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Moore v. Mountain States Health Alliance

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Big Stone Gap Division

October 4, 2016

KIMBERLY S. MOORE, Plaintiff,
v.
MOUNTAIN STATES HEALTH ALLIANCE, ET AL., Defendants.

          Timothy W. McAfee, Timothy W. McAfee, PLLC, Big Stone Gap, Virginia, for Plaintiff;

          Kimberly W. Daniel and Jonathan M. Sumrell, Hancock, Daniel, Johnson and Nagle, P.C., Glen Allen, Virginia, for Defendant Norton Community Hospital.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          James P. Jones United States District Judge

         In this action for damages and injunctive relief brought under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., and the Civil Rights Act of 1991, 42 U.S.C. § 1981a, the plaintiff alleges that she was wrongfully terminated by her employer due to age discrimination and in retaliation for exercise of her rights. A defendant, Norton Community Hospital, has moved to dismiss the retaliation claim and strike the plaintiff's prayer for punitive damages.[1] Reviewing the plaintiff's allegations in the light most favorable to her, I conclude that the defendant's Motion to Dismiss and Motion to Strike must be granted.

         I.

         The Complaint alleges the following facts, which I must accept as true for purposes of deciding the Motion to Dismiss. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 572 (2007).

         The plaintiff, Kimberly Moore, was previously employed by Norton Community Hospital (“the Hospital”) as an Emergency Department reception clerk. Her employment was terminated on June 6, 2014. At the time of her termination, she was fifty-five years old, earned approximately seventeen dollars per hour, and had been employed with the Hospital for twenty-three years. She was also nine months away from qualifying for lifetime health insurance, a retirement benefit available to long-term employees that would have cost the defendants over a million dollars to provide. After terminating Moore's employment, the defendants replaced her with a younger employee.

         Moore was a member of the United Steelworkers Union, and for approximately twenty years, the terms of her employment with the Hospital had been governed by a contract negotiated by the union. Around 2011, the Hospital was acquired by Mountain States Health Alliance (“Mountain States”). Mountain States “openly opposed employees that belonged to the union and discouraged employees from continuing their association with the union.” (Compl. ¶ 22, ECF No. 1.) Moore, however, refused to withdraw from the union.

         In July or August 2013, Moore's supervisors “began to harass, bully and emotionally abuse” her on a regular basis. (Id. at ¶ 25.) They “changed her job duties and titles without providing proper training or instructions” and “constantly complain[ed] that while [her] performance was compliant, they did not like [her] personality.” (Id.) Moore claims that she was forced to “endure daily criticisms” and “attend counseling, ” despite her “more than satisfactory” job performance. (Id. at ¶¶ 16, 26-27.) She alleges that she “became a target of harassment and abuse” because the defendants “hope[d] that she would quit and forfeit the rate of pay and retirement benefits” to which she was entitled. (Id. at ¶ 28.) At some point, she filed a grievance against her supervisors in accordance with the terms of the union contract.

         Moore has asserted two claims against the defendants under the ADEA: (1) age discrimination and (2) retaliation for filing the grievance. She seeks injunctive relief, compensatory damages, and punitive damages under the ADEA and the Civil Rights Act of 1991.

         The Hospital moves to dismiss Moore's retaliation claim for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. It argues that the Complaint fails to properly allege that Moore “engaged in activities protected by the ADEA.” (Def's. Mot. to Partially Dismiss 1, ECF No. 5.) The defendant also moves to strike Moore's prayer for punitive damages on the ground that “the ADEA does not provide for such relief.” (Def's. Mot. to Strike 1, ECF No. 6.) I consider each motion in turn.[2]

         II. Motion to Dismiss.

         “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the court must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 572, and it must view those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403, 406 (2002). However, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). The complaint's ...


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