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Pennington v. Pruitthealth, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Valdosta Division

October 21, 2019

CARLA PENNINGTON, Plaintiff,
v.
PRUITTHEALTH, INC., et al., [1] Defendants.

          ORDER

          HUGH LAWSON, SENIOR JUDGE

         Plaintiff Carla Pennington, a former employee of Defendants, [2] filed this lawsuit against Defendants for alleged violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) and the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). Plaintiff also asserts state law claims for damage to reputation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 10). For the following reasons, Defendants' motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff began working for Defendants as an LPN in 2008.[3] (Doc. 1, ¶ 22). In 2015, Plaintiff became the admissions director, a position she held until her termination. (Id. at ¶¶ 22-23). Throughout her employment history with Defendants, Plaintiff received favorable job performance evaluations as well as regular pay increases and other employment benefits, including health benefits and paid time off. (Id. at ¶¶ 24-25).

         On March 27, 2017, Plaintiff received a referral for a new resident. (Id. at ¶ 26). Over the next several days, Plaintiff attempted to contact the individual's family members but received no response. (Id.). Plaintiff left for a scheduled vacation on March 31, 2017. (Id.). The admission paperwork for the new resident was not completed before Plaintiff's departure. (Id.). Plaintiff informed the “back up team” about the potential new resident. (Id.). She also alleges that her supervisor was aware that someone needed to cover the admissions process in Plaintiff's absence. (Id.).

         Plaintiff returned from vacation on April 4, 2017. (Id. at ¶ 27). The paperwork for the new resident remained incomplete. (Id.). Plaintiff's supervisor instructed Plaintiff to finish the paperwork, and Plaintiff complied. (Id.). Almost three months later, on June 21, 2017, Defendants terminated Plaintiff for violating company policy when she delayed completing admission paperwork for this new resident. (Id. at ¶¶ 8, 28).

         Plaintiff, who was over the age of 40 at the time of her termination, contends that Defendants discriminated against her on the basis of her age. (Id. at ¶¶ 7, 29). Defendants replaced Plaintiff with an employee under the age of 40 who was not qualified for the position. (Id. at ¶¶ 30-31). Plaintiff further alleges that Defendants treated her differently than other similarly situated, younger employees, who engaged in similar or more egregious conduct than Plaintiff but who were not terminated. (Id. at ¶ 31).

         At the time of Plaintiff's termination, she was on medical leave pursuant to the FMLA. (Id. at ¶29). Consequently, Plaintiff also alleges that Defendants terminated her in retaliation for exercising her FMLA rights. (Id. at ¶ 45). Plaintiff additionally contends that Defendants violated the FMLA by refusing to reinstate her to the same or similar position upon her return to work and instead terminating her. (Id. at ¶ 47).

         Plaintiff alleges that she filed a timely charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). (Id. at ¶ 9). The EEOC issued Plaintiff a right to sue letter dated October 24, 2018, and this lawsuit followed.[4]

         II. MOTION TO DISMISS STANDARD

         When ruling on a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a court must accept “all well-pleaded facts . . . as true, and the reasonable inferences therefrom are construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Bryant v. Avado Brands, Inc., 187 F.3d 1271, 1273 n.1 (11th Cir. 1999). To avoid dismissal, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The complaint must “give the defendant fair notice of what the [plaintiff's] claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (quotation marks and citation omitted). And, while a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, it must provide “more than labels or conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. (quotation marks and citation omitted). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right of relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Id. (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. Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quotation marks and citation omitted). Further, while a court must accept all factual allegations in a complaint as true, this principle “is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, ” are insufficient. Id. “And, of course, a well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable, and that a recovery is very remote and unlikely.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (quotation marks and citation omitted).

         A court “generally may not look beyond the pleadings” to consider extrinsic documents when evaluating a motion to dismiss. United States ex rel. Osheroff v. Humana, Inc., 776 F.3d 805, 811 (11th Cir. 2015); see Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d) (When “matters outside the pleadings are presented and not excluded by the court, the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment, ” and the “parties must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion.”). But this Circuit has adopted the “incorporation by reference doctrine, ” which permits a court to consider a document attached to a motion to dismiss without requiring the court to convert the motion into one for summary judgment. Horsley v. Feldt, 304 F.3d 1125, 1134 (11th Cir. 2002). “[W]here the plaintiff refers to certain documents in the complaint and those documents are central to the plaintiff's claim, then the Court may consider the documents part of the pleadings for purposes of Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal.” Brooks v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Fla., Inc., 116 F.3d 1364, 1368-69 (11th Cir. 1997); see also SFM Holdings, Ltd. v. Banc of Am. Sec., LLC, 600 F.3d 1334, 1337 (11th Cir. 2010) (“In ruling upon a motion to dismiss, the district court may consider an extrinsic document if it is (1) central to the plaintiff's claim, and (2) its authenticity is not challenged.”).

         One of Defendants' primary arguments in support of their motion to dismiss is that Plaintiff did not timely exhaust her administrative remedies prior to filing suit. In her Complaint, Plaintiff states only that she filed a timely charge of discrimination with the EEOC. (Doc. 1, ¶ 9). Plaintiff does not provide the date she allegedly filed her charge, nor did she attach a copy of her charge to her Complaint. Defendants therefore attached to their motion a copy of the charge of discrimination signed by Plaintiff on April 24, 2018, and received by the EEOC on April 26, 2018. (Doc. 12). Plaintiff responded by attaching a statement entitled “EEOC Charge, ” which she purportedly signed and dated November 29, 2017, and submitted to the EEOC. (Doc. 17-1).[5] These documents directly address the question of administrative exhaustion, and neither party challenges their authenticity. Further, “[c]ourts routinely consider a plaintiff's EEOC charge . . . to resolve the question of whether a plaintiff has exhausted administrative remedies without converting a motion to dismiss . . . to a motion for summary judgment.” Pettiford v. Diversified Enter. of S. Ga., Inc., No. 7:18-CV-105 (HL), 2019 WL 653813, at *2 (M.D. Ga. Feb. 15, 2019) (citing Chestnut v. Ethan Allen Retail, Inc., 971 F.Supp.2d 1223, 1228 (N.D.Ga. 2013)). Accordingly, the Court concludes that it may consider the documents attached to Defendants' motion and Plaintiff's response without converting the motion to dismiss to one for summary judgment.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Defendants argue that Plaintiff's claims for age discrimination are subject to dismissal because Plaintiff did not file her charge of discrimination within 180 days of the last alleged discriminatory act. Alternatively, Defendants contend that Plaintiff's age discrimination claims should be dismissed because Plaintiff has not presented enough factual detail to state a claim under the ADEA. Defendants also move to dismiss Plaintiff's claims for FMLA retaliation, damage to reputation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress for failure to state a claim.

         A. ADEA

         1. ...


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