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Hunt v. University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

August 12, 2019

JOLENE HUNT, Plaintiff
v.
UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH MEDICAL CENTER, PINNACLE, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM

         Before the Court is Defendant University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pinnacle (“Defendant”)'s motion to dismiss (Doc. No. 10) Counts I through VII of Plaintiff Jolene Hunt (“Plaintiff”)'s amended complaint (Doc. No. 9) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons provided herein, the Court will grant in part and deny in part the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiff, an adult resident of Pennsylvania, was previously employed with White Rose Ambulance Service (“White Rose”) from October 24, 2017 to March 3, 2018, after White Rose was acquired by Defendant and made “a part of [Defendant's] ‘Community LifeTeam.'” (Doc. No. 1 ¶¶ 5, 7.) During her employment, Plaintiff “was a dispatcher for 911 calls, dispatching ambulances for emergency medical situations, transport[ing] wheelchair vans . . . and [] dispatch[ing] ambulances for psychiatric transport[, ]” in addition to handling paperwork. (Id. ¶¶ 9-10.) While employed with White Rose, Plaintiff communicated with other individuals about her medical condition, “including her bipolar disorder condition and need for continuing treatment and medications.” (Id. ¶ 11.) Plaintiff was granted “time off for treatment” and was permitted “to take her medications as needed.” (Id. ¶ 12.)

         In connection with Defendant's acquisition of White Rose, Defendant “required all White Rose employees to go through another hiring process[, ] stating that all employees in good standing would remain employed.” (Id. ¶ 13.) In the course of this process, Plaintiff “noticed questions relating to medical conditions or genetic [] issues” that “seemed very intrusive, ” but nonetheless completed the application for employment for Defendant and “stat[ed] in the application (as required by [Defendant]) that she had taken medication for bipolar disorder, anxiety[, ] and depression.” (Id. ¶¶ 14-15.)[2] During this process, Plaintiff also “indicated that she had been charged with two misdemeanors and that a trial was coming up, ” but also “indicated on the application that although she had been charged, she was not as of yet convicted.” (Id. ¶ 17.) The subject charges - which consisted of receipt of stolen property and “theft of leased services due to an issue with a rental company wherein she had rented a washer and a dryer” - were originally felony charges, and Plaintiff pled not guilty to these charges. (Id. ¶¶ 17-18.) In the course of the adjudication of these charges, the District Attorney “advised in a court hearing that their office was reducing the charges to misdemeanors[, ] [h]owever, a trial was still scheduled.” (Id. ¶ 19.)

         Defendant's website states that it “conducts a background check on each final candidate for employment[, ]” and that “[t]hese background checks include a criminal record check through a third party site.” (Id. ¶ 20.) As it pertains to Plaintiff, Defendant conducted a criminal background check that included “a review of the records of [the] York County Clerk of Courts.” (Id. ¶¶ 20-21.) According to Plaintiff, Defendant utilized EPatch, a third-party website that provides criminal history information in Pennsylvania for purposes of facilitating criminal background checks, in order to ascertain her criminal history information. (Id. ¶¶ 28-29.)[3] Following its use of this site to learn Plaintiff's criminal history information, Defendant informed Plaintiff “that [it] had determined that [Plaintiff] had misrepresented her pending charges and was deemed not eligible for employment.” (Id. ¶ 32.) Defendant then “rescinded [Plaintiff's] offer for employment by letter dated February 22, 2018[, ] stating that she had criminal charges” included on its “list of prohibited offenses, ” which Plaintiff states is false. (Id. ¶ 33.) The letter reads, in pertinent part, as follows:

As part of the application process, you stated that you had two misdemeanor charges pending against you. In review of the records of the York County Clerk of [C]ourts, you have been charged with one felony count of Theft of Leased Property and one felony count of Receiving Stolen Property. Both of these crimes are on UPMC Pinnacle's List of Prohibited Offenses.
As a result of your misrepresentation of your pending charges and in accordance with UPMC Pinnacle's HR Policy #6.1 you have been deemed not eligible for employment with UPMC Pinnacle and we find it necessary to rescind your offer of employment.

(Doc. No. 9-1 at 2.)

         In the course of the events described above, Plaintiff “never received any required notices for background checks pursuant to that required by state or federal law either prior to, or after, ” Defendant's review of York County's records to which Defendant referred in the letter rescinding Plaintiff's offer of employment. (Id. ¶ 35.) Further, Plaintiff “explained to [Defendant] that the record was inaccurate and that they should do further due diligence to obtain accurate information[, ] even offering [Defendant] the right to discuss the matter with her defense attorney or the district attorney's office[, ]” which Defendant declined. (Id. ¶¶ 36-37.)[4] Plaintiff also asserts that she did not misrepresent her pending charges to Defendant because the district attorney's office informed her legal counsel in December of 2017 that her charges “would be reduced from felonies to misdemeanors[, ]” and that the district attorney's office ultimately “requested a [n]olle [p]rosequi of [her] charges on August 29, 2018.” (Id. ¶¶ 47-48.) Plaintiff maintains that her termination resulted from Defendant's “knowledge of her disability and its decision not to accommodate her as White Rose had while she worked for them” and that Defendant “retaliated against her due to her bipolar condition when it chose to rescind her offer due to her disabilities.” (Id. ¶¶ 49-50.)[5]

         Following the aforementioned events, Plaintiff initiated the above-captioned action by filing a complaint against Defendant in this Court on September 5, 2018. (Doc. No. 1.) After Defendant moved to dismiss the first complaint on November 16, 2018 (Doc. No. 7), Plaintiff filed an amended complaint (Doc. No. 9), rendering Defendant's motion moot.[6] On December 17, 2018, Defendant filed the instant motion to dismiss the amended complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. (Doc. No. 10.) Having been fully briefed, Defendant's motion is ripe for disposition.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Federal notice and pleading rules require the complaint to provide the defendant notice of the claim and the grounds upon which it rests. See Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir. 2008). The plaintiff must present facts that, accepted as true, demonstrate a plausible right to relief. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). Although the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires “only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” a complaint may nevertheless be dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for its “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).

         When ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from them, viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See In re Ins. Brokerage Antitrust Litig., 618 F.3d 300, 314 (3d Cir. 2010). The Court's inquiry is guided by the standard of Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). Under Twombly and Iqbal, pleading requirements have shifted to a “more heightened form of pleading.” See Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). To avoid dismissal, all civil complaints must set out “sufficient factual matter” to show that the claim is facially plausible. See id. The plausibility standard requires more than a mere possibility that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct. As the Supreme Court instructed in Iqbal, “where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not ‘show[n]'-‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).

         Accordingly, to determine the sufficiency of a complaint under Twombly and Iqbal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has identified the following steps a district court must take when determining the sufficiency of a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6): (1) identify the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim; (2) identify any conclusory allegations contained in the complaint “not entitled” to the assumption of truth; and (3) determine whether any “well-pleaded factual allegations” contained in the complaint “plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” See Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir. 2010) (citation and quotation marks omitted).

         In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, “a court must consider only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, as well as undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant's claims are based upon these documents.” Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (citing Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993)). A court may also consider “any ‘matters incorporated by reference or integral to the claim, items subject to judicial notice, matters of public record, orders, [and] items appearing in the record of the case.'” Buck v. Hampton Twp. Sch. Dist., 452 F.3d 256, 260 (3d Cir. 2006) (quoting 5B Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1357 (3d ed. 2004)).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Defendant moves for dismissal of each count asserted in Plaintiff's amended complaint. In her amended complaint, Plaintiff asserts the following seven (7) counts against Defendant: discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act (Count I); retaliation under the Rehabilitation Act (Count II); a violation of Pennsylvania's Criminal History Record Information Act (Count III); wrongful discharge in violation of Pennsylvania public policy (Count IV); defamation per se (Counts V and VI); and a violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (Count VII). The Court examines the sufficiency of each claim in turn.

         A. Plaintiff's Claims Alleging Violations of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Counts I and II)

         1. Applicable Legal Standard

         Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, codified at 29 U.S.C. § 794(a), provides, in relevant part, that:

No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States, as defined in section 705(20) of this title, shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance or under any program or activity conducted by any Executive agency or by the United States Postal Service.

29 U.S.C. § 794(a). “Thus, ‘the question of whether the entity received federal funds is important . . . in order to make out a prima facie case under the [Rehabilitation Act].'” Dana v. Baker Hughes, Inc., No. 4:14-cv-01861, 2015 WL 5576880, at *4 (M.D. Pa. Sept. 21, 2015) (alteration in original) (quoting Haybarger v. Lawrence Cty. Adult Prob. & Parole, 551 F.3d 193, 198 n.3 (3d Cir. 2008)). As previously noted by this Court, “[t]he Rehabilitation Act does not define the term ‘Federal financial assistance.'” Id. at *5. Rather, the regulations define the term as follows:

(h) Federal financial assistance means any grant, loan, contract (other than a procurement contract or a contract of insurance or guaranty), or any other arrangement by which the Department provides or otherwise makes available assistance in the form of:
(1) Funds;
(2) Services of Federal ...

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