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Barnes v. Monmouth County Division of Social Services

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

December 11, 2018

BERNACINE BARNES, Plaintiff,
v.
MONMOUTH COUNTY DIVISION OF SOCIAL SERVICES, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          PETER G. SHERIDAN, U.S.D.J.

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Count IV of Plaintiffs First Amended Complaint (FAC). Beginning in May 1999, plaintiff Bernacine Barnes worked as a clerk for the County of Monmouth, Division of Social Services (hereinafter "MCDSS") in the Customer Care Center. (ECF No. 18, at ¶ 7). Defendant Hetty Rosenstein was the New Jersey Area Director for the Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO ("CWA"), a labor union. (Id. at ¶ 5). Defendant Jenelle Blackmon was a Staff Representative for the CWA. (Id. at ¶ 6).

         While working at the MCDSS, plaintiffs primary responsibilities included assisting county residents with requests for cash assistance, food stamps, emergency shelter and housing, and medical benefits from county programs. (Id.) Plaintiff is African American, a Jehovah's Witness, and at the time of the filing of the FAC, was 55 years old. (Id. at ¶ 8). While working at the MCDSS, plaintiff received only cost of living raises, and did not receive any merit raises or promotions. (Id. at ¶ 9).

         From February 2012 to July 2017, plaintiff made a series of complaints to defendant MCDSS wherein she complained that she was being mistreated by her supervisors at MCDSS. Specifically, she alleges that discriminatory treatment based on her race and religion, and that MCDSS refused to provide reasonable accommodations for a disability relating to her spine. (See Id. at ¶¶ 10-22). In March 2017, she alleges that her supervisors humiliated her in front of her colleagues. (Id. at ¶¶ 18-23). When she wrote to her supervisor to memorialize the incident, she copied her union official on the email, and was subsequently written up for improper use of the computer to communicate with the Union. (Mat ¶¶ 18-23).

         On March 30, 2017, plaintiff met with two Union Officials and two supervisors from MCDSS to discuss the March 2017 events. (Id. at ¶ 24). At that meeting, plaintiff alleges that the supervisors from MCDSS accused her of using inappropriate tones and language in her emails, and started to unilaterally amend the final record of the meeting. (Id.) On May 5, 2017, plaintiff alleges that defendant Jenelle Blackmon refused to provide her union representation during a disciplinary proceeding brought against her. (Id. at ¶ 26). On June 18, 2017, plaintiff alleges that defendant Hetty Rosenstein refused to provide her union representation during a disciplinary proceeding brought against her. (Id. at ¶ 28). Finally, on August 17, 2017, plaintiff was suspended indefinitely without pay, and terminated from MCDSS on October 13, 2017. (Id. at ¶¶ 34-35). She later filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and was issued a right to sue letter. (Id. at ¶¶ 36-37).

         Plaintiff filed her amended complaint on August 9, 2018, bringing the following claims: Count I, Violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213 against MCDSS; Count II, Violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, 29 U.S.C. § 623 against MCDSS; Count III, Violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e against MCDSS; Count IV, Breach of Duty of Fair Representation against the CWA defendants; Count V, Violation of the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act, N.J.S.A. § 34:19-1 against MCDSS (Count V); Count VI, Violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("NJLAD") (age) N.J.S.A. § 10:5-1 against MCDSS; Count VII, Violation of NJLAD (Disability/handicap), N.J.S.A. § 10:5-1 against MCDSS; and Count VIII, Violation of NJLAD (Ancestry/descent/religion) N.J.S.A. § 10:5-1 against MCDSS.

         Presently before the Court is the CWA defendant's motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8(a) and 12(b)(6). Accordingly, the only claim before the Court is Count IV, Breach of Duty of Fair Representation by against the CWA defendants.

         I

         On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 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 (2007)). The Third Circuit set forth a three-part analysis for determining whether not a complaint may survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim:

First, the court must "tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim." Second, the court should identify allegations that, "because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Finally, "where 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."

Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir. 2010).

         "This means that [the] 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, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011). 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 v. Lower Merion School District, 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). A complaint should be dismissed only if the well-pleaded alleged facts, taken as true, fail to state a claim. See In re Warfarin Sodium, 214 F.3d 395, 397-98 (3d Cir. 2000). The question is whether the claimant can prove any set of facts consistent with his or her allegations that will entitle him or her to relief, not whether that person will ultimately prevail. Semerenko v. Cendant Corp., 223 F.3d 165, 173 (3d Cir.), cert, denied, 531 U.S. 1149 (2001).

         "The pleader is required to 'set forth sufficient information to outline the elements of his claim or to permit inferences to be drawn that these elements exist."" Kost v. Kozakewicz,1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993) (quoting 5A Wright & Miller, Fed. Practice & Procedure: Civil 2d ยง 1357 at 340). "While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiffs obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[merit] to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do, ... . Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, ... on the ...


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