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Ehresman v. Hershey Co.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

November 4, 2019

KURT L. EHRESMAN, Plaintiff,


          Sylvia H. Rambo United States District Judge

         In this civil action, Plaintiff Kurt L. Ehresman (“Plaintiff”) asserts claims against Defendant The Hershey Company (“Defendant”) for fraudulent inducement; violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 P.S. § 951-963; race, color, and gender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000 (“Title VII”); and violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et. seq. (“ADEA”). Before the court is Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. 11.) Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). For the reasons that follow, the court will grant the motion to dismiss with prejudice.

         I. Background

         A. Facts

         The following facts are taken as true for the purposes of the motion to dismiss. Plaintiff is a 52 year-old Caucasian male. (Doc. 1, ¶ 6.) He has been a licensed Pennsylvania attorney since 1996 and is currently a United States Patent & Trademark Office Registered Patent Attorney in good standing. (Id. ¶¶ 7-8.) Plaintiff was first employed by Defendant on August 23, 2013, as “Counsel, Technology Intellectual Property.” (Id. ¶ 9.) Plaintiff performed all duties and responsibilities in his role and received positive performance reviews. (Id. ¶ 15.)

         In February 2016, Defendant awarded Plaintiff the position of Senior Counsel for Global Intellectual Property. (Id. ¶ 17.) In the new position, Plaintiff executed contracts, intellectual property applications and declarations, and other documents for Defendant and The Hershey Chocolate & Confectionery Company (“HCCC”). (Id. ¶¶ 18-22.) In each of Plaintiff's annual performance reviews, he was rated no lower than “meets expectations.” (Id. ¶ 25.)

         On October 2, 2017, Defendant informed Plaintiff that it was eliminating his position effective December 29, 2017. (Id. ¶¶ 26-28.) However, one week later and without explanation, Defendant directed Plaintiff to leave the office and work remotely, and on October 13, 2017, Defendant placed Plaintiff on paid administrative leave through December 29, 2017. (Id. ¶¶ 37-40.)

         In the following weeks, Defendant proposed terms of a severance package for the termination of Plaintiff's employment, contingent on Plaintiff signing a severance agreement. (Id. ¶ 34.) Relying on Defendant's statements and representations that his position was, in fact, being eliminated, Plaintiff signed the Severance Agreement (“Agreement”) on November 16, 2017. (Id. ¶¶ 42-43.) Plaintiff would not have signed the Agreement had he known or had reason to believe that Defendant's statements regarding the elimination of his position were false. (Id.¶ 44.)

         On or about March 7, 2018, Plaintiff learned that Defendant created and filled the position of Head of Intellectual Property-a position nearly identical to that which Plaintiff held prior to his termination. (Id. ¶ 47.) Plaintiff avers that he was placed on administrative leave and terminated so that he could be replaced by a younger, African-American woman to promote Defendant's goal of diversity. (Id. ¶¶ 48-53.)

         B. Procedural History

         Plaintiff commenced this action by filing a complaint in the Middle District of Pennsylvania on February 6, 2019. (Doc. 1.) On April 8, 2019, Defendant responded with a motion to dismiss and brief in support for failure to state a claim. (Docs. 11 & 13.) On April 23, 2019, Plaintiff filed a brief in opposition to the motion (Doc. 15), and Defendant replied on April 30, 2019 (Doc. 19). Accordingly, the motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

         II. Legal Standard

         For a complaint to survive dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), it “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The plaintiff's short and plain statement of the claim must “give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)).

         In evaluating the sufficiency of a complaint, a court must accept all well-pleaded factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. See Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Further, “[a] pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.' Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (internal citations omitted) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557). However, this “‘does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage,' but instead ‘simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of' the necessary element.” W. Penn Allegheny Health Sys. Inc. v. UPMC, 627 F.3d 85, 98 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234). When conducting this inquiry, the court considers “the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint[, ] and matters of public record.” Schmidt v. Skolas, 770 F.3d 241, 249 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993)).

         III. ...

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