LUSTGARTEN v. HUNTERDON HEALTHCARE
OPINION filed. Signed by Judge Anne E. Thompson on 11/16/2020. (jmh)
Case 3:20-cv-12695-AET-LHG Document 5 Filed 11/16/20 Page 1 of 6 PageID: 123
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
THERESA ANN LUSTGARTEN,
Civ. No. 20-12695
HUNTERDON MEDICAL CENTER et
This matter comes before the Court upon the Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis
filed by Plaintiff Theresa Ann Lustgarten. (ECF No. 1-2.) The Court previously granted
Plaintiff’s Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis, but, upon screening the Complaint
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915, dismissed Plaintiff’s claims. (ECF No. 3.) Plaintiff then filed the
Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 4.) For the reasons stated herein, Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint
is dismissed in part.
The Plaintiff names two Defendants in the Amended Complaint: Hunterdon Medical
Center and “Hunte[r]don Healthcare” (collectively, “Defendants”). (Am. Compl. at 3, ECF No.
4.) 1 Plaintiff was employed by Defendants as a Patient Safety Assistant from February 2019 to
January 2020. (Id. at 11.) She states that she suffers from complex post-traumatic stress disorder
The page numbers to which the Court refers are the CM/ECF page numbers.
Case 3:20-cv-12695-AET-LHG Document 5 Filed 11/16/20 Page 2 of 6 PageID: 124
(“C-PTSD”) and anxiety. (Id. at 6.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendants (i) failed to accommodate
her disability; (ii) afforded her unequal terms and conditions of employment; (iii) retaliated
against her; and (iv) falsified protected health information in her medical records. (Id.)
Plaintiff’s claims appear to arise from two workplace events. (Id. at 11.) First, Plaintiff
alleges that, in October 2019, she was wrongfully disciplined for poor performance. (Compl. Ex.
at 6, ECF No. 1-1.) 2 Second, in November 2019, Plaintiff was admitted to Defendants’ hospital
as a patient. (Id. at 41–42.) Plaintiff alleges that during her admission, Defendants’ employees
falsified information on her medical chart. (Am. Compl. at 8.) Plaintiff later petitioned to amend
her medical chart, but Defendants declined to do so. (See Compl. Ex. at 25, 38–39.) After
Plaintiff was discharged from Defendants’ care, Defendants requested that she be medically
cleared before she could return to work. (Id. at 6.) Plaintiff felt that Defendants’ actions were
“wrong” and left her position. (Id.) In Plaintiff’s words:
[Defendants] [u]sed my protected medical information such as my C-PTSD, [and]
anxiety against me to push me out of my job, by not firing me because I did my
job, [n]ever was late, always informed the charge RN etc. of any delays.
(Am. Compl. at 8.) Plaintiff has not been employed since she left her position. (Id. at 7.)
Plaintiff filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”)
on July 22, 2020. (Id.) She received a Right to Sue letter from the EEOC on August 26, 2020.
(Id.) On September 14, 2020, Plaintiff, appearing pro se, filed the Complaint (ECF No. 1) and
Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (ECF No. 1-2). The Court granted Plaintiff’s
Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis, but, upon screening the Complaint pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 1915, dismissed Plaintiff’s claims because it did not include a statement of the facts of
the case. (ECF No. 3.) Plaintiff filed the Amended Complaint on October 28, 2020. (ECF No. 4.)
The page numbers to which the Court refers are the CM/ECF page numbers.
Case 3:20-cv-12695-AET-LHG Document 5 Filed 11/16/20 Page 3 of 6 PageID: 125
The Complaint alleges three counts: (I) Violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
(“Title VII”), (II) Violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”), and (III)
Retaliation. (Am. Compl. at 5.)
To survive dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “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) (internal quotations omitted).
“The defendant bears the burden of showing that no claim has been presented.” Hedges v. United
States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a district
court conducts a three-part analysis. Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011). “First,
the court must ‘tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.’” Id. (quoting
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675). “Second, the court should identify allegations that, ‘because they are no
more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.’” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S.
at 679). The court must accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations and construe the
complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203,
210 (3d Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). Third, the court must determine whether the facts
“plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief.” Malleus, 641 F.3d at 563 (quoting Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 679); see also Fowler, 578 F.3d at 211. A complaint that does not demonstrate more than
a “mere possibility of misconduct” must be dismissed. Gelman v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co.,
583 F.3d 187, 190 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). Although courts construe pro
se pleadings less stringently than formal pleadings drafted by attorneys, “pro se litigants still
must allege sufficient facts in their complaints to support a claim.” Mala v. Crown Bay Marina,
Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 245 (3d Cir. 2013) (citation omitted).
Case 3:20-cv-12695-AET-LHG Document 5 Filed 11/16/20 Page 4 of 6 PageID: 126
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
Plaintiff brings her first claim against Defendants under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
of 1964. (Am. Compl. at 5.) Title VII applies to discrimination on the basis of race, color,
religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or national origin. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e.
Plaintiff does not allege that she was discriminated against based on her race, color,
religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or national origin. The Amended Complaint
only alleges facts that Plaintiff was discriminated against based on her disability (Am. Compl. at
6), which is not a protected class under Title VII. See Patterson v. AFSCME # 2456, 320 F.
App’x 143, 147 (3d Cir. 2009). Therefore, the Court will dismiss Plaintiff’s claim under Title
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
Plaintiff’s second claim arises under the ADA. (Id. at 5.) To establish a prima facie case
of discrimination under the ADA, an employee must show that (1) she is a disabled person
within the meaning of the ADA; (2) she is otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions
of the job, with or without reasonable accommodations by the employer; and (3) she has suffered
an otherwise adverse employment decision as a result of discrimination. Taylor v. Phoenixville
Sch. Dist., 184 F.3d 296, 306 (3d Cir. 1999). A plaintiff need not establish the elements of a
prima facie case in her complaint, “but instead, need only put forth allegations that raise a
reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element.” Fowler,
578 F.3d at 213.
Plaintiff’s allegations make out a plausible claim for relief under the ADA. First, Plaintiff
states that she is disabled because she suffers from C-PTSD and anxiety. (Am. Compl. at 5.)
Case 3:20-cv-12695-AET-LHG Document 5 Filed 11/16/20 Page 5 of 6 PageID: 127
Whether a plaintiff suffers from a disability is a question of fact and a case-by-case
determination. Gaul v. AT&T, Inc., 955 F. Supp. 346, 350 (D.N.J. 1997). Courts have found
mental disorders like anxiety and depression to be disabilities under the ADA. See Ruggiero v.
Mount Nittany Med. Ctr., 736 F. App’x 35, 40 (3d Cir. 2018) (finding severe anxiety to be a
disability under the ADA); Callan v. City of Dover, 65 F. Supp. 3d 387, 396 (D. Del. 2014)
(finding depression to be disability under the ADA).
Second, Plaintiff states that she performed her job and was never late, implying that she
was otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of the job. (Am. Compl. at 8.) Third,
Plaintiff alleges that Defendants’ used her medical records containing false statements about her
disabilities to “push [her] out of [her] job.” (Id.) It appears that this action, if true, would
constitute an “adverse employment decision.” See Taylor, 184 F.3d at 306. Thus, the Court finds
that Plaintiff’s allegations are sufficient to make out a claim for discrimination on the basis of
disability under the ADA.
Plaintiff’s final claim alleges that Defendants unlawfully retaliated against her. (Am.
Compl. at 5.) A prima facie claim for retaliation under the ADA requires a plaintiff to
demonstrate that (1) she engaged in protected activity; (2) the employer took an adverse
employment action after or contemporaneous with the protected activity; and (3) a causal link
exists between the employee’s protected activity and the employer’s adverse action. Abramson v.
William Paterson Coll. of N.J., 260 F.3d 265, 286 (3d Cir. 2001). As stated previously, a plaintiff
is not required to establish a prima facie case in her complaint. Fowler, 578 F.3d at 213.
However, it is not possible to meet the retaliation standard when the alleged adverse action
precedes the protected activity. Alja-Iz v. U.S.V.I. Dept. of Educ., 626 F. App’x 44, 47 (3d Cir.
Case 3:20-cv-12695-AET-LHG Document 5 Filed 11/16/20 Page 6 of 6 PageID: 128
2015) (citing Glanzman v. Metro. Mgmt. Corp., 391 F.3d 506, 516 (3d Cir. 2004)).
Here, the Amended Complaint does not appear to allege any facts that Defendants took
adverse employment actions after Plaintiff engaged in protected activity. The only protected
activity that the Court can discern from the Amended Complaint is Plaintiff’s charge to the
EEOC filed on July 22, 2020. (Compl. Ex. at 4–9.) This act took place after Plaintiff was no
longer employed by Defendants. (See id.) Accordingly, Plaintiff’s retaliation claim is dismissed.
For the foregoing reasons, Count I (Violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of
1964) and Count III (Retaliation) of the Amended Complaint (Am. Compl. at 5) are dismissed.
The Court will grant Plaintiff leave to amend to cure the deficiencies with Counts I and II within
thirty (30) days from the entry of the Court’s accompanying Order. An appropriate Order will
Date: November 16, 2020
/s/Anne E. Thompson
ANNE E. THOMPSON, U.S.D.J.
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?