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White v. United Parcel Service

August 4, 2008

WILLIAM WHITE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED PARCEL SERVICE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Simandle, District Judge

OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the Court upon motion by Defendant, United Parcel Service, to dismiss Plaintiff's, William White's ("White" or "Plaintiff"), claim pursuant to Fed R. Civ. P. 12(c). Defendant United Parcel Service ("Defendant" or "UPS") moves for judgment on the pleadings [Docket Item 10], arguing that Plaintiff's complaint fails to state a cause of action upon which relief can be granted. (Def.'s Br. for J. on the Pleadings at 1.) For the reasons discussed herein, Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings will be granted in part and denied in part.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Facts

The Complaint alleges that White suffered an ankle injury while in the course of his employment as a full-time package driver. (Compl. ¶¶ 4, 7.) As a result of his injury, Plaintiff is now unable to lift over seventy pounds or stand for an extended period of time, both of which are essential functions of his job as a package driver. (Compl. ¶¶ 12, 16, 17.) Plaintiff alleges that his requests for alternative employment at UPS were denied based on his disability. (Compl. ¶¶ 16, 17.) Plaintiff claims that UPS's denial of affording him with alternative employment is a violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination Act ("NJLAD"). (Compl. ¶ 24.) The Defendant contends that Plaintiff, since he admittedly could not perform the necessary functions of his job, is not entitled to NJLAD protection. (Def.'s Br. at 6.) Therefore, Defendant argues, Plaintiff's claim seeking relief under the NJLAD should be dismissed for failure to state a claim. (Def.'s Br. at 6.)

Plaintiff William White began working for UPS as a part-time loader in 1987. (Compl. ¶ 3.) Plaintiff was promoted to full- time driver in 1990 and was continuously employed by UPS through May 28, 2002. (Compl. ¶¶ 4-5.) On May 28, 2002 Plaintiff injured his right ankle while in the course of his employment. (Compl. ¶ 7.) Plaintiff was out of work for a number of months because of his ankle injury but eventually returned to his full-time driver position. (Compl. ¶ 8.) Plaintiff's ankle continued to be aggravated and was diagnosed as "OCD." (Compl. ¶ 10.) Because of his ankle's aggravated condition, Plaintiff took a second leave of absence from work. (Compl. ¶ 9.)

Plaintiff is limited in mobility and is now disabled as a result of his injury. (Compl. ¶ 11.) Plaintiff's injury prevents him from working in a broad range of jobs and he cannot engage in heavy lifting or prolonged standing. (Compl. ¶¶ 12, 16.) Because Plaintiff's driver position at UPS required him to lift seventy pounds and be capable of extended standing, Plaintiff contacted UPS and his union to request that he be afforded an alternative position consistent with his physical limitations. (Compl. ¶¶ 15, 17.) UPS informed Plaintiff that he was not qualified for a transfer because he could not perform the essential functions of his existing position, which require him to lift seventy pounds and stand for an extended period of time. (Compl. ¶ 17.) UPS then denied Plaintiff's return to employment. (Compl. ¶ 19.) Plaintiff claims UPS violated the NJLAD by failing to provide him with alternative employment consistent with his physical limitations.*fn1

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed his complaint seeking relief under the NJLAD in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Camden County. UPS removed the case to the United States District Court of New Jersey on May 25, 2007 [Docket Item 1] and answered the complaint on June 1, 2007 [Docket Item 2].*fn2 Defendant then filed the instant motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c) [Docket Item 10]. Defendant contends that Plaintiff is not entitled to NJLAD protection because he, according to the Complaint, could not perform the essential functions of his job. (Def.'s Br. at 6.) Therefore, Defendant moves to dismiss Plaintiff's action for failure to state a claim. (Def.'s Br. at 6.)

III. DISCUSSION

A. Standard for a 12(c) Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings

The standard for a 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings is the same as the standard used for a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Turbe v. Government of the Virgin Islands, 938 F.2d 427, 428 (3d Cir. 1991); Wyeth v. Ranbaxy Laboratories, LTD, 448 F. Supp. 2d 607, 609 (D.N.J. 2006). On a Rule 12(c) motion, like a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court must "'accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.'" Wyeth, 448 F. Supp. at 609; Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Pinker v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002)).

While Rule 12(b)(6) does not permit dismissal of a well-pleaded complaint simply because "it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable," the "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level."

Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234. "To survive a motion to dismiss, a civil plaintiff must allege facts that 'raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).'" Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, U.S. , 127 S. Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007)).

"While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the `grounds' of his `entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 127 S. Ct. at 1964-1965 (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)).

"[S]tating . . . a claim requires a complaint with enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest" the required element. [Twombly, 127 S. Ct. at 1965 n.3.] 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. Id.

Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234.

B. NJLAD Requirements and Exceptions

The overreaching policy of the NJLAD is to eradicate "the cancer of discrimination." Fuchilla v. Layman, 537 A.2d 652, 660 (N.J. 1988). Employment discrimination goes beyond the employeremployee relationship and involves the greater concern of the public interest in maintaining a work place free of discrimination. Id.; Raspa v. Office of Sheriff of County of Gloucester, 924 A.2d 435, 442 (N.J. 2007). The courts and legislature have held that the NJLAD is to be construed liberally and given a broad reach. Raspa, 924 A.2d at 442.

The NJLAD generally prohibits discrimination in employment on account of disability.

All persons shall have the opportunity to obtain employment . . . without discrimination because of . . . disability . . . subject only to conditions and limitations applicable alike to all persons. This ...


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