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Brown v. Priority Health Care Group, LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

October 1, 2019

APRIL BROWN, Plaintiff,



         Before the court is the motion to dismiss (Doc. 12) filed by Defendants Priority Healthcare Group, LLC (“Priority”) and Premier at Susquehanna for Nursing and Rehabilitation, P.C. (“Premier”; collectively, “Defendants”).[1] Upon consideration of Plaintiff April Brown's (“Plaintiff” or “Ms. Brown”) complaint (Doc. 1), the motion to dismiss, Plaintiff's opposition (Doc. 13), and Defendants' reply (Doc. 15), the court will grant the motion without prejudice.

         I. Background

         According to her complaint, Ms. Brown is a Licensed Practitioner Nurse (“LPN”) who needs intermittent leave from work to deal with episodes of her chronic anxiety and depression. Around June of 2017, Defendants hired Plaintiff to work as an LPN, at which time she advised Defendants of her ailments and need for occasional leave. After working for approximately ten months, Defendants suspended Plaintiff from work due to her calling out of work too frequently. One month later, Plaintiff requested leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) from Defendants' human resources department. Defendants granted her request. Around that time, Ms. Brown's coworkers began antagonizing her for taking FMLA leave by: mocking and diminishing her condition; informing her she was “fuck[ing] the nurses over” by taking time off; insulting her on Facebook; and accusing her of lying about her condition. (Doc. 1 ¶ 18.) In response, Plaintiff complained to her supervisors about her coworkers' behavior, but she was told to handle the issues on her own. Plaintiff has not alleged any further insults followed her complaints.

         Around August 30, 2018, Defendants suspended Plaintiff for three days due to her violating company policy by calling out and requesting FMLA leave less than three hours before her shifts. Plaintiff alleges her condition caused emergent symptoms too suddenly for her to provide such advanced notice, but she does not allege that Defendants knew of this aspect of her ailments.

         Approximately three months later, around November 23, 2018, Plaintiff's supervisors requested a meeting where they informed her that narcotics were missing from the facility. She was told she needed to take a drug test and submit a written report on how she counted narcotics. Ms. Brown indicated she would do so but wanted to first consult an attorney. Defendants informed her she would need to take the drug test immediately. Plaintiff declined and resigned the same day.

         On January 18, 2019, Plaintiff sued Defendants under the FMLA for interference and retaliation, claiming Defendants constructively discharged her for asserting her FMLA rights. On April 8, 2019, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), arguing: (1) by granting Plaintiff's requested FMLA leave, Defendants did not interfere with her FMLA rights; (2) her suspension for violating a company call-out policy, and her negative treatment for refusing an immediate drug test, did not interfere with her rights nor were they done in retaliation; (3) the three-month gap between Plaintiff last requesting FMLA leave and her supposedly being constructively discharged is too large for the court to infer any relationship between the two; and (4) Plaintiff cannot have been constructively discharged by the administration of a drug test, because, as a matter of law, it is not an intolerable work condition. (See generally, Doc. 12.)

         On April 26, 2019, Plaintiff responded by arguing: (1) she was withdrawing her interference claim; (2) temporal proximity is not necessary where Plaintiff alleges a pattern of antagonistic treatment; (3) Plaintiff's coworkers harassing her, culminating in her forced drug test, constituted a pattern of antagonistic treatment; (4) Defendants knew her illness rendered her unable to comply with the three-hour call-out policy, yet they punished her anyway; and (5) a reasonable person would have resigned under her circumstances. (See generally, Doc. 13.)

         On May 2, 2019, Defendants replied arguing: (1) antagonistic comments by Plaintiff's coworkers cannot constitute adverse employment because her coworkers lacked authority over her and did not threaten to discharge her; (2) Plaintiff quit because of her drug test, not her coworkers' treatment, so the lack of temporal proximity proves Plaintiff failed to allege causation; (3) Plaintiff failed to adequately address Defendants' case law stating punishment for violations of company policy cannot constitute adverse employment treatment. (See generally, Doc. 15.)

         Having been fully briefed, this issue is now ripe before the court.

         II. Standard of review

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the plaintiff must allege “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, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007)). “When reviewing a 12(b)(6) motion, we ‘accept as true all well-pled factual allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from them.'” Estate of Ginzburg by Ermey v. Electrolux Home Prods., Inc., ___ Fed.Appx. ___, 2019 WL 4187372, at *3 (3d Cir. Sept. 4, 2019) (quoting Taksir v. Vanguard Grp., 903 F.3d 95, 96-97 (3d Cir. 2018)). The facts alleged must be “construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” In re Ins. Brokerage Antitrust Litig., 618 F.3d 300, 314 (3d Cir. 2010) (internal quotations, brackets, and ellipses omitted). But “[t]he court is not required to draw unreasonable inferences” from the facts. 5B Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1357 (3d ed. 2004).

         The Third Circuit has detailed a three-step process to determine whether a complaint meets the pleading standard. Bistrian v. Levi, 696 F.3d 352 (3d Cir. 2014). First, the court outlines the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim for relief. Id. at 365. Second, the court must “peel away those allegations that are no more than conclusions and thus not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Id. Third, the court “look[s] for well-pled factual allegations, assume[s] their veracity, and then ‘determine[s] whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.'” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). The last step is “a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id.

         III. ...

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