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Pierce v. Biogen U.S. Corp.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

May 14, 2019

J.K. PIERCE, Plaintiff,


          Denise J. Casper United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff J.K. Pierce (“Pierce”) has filed this lawsuit against Defendant Biogen U.S. Corporation (“Biogen”) seeking to recover for alleged sex discrimination (Count I), sexual harassment (Count II and III), and unlawful retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Count IV). D. 1. Biogen has moved to transfer the case to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, D. 9, and to dismiss Count II, D. 11. For the reasons discussed below, the motion to dismiss Count II, D. 11, is DENIED and the motion to transfer, D. 9, is ALLOWED.

         II. Standard of Review

         To decide a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the Court must determine if the well-pled facts alleged “plausibly narrate a claim for relief.” Schatz v. Republican State Leadership Comm., 669 F.3d 50, 55 (1st Cir. 2012). “The plaintiff need not demonstrate [it] is likely to prevail” at this stage, only that its claims are facially plausible. Garcia- Catalán v. United States, 734 F.3d 100, 102 (1st Cir. 2013). Plausible means “more than a sheer possibility, ” and permits the Court to incorporate a contextual analysis of the facts. Id. at 102-03 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). This determination requires a two-step inquiry. Id. at 103. First, the Court must distinguish the factual allegations from the conclusory legal allegations in the complaint. Id Second, taking plaintiffs allegations as true, the Court should be able to “draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (quoting Iqbal 556 U.S. at 678); Ocasio-Hernández v. Fortuño-Burset 640 F.3d 1, 11 (1st Cir. 2011). A complaint “does not need detailed factual allegations, ” but “requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).

         For a motion to transfer, 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) provides that for “the convenience of parties and witnesses” and “in the interest of justice, ” a court “may transfer any civil action to any other district . . . where it might have been brought.” The decision to transfer rests within the Court's discretion. See Codex Corp. v. Milgo Elec. Corp., 553 F.2d 735, 737 (1st Cir. 1977). The Court need not determine the best venue, but “merely a proper venue.” Astro-Med v. Nihon Kohden of America, 591 F.3d 1, 12 (1st Cir.2009). For the purposes of the motion to transfer, the Court accepts the parties' uncontroverted facts as true. See, e.g., OsComp Sys., Inc. v. Bakken Exp., LLC, 930 F.Supp.2d 261, 264 (D. Mass. 2013).

         III. Factual Allegations

         Pierce, a resident of Alabama, was a sales representative for Biogen from October 10, 2016 to November 12, 2018. D. 1 at ¶¶ 1, 8, 17. Biogen is a global biotechnology company headquartered in Massachusetts that does business nationally including in Alabama. D. 1 at ¶2; D. 10 at 1-2.

         During her employment with Biogen, Pierce's immediate supervisor was primarily Sherod “Bubba” Shaw (“Shaw”), the Regional Account Director for the Birmingham, Alabama territory. D. 1 at ¶¶ 8-15. Shaw repeatedly made comments about Pierce's attire and comments of a sexual nature, including, among other things, asking about Pierce's sex life, discussing his own sex life, and saying that “he and Pierce could never stay married because he was too needy.” Id at ¶¶ 9-10. Shaw would make these comments while he and Pierce were on “field rides, ” id at ¶ 10, car rides with only Pierce and Shaw in the car.

         At some point, Shaw filed a complaint with Biogen's human resources department about Pierce's alleged intoxication during a Biogen sales meeting in New Orleans. Id at ¶ 11. Biogen's human resources department investigated the complaint. Id at ¶ 12. During a subsequent field ride, Shaw told Pierce that she would receive a written warning as a result of the New Orleans sales meeting complaint. Id. Pierce received the written warning on March 12, 2018. Id. at ¶ 13. On May 16, 2018, Pierce received an amended written warning relating to separate allegations of inappropriate behavior. Id When Pierce learned that she would have another field ride with Shaw on June 28, 2018, she went on medical leave instead per her healthcare provider's orders. Id at ¶ 15. On November 12, 2018, Biogen informed Pierce, who had not yet returned from medical leave, that the company was terminating her employment effective November 13, 2018. Id at ¶ 17.

         IV. Procedural History

         On December 6, 2018, Pierce initiated this action against Biogen asserting four federal law claims: a sex discrimination claim (Count I), two sexual harassment claims (Count II and III) and an unlawful retaliation claim (Count IV), all in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. D. 1. Biogen has now moved to transfer the case to the Northern District of Alabama, D. 9, and also moved to dismiss Count II for failure to state a claim. D. 11. The Court heard oral argument on the motions and took the matters under advisement. D. 24.

         V. Discussion

         1. Motion to ...

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