United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
OPINION AND ORDER ECF NO. 14
MAUREEN P. KELLY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Whitney Harness ("Harness") has filed a First
Amended Complaint, ECF No. 12, against her former employer,
Defendant Seton Hill University, ("Seton Hill"),
alleging violations of her rights under Title VII of the
Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e,
et seq. ("Title VII"), Title IX of the
Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681, et
seq. ("Title IX"), the Americans with
Disabilities Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et
seq. ("ADA"), the Pennsylvania Human Relations
Act, 43 P.S. §§ 951, et seq.,
("PHRA"), and the Family and Medical Leave Act
("FMLA"), as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et
alleges that Seton Hill subjected her to discrimination,
harassment, and a hostile work environment based on her
gender, race, and her association with a disabled son,
interfered with her right to take FMLA leave to care for her
son, and retaliated against her by firing her when she
complained about discrimination and a hostile work
before the Court is Defendant's Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to
Dismiss Counts VII and X and Part of Count VIII of Plaintiffs
First Amended Complaint, ECF No. 14. For the reasons that
follow, the Motion to Dismiss is denied.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
in March 2008 and until February 27, 2017, Seton Hill
employed Harness, an African-American woman, as its field
hockey coach. During her tenure as head coach, Harness
gave birth to a son who suffers from epilepsy with 20 to 30
seizures per day, and who requires . constant monitoring and
medication. In November 2016, doctors recommended that he
undergo brain surgery to treat his condition.
alleges that Seton Hill was aware of her son's medical
condition, and that Chris Snyder, Seton Hill's Athletic
Director (the "Athletic Director"), indicated that
his condition affected Harness's job performance. At one
point, the Athletic Director questioned her professional
motivation, and asked, '[i]f it weren't for [your
son], would you still be coaching?" ECF No. 12 ¶
48. Harness assured him that her dedication for her job went
beyond a need for healthcare. Id. ¶ 49. Harness
alleges that this conversation occurred after she had been
complaining for months regarding disparate treatment she
experienced as one of three female head coaches and the only
female African-American coach at Seton Hill, and the hostile
work environment. Id. ¶¶ 11, 34-36, 44.
examples of disparate treatment, Harness alleges that
beginning in 2013, Seton Hill administrators interfered with
coaching decisions regarding playing time, team discipline
issues, and parent conduct. Id. ¶¶ 16-22.
In 2013, two field hockey players sued Harness, Seton Hill
and certain of its administrators, alleging that
Harness's coaching style was abusive and her training
methods were too hard. Seton Hill denied the allegations, and
an internal investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing.
Seton Hill later settled the case without admitting
wrongdoing; however, after the case was resolved, Seton Hill
suspended Harness for one week without pay, sent her to
conflict resolution training, and placed her on a Performance
Improvement Plan. Id. ¶¶ 23-27. After her
suspension, Seton Hill further restricted Harness's
authority over her team, and required administrative approval
of team discipline decisions.. Harness alleges that she
complained to the Athletic Director and Compliance Director
that white and male coaches who engaged in similar coaching
methods were not subjected to discipline, and that they
received significantly more support from university
administrators. Id. ¶¶ 34, 37.
the birth of her son in November 2016, administrators made
comments to Harness about how his health affected her job
performance. Id. ¶ 45. The Athletic Director
suggested that Seton Hill might be able to find Harness a
different, less stressful position, and encouraged her to
apply for a position assisting the men's football team.
Harness declined the opening, but expressed interest in a new
position. Id. ¶¶ 50-53. In early 2017,
Harness learned that her son needed surgery and discussed
with the Athletic Director her need for a leave of absence of
four weeks to care for her son. Id. ¶¶
54-55. Harness opted to schedule the surgery in the summer
when coaching obligations were less demanding. Id.
¶¶ 55-56. The Athletic Director told her he would
pass on the information to Seton Hill's President, and
would continue to look for a "less stressful"
position for Harness. Id. ¶ 58. Despite her
request for a leave of absence to care for her ailing son,
Seton Hill failed to inform Harness of her right to request
leave under the FMLA. Id. ¶ 59. Six weeks
later, Harness was fired. Id. ¶ 60.
Hill's termination of Harness occurred after video
surfaced of team players and high school recruits appearing
intoxicated. Id. ¶ 61. When the incident was
investigated, team players told Seton Hill officials that
Harness instructed them to lie and report that the underage
students were "friends, not recruits." Id.
¶ 62. Harness states she told the players to tell the
truth, and that despite the availability of a witness who
corroborated Harness's version of events, the Athletic
Director terminated Harness's employment. Id.
¶¶ 64-67. Plaintiff was replaced by a white female.
Id. ¶ 71.
claims that her termination and treatment under these
circumstances constitutes, in relevant part, a violation of
her rights under the ADA and PHRA based upon her association
as the parent of a disabled child, and wrongful retaliation
for challenging Seton Hill's treatment of her while she
cared for him. Harness further claims that Seton Hill
violated her rights under the FMLA, by failing to advise her
of her right to FMLA leave to care for her son, and for
retaliating against her by terminating her when she attempted
to exercise her right to request and take leave.
instant Motion to Dismiss, Seton Hill moves to dismiss
Harness's claims of violation of the ADA - Retaliation
(Count VII) and violation of the PHRA - Retaliation (part of
Count VIII). Seton Hill also moves to dismiss Harness's
claim of violation of the FMLA (Count X). Seton Hill argues
that the factual allegations set forth in the First Amended
Complaint fail to establish or infer a prima facie
claim of disability retaliation under the ADA or the PHRA,
and further fail to support her claims for FMLA interference
or retaliation. ECF No. 15 at 5. The parties have submitted
briefs in support and in opposition to the Motion to Dismiss,
ECF Nos. 15, 19, and a reply, ECF No. 22. The Motion to
Dismiss is now ripe for consideration.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
complaint must be dismissed under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), if
it does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to
relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). The
plaintiff must aver "factual content that allows the
court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is
liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009).
a complaint 'does not need detailed factual allegations,
... a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of
action will not do.'" DelRio-Mocci v. Connolly
Prop. Inc., 672 F.3d 241, 245 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing
Twombly. 550 U.S. at 555). In other words,
"[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right
to relief above the speculative level." Covington v.
Int'l Ass'n of Approved Basketball
Officials. 710 F.3d 114, 118 (3d Cir. 2013) (internal
citations and quotation marks omitted). A court "take[s]
as true all the factual allegations in the Complaint and the
reasonable inferences that can be drawn from those facts,
but... disregard[s] legal conclusions and . threadbare
recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by
mere conclusory statements." Ethvpharm SA. France v.
Abbott Laboratories, 707 F.3d 223, 231, n.14 (3d Cir,
2013) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).
Twombly and Iqbal require [a district
court] to take the following three steps to determine the
sufficiency of a complaint: First, the court must take note
of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.
Second, the court should identify allegations that, because
they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the
assumption of truth. Finally, where there are well-pleaded
factual allegations, a court should assume ...