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Lee v. Eddystone Fire & Ambulance

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

November 14, 2019



          BAYLSON, J.

         I. Introduction

         This case involves alleged violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that infected Makiyah Lee's employment and ultimate termination as a firefighter and EMT in Eddystone, Pennsylvania. She has sued the Borough of Eddystone and Eddystone Fire and Ambulance, alleging that she was subjected to sexual harassment, a hostile work environment, and retaliation for her complaints. Defendants have each moved to dismiss, strike, or narrow aspects of her suit and to obtain more definite statements of certain elements of her complaint.

         As described in more detail below, the Court will GRANT the Borough's Motion to dismiss Plaintiff's prayer for punitive damages, and otherwise DENY Defendants' Motions.

         II. Factual and Procedural History

         Taking Lee's allegations as true, the factual background is as follows. Makiyah Lee worked as a firefighter and EMT in Eddystone. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 13-15. “On many occasions during the year 2017, ” Allen Reeves sexually harassed her. Id. ¶ 15. She does not explain Reeves's relationship to the Defendants. She also claims that Dallas Walters harassed her. Id. ¶¶ 17-18. She explains that Walters is a member of “Defendants' Board of Directors” but does not specify which Defendant she is referring to. Nor does she give a timeframe for the harassment by Walters. Finally, she claims that an employee named Jeff Pennel sent her a sexually explicit message on social media in or about January of 2018. Id. ¶ 19. Again, which Defendant employed Pennel is not specified.

         Lee states that all of the conduct was unwelcome, that she told her harassers that, and that she made written and verbal complaints to various leadership figures including the Fire Chief and “Defendant's Board of Directors.” Id. ¶¶ 16, 20-21. (Again, which Defendant's Board of Directors she complained to is unspecified.) At some point while Lee was employed, David Hackett, an outside investigator, prepared a report and recommendations concerning sexual harassment. Borough MtD Br. Ex. A (“EEOC Charge”) ¶¶ 10-11.[1] Although it is not explicitly stated, it appears from context that the report was addressed to sexual harassment taking place at Eddystone Fire and Ambulance, and the Court will infer as much. Hackett's recommendations were not adopted. Id. ¶¶ 10-11.

         Lee was suspended from work, and, eventually, effectively terminated in January or February of 2018. Id. ¶¶ 22-23. She believes that she was disciplined and terminated because of her complaints. Id. ¶ 24. Plaintiff filed an EEOC Charge, and received her Notice of Right to Sue in May of 2019. Am. Compl. Ex. A.

         That July, Lee filed suit in this Court. ECF 1. In September, she filed an amended complaint. ECF 8. As amended, her complaint seeks relief for the sexual harassment, hostile work environment, and retaliation that she allegedly suffered. For relief, she requests, inter alia, compensatory and punitive damages.

         The Borough of Eddystone filed its Motion on October 4, ECF 9, and Eddystone Fire and Ambulance filed its own on October 8, ECF 10. Lee responded to the Borough's motion on October 11, ECF 11, and to Eddystone Fire and Ambulance's on October 23, ECF 12.

         In toto, Defendants seek:

1. The dismissal of Plaintiff's claim for punitive damages against the Borough;
2. The dismissal or striking of the part of Plaintiff's complaint detailing Pennel's alleged misconduct, mainly because it did not appear in her EEOC complaint or because it is time-barred; and
3. More definite statements of various aspects of the complaint.

         III. Legal Standard

         a. Rule 12(b)(6)

         In considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court “accept[s] all factual allegations as true [and] construe[s] the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Warren Gen. Hosp. v. Amgen, Inc., 643 F.3d 77, 84 (3d Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim for 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 Court in Iqbal explained that, although a court must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in a complaint, that requirement does not apply to legal conclusions; therefore, pleadings must include factual allegations to support the legal claims asserted. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 684. “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555); see also Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 n.3) (“We caution that without some factual allegation in the complaint, a claimant cannot satisfy the requirement that he or she provide not only ‘fair notice,' but also the ‘grounds' on which the claim rests.”). Accordingly, to survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must plead “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         b. Rule 12(f)

         “The court may strike from a pleading . . . any . . . immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f). “Content is immaterial when it has no essential or important relationship to the claim for relief. Content is impertinent when it does not pertain to the issues raised in the complaint. Scandalous material improperly casts a derogatory light on someone, most typically on a party to the action.” Giuliani v. Polysciences, Inc., 275 F.Supp.3d 564, 572 (E.D. Pa. 2017) (internal citations and quotations omitted). A motion to strike is “to be decided ‘on the ...

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