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Wagner v. Catalent Pharma Solutions, LLC

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

April 18, 2019

Annette Wagner, Plaintiff,
Catalent Pharmaceutical Solutions, LLC, Defendant.


          PETER G. SHERIDAN, U.S.D.J.

         This matter comes before the Court on a motion filed by Defendant Catalent Pharmaceutical Solutions, LLC, to dismiss the amended complaint. In this action, Plaintiff brings claims under the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act (NJCEPA), N.J. Stat. Ann. § 34:19-1 to -14; the federal False Claims Act (FCA), 31 U.S.C. § 3730(h), and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), N.J. Stat. Ann. § 10:5-1 to -42. Defendant argues New Jersey Law does not apply to this claim, which arises out of Plaintiff s employment in Kentucky and that Plaintiff has not adequately alleged FCA retaliation.


         On June 16, 2017, Plaintiff Annette Wagner began working as Director of Product Development for Defendant. (Amended Complaint, ECF No. 8, at ¶ 5). A resident of Kentucky, Plaintiff worked in a plant owned by Defendant in Winchester, Kentucky. (Id. at ¶ 5, 6). Defendant - a Delaware corporation with a principle place of business in New Jersey - is a "development, delivery and supply partner for drugs, biologies and consumer health products." (Id. at ¶ 7). Plaintiff reported directly to Scott Gunter, the Vice President of Quality Assurance and Regulatory Affairs, who worked in Defendant's home office in Somerset, New Jersey. (Id. at ¶ 5).

         Plaintiff received an offer letter on May 3, 2016, which notified her that she would be required to sign a confidentiality agreement; she accepted the offer the next day. (Certification of Kristen J. Feher ("Feher Cert."), ECF No. 10-2, Ex. A, May 3, 2016 Offer Letter, at 3). On her first day of employment, she signed the confidentiality agreement, which provided, in part: "This Agreement shall be governed by and interpreted in accordance with the laws of the State of New Jersey, without giving effect to conflict of law rules." (Feher Cert., Ex. B, Catalent Confidentiality Agreement, ¶ 9). The confidentiality agreement also provided, "Employee understands and agrees that this Agreement is not to be construed as a contract for a promise of continued employment." (Id. at ¶ 4); and it furthered, "This Agreement is the complete agreement between the parties with respect to the subject matter thereof." (Id. at ¶ 5 (emphasis added)).

         Shortly after Plaintiff began her employment, she allegedly observed violations of Current Good Manufacturing Guidelines and the company's standard operating procedures ("SOP"). (Id. at ¶ 19). During her short employment, from 2016 to 2017, Plaintiff noted various violations relating to improperly training manufacturing employees, failing to complete deviation investigation reports, and falsifying documents. (Id. at ¶ 19, 23).

         In a meeting with over fifteen management employees, Plaintiff reported the various violations. (Id. at ¶ 24). Quality Assurance Manager Kris Burchette responded "that the training problem had been identified during internal audits for several years, but that no one had taken action to correct it." (Id.). Later, Brian Lane, another quality assurance manager, allegedly admitted he failed to review his reports against the SOP requirements. (Id. at ¶ 27). Moreover, Plaintiff reported these items to the head of quality assurance, but no action was taken. (Id.).

         In December 2017, Plaintiff reported to her general manager, interim director of operations, and facility safety officer - all of whom were located at the Winchester facility - that the pharmaceutical chemical she was working with stained the workers' skin and clothing, which she believed posed a contamination risk. (Id. at ¶ 28). No. party responded to Plaintiffs concerns. (Id. at¶29).

         On one occasion (of unknown date), a quality assurance director told Plaintiff she was on a "witch hunt." (Id. at ¶ 30). A human resources director told her "that there was too much turmoil at the Winchester facility for her to move forward with a formal complaint." (Id.). The HR director also told Plaintiff to ignore the purported violations. (Id. at ¶ 31).

         Plaintiff reported to the director of operations that no one was following the SOP for maintenance of tablet tooling. (Id.). The director allegedly told her that the SOP had only been in place a couple years, and had not yet been implemented. (Id.). Plaintiff alleges that the Vice President of Quality Assurance requested that she should not document any violation or report it to the client. (Id.). Plaintiff told her immediate supervisor about her uneasiness with these responses and the need to remedy the violations. (Id.).

         The complaint alleges that as Plaintiff "continued to uncover more of such violations, [her] role at the Winchester facility was restricted by Defendant so she would have less responsibility to identify these issues. This included eliminating her oversight of the investigation team, and her authority to hire. (Id. at ¶ 33). Despite same, Plaintiff apparently continued to report the perceived violations. (Id. at ¶ 35).

         On June 16, 2017, Defendant terminated Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 36). Defendant claimed she was laid off due to restructuring. (Id. at ¶ 37). Plaintiff alleges that another individual, Larry Lawless, belonged to the same division and reported to the same supervisor, but Lawless was not terminated. (Id.). She further alleges that "several other managers received significantly worse across-the-board ratings than [Plaintiff]," including Lawless. (Id. at ¶ 38). After she was terminated Defendant "advertised an opening for the position Plaintiff held at the Winchester facility." (Id. at ¶ 39).

         Plaintiff filed this complaint on June 1, 2018, alleging retaliatory discrimination, in violation of NJCEPA (Count I); retaliatory discrimination in violation of the FCA, 31 U.S.C. § 3730(h) (Count II); and gender-based discrimination, under NJLAD (Count III).

         Legal Analysis

         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."' Asheroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (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 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).

         "[A] court may consider certain narrowly defined types of material without converting the motion to dismiss" into a motion for summary judgment, In re Rockefeller Ctr. Props., Inc. Sec. Litig.,184 F.3d 280, 287 (3d Cir. 1999), including documents "integral to or explicitly relied upon in the complaint," In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig.,114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997) (quoting Shaw v. Digital Equip. Corp.,82 F.3d 1194, 1220 (1st Cir. 1996)). Such material includes "the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, as well as undisputedly authentic ...

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