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Eeoc v. United Galaxy

March 17, 2011

EEOC
PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED GALAXY, INC. DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Dennis M. Cavanaugh

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

DENNIS M. CAVANAUGH, U.S.D.J.

This matter comes before the Court by way of Plaintiff's motion to strike three of Defendant's affirmative defenses pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f). The Court has considered the submissions made in support of and in opposition to the instant motion. No oral argument was heard. Fed. R. Civ. P. 78. Based on the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's motion is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") brings this action, in the public interest, pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act of 1991 against Defendant, United Galaxy, Inc. d/b/a Tri-County Lexus. Plaintiff's Complaint alleges, in pertinent part, that United Galaxy, Inc. "strictly enforced its dress code without granting reasonable religious accommodations, and refused to hire Gurpreet S. Kherha, a member of the Sikh faith whose religious beliefs require him to wear a beard, uncut hair and a turban, for an available position as a Sales Associate for which he was qualified because he refused to comply, because of his religious beliefs, with Defendant's demand to shave his beard." (Compl. at 1). In light of the foregoing, the EEOC asks the Court to, among other things: (a) grant a permanent injunction enjoining Defendant from engaging in any employment practice which discriminates on the basis of religion, (b) order Defendant to institute and carry out policies, practices and programs which provide equal employment opportunities and reasonable accommodation for the religious observations, practices and beliefs of job applicants and employees and which eradicate the effects of its past and present unlawful employment practices, (c) order Defendant to make Kherha whole by providing appropriate back pay and compensation for his non-pecuniary losses, including but not limited to emotional pain and suffering, and (d) order Defendant to pay Kherha punitive damages.

Plaintiff's Complaint was filed on September 28, 2010. Defendant filed an Answer to Plaintiff's Complaint, including certain affirmative defenses, on December 3, 2010. This motion to strike followed.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Rule 12(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides: "The court may strike from a pleading an insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(f). A motion to strike an affirmative defense pursuant to 12(f) is governed by the same standards as a motion to dismiss pursuant to 12(b)(6). See In re Gabapentin Patent Litig., 648 F.Supp.2d 641, 647-48 (D.N.J. 2009) ("Because a motion [to strike] challenges the legal sufficiency of the pleading, it is governed by the same standards as a motion to dismiss[.] ... An affirmative defense is insufficient as a matter of law if it cannot succeed under any circumstances."). For a complaint to survive dismissal, it "must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' " Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). In determining the sufficiency of a complaint, the Court must accept all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. See Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008). Additionally, in evaluating a plaintiff's claims, generally "a court looks only to the facts alleged in the complaint and its attachments without reference to other parts of the record." Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994).

"Courts recognize that a motion to strike can save time and litigation expense by eliminating the need for discovery with regard to legally insufficient defenses." F.D.I.C. v. White, 828 F. Supp. 304, 307 (D.N.J. 1993); see also United States v. Geppert Bros., Inc., 638 F. Supp. 996, 998 (E.D. Pa. 1986). Nevertheless, the Third Circuit has cautioned that courts "should not grant a motion to strike a defense unless the insufficiency of the defense is 'clearly apparent.' " Cipollone v. Liggett Group, Inc., 789 F.2d 181, 188 (3d Cir. 1986). In light of this standard, "motions to strike are not favored and will typically be denied 'unless the allegations have no possible relation to the controversy and may cause prejudice to one of the parties, or if the allegations confuse the issues in the case.' " AMEC Civil, LLC, No. 06-64, 2007 WL 433328, at *4 (D.N.J. Feb. 6, 2007) (quotation omitted).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Fifth Affirmative Defense

Defendant's fifth affirmative defense provides that "Plaintiff's claims for emotional distress are barred by the exclusive remedy provisions of New Jersey's workers' compensation statute." Plaintiff moves to strike this affirmative defense on the basis that the Civil Rights Act explicitly authorizes the recovery of "compensatory damages" which encompasses emotional distress damages against a Defendant who engages in intentional discrimination. In support of this position, Plaintiff cites to Landgraf v. USI Firm Prods., 511 U.S. 244, 253 (1994) (discussing compensatory damages provision of the Civil Rights Act). Defendant does not dispute this. Rather, Defendant argues that, under New Jersey law, employers are entitled to seek coverage under their workers compensation policies for emotional distress injuries allegedly suffered as a result of workplace discrimination. Thus, Defendant maintains that the fifth affirmative defense should not be stricken because it "preserve[s] Defendant's right to seek coverage from its workers compensation carrier."

Defendant's affirmative defense does more than merely preserve Defendant's right to seek coverage from its workers compensation carrier. The fifth affirmative defense provides that to the extent Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages in the form of emotional distress -- which it does -- its exclusive remedy is through the New Jersey workers compensation statute. Plaintiff has provided the Court with legal authority stating that compensatory damages are available under Title VII. See, e.g., Lopez v. S.B. Thomas, Inc., 831 F.2d 1184, 1190 (2d Cir. 1987) ("[W]e do not read the workers' compensation law to deny relief under a federal statute . . . Were state law to erect such a bar, it would clearly run afoul of the Supremacy Clause."). Defendant cites to no legal authority suggesting otherwise, nor has Defendant demonstrated that absent the fifth affirmative defense, Defendant would not otherwise maintain the ability ...


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