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Sherlock v. Lifestyle Hearing Corporation (USA), Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

October 10, 2019

MICHAEL SHERLOCK, Plaintiff,
v.
LIFESTYLE HEARING CORPORATION (USA), INC., AUDIOLOGY MANAGEMENT GROUP, INC., WIDEX USA, INC., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          DuBois, J.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         In this case arising under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, plaintiff Michael Sherlock alleges that defendants Lifestyle Hearing Corporation (“Lifestyle”), Audiology Management Group (“AMG”), and Widex USA Inc. (“Widex”) wrongfully terminated her in retaliation for engaging in protected activity. Presently before the Court is defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint. In their Motion, defendants seek to dismiss the case under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) or, in the alternative, transfer the case to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida. In the alternative, defendants also move to dismiss Counts II-IV, to strike the jury demand, and to dismiss the claims against defendants AMG and Widex for lack of personal jurisdiction. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants defendants' motion to transfer the action to the Middle District of Florida pursuant to 28 U.S.C § 1404(a). The Court defers ruling on all other requests for relief.

         II. BACKGROUND

         In addressing a motion to transfer, “all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint are generally taken as true unless contradicted by the defendant's affidavits, and the Court may examine facts outside the complaint to determine proper venue.” Holiday v. Bally's Park Place, Inc., No. 06-cv-4588, 2007 WL 2600877, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Sep. 10, 2007). Based on the Complaint, the affidavits submitted by the parties, and the other submissions of record, the facts of the case may be summarized as follows:

         Plaintiff, Michael Sherlock is a citizen of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and is domiciled in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Compl. ¶ 1. Plaintiff's employer, Lifestyle, is a hearing aid retailer based in Florida. Defs.' Mot. Dismiss 6.[1] However, Sherlock performed her work primarily from her home in Pennsylvania. Pl.'s Resp. 7. Lifestyle owns and operates hearing aid clinics, including four clinics located in Pennsylvania. Pl.'s Resp. 3. Widex is a wholesale hearing aid distributor that shares the same parent company as Lifestyle, Widex, A/S. Defs.' Mot. Dismiss 6. Widex is incorporated in Delaware with its principal place of business in New York. Id. AMG is a buying group that is a wholly owned subsidiary of Lifestyle. Defs.' Mot. Dismiss 7. AMG is incorporated and has its principal place of business in Florida. Defs.' Mot. Dismiss 8.

         Plaintiff was employed as Vice President of Sales from in or about February 2016 until on or about January 25, 2017. Compl. ¶¶ 18-19. Sherlock was responsible for managing and operating around 100 Lifestyle stores in thirteen different states. Pl.'s Resp. 3. Prior to working for Lifestyle, plaintiff filed a claim in Pennsylvania state court against her previous employers, alleging gender discrimination and retaliation for complaining about such discrimination. Compl. ¶ 20. Plaintiff claims that, on November 29, 2016, she informed Phil McKenzie, Chief Executive Officer of Lifestyle, about the claim. Compl. ¶ 21; Defs.' Resp. 11. The next day she informed Maria Chang Meyer, Vice President of Legal for defendants, about the claim. Compl. ¶ 22. According to plaintiff, she was subsequently excluded from multiple meetings. Compl. ¶ 24. Plaintiff was ultimately terminated on January 25, 2017 for the stated reason that “Defendants wanted to go in a different direction.” Compl. ¶¶ 24-25. Plaintiff contends that this “articulated reason is a pretext.” Compl. ¶ 27. She claims that she was, in fact, terminated in retaliation for engaging in the protected activity of filing a claim against her prior employers. Compl. ¶ 28.

         Plaintiff filed her Complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County on January 18, 2019, for unlawful retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Count I), the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”) (Count II), the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance (“PFPO”) (Count III), and PA common law (Count IV). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b), which authorizes removal to the United States District Court for the district in which the action is pending of civil actions commenced in state court which arise under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States, defendants filed a Notice of Removal on February 21, 2019.

         On February 28, 2019, defendants filed a motion to dismiss the claim or transfer the case on grounds of forum non conveniens for failure to file in the appropriate forum.[2] In the alternative, defendants moved to dismiss Counts II-IV as contrary to the selected choice of law, to dismiss the Count IV common law claim as preempted by the PHRA, to strike the jury demand, and to dismiss the claims against defendants AMG and Widex for lack of personal jurisdiction. Defendants argue that the dispute is governed by the forum selection clause in plaintiff's employment agreement. Defs.' Mot. Dismiss 1. The forum selection clause reads in relevant part: “The Parties agree that all disputes, claims, actions or lawsuits between them, arising out of or relating to this Agreement, or for alleged breach of this Agreement, shall be heard and determined by a state court sitting in Sarasota County, Florida, or by the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida, or by their appellate courts.” Defs.' Mot. Dismiss Ex. A 3.

         Plaintiff filed her response to the motion on March 14, 2019. Defendants filed a reply on April 4, 2019. The Motion is thus ripe for review.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         The question before the Court is whether this case should be transferred to the Middle District of Florida pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Section 1404(a) states: “For the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice, a district court may transfer any civil action to any other district or division where it might have been brought.” 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). While § 1406 permits either the dismissal or the transfer of a case where venue is not proper in the original forum, § 1404(a) “provides for the transfer of a case where both the original and the requested venue are proper.” Jumara v. State Farm Ins. Co., 55 F.3d 873, 878-79 (3d Cir. 1995).

         Once a court determines that venue would be proper in another district, the court considers “all relevant factors to determine whether on balance the litigation would more conveniently proceed and the interests of justice be better served by transfer to a different forum.” Jumara, 55 F.3d at 879. Typically, this analysis involves balancing private and public interests. Id. “The calculus changes, however, when the parties' contract contains a valid forum-selection clause, which ‘represents the parties' agreement as to the most proper forum.'” Atl. Marine Const. Co., Inc. v. U.S. Dist. Court for Western Dist. of Texas, 571 U.S. 49, 63 (2013) (quoting Stewart Organization, Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 31 (1988)).

         The Supreme Court decision in Atlantic Marine significantly modified the § 1404(a) transfer inquiry for cases involving valid forum selection clauses. In such cases, the analysis is limited to “public-interest factors only;” private interests are not considered. Id. at 64. “Because [public-interest factors] will rarely defeat a transfer motion, ...


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