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Marie Sangi v. Warren Hospital

October 11, 2011


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


Plaintiff Marie Sangi brings this action against defendant Warren Hospital (the "Hospital") alleging that the Hospital discriminated against her on the basis of her age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("LAD"), N.J.S.A. § 10:5-1. The Hospital has moved under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) to dismiss Plaintiff's claims. The Court has carefully considered the submissions of the parties, and decides the matter without oral argument pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. For the reasons below, the Hospital's motion is granted.

I. Background*fn1

Plaintiff is sixty-three years old. She was hired by the Hospital in 2004 as a Drug and Alcohol Counselor and was employed in that position until her termination in February 2009.

From the time Plaintiff was hired until sometime in 2008 Plaintiff alleges that she met or exceeded all performance expectations and had not received any negative feedback from her superiors, clients or colleagues. However, beginning in 2008, Plaintiff began to perceive that two of her younger co-workers were being "disrespectful towards her," Compl. ¶ 10, specifically, by laughing at Plaintiff whenever Plaintiff spoke during rounds in which the counselors discussed the progress of their cases. Plaintiff raised the matter with her supervisor, who did nothing to discipline the co-workers and instead accused Plaintiff of being at fault.

In August of 2008, Plaintiff was told by her supervisor that she was to no longer conduct the Intensive Outpatient Group Therapy ("OGT"), which was one of Plaintiff's primary job responsibilities. Responsibility for this was then offered to a co-worker, who was a part-time employee. Plaintiff's supervisor told Plaintiff the reason for this change was because of "Plaintiff's poor counseling skills." Compl ¶ 13. When this part-time employee declined this new responsibility, Plaintiff was informed that she would continue to conduct the OGT.

In early January 2009, Plaintiff was informed that her work hours were to be reduced from a full-time schedule of 40 hours per week to a 30 hours per week. At this time, Plaintiff was asked to sign a Separation and Release agreement. Plaintiff agreed and signed the document.

Approximately one week later, Plaintiff was terminated. She was told she was being terminated because she had violated patient confidentiality rules by keeping patient files in her office. However, Plaintiff claims that all of the Drug and Alcohol counselors, including herself, routinely held patient files in their respective offices. Plaintiff believes that she has been replaced by "a person younger than she." Compl. ¶ 25.

II. Discussion

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a court may grant a motion to dismiss if the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The Supreme Court set forth the standard for addressing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) in Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 562, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). The Twombly Court stated that, "[w]hile 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[.]" Id. at 555 (internal citations omitted); see also Baraka v. McGreevey, 481 F.3d 187, 195 (3d Cir. 2007) (stating that standard of review for motion to dismiss does not require courts to accept as true "unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences" or "legal conclusion[s] couched as factual allegation[s]." (internal quotation marks omitted)). Therefore, for a complaint to withstand a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, ... on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact) ..." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal citations and footnote omitted).

The Supreme Court has emphasized that, when assessing the sufficiency of a civil complaint, a court must distinguish factual contentions and "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). When evaluating a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, district courts conduct a three-part analysis.

First, the court must "tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1947 (2009). Second, the court should identify allegations that, "because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Id. at 1950. Third, "whe[n] there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief."

Id. This means that our inquiry is normally broken into three parts: (1) identifying the elements of the claim, (2) reviewing the complaint to strike conclusory allegations, and then (3) looking at the well-pleaded components of the complaint and evaluating whether all of the elements identified in part one of the inquiry are sufficiently alleged.

Malleus v. George, --- F.3d --- (3d Cir. 2011). A complaint will be dismissed unless it "contain[s] sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal, 129 S. Ct.. at 1949 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). This "plausibility" determination will be "a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Fowler, 578 F.3d at 211 (citations omitted). "The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully;" mere consistency with liability is insufficient. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct.. at 1949. A plaintiff is not required to plead every element of a prima ...

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