United States District Court, D. Maryland
WILLIAM E. MATHEWS, JR., Plaintiff,
JOHNS HOPKINS HEALTH SYSTEM, CORP. and SUBURBAN HOSPITAL, INC., Defendants.
Xinis United States District Judge.
in this employment discrimination case is a partial motion to
dismiss filed by Defendants Johns Hopkins Health System,
Corp. (“Johns Hopkins”) and Suburban Hospital,
Inc. (“Suburban”) (collectively,
“Defendants”). ECF No. 5. The issues are fully
briefed, and the Court now rules pursuant to Local Rule 105.6
because no hearing is necessary. For the reasons stated
below, the motion is granted.
William E. Mathews, Jr. (“Mathews”) was employed
by Suburban for over twenty years, serving the last eleven
years as a manager in the Maintenance Department. ECF No. 1
at 2-4. In April of 2009, Johns Hopkins acquired Suburban
and, according to Mathews, “became the ultimate
decision maker regarding the affairs of Suburban
Hospital.” Id. at 3.
December 21, 2015, two Maintenance Department staff members
brought to Mathews' attention documents that had been
printed by another employee in the Department. Id.
at 4. The documents related to hate groups, extremist groups,
and terrorism. Id. Pursuant to Suburban's Code
of Conduct, Mathews brought this information to the attention
of Suburban's Vice President of Operations who then met
with Mathews' supervisor. Id. at 4-5.
December 23, 2015, Mathews' supervisor informed him that
two investigators from Johns Hopkins had taken the employee
to a conference room to discuss the matter. Id. at
5. The supervisor also informed Matthews that Suburban would
likely turn over the investigation to the Federal Bureau of
Investigations. Id. The employee was removed from
the premises that day, and then the Johns Hopkins
investigators turned their attention to Mathews. Id.
at 6. The investigators, as well as Suburban's Vice
President of Human Resources, met with Mathews and questioned
his motives for reporting the employee. Id. They
suspected that Mathews used the incident as an excuse to
facilitate the employee's termination, who was no
stranger to disciplinary action. Id.
next day, December 24, 2015, Mathews began his winter
vacation. Id. at 7. Upon returning to work on
January 4, 2016, Mathews was summoned to a meeting with Wayne
Stockbridge, Suburban's Director of Human Resources, and
Jackie Schultz, then-acting CEO and Vice President of Nursing
for Suburban. Id. At this meeting, Stockbridge
terminated the then 61-year-old Mathews without explanation
and absent any prior disciplinary action taken against him,
which ran counter to Suburban's graduated disciplinary
system. Id. at 7-8. Suburban then filled
Mathews' position with a “younger and less
costly” employee. Id. at 9-10.
alleges that “[b]ased upon [his] best information and
belief, Defendants formed an alliance and cooperated in the
disparate treatment that resulted” in his termination.
Id. at 10. Mathews further alleges that his
termination is one of a series of age-based terminations that
have occurred since Johns Hopkins' acquired Suburban.
Id. at 9-10. Consequently, Mathews filed a complaint
with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. On
September 19, 2016, Matthews received his right to sue letter
as to Suburban, and on October 26, 2016, he received his
right-to-sue letter as to Johns Hopkins. Id. at 3.
December 16, 2016, Mathews filed in this Court a three-count
complaint against the Defendants. ECF No. 1. In Count I,
Mathews alleges that the Defendants subjected him to
disparate treatment and terminated his employment because of
his age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment
Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621 et
seq. In Count II, Mathews alleges that Suburban and
Johns Hopkins conspired to violate the ADEA. In Count III,
Mathews alleges that the Defendants violated the Employee
Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”), 29
U.S.C. § 1140, by unlawfully terminating him five years
prior to his retirement pension vesting. On March 2, 2017,
Defendants filed a partial motion to dismiss arguing that
Count II fails to allege a viable conspiracy claim. ECF No.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
purpose of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) is to test
the sufficiency of the complaint. Presley v. City of
Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006)
(citation and internal quotation marks omitted). When ruling
on a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must “accept
the well-pled allegations of the complaint as true, ”
and “construe the facts and reasonable inferences
derived therefrom in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff.” Ibarra v. United States, 120 F.3d
472, 474 (4th Cir. 1997). “The mere recital of elements
of a cause of action, supported only by conclusory
statements, is not sufficient to survive a motion made
pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6).” Walters v.
McMahen, 684 F.3d 435, 439 (4th Cir. 2012) (citing
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)).
though the requirements for pleading a proper complaint are
substantially aimed at assuring that the defendant be given
adequate notice of the nature of a claim being made against
him, they also provide criteria for defining issues for trial
and for early disposition of inappropriate complaints.”
Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir.
2009). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint's
factual allegations “must be enough to raise a right to
relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all
the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful
in fact).” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations omitted). “To
satisfy this standard, a plaintiff need not
‘forecast' evidence sufficient to prove the
elements of the claim. However, the complaint must allege
sufficient facts to establish those elements.”
Walters, 684 F.3d at 439 (citation omitted).
“Thus, while a plaintiff does not need to demonstrate
in a complaint that the right to relief is ‘probable,
' the complaint must advance the plaintiff's claim
‘across the line from conceivable to
plausible.'” Id. (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).
Count II, Mathews alleges that Suburban and Johns Hopkins
conspired to violate the ADEA in that they “formed an
alliance or understanding to speak as one regarding the
discipline of Mr. Mathews.” ECF No. 1 at 12. At the
outset, it bears noting that Mathews' claim, as pleaded,
is not actionable. Count II is titled “conspiracy to
violate the ADEA.” Id. The ADEA, however, does
not include a cause of action for conspiring to discriminate
against an employee on account of age. Compare 29
U.S.C. § 623, with 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3)
(prohibiting, inter alia, “two or more persons
. . . [from] conspir[ing] . . . for the purpose of depriving,
either directly or indirectly, any person or class of persons
of the equal protection of the laws”). See also
White v. Lincoln Plating Co., 955 F.Supp. 98, 100 (D.
Colo. 1997) (“The ADEA contains no provisions
concerning conspiracies.” (citing McCann v. Texas