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Rayfield v. Cheyney University of Pennsylvania

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

January 16, 2020

NICOLE RAYFIELD
v.
CHEYNEY UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA, JEFFREY JONES, and AARON WALTON

          MEMORANDUM

          BAYLSON, J.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This Action arises from Defendant Cheyney University of Pennsylvania's (“Cheyney University” or “Cheyney”) termination of Plaintiff Nicole Rayfield's employment. After Plaintiff was dismissed, she filed a Complaint against Cheyney, Defendant Jeffrey Jones (“Jones”), and Defendant Aaron Walton (“Walton”), which was amended to allege four counts:

1. Count I: Discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation on the basis of sex in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (against Cheyney);
2. Count II: Retaliation in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) (against all Defendants);
3. Count III: Wrongful Termination under Pennsylvania state law (against Cheyney); and
4. Count IV: Retaliation in violation of the Pennsylvania Whistleblower Law (against Cheyney).

(ECF 9, Second Am. Compl. (“SAC”) ¶¶ 86-118.)

         Before this Court is Cheyney's Motion to Dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). (ECF 13, “Cheyney's MtD.”) Cheyney asserts that Plaintiff's claims for FMLA retaliation, whistleblower retaliation, and wrongful termination should be dismissed as to Cheyney based on principles of sovereign immunity. For the reasons stated below, Cheyney's Motion to Dismiss will be granted, and Plaintiff's FMLA retaliation, whistleblower retaliation, and wrongful termination claims against Cheyney will be dismissed without prejudice so that Plaintiff may refile her claims in state court.

         II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Drawing from Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint, the factual background is as follows. Plaintiff was the Director of the Keystone Honors Academy at Cheyney University. (SAC ¶¶ 16-17.) Plaintiff's duties as Director included the oversight and administration of the Keystone scholarship program. (SAC ¶ 21.) Defendant Jones worked with Plaintiff as the Executive Director of Enrollment Management at Cheyney. (SAC ¶ 18.) In working with Plaintiff, Jones allegedly made inappropriate comments to Plaintiff and other female Cheyney employees, which included asking Plaintiff “what's cooking, good looking, ” and asking a former Provost why she was not wearing a dress or skirt “the way a woman should . . . .” (SAC ¶¶ 26, 28.)

         Plaintiff reported Jones's behavior to multiple people at Cheyney, but Jones was never investigated or reprimanded for his actions. (SAC ¶¶ 29-30, 37-39.) Shortly after Plaintiff made these reports, however, the University President, Defendant Walton, cautioned Plaintiff not to make any more complaints, (SAC ¶ 32), and Jones excluded Plaintiff from scholarship meetings after taking over the scholarship program, (SAC ¶¶ 31, 34, 40.) Plaintiff continued to express concern about Jones's treatment of her, but received no response. (SAC ¶¶ 50-54.)

         After taking over the scholarship program, Jones removed scholarship information from the website, changed the scholarship's qualification criteria, and required his approval for all scholarship awards. (SAC ¶¶ 40-44.) Plaintiff alleges that Jones also offered scholarships to unqualified students (including to one of Jones's family friend), (SAC ¶ 48(b)-(d)), and used scholarship funds to pay for Cheyney University expenses, (SAC ¶ 48(g)-(i).) Plaintiff raised concerns about how Jones operated the scholarship program, but again received no response. (SAC ¶ 49.)

         In November of 2018, Plaintiff took FMLA leave, during which she discovered a medical condition that would require surgery. (SAC ¶¶ 55-56, 58.) Plaintiff scheduled the surgery for February of 2019, and informed Cheyney that she would need to take a second FMLA leave. (SAC ¶¶ 59, 61-62.) Before Plaintiff received her FMLA paperwork, however, Cheyney terminated her employment for “financial reasons.” (SAC ¶¶ 64-66.) ...


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