Judge grants in part, denies in part motion to dismiss discrimination suit

By Jon Campisi | Feb 15, 2012

A federal judge has granted in part and denied in part a motion to dismiss filed by a Pennsylvania company that is being sued by a former employee who alleges he was discriminated against because of his race.

Reading, Pa. resident Craig Frazier initiated his discrimination complaint back in mid March of last year against his former employer, Reading-based Exide Technologies.

The complaint, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, alleged that Frazier, who worked as a battery finisher, was subject to racially hostile and discriminatory conduct on the part of supervisors.

The conduct directed toward Frazier included being called racial slurs and being otherwise berated during work, the lawsuit claims.

The lawsuit accuses the defendant of discrimination, harassment based upon race/national origin and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Frazier first filed a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, after which he was issued a right to sue letter.

He subsequently filed his lawsuit on March 16, 2011.

Exide filed a motion to dismiss on June 20, 2011, arguing that Frazier failed to exhaust administrative remedies for certain claims, and that he failed to state a claim for national origin discrimination or retaliation.

In arguing for dismissal, the defendant also stated that it believed Frazier’s intentional infliction of emotional distress claim was preempted by the Pennsylvania Workers Compensation Act.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Mitchell S. Goldberg sided with Exide on the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim, granting the defendant’s motion to dismiss this count of the complaint.

Goldberg wrote that the claim is indeed preempted by state law and because the complaint fails to state a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Goldberg stated that in Pennsylvania, the Workers Compensation Act is the “exclusive remedy available to employees against employers for work-related injuries.”

“The PWCA’s exclusivity provision is far reaching: it preempts common law torts ‘in matters arguably connected with work-related injuries,’” the judge wrote.

Goldberg wrote that there is a “personal animus” exception in the PWCA for acts intended to injure the employee because of reasons personal to him, and not directed against him as an employee or because of his employment relationship.

But the courts have always interpreted the exception as allowing claims where “the attack was motivated by personal reasons, as opposed to generalized contempt or hatred, and was sufficiently unrelated to the work situation so as not to arise out of the employment relationship.”

In Frazier’s case, Goldberg ruled that the alleged racial insults and harassment occurred only at work, and were primarily related to his job.

The example given by the judge was Frazier’s allegation that a superior told him to “pick up the pace,” all the while using a racial slur within the comment.

“I therefore conclude that the alleged harassment arose out of the employment relationship and is thus preempted by the PWCA,” Goldberg wrote.

At the same time, Goldberg denied the motion to dismiss the national origin and retaliation claims, allowing them to move forward.

He also ruled that Frazier did, indeed, exhaust his administrative remedies before filing his federal lawsuit.

“It is reasonable to conclude that the EEOC would have investigated whether Plaintiff’s complaints were followed by retaliation from his supervisors,” Goldberg wrote. “I therefore find that Plaintiff exhausted his administrative remedies as to both the national origin discrimination claim and the retaliation claim.”

The Frazier complaint number is 5:11-cv-01863-MSG.

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