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Stolzenthaler v. Showcase Publications, Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

August 13, 2018

CAITLIN STOLZENTHALER, Plaintiff,
v.
SHOW PUBLICATIONS, INC., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          PETER G. SHERIDAN, U.S.D.J.

         Presently before the Court is Defendant Showcase Publications, Inc.'s Motion for Partial Dismissal of Plaintiffs Complaint pursuant Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 12(b)(6). (ECF No. 11). Specifically, Defendants seek dismissal of Count VI of Plaintiff s Complaint, wherein she alleges Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (hereinafter, "IIED"). For the reasons discussed herein, Defendants' motion is denied.

         Background

         This cases arises from allegations of wrongful termination. Plaintiff Caitlin Stolzenthaler was a data entry clerk for Showcase Publications, Inc. (Complaint at ¶¶ 8, 17). Throughout her employment, Plaintiff claims she was "subjected to numerous acts of sexual harassment, sex discrimination, retaliation and forced to endure a hostile work environment." (Id. at ¶ 18). Specifically, Plaintiff claims that Defendants Richard Delile, Showcase Media's President, and Robert Draper, Plaintiffs supervisor, regularly harassed her. According to the Complaint, Defendant Draper made sexual comments regarding Plaintiffs figure, such as "You're such a cutie, you must not be married and you probably don't have kids because you have a young-looking body." (Id. at ¶ 19). When Draper took her to lunch, Plaintiff claims he discussed with her his sex life and, in another conversation, discussed the number of prostitutes he has had sex with. (Id. at ¶¶ 20-21). In addition, Draper allegedly forwarded inappropriate pictures, with sexual innuendos captioned within, to Plaintiff. For instance, in November 24, 2016, Draper forwarded a picture to Plaintiff of a man cross-dressing, with the caption, "Hi, I'm Caitlyn from Auto Shoppper?!" (Id. at ¶¶ 22-23). Plaintiff purportedly responded, "Oh wow. Accurate. Lol." (Id.).

         During this same timeframe, Plaintiff began a brief relationship with Defendant Delile, which ended the following month. (Id. at ¶ 24). When the two ended their relationship, Plaintiff expressed to Delile a desire to remain workplace friends. (Id. at ¶ 25). However, Plaintiff claims that Delile "subject[ed] [her] to regular unwelcome sexual conduct and comments" by continuing to ask Plaintiff out on dates. (Id. at ¶ 25).

         In December 2016, Plaintiff claims that Draper continued to harass her. He continued to send inappropriate messages to her, such as a picture of a little boy wearing a t-shirt that said, "I fuck on the first date." (Id. at ¶ 27). During a client meeting, Plaintiff alleges that Draper continued to caress her legs, despite her efforts to push him away. (Id. at ¶ 29). In February 2017, Draper caressed the back of Plaintiff s legs and, when she objected, he replied that he was "just fixing [Plaintiffs] bell bottoms." (Id. at ¶ 30). A few days later, Draper made a comment about Plaintiffs breasts saying, "You are bouncy today." (Id. at ¶ 31). When Plaintiff inquired as to what he was referring to, Draper responded, "Must be the shirt you're wearing." (Id.).

         In early March, Draper promoted Plaintiff to Social Media Manager; thereafter, on March 24, 2017, Delile posted a pornographic picture on his personal Instagram with the caption "I got the raise" and "I know someone like this!" (Id. at ¶ 34). Plaintiff claims this was in retaliation for her refusal to date him and she was humiliated and offended by the post. (Id.). In response, Plaintiff spoke with her manager, Jarod Vanna, and Stephanie Aminao, a Human Resources representative, about the harassment she continued to experience from both Draper and Delile. (Id. at ¶ 33). However, no corrective action was taken. (Id. at ¶ 35).

         On May 19, 2017, Plaintiff notified Vanna that she would be off from May 22 through May 25, 2017 to care for her cat. (Id. at ¶ 36). Apparently, another co-worker took issue, and posted a picture on Delile's personal Facebook page, with the caption "WHORE" and comment "7 days off for a cat?" (Id. at ¶ 37). Delile purportedly responded with a picture of a dumpster fire and the comment, "This sums up the whole situation and degenerate pieces of trash involved." (Id.). Plaintiff claims that she was humiliated by the picture, which was publicly shared with co-workers. Plaintiff reported this harassing episode to Vanna, explaining that she "felt unsafe in the hostile work environment and that she feared for her safety." (Id. at ¶ 39). Vanna then forwarded Plaintiffs concerns to Draper and Defendant Eric Osbjornson, a Showcase Media Production Manager. (Id. at ¶ 40). Again, no corrective action was taken.

         On June 4, 2017, Draper ordered that Plaintiff submit a formal complaint, in writing, and explained that he would not discuss the issue any further, unless authorized by counsel. (Id. at ¶ 40). Two days later, Plaintiff submitted the written complaint to Draper. (Id. at ¶ 41). The following day, Draper informed Plaintiff that he had completed investigating the complaint, concluding:

Your complaint has been addressed and will be handled during working hours tomorrow . . . rest assured that you will not be bothered by comments by that boy or any other employee ... to my knowledge . . . these people are older immature boys ... as always, you can govern yourself accordingly.

(Id. at ¶ 42). However, that same day Draper notified Plaintiff of her termination. (Id. at ¶ 43).

         As a result of Defendants' conduct, Plaintiff claims she was "humiliated, degraded, victimized, embarrassed, and emotionally distressed." (Id. at ¶ 45). Specifically, she claims to suffer regular panic attacks and nightmares and has difficulty sleeping and eating. (Id. at ¶ 47).

         Legal Standard

         On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court is required to accept as true all allegations in the Complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and to view them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman,38 F.3d 1380, 1384 (3d Cir. 1994). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal,556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl Corp. v. Twombly,550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). While a court will accept well-pleaded allegations as true for the purposes of the motion, it will not accept bald assertions, unsupported conclusions, unwarranted inferences, or sweeping legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79; see also Morse ...


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