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Bradley v. Just Greens, LLC

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

September 12, 2019




         This matter comes before the Court on the motion (DE 5) of the defendants, Just Greens, LLC d/b/a Aerofarms ("Aerofarms") and David Rosenberg, to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Plaintiff Ada Vanessa Bradley, who was employed at Aerofarms, asserts claims under New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 et seq. ("NJLAD"). Specifically, Bradley alleges that she was treated disparately by Aerofarms and Rosenberg because of her race and gender, culminating in her termination from the company.

         For the reasons explained below, Defendants' motion to dismiss is denied.

         I. Background[1]

         Defendant Aerofarms operates an indoor vertical agricultural business in Newark, New Jersey. (Compl. ¶6). Defendant David Rosenberg is the Chief Executive Officer and Owner of Aerofarms. Defendant Rosenberg is a white male, a fact relevant to the allegations. (Compl. ¶3). From May 2017 until June 2018, plaintiff Bradley was employed at Aerofarms. (Compl. ¶¶38-39). Bradley is an African American female. (Compl. ¶11). Bradley had significant experience in the agricultural industry before she was hired to work as a Farm Manager for Aerofarms. Although objectively qualified for the position of Farm Manager, she was required to undergo a grueling hiring process, including 23 interviews, before she was offered the job. (Compl. ¶¶14, 15)- Bradley claims that no other prospective employee, including her replacement, who is a white male, was subjected to such an onerous interview process. (Compl. ¶17).

         Bradley alleges that while employed at Aerofarms, she was treated disparately as compared to white male employees, notwithstanding the fact that she carried out her responsibilities in an exemplary manner. (Compl. ¶¶ 19-20). For example, Bradley assumed the responsibilities of a Safety Manager, which is a separate, full time position at the company, in addition to her Farm Manager responsibilities. (Compl. ¶¶18-22). In carrying out the responsibilities of a Safety Manager, plaintiff improved company safety statistics, which in turn enhanced Aerofarms' business operations and profits. (Compl. ¶¶21-22). She was also responsible for strategy planning, as well as safety and regulatory compliance. (Compl. ¶22).

         Notwithstanding her positive performance, Bradley was excluded from management level meetings concerning her job responsibilities in favor of white, male employees. (Compl. ¶23) Bradley also alleges that her recommendations or decisions were ignored by Defendants until they were co-opted by other white, male colleagues. (Compl. ¶¶ 23-25). Bradley claims that other women at Aerofarms were treated in a similar manner. (Compl. ¶26).

         Additionally, Bradley alleges that she was compensated less than her white, male colleagues, due to her gender and race. Bradley contends that when white, male colleagues tried to leave the company, they were offered better terms of employment, such as salary and stock option increases, to convince them to stay. (Compl. ¶¶30-33). This contrasted with Aerofarms' treatment of women who planned to leave the company. (Compl. ¶34). Plaintiff alleges she knows of "at least six . . . female employees" who left Aerofarms and were not offered any compensation or stock option increases to convince them to stay. (Compl. ¶34). Moreover, when Bradley requested for a small salary increase for taking on additional responsibilities as Safety Manager, she was rejected and told that she had not yet "prove[n]" herself to Rosenberg. (Compl. ¶¶30-31).

         Bradley asserts that on she was wrongfully terminated from Aerofarms was replaced on June 18, 2018, by a white, male candidate. (Compl. ¶39).

         II. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) does not require that a complaint contain detailed factual allegations. Nevertheless, "a plaintiffs obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007); see Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir. 2008) (Rule 8 "requires a 'showing' rather than a blanket assertion of an entitlement to relief." (citation omitted)). Thus, the complaint's factual allegations must be sufficient to raise a plaintiffs right to relief above a speculative level, so that a claim is "plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570; see also West Run Student Hous. Assocs., LLC v. Huntington Nat. Bank, 712 F.3d 165, 169 (3d Cir. 2013).

         That facial-plausibility standard is met "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). While "[t]he plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement'... it asks for more than a sheer possibility." Id.

         Rule 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The defendant, as the moving party, bears the burden of showing that no claim has been stated. Animal Science Products, Inc. v. China Minmetals Corp., 654 F.3d 462, 469 n.9 (3d Cir. 2011). For the purposes of a motion to dismiss, the facts alleged in the complaint are accepted as true and all reasonable inferences are drawn in favor of the plaintiff. New Jersey Carpenters & the Trustees Thereof v. Tishman Const Corp. of New Jersey, 760 F.3d 297, 302 (3d Cir. 2014).

         When deciding a motion to dismiss, a court typically does not consider matters outside the pleadings. However, a court may consider documents that are "integral to or explicitly relied upon in the complaint" or any "undisputedly authentic document that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiffs claims are based on the document[.]" In re Rockefeller Ctr. Props., Inc. Sec. Litig., 184 F.3d 280, 287 (3d Cir. 1999) (emphasis and citations omitted); see In re Asbestos Prods. Liab. Litig. (No. VI), 822 F.3d 125, 133 n.7 (3d Cir. 2016); Schmidt v. Skolas, 770 F.3d 241, 249 (3d Cir. 2014).[2]

         III. Discussion

         The three counts of the complaint all arise under the New Jersey Law against Discrimination (NJLAD). This Court' subject matter jurisdiction is founded on diversity of citizenship. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a); Notice of Removal and Memorandum of Law (DE 1); Order denying motion to remand (DE 14).

         a. Count One: Disparate Treatment Under the NJLAD

         Count One of the Complaint alleges that defendant Aerofarms treated Bradley in a disparate manner because of her gender and race, in violation of the NJLAD. "There is no single prima facie case that applies to all employment discrimination claims. Instead, the elements of the prima facie case vary depending upon the particular cause of action." Kirschling v. Atl. City Bd. of Educ, 10 F.Supp.3d 587, 594 (D.N.J. 2014), affd,604 Fed.Appx. 153 (3d Cir. 2015). The NJLAD borrows the federal Title VII ...

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