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Strong v. Angiodynamics, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

April 4, 2017

JESSICA D. STRONG, Plaintiff,
v.
ANGIODYNAMICS, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF OPINION

          L. Scott Coogler, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Jessica D. Strong (“Strong”) brings the instant action against her former employer, AngioDynamics, Inc. (“AngioDynamics”), alleging claims for sexual harassment, hostile work environment, and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and a state-law claim for outrage. Before this Court is AngioDynamics's motion to dismiss (Doc. 10), which has been fully briefed by the parties and is ripe for review. For the reasons described more fully herein, AngioDynamics's motion is due to be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background[1]

         AngioDynamics designs, manufactures, and sells medical, surgical, and diagnostic devices to healthcare providers for use in treating patients. It employs sales representatives to market its products to those providers. Strong began her employment with AngioDynamics on September 9, 2013, as the company's principal sales representative for Alabama and the Florida panhandle.

         A few weeks later, Strong received a lead indicating that Dr. Safwan Jaalouk (“Jaalouk”), a cardiologist, was interested in purchasing an AngioVac, a product manufactured by AngioDynamics, for his group's practice. Strong contacted representatives at Jaalouk's practice to set up a meeting with him, which was scheduled for November 2013.[2] Strong alleges that at that meeting, Jaalouk “seemed very interested” in the AngioVac and wanted to introduce the product to the other members of his practice before deciding to purchase it. AngioDynamics, through its salespeople, commonly organized informational dinners for interested physicians, which featured a presentation by and question-and-answer session with the product's inventor. Strong and Jaalouk planned such an event for the physicians in Jaalouk's practice to be held in January 2014. The dinner went very well, according to Strong, and Jaalouk told Strong that he and his colleagues would further discuss whether to purchase the AngioVac.

         Over the next few months, Strong and Jaalouk communicated by phone, email, and text message about the progress of the sale. Strong also met informally with Jaalouk twice. She alleges that her “correspondence and personal interactions with Dr. Jaalouk were, at all times, professional and principally concentrated on fostering a business relationship.” After learning that the physicians in Jaalouk's practice group were to meet on March 21, 2014, to discuss the AngioVac, Strong contacted Jaalouk “to see if he could meet with her for purposes of reviewing answers to anticipated misgivings that likely would be raised by other physicians at the meeting on March 21.” Jaalouk agreed to meet Strong for dinner on March 20.

         On March 19, 2014, Jaalouk texted Strong to ask what time she would be coming into town the following day. When Strong informed Jaalouk that she would arrive around 3:00 PM, Jaalouk responded, “Super flexible girl. I like it lol.” Strong alleges that although the text message made her feel “uneasy, ” she did not respond and decided to proceed with the dinner plans because she did not want to lose the potential business with Jaalouk's practice group. She claims that Jaalouk “made a number of inappropriate comments” at the dinner on March 20, which made her “increasingly more uncomfortable, ” but she “kept the conversation centered on the product.” After dinner, according to Strong, she was walking to her car when Jaalouk tried to kiss her. Strong “pushed him away and explained to him that their relationship was strictly professional.” Jaalouk then “acknowledged that [his] conduct was inappropriate.”

         Nonetheless, because she did not want “to compromise the possible sale, ” Strong did not report the allegedly harassing incident to her manager or to any other AngioDynamics official at that time. She continued to email or text Jaalouk every three weeks to ask about the sale's progress, but he stopped responding to her messages in June 2014. On July 22, 2014, Strong “happened to run into” Jaalouk while working at his hospital and asked if they could meet later that day to discuss his practice group's decision to purchase the AngioVac. Jaalouk initially agreed to meet with Strong, but he texted her a few hours later to request that she not text him again. Strong then emailed Jaalouk to “express[] her disbelief at what appeared to be his anger when he was the one who had acted inappropriately.” She also told Jaalouk that she would no longer do business with him and could arrange for another AngioDynamics representative to assist him if his practice group desired to purchase the AngioVac.

         On July 24, 2014, Strong's manager, Holly Koufos (“Koufos”) asked her about the AngioVac sale to Jaalouk's practice. Strong then explained the situation and forwarded to Koufos the email she had sent to Jaalouk about his behavior. Several weeks later, on August 18, 2014, Koufos informed Strong that AngioDynamics's human resources department had seen the email and wanted to speak with her about it. According to Strong, Koufos also told Strong that “if she were in [Strong's] position, she would resign.” Strong met with Moira Fitzgerald (“Fitzgerald”), AngioDynamics's human resources representative, shortly after. Strong described the situation to Fitzgerald, “reiterated the fact that she had apologized to Dr. Jaalouk even after he sexually harassed her, and ensured [Fitzgerald] that everything was fine.” On August 28, 2014, Fitzgerald emailed Strong a summary of their conversation, which Strong felt “contained numerous falsities[] and failed to mention several important things [Strong] said.” Because Strong was travelling to a sales meeting that day, she was unable to respond to Fitzgerald's email but sent “extensive edits” to Fitzgerald “not long after.”

\ Strong received a Written Counseling Warning from AngioDynamics on September 3, 2014, which “falsely accused her of poor performance, persistent excessive tardiness, non-professionalism, and a bad attitude.” The warning also required Strong to make four AngioVac sales, one laser sale, and obtain at least “90% to quota YTD” within sixty days or face termination. According to Strong, these requirements were “patently unattainable benchmarks that guaranteed [her] termination.” AngioDynamics terminated Strong's employment on November 10, 2014, when she failed to meet the objectives in the Written Counseling Warning.

         II. Standard of Review

         In general, a pleading must include “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). However, in order to withstand a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a complaint “must plead enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ray v. Spirit Airlines, Inc., 836 F.3d 1340, 1347-48 (11th Cir. 2016) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)) (internal quotation marks omitted). “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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Stated another way, the factual allegations in the complaint must be sufficient to “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Edwards v. Prime, Inc., 602 F.3d 1276, 1291 (11th Cir. 2010). A complaint that “succeeds in identifying facts that are suggestive enough to render [the necessary elements of a claim] plausible” will survive a motion to dismiss. Watts v. Fla. Int'l Univ., 495 F.3d 1289, 1296 (11th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         In evaluating the sufficiency of a complaint, this Court first “identif[ies] pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. This Court then “assume[s] the[] veracity” of the complaint's “well-pleaded factual allegations” and “determine[s] whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id. Review of the complaint is “a context-specific task that requires [this Court] to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. If the pleading “contain[s] enough information regarding the material elements of a cause of action to support recovery under some ‘viable legal theory, '” it satisfies the notice pleading standard. Am. Fed'n of Labor & Cong. of Indus. Orgs. v. City of Miami, 637 F.3d 1178, 1186 (11th Cir. 2011) (quoting Roe v. Aware Woman Ctr. for Choice, Inc., 253 F.3d 678, 683-84 (11th Cir. 2001)).

         Additionally, AngioDynamics asks this Court to consider, among other evidence, text messages and email correspondence related to the events alleged in the complaint in ruling on the motion to dismiss. This Court declines to do so. As a general rule, “[t]he scope of review must be limited to the four corners of the complaint” because this Court is required “to accept the allegations in the complaint as true.” St. George v. Pinellas Cnty., 285 F.3d 1334, 1337 (11th Cir. 2002). Other materials attached to a defendant's motion to dismiss may be considered only if (1) the plaintiff refers to the document in the complaint; (2) the document is central to the plaintiff's claim; and (3) the authenticity of the document is not in dispute. Fin. Sec. Assurance, Inc. v. Stephens, Inc., 500 F.3d 1276, 1284 (11th Cir. 2007) (per curiam) (permitting ...


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