KAITE v. ALTOONA STUDENT TRANSPORTATION, INC.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER denying as moot 8 Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings; denying 17 Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, and as more fully stated in said Memorandum Opinion and Order. Signed by Judge Kim R. Gibson on 10/30/2017. (dlg)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
BONNIE F. KAITE,
Case No. 3:17-cv-5
JUDGE KIM R. GIBSON
Before the Court is Defendant's Renewed Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. (ECF
No. 17.) The motion has been fully briefed (see ECF Nos. 18, 25, 32) and is ripe for disposition. For
the reasons stated below, Defendant's motion will be DENIED.
This Court has original jurisdiction over Plaintiff's civil rights claims under 28 U.S.C. §§
1331 and 1343, and supplemental jurisdiction over her related state law claims under 28 U.S.C. §
Plaintiff filed a Complaint before this Court on January 12, 2017 (ECF No. 1), which
Plaintiff subsequently amended on June 17, 2017. (ECF No. 14.) The Court accepts as true the
following facts from the Amended Complaint for the sole purpose of deciding Defendant's
Renewed Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.
Defendant hired Plaintiff to work as a school bus driver in 2001. (Id. at 2.) In November,
2015, Defendant informed Plaintiff that, in accordance with a newly enacted state law, Plaintiff
needed to undergo a background check to continue her employment. (Id.) The background check
required that Plaintiff be fingerprinted. (Id.)
Plaintiff is a devout Christian. (Id.) Plaintiff informed Defendant that, according to her
sincerely held religious beliefs, "the Book of Revelation prohibits the 'mark of the devil,' which
she believes includes fingerprinting, and that she will not get into Heaven if she submits to
fingerprinting." (Id.) Plaintiff asked Defendant for an accommodation, specifically, whether she
could perform a different type of background check that did not require her to be fingerprinted.
Defendant informed Plaintiff that no accommodations were available, and terminated her
for failing to comply with state law's fingerprinting requirement, effective December 31, 2015. (Id.
at 2-3.) However, Defendant allowed at least one employee with "unreadable" fingerprints to
participate in an alternative background check for which fingerprinting was not required. (Id. at
Plaintiff asserts three claims: (1) religious discrimination in violation of Title VII of the
Civil Rights Act ("Title VII") (see id. at 3-4); (2) retaliation, also in violation of Title VII (id. at 4-5);
and (3) a related claim under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"). 1 (Id. at 5-6.)
"Pennsylvania courts have generally interpreted the PHRA consistently with Title VII, as such, the result
of Defendants' motion [to dismiss] will be identical under both Title VII and the PHRA." Rideout v. Pub.
Opinion, No. 1:09-CV-0403, 2011WL321104, at *9 (M.D. Pa. 2011) (citing Nagle v. RMA, 513 F. Supp. 2d 383,
387 (E.D. Pa. 2007)).
"The standard for deciding a motion for judgment on the pleadings filed pursuant to
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) is not materially different from the standard for deciding a
motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)." Zion v. Nassan, 283
F.R.D. 247, 254 (W.D. Pa. 2012); see Harleysville INS. Co. of New York v. Cerciello, No. 3:08-CV-2060,
2010 WL 11534317, at *2 (M.D. Pa. 2010) ("The standard of review used for a motion for judgment
on the pleadings is substantively identical to that of a motion to dismiss."); see also Minnesota
Lawyers Mut. Ins. Co. v. Ahrens, 432 F. App'x 143, 147 (3d Cir. 2011).
Either motion may be used to seek the dismissal of a complaint based on a plaintiff's
"failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6); id. at
12(h)(2)(B). The only difference between the two motions is that a Rule 12(b) motion must be
made before a "responsive pleading" is filed, whereas a Rule 12(c) motion can be made "[a]fter
the pleadings are closed." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b); id. at 12(c); Cerciello, 2010 WL 11534317, at 2. "A
court presented with a motion for judgment on the pleadings must consider the plaintiff's
complaint, the defendant's answer, and any written instruments or exhibits attached to the
pleadings." Anthony v. Torrance State Hosp., No. CV 3:16-29, 2016 WL 4581350, at *1 (W.D. Pa.
2016) (citing Perelman v. Perelman, 919 F. Supp. 2d 512, 521 (E.D. Pa. 2013)).
A complaint may be dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Rule 12(b)(6) for "failure to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Connelly v. Lane Const. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 786
(3d Cir. 2016). But, detailed pleading is not generally required. Id. The Rules demand only "a
short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief" to give the
defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests. Bell Atlantic Corp.
v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)).
Under the pleading regime established by Twombly and Iqbal, a court reviewing the
sufficiency of a complaint must take three steps. 2 First, the court must "tak[e] note of the elements
[the] plaintiff must plead to state a claim." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 675 (2009). Second, the
court should identify allegations that, "because they are no more than conclusions, are not
entitled to the assumption of truth." Id. at 679; see also Burtch v. Milberg Factors, Inc., 662 F.3d 212,
224 (3d Cir. 2011) ("Mere restatements of the elements of a claim are not entitled to the assumption
of truth.") (citation omitted). Finally, "[w]hen there are well-pleaded factual allegations, [the]
court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an
entitlement to relief." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. "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.; see also Connelly, 809 F.3d at 786. Ultimately, the
plausibility determination is "a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on
its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.
Because a motion for judgment on the pleadings is analyzed under the same standard as
a motion to dismiss, "a court must accept all of the allegations in the pleadings of the party against
whom the motion is addressed as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party." Zimmerman v. Corbett, No. 16-3384, 2017 WL 4583149, at *2 (3d Cir. 2017); see also
Although Iqbal described the process as a "two-pronged approach," Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679, the Supreme
Court noted the elements of the pertinent claim before proceeding with that approach, id. at 675-79. Thus,
the Third Circuit has described the process as a three-step approach. See Connelly, 809 F.3d at 787; Burtch
v. Milberg Factors, Inc., 662 F.3d 212, 221 n.4 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing Santiago v. Warminster Township, 629 F.3d
121, 130 (2010)).
Thompson v. Med-Mizer, Inc., No. 10-CV-02058, 2012 WL 12903830, at *1 (E.D. Pa. 2012) (when
ruling on a defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings, all factual averments in plaintiff's
Complaint must be accepted as true.") (citing Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir.
Religious Discrimination Claim
"To establish a prima fade case of religious discrimination, the employee must show: (1)
she holds a sincere religious belief that conflicts with a job requirement; (2) she informed her
employer of the conflict; and (3) she was disciplined for failing to comply with the conflicting
requirement." Webb v. City of Philadelphia, 562 F.3d 256, 259 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Shelton v. Univ.
of Med. & Dentistry of New Jersey, 223 F.3d 220, 224 (3d Cir. 2000)). "Once all factors are established,
the burden shifts to the employer to show either it made a good-faith effort to reasonably
accommodate the religious belief, or such an accommodation would work an undue hardship
upon the employer and its business." Webb, 562 F.3d at 259; Wilkerson v. New Media Tech. Charter
Sch. Inc., 522 F.3d 315, 319 (3d Cir. 2008) (articulating the same three-part test); E.E.O.C. v. Aldi,
Inc., No. CIV.A. 06-01210, 2008 WL 859249, at *5 (W.D. Pa. 2008) (same); Sowell v. RAV Investigative
& Sec. Servs., Ltd, No. CV 15-03657, 2016 WL 3014881, at *2 (E.D. Pa. 2016) (same). "If the employer
satisfies its relatively low burden, the burden then shifts back to the plaintiff to prove, by a
preponderance of the evidence, that the employer's articulated reasons were a pretext for
discrimination." Sowell v. RAV Investigative & Sec. Servs., Ltd, No. CV 15-03657, 2016 WL 3014881,
at *2 (E.D. Pa. 2016) (citing Schwartzberg v. Mellon Bank, N.A., No. 06-1006, 2008 WL 111984, at *8
(W.D. Pa. 2008), aff'd, 307 Fed.Appx. 676 (3d Cir. 2009)).
"An accommodation constitutes an 'undue hardship' if it would impose more than a de
minimis cost on the employer." Webb, 562 F.3d at 259 (citing Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison,
432 U.S. 63, 84 (1977)). In determining whether an employer faces an "undue hardship," courts
"focus on the specific context of each case, looking to both the fact as well as the magnitude of the
alleged undue hardship." Webb, 562 F.3d at 260 (citing Protas v. Volkswagen of Am., Inc., 797 F.2d
129, 134 (3d Cir.1986)); Mathis v. Christian Heating & Air Conditioning, Inc., 158 F. Supp. 3d 317, 332
(E.D. Pa. 2016) (same); Webster v. Dollar Gen., Inc., 197 F. Supp. 3d 692, 703 (D.N.J. 2016) (noting
that district courts must examine the specific factual circumstances of the case to determine
whether undue hardship exists).
Defendant asserts that Plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case of religious
discrimination. (ECF No. 18 at 6-8.) Defendant claims that Plaintiff has not shown that she had a
"religious" belief; Defendant asserts that the Third Circuit defines a "religious" belief as one that
an employer can accommodate without undue hardship and that, because Defendant could not
accommodate Plaintiff's belief without undue hardship, Plaintiff's preference to not be
fingerprinted is not a "religious" belief. (Id. at 7.) Additionally, Defendant avers that Plaintiff has
not alleged that she failed to comply with an "employment requirement," because the
Pennsylvania's Child Protective Services Law ("CPSL"), not Defendant, imposed the requirement
that Plaintiff undergo the background check that entailed fingerprinting. 3 (Id. at 7-8.)
3 This Court notes that Defendant attached an affidavit to its Answer from Mark Luchette, who is identified
as the Regional Human Resources Director for Student Transportation of America, Inc. (See ECF No. 16-2.)
Luchette states that, after Plaintiff requested a religious accommodation, Defendant contacted "Altoona
Area School District, a local Pennsylvania lawmaker, legal counsel for the Pennsylvania Department of
Education, and indirectly  the Federal Bureau of Investigation" ("FBI") in an attempt to accommodate
Plaintiff. (Id. at 3.) Essentially, Defendant argues that the Commonwealth entities and the FBI-not
Defendant-denied Plaintiff's request for accommodation. Defendant further avers that it lacks the power
Defendant further asserts that, even if Plaintiff did allege a prima facie case of religious
discrimination, this Court should nonetheless grant its motion for judgment on the pleadings
because Defendant could not accommodate Plaintiff without suffering an undue hardship. (Id. at
10.) Specifically, Defendant claims that it could be subject to criminal penalties for failing to
comply with the CSPL. 4 (ECF No. 32 at 4.)
This Court finds that Plaintiff satisfied her burden. Plaintiff states that she has a sincere
religious belief that being fingerprinted constitutes the "mark of the devil" and would prevent
her from going to Heaven, and that this belief conflicts with her job requirement that she undergo
a background check. (See ECF No. 14 at 2.) Plaintiff informed Defendant of her sincerely held
religious belief and was subsequently terminated for failing to comply with the fingerprinting
requirement. (Id.) Plaintiff alleged facts that give rise to a plausible claim for religious
discrimination. At this early stage, nothing more is required. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.
This Court is unpersuaded by Defendant's contention that Plaintiff failed to meet her
prima facie burden. Defendant correctly notes that, in the Third Circuit, "if an employer cannot
to grant exceptions or exemptions from the CPSL's fingerprinting requirements. (ECF No. 31 at 3.)
However, the veracity of these factual assertions is more appropriately determined at the summary
judgment stage. As noted above, because a motion for judgment on the pleadings is analyzed under the
same standard as a motion to dismiss, "all factual averments in plaintiff's Complaint must be accepted as
true." Thompson, 2012 WL 12903830, at 1 (citing Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210). Plaintiff alleged that she made a
request to Defendant for a religious accommodation, that Defendant refused to grant her an
accommodation, and terminated her as a result despite allowing someone with unreadable prints to
undergo an alternative background check. (ECF No. 14 at 2-3.) While Defendant stated in its Answer that
other governmental entities-not Defendant-made the decision to deny Plaintiff's request for an
accommodation, this Court must accept Plaintiff's allegations as true for the purposes of ruling on the
Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.
4 The Court notes that, pursuant to the CPSL, "[a]n employer, administrator, supervisor or other person
responsible for employment decisions that intentionally fails to require an applicant to submit the required
documentation [including fingerprints] before the applicant's hiring or upon recertification commits a
misdemeanor of the third degree." 23 Pa. Stat. and Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6344.
accommodate a religious practice without undue hardship, the practice is not 'religion' within
the meaning of Title VII." United States v. Bd. of Educ. for Sch. Dist. of Philadelphia, 911 F.2d 882, 886
(3d Cir. 1990). However, "whether a particular accommodation works an undue hardship on
either an employer or union must be made by considering 'the particular factual context of each
case."' Protas, 797 F.2d at 134; see also Webster, 197 F. Supp. 3d at 703 (citing Protas); Aldi, Inc., 2008
WL 859249, at 14 (same). Thus, more factual development is required before determining whether
accommodating Plaintiff would have placed an undue burden on Defendant.
This Court also rejects Defendant's assertion that Plaintiff has failed to plead a prima facie
case of religious discrimination because the fingerprinting requirement was imposed by the
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and/or the FBI and, therefore, was not an "employment
requirement." 5 (See ECF No. 18 at 7-8.) Plaintiff satisfied her burden by alleging that Defendant
informed her that she would need fingerprinting and subsequently terminated her employment
after she requested an accommodation. (See ECF No. 14 at 2.) Whether Defendant or some other
entity made the decision to deny Plaintiff's request for accommodation cannot be determined
Defendant cites four cases to support its argument, none of which this Court finds persuasive. None of
the cases are from the Third Circuit. Moreover, three of these cases involved motions for summary
judgment-not motions to dismiss or motions for judgment on the pleadings. See El Horin Yisrael v. Per
Scholas, Inc., 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5807 (S.D. N.Y. 2004) (summary judgment); E.E.O.C. v. Allendale Nursing
Ctr., 996 F. Supp. 712 (W.D. Mich. 1998) (summary judgment); Baltgalvis v. Newport News Shipbuilding Inc.,
132 F. Supp. 2d 414 (E.D. Va.), aff'd, 15 F. App'x 172 (4th Cir. 2001) (converting the motion to dismiss into a
motion for summary judgment because the non-moving party submitted materials outside the pleadings).
While, in Seaworth v. Pearson, 203 F.3d 1056 (8th Cir. 2000), the Eighth Circuit affirmed the lower court's
granting of defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings, that case is also distinguishable from the
case at bar. In Seaworth, the plaintiff claimed that the defendants discriminated against him on the basis of
religion because they required him to provide a social security number ("SSN") as a condition of
employment, which violated his sincerely held religious belief that a SSN was the "mark of the beast." Id.
at 1057. However, the Eighth Circuit noted that a federal court had previously determined that the SSN
requirement was not imposed by an employer, but rather by federal law. Id. (internal citations omitted). By
contrast, Defendant has not cited to any authority establishing as a matter of law that the CPSL's
fingerprinting requirement is imposed by an entity other than an employer, in this case Defendant.
without additional factual information. Further, as a motion for judgment on the pleadings is
analyzed under the same standard as a motion to dismiss, this Court "must accept all of the
allegations in the pleadings of the party against whom the motion is addressed as true and draw
all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party." Zimmerman, 2017 WL 4583149, at *2.
Thus, this Court is required to accept as true all plausible, well-pleaded allegations of the
Complaint, regardless of Defendant's contrary version of the alleged facts.
Similarly, this Court is unpersuaded by Defendant's argument that if Plaintiff met her
prima Jacie burden to show religious discrimination, Defendant in tum satisfied its burden to
prove undue hardship because Defendant could have been subject to criminal liability for
violating the CPSL. (See ECF No. 18 at 8-13.) The cases that Defendant cites to support its
argument that violating a statute constitutes an undue hardship are inapposite because they were
decided later on in the litigation process. 6 Moreover, this Court is required to accept all wellpleaded facts as true and view them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. 7 See
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679; Thompson, 2012 WL 12903830 at *1. As stated above, Plaintiff sufficiently
stated a claim of employment discrimination, which is all that is required.
Defendant relies on Webb, 562 F.3d 256, where the Third Circuit affirmed the lower court's dismissal of
the plaintiff's sex discrimination claim on summary judgment-not on a motion to dismiss. Similarly,
Defendant cites Cherry v. Sunoco, Inc., No. 07-CV-2235, 2009 WL 2877247 (E.D. Pa. 2009), where the district
court granted summary judgment for the defendant. Moreover, before dismissing the plaintiff's Title VII
claims on summary judgment, the court in Cherry had previously denied the defendant's motion to dismiss.
Id. Finally, Defendant cites Board of Education for School District of Philadelphia, 911 F.2d 882, a case that is
also inapposite because that case was appealed following a bench trial, not the granting of a motion to
7 Accordingly, this Court rejects Defendant's argument that this Court should grant its Motion for
Judgment on the Pleadings because Defendant "diligently" attempted to accommodate Plaintiff but, after
contacting various governmental entities, decided it could not do so without violating the CPSL. (See ECF
No. 18 at 10-13.) At this juncture, the Court must accept Plaintiff's version of the facts as true and draw all
reasonable inferences in Plaintiff's favor.
To conclude, Plaintiff pleaded facts that plausibly support her religious discrimination
claim. This Court must consider all of Plaintiff's well-pleaded facts as true. Plaintiff alleged that
Defendant refused Plaintiff's request for an accommodation, while allowing an employee with
"unreadable" fingerprints to undergo an alternative background check. Plaintiff has not alleged
that anyone other than Defendant made the decision to deny her requested accommodation, nor
that granting her request would have subjected Defendant to an undue hardship. While
Defendant asserts in its Answer that it consulted various governmental entities in a good-faith
attempt to accommodate Plaintiff and, through those inquiries, determined that granting
Plaintiff's request for an accommodation would have subjected Defendant to an undue hardship,
this Court must, at this stage, accept the facts in Plaintiff's Complaint as true.
To establish a prima facie case of retaliation under Title VII, Plaintiff must show that "(1)
she engaged in [a protected] activity"; (2) "the employer took an adverse employment action
against her"; and (3) "there was a causal connection between her participation in the protected
activity and the adverse employment action." Young v. City of Philadelphia Police Dep't, 651 F.
App'x 90, 95 (3d Cir. 2016), (quoting Moore v. City of Phila., 461F.3d331, 340-41 (3d Cir. 2006)). "If
the plaintiff makes these showin.gs, the burden of production of evidence shifts to the employer
to present a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for having taken the adverse action." Daniels v. Sch.
Dist. of Phila., 776 F.3d 181, 193 (3d Cir. 2015) (internal citations omitted). "If the employer
advances such a reason, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to demonstrate that 'the employer's
proffered explanation was false, and that retaliation was the real reason for the adverse
employment action.'" Id. (quoting Moore, 461 F.3d at 342).
Defendant concedes that Plaintiff likely satisfied her prima facie burden to show
retaliation. 8 (Id. at 14.) Nonetheless, Defendant avers that this Court should grant it judgment on
the pleadings; Defendant argues that it satisfied its burden to establish that Plaintiff was
terminated for a legitimate and non-retaliatory reason, namely, out of Defendant's good faith
attempt to comply with the CPSL. (Id.) However, Defendant cites no authority to support its
contention that this determination should be made at this early stage of litigation.
As noted above in the discussion of Plaintiff's religious discrimination claim, the Court
must accept all of Plaintiff's well-pleaded facts as true. The Complaint does not allege that anyone
other than Defendant made the decision to deny Plaintiff's accommodation and terminate
Plaintiff's employment. Defendant avers that it contacted various governmental entities in a good
faith attempt to accommodate Plaintiff but, through those conversations, concluded that it could
not do so without subjecting itself to an undue hardship. However, this Court cannot weigh the
veracity of Defendant's alternative facts at this time, as it must accept as true the allegations in
Plaintiff will need to provide facts to substantiate the allegations in her complaint if she
hopes to prevail. However, the question before this Court is not the ultimate question of whether
Plaintiff was actually discriminated and retaliated against on the basis of religion. The only
question before this Court is whether Plaintiff satisfied "the lenient" standard of review applied
at the motion to dismiss stage. See Skolnik v. Friendship Ridge, No. 14CV0507, 2014 WL 4792210, at
Defendant concedes this for the sole purposes of the pending motion.
*2 (W.D. Pa. 2014). This Court finds that Plaintiff made the requisite threshold showing.
Therefore, this Court will DENY Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.
An appropriate order follows.
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
BONNIE F. KAITE,
Case No. 3:17-cv-5
JUDGE KIM R. GIBSON
AND NOW, this 30th day of October, 2017, upon consideration of Defendant's
Renewed Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (ECF No. 17), and in accordance with the
foregoing memorandum opinion, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Defendant's motion is
DENIED. Additionally, Defendant's original Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (ECF
No. 8) is DENIED as moot.
BY THE COURT:
KIM R. GIBSON
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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