Discrimination • Arbitration Clauses • Wrongful Termination • Negligent Supervision • Emotional Distress

Black v. Cmty. Educ. Ctrs., Inc., PICS Case No. 14-0379 (E.D. Pa. March 4, 2014) DuBois, J. (16 pages).

Where a plaintiff employee brought breach of contract, wrongful termination, and unjust enrichment claims against an employer, with whom the employee had a relationship under a collective bargaining agreement and employment agreement that provided for arbitration as the sole contractual grievance procedure, the plaintiff’s claims were dismissed; and where said plaintiff fails to plead the specific acts that caused emotional injury, plaintiff’s IIED and NIED claims were dismissed; and where plaintiff sufficiently plead the elements of a discrimination claim, said claim could be sustained, but harassment claims that were not properly exhausted in administrative proceedings were dismissed. Granted in part and denied in part.

Plaintiff Black brought various claims against defendant Community Education Centers, Inc., stemming from plaintiff’s termination as a prison corrections officer, including: breach of contract, wrongful termination, negligent supervision, emotional distress, and discrimination and harassment pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. Plaintiff, an African American female, alleged that she was discriminated against on the basis of her race, gender, and FMLA-protected disability; according to plaintiff, white supervisors regularly cited African American, but not white, employees for being late, used their personal watches instead of the official prison clock to determine lateness, and cited plaintiff for being late despite FMLA protections.

Defendant filed the motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The court granted defendant’s motion as to most of plaintiff’s claims, but denied defendant’s motion in part.

The court dismissed plaintiff’s breach of contract/good faith and fair dealing and wrongful termination claims. The court cited the employment agreement between the parties, which conspicuously selected arbitration as the sole forum for plaintiff’s contractual grievances; the court also noted that Pennsylvania law barred wrongful termination claims where a collective bargaining agreement was in place, and also dismissed plaintiff’s unjust enrichment claim on the basis that a valid contract existed between the parties.

The court dismissed plaintiff’s negligence claims on the basis that it was preempted by her claims under Title VII and the PHRA, and dismissed her negligence per se claim on the basis that Title VII and the PHRA could not serve as a basis for per se negligence under Pennsylvania law.

The court also dismissed plaintiff’s emotional distress claims on the basis that plaintiff failed to plead the acts that caused emotional injury. The court also found that the plaintiff’s claim failed to meet the outrageousness element or presentness/bodily injury elements of IIED, or the fiduciary duty, physical impact, zone of danger, or close relative situations of NIED.

The court found that plaintiff had sufficiently plead a claim for discrimination, having alleged that she was an African American female, qualified to do her job, that she suffered an adverse employment action, and that the circumstances of her termination were due to discrimination; plaintiff further pled a pattern of discrimination against other African American employees. However, the court dismissed plaintiff’s harassment claim, finding that she had not fully exhausted her administrative rights in the EEOC by bringing the claim for the first time in the action.

Finally, the court dismissed plaintiff’s respondeat superior claim, noting that while the theory could impute liability to the defendant for its employees’ actions, it was not an independent cause of action.