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Pelletier v. Purdue Pharma LP

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

June 29, 2016

GARY B. PELLETIER, Plaintiff,
v.
PURDUE PHARMA L.P., Defendant.

          RULING GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO DISMISS

          Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Gary Pelletier filed a discrimination claim alleging that he suffered age and sexual orientation discrimination while still employed by defendant Purdue Pharma L.P. Roughly a month later, he was terminated. He then filed a second discrimination complaint for wrongful termination and retaliation.

         Defendant has filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that all of plaintiff's claims are either released as part of a severance agreement, unexhausted, or fail to plausibly raise a legitimate claim. Because I conclude that the severance agreement cannot be considered at this stage, I will deny the motion to dismiss as to plaintiff's age discrimination, wrongful termination, and retaliation claims, subject to their reconsideration as a motion for summary judgment. Because plaintiff does not otherwise state a plausible claim for relief with respect to sex discrimination under Title VII or with respect to sexual orientation or age discrimination under state law, I will grant the motion to dismiss without prejudice as to those claims.

         Background

         The following are the facts as alleged by plaintiff in his federal court and EEOC complaints, construed liberally. Plaintiff is a gay man and worked for defendant as a Senior Analyst. He was 49 years old when he was terminated. Sometime before his termination, in roughly April 2013, plaintiff's partner applied for a job with defendant and was denied. Plaintiff's father then passed away, and the newspaper obituary identified plaintiff and his partner. Plaintiff alleges that it was only after considering his partner's job application and reading the obituary that defendant became aware that he was gay.

         In July 2013, plaintiff's superior, Michael Donahy, met with plaintiff and told him “that they could get younger people to take [his] job.” Doc. #1 at 3. At this time, plaintiff claims he was “written up” by Donahy as a disciplinary measure. In January 2014, plaintiff dual-filed a complaint (“the January Complaint”) with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging that this “write up” was the result of age and sexual orientation discrimination and the beginning of a plan to create a paper trail to justify his termination.

         In February 2014, defendant terminated plaintiff's employment, purportedly as part of a general company “restructuring.” In August 2014, plaintiff filed a second complaint (“the August Complaint”) with the CHRO and EEOC, alleging retaliation for filing his original complaint and wrongful termination. He received a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC regarding the January Complaint on November 24, 2014, and a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC regarding the August Complaint on February 12, 2015. He commenced this action pro se on February 19, 2015. He filled out a federal court complaint on a pre-printed form for pro se litigants, alleging federal claims of discrimination on the basis of sex under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., and age under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, 29 U.S.C. §§ 621 et seq.[1]

         As part of its motion to dismiss, defendant alleges the following facts that are not set forth in the complaint. At the time it notified plaintiff that he would be terminated, it offered plaintiff the chance to sign a document entitled “Agreement and General Release” (the “Release”) in exchange for a severance payment of $22, 566.15 plus benefits. The Release provided that

With the exception of the allegations raised in the complaint currently pending before the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities . . . and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission . . ., Employee, of Employee's own free will, knowingly and voluntarily releases and forever discharges the Company . . . from any and all liability to Employee for actions . . . whatsoever, in law or equity, which, Employee . . . may now have . . . against The Purdue Associated Entities as of the date of the execution of this Agreement, . . . . [T]his Agreement . . . shall release The Purdue Associated Entities from any and all matters arising out of Employee's employment by Purdue and the cessation of said employment. . . including, but not limited to, any alleged violation of (i) Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended; . . . (iii) the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 . . . (x) any other federal, state or local civil or human rights laws, whistleblowing or retaliation laws . . . .

         Doc. #19-1 at 6-7. The email informing plaintiff that he was being terminated and offering the severance in exchange for signing the Release also encouraged him to the consult with a lawyer before signing the document and gave him 45 days to make a decision. Plaintiff signed the Release in April 2014, and he received severance payments in exchange. Defendant further alleges that plaintiff received a right-to-sue letter from the CHRO with respect to the January Complaint on September 19, 2014.

         Discussion

         The background principles governing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss are well established. The Court must accept as true all factual matters alleged in a complaint, although a complaint may not survive unless its factual recitations state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. See, e.g., Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Mastafa v. Chevron Corp., 770 F.3d 170, 177 (2d Cir. 2014). Moreover, “'[a]lthough a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint, that tenet is inapplicable to legal conclusions, and threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice'” to survive a motion to dismiss. Ibid. (quoting Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2009)); see also Krys v. Pigott, 749 F.3d 117, 128 (2d Cir. 2014) (noting that court is “not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual conclusion” or “to accept as true allegations that are wholly conclusory”) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

         To be sure, “[p]ro se complaints 'must be construed liberally and interpreted to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.'” Sykes v. Bank of Am., 723 F.3d 399, 403 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006)). But even a pro se complaint must plead enough facts to state a plausible claim for relief. “We have noted our obligation to construe pro se complaints liberally, even as we examine such complaints for factual allegations sufficient to meet the plausibility requirement.” Hill v. Curcione, 657 F.3d 116, 122 (2d Cir. 2011). In short, my role in reviewing the motion to dismiss is to determine whether the complaint-apart from any of its conclusory allegations and construing its pro se allegations liberally-sets forth sufficient facts to state a plausible claim for relief.

         The ...


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