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Kleftogiannis v. Inline Plastics Corp.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 6, 2019

PETER KLEFTOGIANNIS, Plaintiff,
v.
INLINE PLASTICS CORP., Defendant.

          RULING AND ORDER ON MOTION TO DISMISS AND MOTION TO SEAL/REDACT NON-PARTY NAMES IN COMPLAINT

          Victor A. Bolden United States District Judge

         On December 5, 2018, Peter Kleftogiannis sued his former employer, Inline Plastics Corporation (“Inline” or “Defendant”), alleging four causes of action arising from his termination: (1) unlawful discrimination based on age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. (the “ADEA”); (2) unlawful discrimination based on age in violation of the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46a-60 (the “CFEPA”); (3) defamation, in violation of Connecticut law; and (4) negligent infliction of emotional distress, in violation of Connecticut law. Complaint, dated Dec. 5, 2018 (“Compl.”), ECF No. 1, ¶¶ 24-35.

         On February 4, 2019, Inline moved to dismiss Counts Three and Four of the Complaint, alleging defamation and negligent infliction of emotional distress, for failure to state claim. Motion to Dismiss, dated Feb. 4, 2019 (“Def.'s Mot.”), ECF No. 12; Memorandum of Law in Support of Def.'s Mot., dated Feb. 4, 2019 (“Def.'s Mem.”), annexed to Def.'s Mot.

         That same day, Inline moved to seal or redact the names of twenty-five non-management employees specifically listed in the Complaint in this employment discrimination action. Motion to Seal Non-Party Names in Plaintiff's Complaint, dated Feb. 4, 2019 (“Redaction Mot.”), ECF No. 11; Memorandum of Law in Support of Redaction Mot., dated Feb. 4, 2019 (“Def.'s Redaction Mem.”), ECF No. 11-1, at 2-6.

         On February 9, 2019, Mr. Kleftogiannis opposed Inline's motion to dismiss. Objection to Motion to Dismiss, dated Feb. 9, 2019 (“Pl.'s Opp.”), ECF No. 17; Memorandum of Law in Support of Pl.'s Opp., dated Feb. 9, 2019 (“Pl.'s Mem.”), annexed to Pl.'s Opp., ECF No. 17-1.

         On February 10, 2019, Mr. Kleftogiannis opposed Inline's motion to seal or redact the non-party names in the Complaint. Objection to Redaction Mot., dated Feb. 10, 2019 (“Redaction Opp.”), ECF No. 18; Memorandum of Law in Support of Redaction Opp., dated Feb. 10, 2019, ECF No. 18-1 (“Pl.'s Redaction Mem.”).

         Because both of these motions concern the Complaint and are fully briefed, the Court considers them together in this opinion.[1]

         For the reasons explained below, Inline's motion to dismiss is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART. The motion to dismiss is denied with respect to Plaintiff's claim of defamation (Count Three), but granted with respect to Plaintiff's claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress (Count Four). Inline's motion to redact non-party names in the Complaint is GRANTED.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Allegations[2]

         Mr. Kleftogiannis, a fifty-year-old man, is a former employee of Inline, a corporation based in Shelton, Connecticut. Compl. ¶¶ 1-2. Inline allegedly manufactures plastic food containers, and has more than 250 employees. Id. ¶¶ 8, 2.

         Inline allegedly hired Mr. Kleftogiannis as a warehouse operator in Shelton, Connecticut on March 4, 1991. Id. ¶ 7.

         Over several years, Mr. Kleftogiannis allegedly worked in several positions for Inline, culminating in a final position as Manufacturing Shift Supervisor, a salaried position in which he allegedly supervised 45 to 50 employees. See Id. ¶ 7. Mr. Kleftogiannis alleges that he consistently received raises and above average performance reviews. Id. ¶ 10.

         At some point before June 2017, Mr. Kleftogiannis allegedly complained about “being targeted for poor treatment because of his age” to Plant Manager, Vanessa Siveyer. Compl. ¶ 11.

         In June 2017, Inline allegedly demoted Mr. Kleftogiannis “from the position of Production Control Manager after he expressed displeasure with the position.” Compl. ¶ 12. Mr. Kleftogiannis alleges that he was “not put through any disciplinary procedure, ” and that the reasons “given for the demotion were minor and pretextual.” Id. Instead, he alleges that the “actual reason for the demotion was discriminat[ion] on the basis of his age.” Id.

         The following month, Mr. Kleftogiannis alleges that he learned from multiple co-workers that Inline had created a “dinosaur list” of employees that management “felt were too old to work in the new company culture, ” and that management “targeted those individuals because of their age for termination.” Id. ¶¶ 13-14.

         Two months later, in September 2017, Mr. Kleftogiannis alleges that two employees he had disciplined complained about him to Plant Manager Siveyer. Id. ¶ 15. Ms. Siveyer allegedly spoke with them for “a grand total of 5 minutes” before requesting an investigation of Mr. Kleftogiannis. Id.

         On September 8, 2017, Inline allegedly suspended Mr. Kleftogiannis pending that investigation. Id. ¶ 16. Mr. Kleftogiannis alleges that Inline's Human Resources Manager, Danielle Chateaune, conducted a “sham investigation” in “an effort to cover up planned discrimination against the Plaintiff on the basis of his age.” Id. ¶ 17.

         In 2017, from September 8 to September 13, Ms. Chateaune allegedly interviewed at least fifteen employees “in an effort to support a decision to terminate” him on the basis of his age. Id. ¶¶ 20, 18. She allegedly did this, even though she was aware that “certain of the employees had an axe to grind” with him “because he had disciplined them in the past.” Id. ¶ 18. Based on the interviews, Ms. Chateaune allegedly compiled a 17-page report “that included multiple false defamatory statements” about Mr. Kleftogiannis “including but not limited to him being unprofessional, swearing, having an affair or multiple affairs, failing to buy pizza for employees, failing to buy birthday cake for employees, not caring about his job, picking on people, being disrespectful, failing to do his job properly, intimidating employees, [and] having a bad attitude.” Id. ¶ 20.

         She allegedly wrote this report, despite the fact that her investigation “did not provide just cause for terminating [him] and in fact disclosed just minor complaints that were mainly based on rumors” about his personal life, id. ¶ 20, “to provide pretextual reasons to terminate” him, id. ¶ 21. Mr. Kleftogiannis also alleges that all employee names in the report were redacted “to aid in providing a pretextual report to terminate the Plaintiff on the basis of his age.” Id. ¶ 22.

         On September 18, 2017, Plant Manager Siveyer and Steven Welford allegedly called Mr. Kleftogiannis and terminated his employment. Id. ¶ 23. During that call, Mr. Welford allegedly stated that Mr. Kleftogiannis was “not the right fit” for the job. Id. Mr. Kleftogiannis alleges that all the reasons given for his termination “were pretextual and defamatory and provided to cover up discriminatory motives.” Id.

         B. Procedural History

         On December 5, 2018, Mr. Kleftogiannis sued Inline, alleging that (1) Inline discriminated against him on the basis of age, in violation of the ADEA and the CFEPA, id. ¶¶ 24-25 (Counts One and Two); (2) Inline defamed him through the publication of reasons for his employment, as stated in the internal report, to his co-workers and outside third parties who inquired about why he was no longer employed with Inline, in violation of Connecticut law, id. ¶¶ 26-29 (Count Three); and (3) Inline negligently inflicted severe emotional distress on him through their discrimination, defamation, and wrongful termination of his employment, id. ¶¶ 30-35. Mr. Kleftogiannis alleges that his “career path has been forever altered negatively and he has lost opportunities for employment[, ] and he has suffered emotional distress” due to Inline's conduct. Id. ¶ 36.

         On February 4, 2019, Inline moved to dismiss Mr. Kleftogiannis's defamation and negligent infliction of emotional distress claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), Def.'s Mot, arguing that: (1) Mr. Kleftogiannis failed to state a claim for defamation because the statements contained in Ms. Chateaune's post-investigation report were protected by the intra-corporate communications privilege, the allegation that the report was published to third parties is unsubstantiated, and the allegations of damages are mere threadbare recitals, id. at 3-4; and (2) Mr. Kleftogiannis failed to state a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress claim because any alleged distress was not a result of conduct by Inline during the termination process itself, id. at 5-6.

         That same day, Inline moved to seal or redact the names of twenty-five non-management employees specifically listed in the Complaint in this employment discrimination action. Redaction Mot.; Def.'s Redaction Mem.

         On February 9, 2019, Mr. Kleftogiannis objected to Inline's motion to dismiss his defamation claim, arguing that his “allegation of damages [was] sufficient” and that the investigation report had been shared with “co-workers and outside third parties, ” constituting defamation. Pl.'s Mem. at 4-5. Mr. Kleftogiannis also argued that the termination process began with his demotion in June 2017 and continued through Inline's “sham investigation” and his termination. Id. at 7. Given this extended termination process, Mr. Kleftogiannis argues that Inline “should have realized that its conduct created an unreasonable risk of causing emotional distress and . . . illness or bodily harm.” Id. at 6.

         That same day, Mr. Kleftogiannis also objected to Inline's motion to seal or redact non-party names from the Complaint.

         On February 25, 2019, Inline replied to Mr. Kleftogiannis's oppositions to both motions. Reply to Pl.'s Opp., dated Feb. 25, 2019 (“Dismissal Reply”), ECF No. 20; Reply to Redaction Opp., dated Feb. 25, 2019 (“Redaction Reply”), ECF No. 18.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A. ...


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