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White v. Smiths Detection

October 22, 2010

SALLY WHITE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SMITHS DETECTION, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

OPINION

This matter comes before the Court on the motion by Defendants Smiths Detection, Inc., ("Smiths Detection" or "Smiths") and Brian Bark to dismiss various claims in the Complaint ("Complaint") [docket entry 1] pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) [docket entry 11]. Defendant Christopher Gane subsequently joined this motion [docket entry 25].*fn1

Plaintiff Sally White ("White" or "Plaintiff") has opposed the motion. The Court has considered the papers filed by the parties. It rules on this motion without oral argument, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. For the following reasons, Defendants' motion to partially dismiss will be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff filed this workplace retaliation and gender discrimination action in this Court on August 9, 2010. The Complaint before the Court asserts state law causes of action. The Court has subject matter jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332 (diversity jurisdiction). Based on the allegations of the Complaint, and assuming their truth for purposes of this motion only, the Court summarizes the factual background as follows:

The Defendant Smiths Detection is in the business of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, explosive detection systems and in this capacity works with a number of government agencies. Plaintiff was employed by Smiths Group PLC for 17 years. Prior to leaving the company Plaintiff held the title of Vice President of Global Service Operations.

In 2008, the Smiths Detection board decided to implement a new computer software platform -- SAP. The project of installing the SAP platform was known as "REACH." Plaintiff had concerns regarding the project and voiced those concerns to the board and the internal auditors. According to Plaintiff, Defendants Gane and Bark were infuriated when she raised these concerns.

Plaintiff began to experience negative consequences immediately after making her reports. During a July 2009 conference call, Plaintiff again addressed the steps necessary for proper implementation of REACH. "Mr. Bark tried to shout her down and end the call." Compl. ¶ 40. Plaintiff objected and the participants stayed on the call. During an August 20, 2009 review of Global Service Operations, Defendant Gane told Plaintiff, "[y]ou need to apologize to Brian Bark and the entire Smiths Detection board. Your hissy fit has set your career back 15 years." Compl. ¶ 41. Plaintiff alleges that had she not insisted on making changes to REACH implementation, "Smiths Detection would have risked its ability to deliver its large government contracts and breached its service obligations in key areas, potentially placing U.S. national security at risk." Compl. ¶ 42.

In June 2010, Defendant Gane informed Plaintiff that she would move from the Level 3 position of Vice President of Global Services to the lower Level 5 position of Director of Conventional X-Ray. Plaintiff claims that this decision was made in retaliation for her voicing caution regarding the REACH program. Instead of accepting the new position, Plaintiff resigned.

In addition to the alleged retaliation, Plaintiff asserts that she was subject to disparate treatment due to her gender in terms of "promotion practices, compensation and retaliation for complaints about pay equity." Compl. ¶ 70. Plaintiff was also subjected to various sexist remarks by Mr. Gane.

Based on these allegations, the Complaint pleads retaliatory discharge under New Jersey's Conscientious Employee Protection Act, violation of New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Plaintiff seeks relief under a theory of quantum meruit and also seeks punitive damages. After setting forth the standard by which the motion to dismiss must be evaluated, the Court will analyze the sufficiency of each claim.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standard

The Court must review this motion pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), which provides for dismissal of a claim for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires that to state a claim for relief, a pleading contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). When evaluating the sufficiency of claims subject to the pleading requirements of Rule 8(a), the Court must apply the plausibility standard articulated by the Supreme Court in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009). In Twombly and Iqbal, the Supreme Court stressed that a complaint will survive a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) only if it states "sufficient factual allegations, accepted as true, to 'state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556.) The cases are also clear about what will not suffice: "threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action," an "unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation" and conclusory statements "devoid of factual enhancement." Id. at 1949-50; Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-57. While the complaint need not demonstrate that a defendant is probably liable for the wrongdoing, allegations that give rise to the mere possibility of unlawful conduct will not do. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949; Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557. The issue before the Court "is not whether plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant ...


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