Federal judge dismisses discrimination claim filed against company by delivery driver

Jon Campisi Dec. 19, 2011, 3:19pm

A federal judge in eastern Pennsylvania has granted a delivery company’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit that had been filed against it this past spring by a former driver who alleged the company severed ties with the independent contractor for racially biased reasons.

Oscar Peeples, of Willingboro, N.J., filed a civil rights complaint in April at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against Levittown, Pa.-based Prestige Delivery Systems, Inc.

Peeples had claimed that his civil rights were violated after the company, which retained his services in May 2004, terminated his delivery contract in October 2009 after a long history of age and race discrimination.

Peeples, who is black, alleged in his claim that he was often referred to in racially insensitive terms and that his routes were gradually taken away from him and given to younger, white employees.

“There was no reasonable basis for the termination of Plaintiff as a result of any work product and/or job performance and skills,” the suit had claimed. “Rather, said termination was the direct result of discriminatory and retaliatory action on the part of the Defendant and its managers.”

Peeples had sought damages in excess of $100,000 plus costs.

On Dec. 15, U.S. District Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter granted a motion to dismiss that had been filed by Prestige Delivery Systems.

The defendant filed its motion to dismiss in September on the grounds that Peeples failed to state a claim on which relief could be granted.

The company argued that the suit should be dismissed for two reasons, the first being that as an independent contractor, Peeples wasn’t covered by any of the anti-discrimination statutes cited in the complaint, and the second being that a clause in Peeples’ contract with the company stated that any claims arising out of the business relationship would have to be litigated in the state of Ohio.

“The court finds that the forum selection clause is valid and enforceable,” Buckwalter wrote in his ruling. “Because the parties have contracted to litigate their dispute in Ohio, it would be inappropriate for the Court to address the merits of the complaint.”

In seeking to have the litigation played out in Pennsylvania, Peeples had argued that it would be “unduly burdensome” for himself and others to travel to Ohio. He further argued that one of the claims in his lawsuit, violations of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, wouldn’t be applicable in Ohio.

The court held firm in its decision.

“While litigating in Pennsylvania may be more convenient for plaintiff, he has not shown that traveling to Ohio – which borders Pennsylvania – would be such a substantial burden that it would effectively deprive him of his day in court,” the ruling stated. “Finally, with respect to the PHRA claim, plaintiff himself admits that Ohio courts are ‘more than qualified to handle interpretation of foreign law,’ and he has not identified any aspect of the PHRA that would be better addressed by a Pennsylvania District Court.”

Buckwalter wrote that, “because the court finds that the forum selection clause is enforceable, it declines to address the merits of plaintiff’s claims.”

The case was dismissed entirely.

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