Aggressive Advocates For Your Rights

What is in a Complaint?

Manley v. Memorial Hospital of Salem, C.A. No.: 11-2117, (D. N.J. 2012) is a case which is important because it states the standard of what should be contained in a hostile work environment complaint. A complaint is the legal document by which a party institutes a lawsuit. Within the document, a party must specify the facts which give rise to the complaint. As you will see below, courts look for certain elements in reading complaints.

In this case, the Plaintiff alleged that her former employer, the hospital discriminated against her based on race. Her allegation of discrimination was called a hostile work environment claim. Within her complaint, the Court pared the discrimination down to one paragraph which stated:

"Defendant, through its employees and agents, discriminated against plaintiff in sundry manners which included, but were not limited to advising her that they would "get rid of her" because she was African American, assigning her less favorable work shift based on her race, isolate her from other workers because of her race, assigning her less favorable assignments because of her race, allowing the use of racial slurs, all of which created a hostile work environment, based on plaintiff's race."

This was the allegation the court focused on, and the defendant in response filed a motion to dismiss.

To continue the case, the complaint must allege facts that raise a right to relief above a "speculative level." Courts construe this idea as meaning that if a court accepts as true what is contained in the complaint, and then there must be an inference of wrongdoing. The caveat however, is that the court does not accept sweeping legal conclusions. Thus, in this case, during the analysis based on these factors, the court determined that parts of the complaint should be dismissed.

The court analyzed the elements of a hostile work environment claim, and stated that in order to survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint needed to allege that Manley suffered intentional discrimination as a result of her membership in a protected class; the discrimination was pervasive and regular; the discrimination detrimentally affected her; the discrimination would have similarly affected a reasonable person in the same situation; and finally, a basis for holding the employer responsible.

The court then looked back at the above paragraph and determined certain parts were considered legal conclusions. The first allegation of "through its employees and agents" was considered a legal conclusion, as was the statement "all of which created a hostile work environment, based on plaintiff's race." The court then accepted the rest of the paragraph as written.

However, once those other paragraphs were dismissed, the Plaintiff was missing several elements of her claim. She could show membership of a protected class (African-American); however the court stopped once it had to analyze the pervasive and regular prong. Because the complaint failed to state how many incidents of discrimination occurred, the Court could not answer whether the discrimination was considered severe and pervasive.

As a result of the court's analysis, the Plaintiff's complaint was dismissed without prejudice. This alone, means that the Plaintiff could have amended the complaint and re-filed it within the time given by the court. However, this also means that time would have passed, and Manley's memory or witnesses may have been less crisp.

Most importantly, this complaint should be used as a lesson. There are certain elements which a complaint must allege. These are factual elements, which must meet the legal requirements. However, in this case, the complaint failed to properly detail the incident giving rise to the claim, and thus was dismissed at first. Discrimination claims are especially fact-intensive, which is why this is an important case for people who have suffered discrimination.

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