘physical or mental impairment' prong of the definition of a disability, EEOC regulations clarified that ‘the determination of whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity requires an individualized assessment' and ‘should require a degree of functional limitation that is lower than the standard for ‘substantially limits' applied prior to the ADAAA.” Riley v. St. Mary Medical Center, 2014 WL 220734729, *2 (E.D.Pa. May 28, 2014) (citations omitted). However, “[n]ot every impairment will constitute a disability” within the meaning of the ADA. Koller v. Riley Riper Hollin & Colagreco, 850 F.Supp.2d 502, 513 (E.D.Pa. 2012). Under the ADAAA, the qualifying impairment must still create an “important” limitation. Id.

         “To determine whether [plaintiff] is disabled under Subsection (A), we ‘must first identify the specific life activities that [plaintiff] claims are affected and determine whether those activities are ‘major life activities' under the ADA, and then must evaluate whether [plaintiff's] impairment substantially limits those major life activities.” Parrotta v. PECO Energy Company, 363 F.Supp.3d 577, 590-91 (E.D.Pa. 2019) (citation omitted). The court “measure[s] disability at the time the adverse action occurred”, id. at 591, i.e., when plaintiff was terminated from her position.

         Additionally, plaintiff alleges that defendant regarded her as being disabled. As the court in Walker v. U.S. Secretary of the Air Force, 7 ...

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