Godfrey v. Perkin-Elmer Corp.

Decision Date26 May 1992
Docket NumberCiv. No. 91-350-D.
Citation794 F. Supp. 1179
PartiesHelen M. GODFREY, Patrick J. Godfrey v. PERKIN-ELMER CORPORATION, Robin Wilson, John Eldridge, Marlin Braun.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of New Hampshire

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David L. Nixon, Manchester, N.H., for plaintiffs.

Edward M. Kaplan, Concord, N.H., for defendants.

ORDER

DEVINE, Chief Judge.

In this civil action, plaintiff Helen M. Godfrey1 seeks redress for alleged acts of sexual harassment on the part of defendant Perkin-Elmer Corporation and three of its employees, Robin L. Wilson, John W. Eldridge, and Marlin A. Braun. Plaintiff complains in Count I that defendants' actions were unlawful under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq.2 Additionally, she claims under state law that defendants' actions constituted wrongful discharge (Count II), the intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress (Count III), and slander (Count IV). Plaintiffs seek enhanced compensatory damages (Count VI), and Mr. Godfrey seeks to recover for loss of consortium (Count V). Jurisdiction for Count I is predicated upon the existence of a federal question. 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Plaintiffs assert that jurisdiction over the state law claims is proper under the doctrine of pendent jurisdiction.

Before the court is defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiffs' state law claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction,3 or, alternatively, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Rule 12(b)(6), Fed.R.Civ.P.

I. Background

Plaintiff was interviewed for the position of "Senior Secretary" at Perkin-Elmer by defendant Braun, and was subsequently hired by him to work in the Merrimack, New Hampshire, branch office beginning on or about March 6, 1989. At that time, she was the only female employee and one of only three employees at that small office. The other two employees were Braun, a Sales Engineer, and Wilson, a Manager of Vacuum Products. Both Braun and Wilson were authorized by the company to assign tasks to plaintiff and to supervise her. She was required to accept assignments and supervision from both of them. Defendant Eldridge joined the staff at this office a year later, in March 1990.

Plaintiff's allegations of sexual harassment as to both Wilson and Eldridge are, for the most part, identical. She contends that their complained-of conduct started when she was introduced to each of them and continued throughout the course of her employment at Perkin-Elmer. Specifically, she charges that, in a sexually suggestive, demeaning, and socially inappropriate manner, they stared at her and made statements to her which had no connection with her duties or the business of the company. She also contends that they, repeatedly and intentionally, attempted to engage her in conversations of an inappropriate and sexual nature. Furthermore, they confined her to her desk area by sitting and standing inordinately close to her, often in a sexually suggestive manner, which was not necessary for any work-related business and which prevented her from completing her assignments. Plaintiff also alleges that Wilson informed her that she was expected to accompany him to lunch, alone, and that it was part of her duties as his secretary to do so.

Both Wilson and Eldridge ignored plaintiff's requests to cease their allegedly unreasonable, sexually suggestive, demeaning, and socially inappropriate behavior. And, despite repeatedly advising defendant Braun and other Perkin-Elmer personnel that she was being harassed by Wilson and Eldridge, Perkin-Elmer made no attempt to investigate her complaints or to ensure that the harassment ceased. Plaintiff asserts that because of the sexual harassment to which she was subjected she found it impossible to continue at the Perkin-Elmer office. Upon her physician's advice, she stopped working on June 28, 1990, and ultimately she resigned her position effective May 10, 1991. On August 13, 1991, having received a Notice of Right to Sue from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), she filed the instant action.

II. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

Resting upon a split of authority, the parties debate at length the issue of whether this court can or should exercise pendent jurisdiction over state law claims in the context of a Title VII action. While confident that "Title VII was designed to supplement, rather than supplant, existing laws and institutions relating to employment discrimination," Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co., 415 U.S. 36, 48, 94 S.Ct. 1011, 1019-20, 39 L.Ed.2d 147 (1974), the court finds no need to enter this jurisdictional fray, in light of the recent enactment of the Judicial Improvements Act of 1990, Pub.L. No. 101-650, 104 Stat. 5113 (1990). Although not raised by the parties, the question is now one of "supplemental" rather than "pendent" jurisdiction, and is governed by 28 U.S.C. § 1367 (West Supp. 1992). See Promisel v. First American Artificial Flowers, Inc., 943 F.2d 251, 254 (2d Cir.1991), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 112 S.Ct. 939, 117 L.Ed.2d 110 (1992); Sinclair v. Soniform, Inc., 935 F.2d 599, 603 (3d Cir.1991). Moreover, as section 1367 applies to any civil action filed on or after December 1, 1990, it is applicable to the instant action.

The new federal statute provides, in relevant part:

Except as provided in subsections (b) actions founded solely on diversity and (c) court's discretionary power to decline or as expressly provided otherwise by Federal statute, in any civil action of which the district courts have original jurisdiction, the district courts shall have supplemental jurisdiction over all other claims that are so related to claims in the action within such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy under Article III of the United States Constitution. Such supplemental jurisdiction shall include claims that involve the joinder or intervention of additional parties.

28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). By using the "case or controversy" standard, Congress intended supplemental jurisdiction to go to "the constitutional limit, to which it appeared to be carried in the Gibbs, case."4 David D. Siegel, Practice Commentary, The 1990 Adoption of § 1367, Codifying "Supplemental" Jurisdiction, at 232 (West Supp. 1992). See also 13B Charles A. Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Edward H. Cooper, Federal Practice and Procedure: Jurisdiction 2d § 3567.3 at 39 (Supp.1992) ("The legislation as ... adopted ... ratifies and incorporates the constitutional analysis the Supreme Court made in the Gibbs case.").

As a threshold matter, defendants concede that Title VII has no express provision limiting federal court jurisdiction over state law claims. That being so, the court concludes that plaintiff's claims pass muster under Gibbs. Certainly, plaintiff's sexual harassment claim under Title VII provides the basis for federal subject matter jurisdiction. Chamberlin v. 101 Realty, Inc., 915 F.2d 777 (1st Cir.1990); Rosa, supra, 726 F.Supp. at 352. Furthermore, plaintiff's federal and state claims are all based upon the same alleged discriminatory acts and, given the duplication and waste of judicial resources that separate trials would entail, plaintiff would be expected to try them all in a single proceeding. Id. at 352-53. Accordingly, the court finds that it has the power to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiff's state law claims, subject only to the narrow circumstances detailed by Congress.5 See, e.g., Cedillo v. Valcar Enterprises & Darling Delaware Co., 773 F.Supp. 932, 939 (N.D.Tex.1991) ("If the claim is within the court's supplemental discretion, the court must exercise such jurisdiction unless one of the four categorical exceptions in § 1367(c) is satisfied").

After careful consideration, the court is satisfied that none of the grounds upon which it could decline to hear plaintiff's state law claims are relevant. As the Title VII claim has not been dismissed, section 1367(c)(3) has no application to the present facts. Furthermore, plaintiff's state claims do not predominate over her Title VII claim. 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(2). Under the statute, clauses (1) and (2) overlap, as they have under prior "caselaw-based `abstention' doctrines," Siegel, supra, at 235, with clause (2) similar to the line of abstention cases that began with Burford v. Sun Oil Co., 319 U.S. 315, 63 S.Ct. 1098, 87 L.Ed. 1424 (1943). Id. However, Burford abstention is generally not warranted unless the case is one in which federal court intervention will unnecessarily threaten to impede the ongoing administration of a state regulatory system. Trailer Marine Transport Corp. v. Rivera-Vazquez, 931 F.2d 961, 964 (1st Cir. 1991). Here, there is no comprehensive plan of state regulation at issue.

Lastly, plaintiff's state claims do not present any novel or complex issues of state law. 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(1). For the most part, the issues presented are settled and are areas with which the court has previously grappled. See e.g., Chamberlin v. 101 Realty, Inc., 626 F.Supp. 865, 867-68 (D.N.H.1985) (wrongful discharge); Orono Karate, Inc. v. Fred Villari Studio of Self Defense, Inc., 776 F.Supp. 47, 50-51 (D.N.H.1991) (intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress); DeMeo v. Goodall, 640 F.Supp. 1115, 1118 (D.N.H. 1986) (enhanced compensatory damages); Catalfo v. Jensen, 628 F.Supp. 1453 (D.N.H.1986) (defamation). Accordingly, the court exercises its supplemental jurisdiction over Counts II, III, IV, and VI.

Before leaving the jurisdictional issue presented herein, the court turns its attention to Count V, Mr. Godfrey's derivative claim for loss of consortium, which renders him a pendent party plaintiff. Prior to the enactment of the legislation creating supplemental jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1367, much ado was made over this generally disfavored doctrine.6 Currently, however, "the last sentence of subdivision (1) of...

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