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Voorhees v. Montgomery County Community College

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

August 2, 2019

ROBERT VOORHEES, Plaintiff
v.
MONTGOMERY COUNTY COMMUNITY COLLEGE, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM

          C. DARNELL JONES, II, J.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Defendant Montgomery County Community College moves for partial judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure seeking dismissal of Plaintiff Robert Voorhees' Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) claims. (Mot. J. Pleadings 1, ECF No. 6.) Defendant contends Plaintiff did not fully exhaust his administrative remedies because he obtained his notice of right to sue from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) instead of the United States Attorney General. (Mot. J. Pleadings 1.) Defendant argues the Attorney General, not the EEOC, must issue a notice of right to sue when the party being faced with claims under the ADA is a governmental agency or a political subdivision.[1](Mot. J. Pleadings 5.) For the reasons set forth herein, Defendant's Motion for Partial Judgment on the Pleadings shall be denied.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A party may move for judgment on the pleadings, “ [a]fter the pleadings are closed - but early enough not to delay trial.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). “Judgment on the pleadings shall only be granted if the moving party clearly establishes that there are no material issues of fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Alea London Ltd. v. Woodlake Mgmt., 594 F.Supp.2d 547, 550 (E.D. Pa. 2009), affd, 365 Fed.Appx. 427 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Sikirica v. Nationwide Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 214, 220 (3d Cir. 2005)). “In reviewing a 12(c) motion, the court must view the facts in the pleadings and the inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” Allstate Ins. Co. v. Hopfer, 672 F.Supp.2d 682, 685 (E.D. Pa. 2009). Courts utilize the same standards for motions for judgments on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) as that for a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218, 223 n.2 (3d Cir. 2004) (“there is no material difference in the applicable legal standards”). When considering a motion to dismiss, a court shall “accept as true all factual assertions, but we disregard threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, legal conclusions, and conclusory statements.” James v. City of Wilkes-Barre, 700 F.3d 675 (3d Cir. 2012).

         III. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, a sixty-four-year-old man diagnosed with severe anxiety, stress, and depression, began working for Defendant in July 2017 as a Manager within Defendant's Human Resources Department and was the oldest and only male employee. (Compl. ¶¶ 8-10, ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff alleges his supervisor, Diane O'Connor, made a series of discriminatory statements with respect to his age and alleged disability, which ultimately worsened his condition to the extent that he took short-term disability leave from November 22, 2017, to January 3, 2018. (Compl. ¶¶ 12-27.) On both January 17 and 24, 2018, Ms. O'Connor notified Plaintiff that his employment would be terminated as of May 30, 2018. (Compl. ¶ 36.) Plaintiff filed a charge with the EEOC on May 18, 2018, alleging violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) and the ADA. (Compl. ¶ 4.) On June 7, 2018, the EEOC mailed Plaintiff a notice of right to sue. (Compl. ¶ 5.) On September 4, 2018, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendant alleging violations of both the ADEA and the ADA. (Compl. ¶ 1.) On November 19, 2018, Defendant filed this Motion for Partial Judgment on the Pleadings seeking dismissal only of Plaintiff's ADA claims on a theory that Plaintiff failed to exhaust administrative remedies. (Mot. J. Pleadings 1).[2]

         IV. DISCUSSION

         A. Source of Right to Sue Letter

         Claims brought under the ADA are subject to the procedural requirements set forth in 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5. 42 U.S.C. § 12117(a). A plaintiff bringing a claim under the ADA must exhaust all administrative remedies prior to bringing a civil action in court. See Churchill v. Star Enters., 183 F.3d 184, 190 (3d Cir. 1999). See also Burgh v. Borough Council of Montrose, 251 F.3d 465, 470 (3d Cir. 2001) (exhaustion of administrative remedies is an “essential element” for bringing a civil action in court under Title VII). In order to exhaust administrative remedies, a plaintiff must first file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, after which the EEOC determines whether there is “reasonable cause to believe that the charge is true.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5 (b). If the EEOC finds reasonable cause, then it first attempts to resolve the unlawful employment practice through informal conciliation efforts. Id. If these efforts fail, the EEOC can then bring a civil action in court, or, in cases where the respondent is a governmental agency or a political subdivision, refer the case to the United States Attorney General, who then decides whether to bring a civil action. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1). The Attorney General, not the EEOC, has the power to sue a governmental agency or a political subdivision when there is reasonable cause to believe that unlawful employment discrimination has occurred. Id.

         However, if the EEOC, in its initial investigation, concludes there is no reasonable cause to believe the employment discrimination charge is true, as it did in this case (Compl. Ex. 2), then no further action is taken and a notice of right-to-sue is issued, which “indicates that a complainant has exhausted administrative remedies.” Burgh, 251 F.3d at 470 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e) (5)(f)(1)). Within ninety days of receiving this notice, a plaintiff can bring a civil action. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1). Here, Defendant neither disputes that Plaintiff first filed a charge with the EEOC nor that he timely brought his civil action. (Mot. J. Pleadings 1.) Defendant specifically challenges the issuance of Plaintiff's right-to-sue letter, arguing it does not satisfy administrative exhaustion requirements because it came from the wrong source. Thus, the specific exhaustion requirement at issue is who must issue the right-to-sue notice after the EEOC determines there is no reasonable cause when the respondent is a government agency or a political subdivision.

         Regarding the notice of right to sue, the statutory language provides, in pertinent part:

If a charge filed with the Commission pursuant to subsection (b) is dismissed by the Commission, or if within one hundred and eighty days from the filing of such charge or the expiration of any period of reference under subsection (c) or (d), whichever is later, the Commission has not filed a civil action under this section or the Attorney General has not filed a civil action involving a government, governmental agency, or political subdivision, or the Commission has not entered into a conciliation agreement to which the person aggrieved is a party, the Commission, or the Attorney General in a case involving a government, governmental agency, or political ...

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