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Media Alerts - Sandra Connelly v. Lane Construction Co. - Third Circuit
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January 12, 2016
  Sandra Connelly v. Lane Construction Co. - Third Circuit
Headline: Third Circuit Clarifies Pleading Standard to Survive Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss

Area of Law: Employment Law, Civil Procedure

Issues Presented: What level of specificity do Title VII disparate treatment and retaliation claims require to meet Twombly/Iqbal standard of pleading?

Brief Summary: Plaintiff Sandra Connelly sued her former employer, Lane Construction Co., for sexual harassment and wrongful termination. She alleged that she had made regular formal complaints to the company for sexual harassment, which the company failed to address or rectify. She further alleged that she was eventually laid off, and not rehired, as a result of her complaints about the harassment. Plaintiff's case was dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. She appealed to the Third Circuit which found the district court had misapplied the Twombly/Iqbal standard, and that her factual allegations were sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss.

Extended Summary: Defendant is a multistate construction company which hired Plaintiff as a truck driver in 2006. She was fifth in seniority and was the only female employee. According to her complaint, Plaintiff began being cursed at and belittled on a daily basis by her male co-workers after ending a romantic relationship with one of those co-workers.

In early 2009, Plaintiff learned that Defendant employees could make job-related complaints through the company's "Ethics Line," which she eventually called multiple times to report harassment by her co-workers. Later another employee made an unwanted sexual advance towards Plaintiff and she requested transfer to another facility. The supervisor responded with disbelief that the coworker would act that way and although he promised Plaintiff a transfer, she did not receive one. The harassment, and Plaintiff's complaints to the Ethics Line, continued throughout 2010. At some point during 2011, Plaintiff refused to drive a truck with a flat tire and steering problems, and she was berated and later laid off well before the typical season had ended. She alleged that she was never recalled to work even though other male co-workers with less seniority were recalled.

Plaintiff filed a lawsuit in the Western District of Pennsylvania, alleging gender-based disparate treatment, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 P.S. § 951. After filing an amended complaint, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), which the district court granted. The district court held that Plaintiff failed to sufficiently plead that she was not rehired due to gender and also failed to allege sufficient facts to establish a plausible claim for retaliation. Plaintiff then appealed to the Third Circuit, which vacated the decision of the district court.

In so holding, the Court reasoned that the district court incorrectly evaluated the amended complaint as if Plaintiff was required to establish a prima facie case of disparate treatment and retaliation in order to survive a motion to dismiss. Instead, the correct pleading standard, post-Twombly, is whether the complaint contains enough factual allegations "to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary elements." The Court then disregarded the legal conclusions of the amended complaint and determined that the remaining factual allegations raised a reasonable expectation that discovery would reveal evidence that Plaintiff was a member of a protected class who was fired for discriminatory reasons and that the firing was a result of retaliation for protected Title VII activity. Given the extensive history of her alleged harassment by male employees, her repeated complaints concerning that treatment, and the lack of clear justification for Defendant's failure to rehire her, the amended complaint set forth claims that were plausible on its face.
To read the full opinion, please visit http://www2.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/143792p.pdf

Panel (if known): Fisher, Chagares, Jordan

Argument Date: September 15, 2016

Date of Issued Opinion: January 11 2016

Docket Number: 2:13-cv-1402

Decided: Reversed and Remanded

Case Alert Author: John Farrell

Counsel: John E. Stember, Esq., and Emily E. Town, Esq. [Argued] for Plaintiff; Samantha M. Clancy, Esq. [Argued] an Maria Greco Danaher, Esq. for Defendant; Christine J. Back, Esq. [Argued] for Amicus Appellant

Author of Opinion: Judge Jordan

Circuit: Third Circuit

Case Alert Supervisor: Professor Mary E. Levy

    Posted By: Susan DeJarnatt @ 01/12/2016 02:02 PM     3rd Circuit  

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