United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR
JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS
RICHARD G. STEARNS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Motowski, proceeding pro se, brought this lawsuit in
Essex Superior Court against her former employer, Ferring
Pharmaceuticals Inc., for wrongful termination. The Second
Amended Complaint alleges violations of the anti-retaliation
provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and
Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151B, § 4. More specifically,
Motowski alleges that Ferring retaliated against her for
filing an internal workplace harassment complaint. Ferring
removed the case to the federal district court and now moves
for judgment on the pleadings. For the reasons to be
explained, Ferring's motion for judgment on the pleadings
will be allowed.
facts, viewed in the light most favorable to Motowski as the
nonmoving party, are as follows. In August of 2015, Motowski
began working as a Regional Sales Specialist for Ferring. In
January of 2016, Motowski filed an internal complaint through
Ferring's Alert Line in which she described inappropriate
conduct by her coworkers, including “sexually-degrading
and/or appearance-related comments.” Mem. (Dkt # 20),
original supervisor was Ryan Schmalz, the Northeast District
Manager. In conducting Motowski's annual review on March
18, 2016, Schmalz identified some issues but characterized
her performance as “satisfactory.” Second Am.
Compl. (Dkt # 13) ¶¶ 40-41. He also awarded her
“a merit increase in pay.” Id. ¶
41. In June of 2016, Schmalz began a leave of absence. Brian
Campbell, the Regional Director, then became Motowski's
supervisor. On August 3, 2016, Campbell issued Motowski a
written warning for sending unprofessional emails to
coworkers. On August 18, 2016, Ferring terminated her
allegedly because of a “disrespectful” email she
had sent to Campbell two days earlier. Id. ¶
October 14, 2016, Motowski filed a charge of discrimination
with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination
(MCAD) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
(EEOC), alleging retaliation. After the MCAD found a lack of
probable cause on July 14, 2017, Motowski initiated this
lawsuit in Essex Superior Court on June 22, 2018. Defendants
then removed the case to this court on October 3, 2018.
12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings “is treated
much like a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss.”
Perez-Acevedo v. Rivero-Cubano, 520 F.3d 26, 29 (1st
Cir. 2008). Thus, to survive, “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), quoting
Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570
(2007). Two basic principles guide the court's analysis.
“First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all
of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable
to legal conclusions.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
“Second, only a complaint that states a plausible claim
for relief survives . . . .” Id. at 679. A
claim is facially plausible if its factual content
“allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that
the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”
Id. at 678.
out a prima facie case of retaliation under Title VII and
Massachusetts law, Motowski must show that (1) she engaged in
a protected activity; (2) she suffered a materially adverse
action; and (3) the adverse action was causally linked to her
protected activity. Mole v. Univ. of Massachusetts,
442 Mass. 582, 591-592 (2004); see also Prescott v.
Higgins, 538 F.3d 32, 43 (1st Cir. 2008). Protected
activity may consist of opposition to an unlawful
practice. While Motowski is not required to show
that her opposition involved an actual violation of law, she
must demonstrate that she was motivated by “a good
faith, reasonable belief that the underlying challenged
actions” were in fact unlawful. Fantini v. Salem
State Coll., 557 F.3d 22, 32 (1st Cir. 2009) (citations
omitted); see also Wyatt v. City of Boston, 35 F.3d
13, 15 (1st Cir. 1994) (same).
alleges that she “engaged in protected activity when
she filed . . . [her] sexual harassment” internal
complaint. Second Am. Compl. (Dkt # 13) ¶ 63. In the
referenced January 15, 2016 filing, Motowski complained of
“physical injury caused by a hostile district
colleague, multiple sexually-degrading and/or
appearance-related comments from colleagues, inappropriate
questionings about personal finances and grossly unfair
handling by the direct supervisor.” Mem. (Dkt # 20),
Ex. 1. The internal complaint recounted how a female coworker
“slammed” a car door on her hand and failed to
wait for her after they shared an Uber ride. Id. It
also detailed how two female coworkers, at a work dinner,
asked “sarcastic and direct questions about how many
square feet [her] house was” and “made cutting
comments about [her] appearance.” Id.
contends, and the court agrees, that whatever one makes of
Motowski's allegations, they fail to support her
contention that her complaint amounted to protected activity,
namely opposition to unlawful discrimination. See
Morales-Cruz v. Univ. of Puerto Rico, 676 F.3d 220, 226
(1st Cir. 2012) (holding that the plaintiff's
“factual allegations [did] not support a reasonable
inference that she was engaging in protected conduct when she
opposed the [allegedly discriminatory] remarks made”).
Although Motowski is correct that an internal complaint can
be “a valid method of opposition, ” Opp'n
(Dkt # 22) at 4, not all complaints qualify.
cases that are instructive and on point are Fantini
and Ponte v. Steelcase Inc., 741 F.3d 310 (1st Cir.
2014). In Fantini, the First Circuit held that the
plaintiff's complaints to her supervisor about a male
employee violating “Conflict of Interest Law and
Financial Disclosure Law” did not amount to protected
activity because, even if true, such a violation “is
not an unlawful employment practice under Title VII.”
557 F.3d at 32. In Ponte, the First Circuit found it
“doubtful” that the plaintiff engaged in
protected activity when she called human resources to express
that she was “uncomfortable” with her direct
supervisor's conduct because the call lacked detail and
was “far from a clear complaint about harassing
behavior.” 741 F.3d at 321-322.
severally attributed comments of Motowski's coworkers
about her appearance and allegedly parlous finances are not
the stuff with which a plausible discrimination complaint is
made.See Lehman v. Prudential Ins. Co. of
Am., 74 F.3d 323, 329 (1st Cir. 1996) (“Isolated,
ambiguous remarks are insufficient, by themselves, to prove
discriminatory intent.”); Finney v. Madico,
Inc., 42 Mass.App.Ct. 46, 50-51 (1997) (“[A]n
isolated, ambiguous, or stray remark is insufficient,
standing alone, to prove discriminatory employment
action.”). This is true even where the objected-to
remarks are mean, catty, or tasteless. As the Fourth Circuit
has observed, “Title VII is not a clean language
act.” Katz v. Dole, 709 F.2d 251, 256 (4th
Cir. 1983). Or in the words of the First Circuit,
“‘[t]he workplace is not a cocoon, and those who
labor in it are expected to have reasonably thick skins . . .
to survive the slings and arrows that workers routinely
encounter in a hard, cold world.'” Alvarado v.
Donahoe, 6 ...