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Lee v. University of Pennsylvania

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

August 27, 2019



          Baylson, J.

         I. Introduction

         This case involves alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and state law that occurred during Plaintiff Dr. Ernesto A. Lee's employment with Defendant University of Pennsylvania, School of Dental Medicine (“Penn Dental School”). Plaintiff asserts claims against Defendant Penn Dental School and individual Defendants Dr. Dana Graves and Dr. Mark Wolff. Plaintiff's Complaint (ECF 1, “Compl.” or “Complaint”) advances four Counts, each brought against all Defendants collectively:

1. Count I: Violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1201, et seq. (“ADA”);
2. Count II: Violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”);
3. Count III: Violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 P.S. § 954, et seq. (“PHRA”); and
4. Count IV: Defamation (slander and libel) under 42 P.S. § 8343 and the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 573.

         Defendants now move to dismiss all claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to provide a short and plain statement of the facts supporting Plaintiff's claims as required by Rule 8(a). For the reasons stated below, the Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         II. Factual Background

         Taking Plaintiff's allegations as true, the factual background is as follows. Plaintiff is a naturalized U.S. citizen who emigrated from Panama and is of Asian ethnic descent. (Compl. ¶ 3.) Plaintiff was employed by Defendant Penn Dental School in a part-time, two days-per-week clinical position beginning in 2004, and in 2007, he was appointed Director of the Periodontal Prosthesis program. (Id. ¶¶ 22-23.) During this time period, Plaintiff was diagnosed with a chronic terminal illness requiring chemotherapy treatments for the remainder of his life. (Id. ¶¶ 4, 24.) Plaintiff previously paid for an individually-funded health insurance plan, which he alleges was cancelled because of his medical condition. (Id. ¶ 25.)

         In or around 2009, former Penn Dental School Dean Kinane converted Plaintiff's employment status to “full-time” to enable Plaintiff to qualify for employer-subsidized health insurance benefits. (Id. ¶ 26.) As an accommodation for the side effects of chemotherapy, Plaintiff was not required to attend on-campus or in-office hours in the mornings. (Id. ¶ 27.) Plaintiff's employee benefits eligibility and scheduling accommodation were never formalized in a written job description. (Id. ¶ 30.) After his designation as a full-time employee, Plaintiff alleges he was assigned additional responsibilities, including roles as Director of the Post-Doctoral Implantology Fellowship and Clinical Director of Post-Doctoral Periodontics, without any pay increases or raises. (Id.) Other non-disabled Program Director level clinicians and administrators, however, were provided pay raises commensurate with increased administrative and clinical responsibilities. (Id. ¶ 31.)

         Plaintiff alleges that funding that should have been earmarked as compensation for Plaintiff's increased responsibilities was instead paid to a non-disabled, non-Hispanic female employee specially favored by former Dean Kinane, who was hired as Assistant Dean. (Id. ¶¶ 34, 40.) Plaintiff also alleges that he and others were victims of discrimination and harassment because of former Dean Kinane's sexual favoritism. (Id. ¶ 43.) Dean Kinane allegedly departed from Penn Dental School in connection with allegations of sexual favoritism and harassment. (Id. ¶ 37.)

         Sometime after Dean Kinane's departure, Plaintiff was accused of gender harassment, dishonesty, improper relationships with students, and theft of patients from Penn Dental Medicine. (Id. ¶¶ 39, 44-45.) Plaintiff alleges that he was targeted for false claims of gender harassment because Defendants calculated that Plaintiff's “machismo” cultural heritage would make such false claims believable. (Id. ¶ 41.) Defendant Interim Dean Graves told Plaintiff that he had to work on what Graves perceived to be a “cultural problem” when interacting with colleagues and students. (Id. ¶ 42.) Defendant Graves also told Plaintiff that his accommodation of limiting his morning hours because of the effects of daily chemotherapy treatments was good for Plaintiff because of his “Spanish culture, ” laughing while saying, “you know, mañana, mañana.” (Id. ¶ 46.)

         On or about September 2017, Plaintiff was demoted from his position as Director of the Periodontal Prosthesis program and restricted to clinical work under appointment to the Penn Dental Faculty Practice because of the unsupported accusations of harassment, misconduct, dishonesty, and theft. (Id. ¶¶ 44-45.) Plaintiff was not informed of the allegations against him at the time of his demotion, as required by Defendant Penn Dental School's policies and practices, but instead was privately informed by Defendant Graves, who was then employed as Vice Dean of Research of Penn Dental School. (Id. ΒΆΒΆ 45-47.) Defendant Graves also told Plaintiff that the ...

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