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Ragusa v. Lehigh University

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

August 6, 2019



          SCHMEHL, J.

         Plaintiff brought this action, claiming the Defendant improperly terminated her employment because of her disability (endometrial cancer/ adrenal insufficiency) in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. (“ADA”)(Count I), the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, as amended, 43 P.S. § 951 et seq. (“PHRA”) (Count II) and in response for exercising her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq. (“FMLA”)(Count III). Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the Original Complaint for failure to state a claim. The Court granted the motion, but allowed Plaintiff leave to file a First Amended Complaint which she has since done. Presently before the Court is the Defendant's motion to dismiss the First Amended Complaint in its entirety for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         In considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the district court should “accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.” Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility 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. The plaintiff need not satisfy any “probability” requirement, but must set forth “more than a sheer possibility” that the defendant's actions give rise to the claim. Id.

         The First Amended Complaint alleges that the Defendant hired Plaintiff in 2008 as a Lighting Coordinator and Adjunct Professor. (Am. Compl. at ¶ 14.) During Plaintiff's performance review for 2014, Plaintiff's Supervisor, Josh Kovar, told Plaintiff that she was an “expert in her field, a strong, highly valued member of the technical services team, and a solid performer.” (Id. at ¶ 16.) Plaintiff was diagnosed with endometrial cancer in August, 2015. (Id. at ¶ 17.) In September 2015, Plaintiff began to receive hormonal treatment therapy and soon after began to realize she could not work on a full-time basis. (Id. at ¶¶ 19-20.) After meeting with Defendant's Human Resources Associate, Linda Lefever, Plaintiff was permitted to work a reduced schedule of 35 hours per week. (Id. at ¶¶ 21-22.) However, in December 2015, Plaintiff's treating physician informed her that she was suffering from “adrenal insufficiency, ” a side effect from her cancer treatment that caused her to experience extreme fatigue, muscle weakness, and chronic pain. (Id. at ¶ 23.) As a result, Plaintiff requested and began an FMLA-approved medical leave of absence on January 4, 2016 which lasted until approximately April, 2016. (Id. at ¶24.)

         In April 2016, Plaintiff informed Defendant's Benefits Analyst, Kimberly Drey (“Drey”), that she wished to return to work on a part-time basis. (Id. at ¶ 25.) On May 26, 2016, Plaintiff presented Drey with a note from her doctor which stated that Plaintiff could return to work on a part-time basis, but could not climb or lift anything over (20) pounds and would be limited to performing “desk work.” (Id. at ¶ 26.) Plaintiff subsequently returned to work on May 27, 2016 and continued to work until May 31, 2016. (Id. at ¶ 27.) On that date, Drey told Plaintiff to go home and wait for Human Resources to permit her to return to work. (Id. at ¶ 28.)

         On June 10, 2016, Defendant denied Plaintiff's request to return on a part-time basis with the restrictions set forth by her doctor. (Id. at ¶ 29.) Defendant told Plaintiff that the Zoellner Arts Center where plaintiff worked as a lighting coordinator, “could not accommodate anything less than a full-duty return to work.” (Id. at ¶ 30.) Defendant failed to take any further steps at accommodating Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 31.) At the same time, Defendant did not consider Plaintiff for a vacant teaching position despite her being as equally qualified as the finalists. (Id. at ¶ 32.) That position was given to a non-disabled individual. (Id. at ¶ 33.)

         On June 21, 2016, Plaintiff informed Defendant that she believed Defendant was discriminating against her because of her disabilities. (Id. at ¶ 34.) On June 28, 2016, Plaintiff requested that she be able to return to work on a full-time basis with certain restrictions, including not lifting over 20 pounds, not climbing vertical ladders, not standing or walking more than one hour at a time, and having a non-public space in which she could rest during the day. (Id. at ¶ 35.)

         On June 29, 2016, July 7, 2016 and July 20, 2016, Plaintiff contacted Equal Opportunity Compliance Coordinator Karen Salvemini to inquire about how to file a complaint of discrimination. (Id. at ¶¶ 36-37.) On July 18, 2016, Plaintiff met with Drey, Lefever and Judy Zavalydriga (“Zavalydriga”), Director of Employee Relations to discuss returning to work with restrictions. (Id. at ¶ 38.) Defendant did not approve of any accommodations for Plaintiff and instead informed her that she would have to have another meeting with her supervisor, Kovar. (Id. at ¶ 39.)

         On July 22, 2016, Plaintiff filed a formal complaint of disability discrimination against the Defendant. (Id. at ¶ 40.) Plaintiff alleges that she was made aware that Defendant did not want her to return to work and become another “Rachel, ” referring to another of Defendant's employees that was perceived as a burden and a bad employee after being diagnosed with cancer. (Id. at ¶ 41.)

         On August 4, 2016, Plaintiff met with Drey, Zavalydriga, Kovar and Kovar's supervisor and Defendant's Administrative Director, Andrew Cassano, to discuss Plaintiff's desire to return to work with certain limitations. (Id. at ¶ 42.) Following the meeting, Defendant agreed to allow Plaintiff to return to work on August 8, 2016 with the following restrictions and accommodations:

a. Working no more than forty (40) hours per week;
b. Limiting the amount to which she engaged in manual labor;
c. Devoting all of her time to her duties with Defendant's Zoellner Arts Center as opposed to her teaching responsibilities;
d. Having a space in the Zoellner Arts Center to periodically rest during the day; and
e. Having the opportunity to partially work from her home until a suitable resting space was located for Plaintiff at ...

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