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Sharon Mejias v. the American Boychoir School

July 27, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Brown, Chief Judge



This matter comes before the Court upon the motion of defendants The American Boychoir School, Surabela Fabian, and Jennifer Whitman (collectively, "Defendants") to dismiss Counts IV and V of Plaintiff's Complaint (Doc. No. 4) and the cross-motion of plaintiff Sharon Mejias ("Plaintiff") for leave to amend the Complaint (Doc. No. 6). The Court has decided the matter without oral argument pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant Defendants' motion and grant Plaintiff's motion in part and deny it in part.


Plaintiff began working for defendant The American Boychoir School ("ABS") as a receptionist in or around January 1991 and by 2007 had been given the title of Assistant Director of Admissions. (Complaint ¶ 8). ABS hired defendant Surabela Fabian in or around July 2009 as the Dean of Admissions and she became Plaintiff's direct supervisor in place of the departed Associate Director of Admissions. (Complaint ¶ 12). Plaintiff's workload subsequently increased substantially and she experienced stress and anxiety as a result. (Complaint ¶ 14). Plaintiff was diagnosed with anxiety and depression in 1998 and had been since taking medication to control it. (Complaint ¶ 15). On or about February 23, 2010, Plaintiff experienced an incapacitating anxiety attack and began a medical leave of absence from ABS the next day. (Complaint ¶ 16).

Plaintiff emailed Ms. Fabian on March 4, 2010, to update her on Plaintiff's medical situation, and Ms. Fabian responded, in part, that "I am so glad to hear from you and to know that you're under a doctor's care", "When you are healed and ready to return, we will be happy to work with you to find a position that is suitable and interesting for you", and "Please take the time you need, take comfort in knowing that we all support you, and remember that we are all hopeful you will return to us refreshed." (Complaint ¶ 17). In an email on April 13, 2010, Ms. Fabian wrote to Plaintiff to "Please be assured that when you're ready and you do come back that we will work things out to suit you as best we can. We want to support you in every way. Don't rush. Take the time you need to be ready." (Complaint ¶ 18).

On May 18, 2010, Plaintiff spoke directly with Ms. Fabian to again update her on Plaintiff's medical status. (Complaint ¶ 19). During this conversation, Plaintiff requested clarification as to whether she was entitled to 24 weeks of leave under ABS policies. (Id.). From the conversation, Plaintiff understood her position (now called Assistant to the Dean) to be no longer available but that she would be offered another full-time position at ABS. (Id.). On May 19, 2010, Plaintiff emailed Ms. Fabian to confirm her understanding and Ms. Fabian responded in an email of same date that "[W]e are not saying that your position is not available to you, rather we are suggesting that another position might be more suitable for you with less pressure and demands on your time. We therefore would like to offer you another position at the school and look forward to being able to discuss that with you when you are ready to return." (Complaint ¶ 20).

On July 20, 2010, Plaintiff emailed Ms. Fabian to advise her that her physician had cleared her to return to work on August 4, 2010. (Complaint ¶ 25). Defendant Jennifer Whitman, Director of Human Resources at ABS, had been copied on Plaintiff's email and responded that they would "plan on scheduling a meeting shortly before you come back so we can all get 'up-to-speed' on your return and the goings on here at the School." (Complaint ¶ 27). Plaintiff did not hear anything further from Defendants thereafter, nor in response to a subsequent email on August 2, 2010. (Complaint ¶ 29).

Plaintiff went to the ABS campus on August 3, 2010, to speak to Ms. Fabian or Ms. Whitman in advance of her return to work the next day. (Complaint ¶ 30). Ms. Whitman informed Plaintiff that she would not be permitted to return to her former position and discussed the possibility of Plaintiff working part-time as Ms. Whitman's assistant. (Id.). Plaintiff declined this proposal and repeated her request to resume her position as Assistant to the Dean. (Complaint ¶ 31). In a telephone conversation on August 4, 2010, Ms. Whitman informed Plaintiff that Ms. Fabian did not want Plaintiff reporting to her anymore. (Complaint ¶ 32).

On or about January 31, 2011, Plaintiff filed the Complaint alleging three counts (Counts I - III) of violations of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("NJLAD"), one count (Count IV) of violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. ("FMLA"), and one count (Count V) for promissory estoppel. (Doc. No. 1). On April 1, 2011, Defendants filed the instant Motion to Dismiss Counts IV and V of Plaintiff's Complaint. (Doc. No. 4). On April 15, 2011, Plaintiff filed opposition to Defendants' motion, which included the cross-motion for leave to amend the complaint. (Doc. No. 5). On April 18, 2011, Plaintiff properly filed a Notice of Cross-Motion for Leave to Amend the Complaint (Doc. No. 6), relying upon the materials filed with opposition to Defendants' motion.


A. Standard of Review

A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) may be granted only if, accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, a court finds that the plaintiff has failed to set forth fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citing Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). A complaint will survive a motion to dismiss if it contains sufficient factual matter to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). The plausibility standard requires that "the plaintiff plead[] factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged" and demands "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Although a court must accept as true all factual allegations in a complaint, that tenet is "inapplicable to legal conclusions," and "[a] pleading that offers 'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'" Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555); see also Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231-33 (3d Cir. 2008). In evaluating a motion to dismiss, a court may consider only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, and undisputedly authentic documents if the complainants' claims are based upon those documents. See Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993).

In light of Iqbal, district courts should conduct a two-part analysis when evaluating a motion to dismiss ...

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