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Estate of Pennington v. Southern Motion, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division

September 6, 2017

THE ESTATE OF ANDREW TYLER PENNINGTON, Deceased PLAINTIFF
v.
SOUTHERN MOTION, INC. DEFENDANT

          ORDER

          Debra M. Brown, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is “Defendant Southern Motion, Inc.'s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.” Doc. #15.

         I

         Rule 12(c) Standard

         “After the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). A Rule 12(c) motion is governed by the same standards as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion-that is, the court must determine upon a review of the pleadings whether the plaintiff has stated a valid claim for relief. In re Katrina Canal Breaches Litig., 495 F.3d 191, 205 (5th Cir. 2007). Under this inquiry, to survive dismissal,

a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” 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. The plausibility standard is not akin to a “probability requirement, ” but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Where a complaint pleads facts that are “merely consistent with” a defendant's liability, it “stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of ‘entitlement to relief.'”

Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citations omitted) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “This standard simply calls for enough fact to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary claims or elements.” In re S. Scrap Material Co., LLC, 541 F.3d 584, 587 (5th Cir. 2008) (quotation marks omitted).

         II Relevant Factual Allegations and Procedural History

         On January 19, 2015, Andrew Tyler Pennington began working for Southern Motion, Inc. as a frame builder. Doc. #1 at ¶ 4. Shortly before his employment with Southern Motion began, Pennington learned that his wife was pregnant. Id. at ¶ 5. The pregnancy was considered high-risk. Id. On or about March 30, 2015, Pennington took a day off from work to accompany his wife to a “pregnancy-related appointment.” Id. at ¶ 6. Upon Pennington's “attempted return to work, ” Southern Motion terminated Pennington's employment. Id. at ¶ 7. Pennington committed suicide shortly after the termination. Id. at ¶ 9.

         On June 23, 2016, Pennington's estate (“Estate”) filed a complaint against Southern Motion alleging “discrimination based on sex and pregnancy” in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Doc. #1. The Estate alleges that Southern Motion terminated Pennington's employment because of his gender and his wife's pregnancy. Id. at ¶¶ 7-8. On November 9, 2016, Southern Motion filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         Doc. #15. On November 22, 2016, the Estate responded in opposition and, on December 6, 2016, Southern Motion filed a reply. Doc. #18; Doc. #22.

         III

         Discussion

         In its motion for judgment on the pleadings, Southern Motion argues that the Estate's claims should be dismissed “because as a matter of law, a male plaintiff cannot bring a discrimination claim under Title VII, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, based solely on his wife's pregnancy, ” and because the Estate fails to state a claim for sex discrimination. Doc. #15 at 1. In response, the Estate argues that “discrimination against a male employee because of the pregnancy of his spouse is sex discrimination. Pennington was therefore discriminated against based on his sex when he was terminated because of his wife's pregnancy.” Doc. #18 at 1. In its reply, Southern Motion argues that “Title VII, as amended by the PDA, ... simply does not provide a claim based on the pregnancy of an employee's spouse in the absence of proof that the employee was discriminated against because of his or her sex.” Doc. #22 at 1.

         A. Title ...


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