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Lisa Schwinge v. Deptford Township Board of Education and Joseph Collins

February 17, 2011

LISA SCHWINGE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DEPTFORD TOWNSHIP BOARD OF EDUCATION AND JOSEPH COLLINS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kugler, United States District Judge:

NOT FOR PUBLICATION (Doc. No. 12)

OPINION

This is an employment discrimination dispute. Plaintiff Lisa Schwinge claims that Defendant Deptford Township Board of Education (the "Board of Education") terminated her employment because she became pregnant, had to miss work to serve on a jury, and suffered from a serious back injury. Plaintiff asserts claims for gender and disability discrimination, violations of the Jury System Improvement Act ("JSIA"), and common law wrongful discharge. This matter comes before the Court pursuant to Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. For the reasons discussed below, the Court dismisses without prejudice Plaintiff's claims for gender and disability discrimination and dismisses with prejudice Plaintiff's claim for violations of the JSIA. The Court denies without prejudice Defendants' request to dismiss Plaintiff's common law wrongful discharge claim.

I.BACKGROUND

The Board of Education hired Plaintiff in December 2006 as a "book keeper/office worker." (Am. Compl. ¶ 5). At that time, Plaintiff had "many years of experience as a government office worker, and had never had bad reviews, nor any complaints regarding her work performance during her years of employment." (Id.). Plaintiff's supervisor at the Board of Education was Defendant Joseph Collins. In February 2008, Plaintiff notified Mr. Collins that she was pregnant. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Collins, "for the first time, gave Plaintiff a negative [performance] review." (Id. ¶ 7). "Shortly after that, on or about April 23, 2008, soon after the [P]laintiff had inquired about her Family Medical Leave Rights, Plaintiff was advised that her contract was not going to be renewed." (Id. ¶ 8). Plaintiff was terminated when her contract expired.

Plaintiff also alleges that between December 2007 and January 2008, she was selected to serve as a juror in a civil trial in the Superior Court of New Jersey. Plaintiff missed work as a result of her jury duty. "Shortly after [Plaintiff's] jury service, and around the time that she announced her pregnancy, . . . [Mr. Collins] complained about 'missed time from work by employees,' and further asserted that no excuses would be accepted, that he 'didn't care' what excuse employees had, and that any missed time would result in consequences." (Id. ¶ 15). "Over the next couple of months, [P]laintiff received her first negative performance reviews," and, "[s]hortly thereafter, she was terminated, and notified that her contract would not be renewed." (Id. ¶ 16).

Plaintiff also alleges that "[i]n addition to her pregnancy, [she] suffered from a herniated disc in her spine, along with several bulging discs." (Id. ¶ 19). She allges that her termination was related in whole or in part to those medical conditions, which constitute a legally protected disability. She notes that she filed a charge of disability discrimination with both the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), but she subsequently withdrew those claims to pursue her rights in court. (Id. ¶ 21). She did not receive a right-to-sue letter from either agency.

Plaintiff originally filed her Complaint in the Superior Court of New Jersey. The Complaint asserts claims for gender discrimination under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("NJLAD") (Count I), violations of the JSIA (Count II), and disability discrimination under the NJLAD and the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") (Count III). Defendants timely removed the matter to this Court, answered the Complaint, and moved to dismiss the Complaint for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Plaintiff opposed Defendants' motion to dismiss, and Defendants replied.

While that motion was pending, Plaintiff moved to amend the Complaint to assert a new claim for "Common Law Wrongful Discharge, in violation of New Jersey Law, and Public Policy." (Id. ¶ 24). That motion was granted, and Plaintiff timely filed her Amended Complaint. The Amended Complaint is word-for-word identical to the original Complaint except that it includes four new paragraphs. Those paragraphs do not include any new factual allegations. They simply incorporate the facts as alleged in the Complaint and assert a claim for common law wrongful discharge. After Plaintiff filed the Amended Complaint, Defendants filed a letter stating that Counts I to III of the Amended Complaint should be dismissed because Plaintiff's allegations remain unchanged from the Complaint. Defendants also requested that the Court dismiss Plaintiff's common law wrongful discharge claim. Plaintiff did not respond to Defendants' letter.

Defendants' pending motion to dismiss is addressed to Plaintiff's original Complaint, which is now superseded by the Amended Complaint. Semulka v. Moschell, No. 10-3259, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 23750, at *3 (3d Cir. Nov. 18, 2010) ("An amended complaint supersedes the original complaint and renders it of no legal effect") (quotation marks and citation omitted). However, because Plaintiff's first three claims are identical in both the original Complaint and the Amended Complaint, and because Defendants filed a supplemental brief requesting that the Court dismiss those claims for the reasons stated in their initial moving papers, it is most efficient for the Court to decide Defendants' pending motion to dismiss on the merits rather than deny it on procedural grounds and require Defendants to re-file the same motion relative to the Amended Complaint. This approach is consistent with the Rules, avoids unnecessary waste of judicial and litigant resources, and does not prejudice Plaintiff because she submitted opposition to Defendants' initial motion. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 1 ("These rules govern the procedure in all civil actions . . . should be construed and administered to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding."); see also D&D Assocs. v. N. Plainfield Bd. of Educ., No. 03-1026, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 43063, at *2 n.1 (D.N.J. May 27, 2008) (deciding motion notwithstanding party's failure to re-file necessary submission based on Rule 1); see also Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 181-82 (1962) (citing Rule 1 and finding that "[i]t is . . . entirely contrary to the spirit of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for decisions on the merits to be avoided on the basis of . . . mere technicalities"). However, because Defendants have not formally moved to dismiss Plaintiff's common law wrongful discharge claim and Plaintiff has therefore not submitted a brief defending that claim, the Court does not address whether that claim should be dismissed. Defendants must make a separate motion to dismiss that claim so that Plaintiff is afforded a clear and fair opportunity to respond.

II.LEGAL STANDARD

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a court may dismiss an action for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. With a motion to dismiss, "'courts 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.'" Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008)). In other words, a complaint survives a motion to dismiss if it contains sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).

In making that determination, a court must conduct a two-part analysis. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949-50 (2009); Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210-11. First, the court must separate factual allegations from legal conclusions. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. Second, the court must determine whether the factual allegations are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a "plausible claim for relief." Id. at 1950. Determining plausibility is a "context-specific task" that requires the court to "draw on its ...


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