Strausser v. Gertrude Hawk Chocolate, Inc.
MEMORANDUM (Order to follow as separate docket entry) re 26 MOTION for Leave to File an Amended Complaint filed by Mark Strausser Signed by Honorable James M. Munley on 1/17/17. (sm)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
GERTRUDE HAWK CHOCOLATES, INC.,
Before the court for disposition is Plaintiff Mark Strausser’s
(hereinafter “plaintiff”) motion for leave to file a second amended
complaint. For the reasons that follow, the court will grant plaintiff’s
The instant employment discrimination action arises from plaintiff’s
employment with Defendant Gertrude Hawk Chocolates, Inc. (hereinafter
“defendant”). Plaintiff worked as a full-time machine operator at
defendant’s production facility from February 2014 until his termination in
January 2015. (Doc. 19, Am. Compl. ¶ 12).
While employed with the defendant, plaintiff requested time off to
seek inpatient treatment for alcoholism issues. (Id. ¶ 13). Defendant
consented to plaintiff’s request, and in late December 2014, plaintiff
entered an inpatient rehabilitation facility. (Id. ¶ 14). Plaintiff remained at
the rehabilitation facility for a month, successfully completing the
treatment program. (Id. ¶ 16).
Plaintiff returned to work in late January or early February 2015. (Id.
¶¶ 16-17). Upon his return, plaintiff’s manager handed plaintiff a letter.
(Id. ¶ 17). The letter stated that the defendant had assessed plaintiff a
number of attendance points for the time plaintiff missed work during his
rehabilitation stay. (Id.) Plaintiff’s manager explained that he “didn’t care
where [plaintiff] was” and that the attendance points would stand. (Id. ¶
20). Plaintiff responded that he would seek legal counsel on the
appropriateness of being disciplined for his medical leave. (Id. ¶ 21).
Plaintiff’s manager, however, stated that he did not feel comfortable with
plaintiff in his factory and, effective immediately, terminated plaintiff’s
employment due to lack of work. (Id. ¶¶ 22-23).
In response to his termination, plaintiff filed a complaint and a first
amended complaint. The first amended complaint asserts two causes of
action. Plaintiff first alleges that the defendant failed to accommodate
him, discriminated against him because of his disability, and terminated
him in retaliation for requesting accommodations in violation of the
Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. (hereinafter
“ADA”). (Id. ¶¶ 26-30). Plaintiff’s second cause of action claims the
defendant failed to accommodate him, discriminated against him because
of his disability, and terminated him in retaliation for requesting
accommodations in violation of Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Act, 43
PA. STAT. ANN. § 951, et seq. (hereinafter “PHRA”). (Id. ¶¶ 43-45).
On December 8, 2016, plaintiff filed a motion seeking leave to file a
second amended complaint. (Doc. 26). Specifically, plaintiff seeks to add
the disabilities of bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety to his
previously stated disability of alcoholism. Defendant opposes plaintiff’s
motion. The parties briefed the issues, bringing the case to the present
As this case is brought pursuant to the ADA for unlawful
employment discrimination, we have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331
(“The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising
under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.”). The court
has supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiff’s state law claims pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 1367(a).
Plaintiff seeks leave to file a second amended complaint to add the
disabilities of bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety to his previously
stated alcoholism disability. Plaintiff asserts these additional disabilities
arise from the same December 2014 rehabilitation stay that treated his
alcoholism. The defendant argues plaintiff failed to administratively
exhaust his remedies regarding these additional disabilities, and therefore,
the court must deny plaintiff’s proposed amendment. Alternatively, the
defendant contends plaintiff has unduly delayed moving for this
amendment and that these additional disabilities will unfairly prejudice the
defendant. After a careful review, the court agrees with the plaintiff and
will allow him to file a second amended complaint.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15 provides that when a responsive
pleading has been filed, a “party may amend its pleading only with the
opposing party’s written consent or the court’s leave.” FED. R. CIV. P.
15(a)(2). Rule 15 counsels courts to “freely give leave [to amend a
complaint] when justice so requires.” Id. Nonetheless, a district court may
deny leave to amend a complaint if the amendment has been unduly
delayed, would unduly prejudice the nonmoving party, or would be futile.
Averbach v. Rival Mfg. Co., 879 F.2d 1196, 1203 (3d Cir. 1989) (citing
Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962)).
Undue delay is established if a proposed amendment “plac[es] an
unwarranted burden on the court” and the movant had an inappropriate
motive for proposing it later rather than sooner. Adams v. Gould, Inc., 739
F.2d 858, 868 (3d Cir. 1984). The “mere existence of delay” alone is not
sufficient. Merican, Inc. v. Caterpillar Tractor Co., 596 F. Supp. 697, 705
(E.D. Pa. 1984). Undue prejudice is established if the proposed
amendment “plac[es] an unfair burden on the opposing party.” Adams,
739 F.2d at 868. A proposed amendment would be futile if such
amendment would not withstand a motion to dismiss. Massarsky v. Gen.
Motors Corp., 706 F.2d 111, 125 (3d Cir. 1983). Finally, the burden is on
the nonmoving party to show that there are grounds for denying leave to
amend. Chancellor v. Pottsgrove Sch. Dist., 501 F. Supp. 2d 695, 700
(E.D. Pa. 2007).
Initially, the defendant argues plaintiff’s additional disabilities of
bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety are futile because plaintiff failed
to exhaust his administrative remedies regarding these disabilities with the
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (hereinafter “EEOC”).
Exhaustion of administrative remedies is a threshold issue for
discrimination claims. Antol v. Perry, 82 F.3d 1291, 1295 n.3 (3d Cir.
1996). Reviewing the purpose of the exhaustion requirement, the Third
Circuit Court of Appeals explained that “[t]he congressional policy
underlying this framework was to resolve discrimination claims
administratively through cooperation and voluntary compliance in an
informal, noncoercive manner.” Burgh v. Borough Council of Montrose,
251 F.3d 465, 470 (3d Cir. 2001). A claim is considered exhausted if it is
“fairly within” the scope of the administrative complaint or the investigation
that arises therefrom. Antol, 82 F.3d at 1295.
Plaintiff’s Charge of Discrimination, filed with the PHRC and EEOC,
In or about December of 2014, I requested medical leave for
a disability (not specified herein per EEOC policy and for
privacy purposes). The leave was only for approximately 1
month. Respondent’s management was kept abreast of the
specifics pre-leave and during the leave. I was permitted to
return to work during the last week of January 2015. After
working for several days, I was presented with discipline for
taking a medical leave. Opposing what I perceived to be
discrimination, I explained to management I would consult a
lawyer about being disciplined for a medical leave. I was
immediately terminated thereafter.
(Doc. 31-4, Ex. A. Pl.’s Charge of Discrimination dated 2/5/15).
In the instant matter, the scope of plaintiff’s EEOC administrative
complaint pertains to the disabilities he received treatment for in
December 2014. A review of plaintiff’s December 2014 treatment notes
demonstrate that plaintiff received treatment for bipolar disorder,
depression, anxiety, and alcoholism. (Doc. 31-4, Ex. E, Progress Note
dated 1/24/15; Doc. 31-4, Ex. F, Progress Note dated 1/13/15). Thus,
plaintiff’s bipolar disorder, anxiety, and depression–disabilities he received
treatment for during his December 2014 rehabilitation stay–are fairly within
the scope of plaintiff’s EEOC complaint, and therefore, may have been
Having determined that these new disabilities are potentially within
the scope of the EEOC charge, the defendant next contends that the
amendment is unfairly prejudicial. We disagree.
Plaintiff’s second amended complaint will not unduly prejudice the
defendant because this case is still in discovery and depositions have not
been taken. The defendant will have a full opportunity to review plaintiff’s
medical records and obtain information pertaining to the amended subject
matter prior to plaintiff’s deposition. Stated differently, the defendant will
have a full opportunity to explore the factual basis of plaintiff’s bipolar
disorder, depression, and anxiety prior to, and during, plaintiff’s
deposition, mitigating any undue prejudicial effect. See Bechtel v.
Robinson, 886 F.2d 644, 652 (3d Cir. 1989) (“[T]he non-moving party must
do more than merely claim prejudice; it must show that it was unfairly
disadvantaged or deprived of the opportunity to present facts or evidence
which it would have offered had the . . . amendments been timely filed.”).
Ergo, plaintiff’s second amended complaint is not unfairly prejudicial.
Finally, plaintiff’s amendment fails to demonstrate undue delay or
bad faith. Plaintiff’s counsel received and inspected all of plaintiff’s
medical records in September 2016. After reviewing plaintiff’s medical
records, plaintiff’s counsel determined that plaintiff’s December 2014
rehabilitation stay treated plaintiff’s alcoholism and plaintiff’s bipolar
disorder, depression, and anxiety. In November 2016, plaintiff’s counsel,
prior to plaintiff’s deposition, advised the defendant that plaintiff sought to
amend his first amended complaint and file a second amended complaint
to include mention of plaintiff’s bipolar disorder, anxiety, and depression.
(Doc. 31-4, Ex. D, Emails dated 11/2/16 - 11/10/16). The defendant,
however, failed to agree to plaintiff’s amendment and requested plaintiff
file the instant motion. (Id.) Accordingly, plaintiff’s actions fail to
demonstrate undue delay or bad faith.
In short, the defendant failed to establish grounds for the court to
deny plaintiff’s request to file a second amended complaint. As such, the
court will grant plaintiff’s motion for leave to file a second amended
complaint adding the disabilities of bipolar disorder, anxiety, and
For the above-stated reasons, the court will grant plaintiff’s motion
for leave to file a second amended complaint. An appropriate order
s/ James M. Munley
JUDGE JAMES M. MUNLEY
United States District Court
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