Iqbal, Shmiqbal: Have the “New” Pleading Standards Really Made a Difference in Employment Litigation?”

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Iqbal, Shmiqbal: Have the “New” Pleading Standards Really Made a Difference in Employment Litigation?”

1st Circuit

In the First Circuit, a few cases set the stage for interpreting Twombly and Iqbal in employment law pleadings. In Manning v. Boston Med. Ctr. Corp., employees claimed that the employer withheld wages due to timekeeping policies and standards that required the employees to work through meals, breaks, and before or after regularly scheduled work shifts.[1] Claims for unpaid overtime wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) must show that employees worked more than forty hours in a workweek but were compensated less than one and one-half times the regular pay rate per hour for the hours they worked over forty.[2] The court found that even where “allegations of knowledge are pled in a conclusory fashion, defendants’ knowledge of unlawful conduct ‘may be inferable from other allegations in the complaint.’”[3] The court also held that, while, “some of the complaint’s allegations straddle the line between the conclusory and the factual, the pleading contains enough substantive content to elevate the FLSA claims above the mere possibility of defendants’ liability.” [4] The court focused on employment practices that required work through scheduled breaks, before and after work, during training sessions, and Defendants’ knowledge of automatic deductions for “non-compensable” time from employees’ paychecks.[5] Here, the court found the totality of these allegations sufficient to overcome the pleadings stage of the complaint.[6]

In Rodriguez-Reyes v. Molina-Rodriguez, the First Circuit overturned the District Court’s application of a heightened plausibility standard to a complaint of employee discrimination.[7] This was consistent with the Supreme Court’s rejection of a heightened pleading standard for discrimination cases in Swierkiewicz v. Sorema.[8] The First Circuit also struck down a heightened pleading standard for §1983 and political discrimination cases.[9] In Rodriguez-Reyes, the First Circuit addressed the significance of these cases in the post-Iqbal/Twombly world.[10] The court upheld Swierkiewicz as good law in the aftermath of Iqbal and Twombly, rejecting the need for a heightened pleading standard for discrimination cases.[11]

2nd Circuit

The Second Circuit also addressed the issue of Swierkiewicz in the post-Iqbal/Twombly world. The court posed the question of whether Iqbal and Twombly overruled Swierkiewicz or if they limited its application strictly to discrimination cases.[12] The Second Circuit ruled that Swierkiewicz maintains “continued viability, as modified by Iqbal and Twombly.”[13] Thus, to survive a motion to dismiss, an employment discrimination complaint “need not allege facts establishing each element of a prima facie case,”[14] but must assert sufficient nonconclusory factual matter to “’nudge[] [its] claims’ . . . ‘across the line from conceivable to plausible.'”[15]

The Second Circuit also addressed pleadings in the context of overtime pay. In Lundy v. Catholic Health Systems of Long Island, the Second Circuit found that, “in order to state a plausible FLSA overtime claim, a plaintiff must sufficiently allege 40 hours of work in a given workweek as well as some uncompensated time in excess of the 40 hours.”[16] While an approximation of the uncompensated time may draw a plaintiff’s claim closer to plausibility, it is not necessary in all cases.[17] Applying the Lundy standard in DeJesus v. HF Mgmt. Servs., the District Court dismissed plaintiff’s complaint because the hours alleged by employees did not exceed forty hours and thus require overtime pay.[18]

3rd Circuit

In Estabrook v. Safety & Ecology Corp., the Third Circuit looked at pleadings in the context of sexual harassment, retaliatory harassment, and unlawful retaliation.[19] In determining whether prima facie evidence of causation was established, the court looked at the timing and support of ongoing antagonism against the plaintiff.[20]  The Third Circuit ruled that plaintiff sufficiently alleged ongoing antagonism and a close proximity in time between her report of harassment and retaliatory conduct of co-workers.[21] The Court held that plaintiff’s claims were properly supported by factual assertions rather than mere conclusions.[22]

In Davis v. Abington Mem. Hosp., the Third Circuit dismissed a wage and hour complaint due to plaintiffs’ failure to state a claim.[23] Here, as in the Second Circuit’s Lundy case, plaintiffs did not establish a claim for overtime pay because they could not show they worked more than forty hours per week.[24] The Court also dismissed plaintiffs’ other FLSA claims.[25]

D.C. Circuit

In Nattah v. Bush, the D.C. Circuit discussed breach of an employment contract where plaintiff signed an offer letter but otherwise engaged in an oral contract.[26] Defendants moved to dismiss the case for failure to name the individual with whom plaintiff had contracted. The court sided with plaintiff, finding that Iqbal and Twombly do not require a plaintiff to, “identify by name which employee(s) made the agreement when pleading a breach of contract claim.”[27] Moreover, the court found that the plaintiff alleged the terms of the contract with specificity. [28]The Court held that, while unadorned accusations are not enough at the pleadings stage, detailed factual allegations are also not required.[29]

 

[1] Manning v. Boston Med. Ctr. Corp., 725 F.3d 34, 38 (1st Cir. Mass. 2013).

[2] 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1); Manning, 725 F.3d at 43. See also, Román v. Maietta Const., Inc., 147 F.3d 71, 75 (1st Cir. 1998).

[3] Manning, 725 F.3d at 44 citing Rodríguez-Reyes v. Molina-Rodríguez, 711 F.3d 49, 55 (1st Cir. P.R. 2013)

[4] Manning, 725 F. 3d at 45.

[5] Id. at 44-45.

[6] Id.

[7] Rodríguez-Reyes, 711 F.3d at 55.

[8] Swierkiewicz v. Sorema, 534 U.S. 506, 122 S. Ct. 992, 152 L. Ed. 2d 1 (2002).

[9] Leatherman v. Tarrant Cnty. Narcotics Intell. & Coord. Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 168, 113 S. Ct. 1160, 122 L. Ed. 2d 517 (1993); Educadores Puertorriqueños en Acción v. Hernández, 367 F.3d 61, 66 n.1 (1st Cir. 2004).

[10] Rodríguez-Reyes, 711 F.3d at 54.

[11] Id.

[12]EEOC v. Port Auth. of N.Y. & N.J., 768 F.3d 247, 254 (2d Cir. N.Y. 2014).

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 680 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

[16] Lundy v. Catholic Health System of Long Island, 711 F.3d 106, 114 (2d Cir. 2013).

[17] Id.

[18] DeJesus v. HF Mgmt. Servs., 726 F.3d 85, 89 (2d Cir. N.Y. 2013).

[19] Estabrook v. Safety & Ecology Corp., 556 Fed. Appx. 152, 158 (3d Cir. N.J. 2014).

[20] Hargrave v. Cnty. of Atlantic, 262 F. Supp. 2d 393, 424 (D.N.J. 2003).

[21] Eastbrook, 556 Fed. Appx. at 156.

[22] Id. at 158.

[23] Davis v. Abington Mem. Hosp., 765 F.3d 236, 238 (3d Cir. Pa. 2014).

[24] Id.

[25] Id. at 244.

[26] Nattah v. Bush, 605 F.3d 1052, 1057 (D.C. Cir. 2010).

[27] Id. at 1058 citing Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949.

[28] Id.

[29] Id.

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