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Harley v. Paulson

December 9, 2008


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


This matter comes before the Court on a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, a motion for summary judgment by Defendant Henry M. Paulson, Jr., the United States Secretary of Treasury, ("Defendant"), against Plaintiff Jeffrey Harley ("Plaintiff"), an employee of the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS") [Docket Item 7]. Plaintiff has brought suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, the First Amendment of the federal constitution, and the New Jersey Constitution. He alleges that his supervisors at the IRS discriminated against him because he is African-American and retaliated against him for bringing a previous civil suit along with several other complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). The Court, for the reasons discussed below, will grant Defendant's motion to dismiss as to all Plaintiff's claims other than those under Title VII, but deny summary judgment on Plaintiff's Title VII claims as premature.


This is not the first time Plaintiff has appeared before this Court. His first suit against Defendant, also alleging racial discrimination and retaliation, settled in October, 1996. (Compl. ¶ 3.) That initial suit arose from Plaintiff's mistreatment by his supervisor, Edward Mastran, who allegedly unfairly evaluated Plaintiff and told another co-worker "that blacks and females do not make good special agents because they don't think logically." (Id.) Since this first settlement, it appears that Plaintiff has filed at least five EEO complaints against his supervisors at the IRS, alleging either racial discrimination or retaliation. (Id. ¶¶ 10, 15, 16, 17.) Plaintiff's difficulties at issue in this claim allegedly began in November, 1996, when the IRS promoted Plaintiff to a GS-11 Investigative Analyst position, in accordance with the settlement agreement. (Id. ¶ 4.)

Plaintiff's present complaint sets forth the following instances of alleged racial discrimination and retaliation as the basis for his suit: in November, 1996, the Chief of the Criminal Investigation Division, Paul Machalek, decided that Plaintiff's G-11 position had no promotion potential, (id. ¶¶ 4-6.); Mr. Machalek and others delayed promoting Plaintiff until February, 2006, (id. ¶¶ 9, 18.); after the settlement of his first suit in 1996, the IRS placed Plaintiff at their Cherry Hill, New Jersey office, where many of Mr. Mastran's "supporters" worked, (id. ¶ 8.); Plaintiff's Cherry Hill co-workers "shunned and ignored him" and "stared down or glared" at him, but when he complained his supervisor did nothing, (id.); Plaintiff's direct supervisor, Leo Blanes, unfairly and inaccurately evaluated his work, while a white co-worker with less experience received higher evaluations than Plaintiff, (id. ¶¶ 11, 15-17.); in 2002, after Plaintiff complained about an evaluation, Mr. Blanes restricted Plaintiff's use of his personal vehicle while others were permitted to use their own vehicles, (id. ¶ 13-14.); after Plaintiff filed an EEO complaint against Mr. Blanes in November 2002, Mr. Blanes submitted a lower evaluation of Plaintiff in 2003, (id. ¶ 15.); and finally, the IRS has refused to accommodate an injury to Plaintiff's back by offering him a position closer to his home, and instead offered him a demotion and reporting him to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, (Id. ¶ 18-19.).

On July 31, 2007, Plaintiff filed his complaint in this matter. Counts I and II are claims under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, Count III is Plaintiff's First Amendment claim, Count IV is brought under the New Jersey Constitution, and Count V is a Title VII claim. On March 27, 2008, Defendants submitted the instant motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, motion for summary judgment, in lieu of an answer to Plaintiff's complaint. Discovery has not commenced in this action.

In his motion, Defendant first argues that the Court only has jurisdiction over Plaintiff's Title VII claims. He further argues that Plaintiff cannot establish a prima facie case for discrimination or retaliation under Title VII, and that even if true, Plaintiff cannot show that Defendant's proffered neutral reasons for the IRS actions were pretextual.


A. Motion to Dismiss

On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, 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.'" 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, 550 U.S. 544, 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 1964-65 (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 ...

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