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Paulson v. Cosmetic Dermatology, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

June 8, 2017

Roxann Paulson, Plaintiff,
v.
Cosmetic Dermatology, Inc. dba dr. brandt skincare, Stephane Colleu, John Michael Bain, and Tamara Matha, Defendants.

          ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' PARTIAL MOTION TO DISMISS

          Robert N. Scola, Jr. United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Roxann Paulson brings this lawsuit against Cosmetic Dermatology, Inc., doing business as dr. brandt skincare (“CDI”), Stephane Colleu, John Michael Bain, and Tamara Matha for unlawful termination and actions taken in furtherance of that termination. This matter is before the Court on the Defendants' partial motion to dismiss (ECF No. 16). For the reasons set forth in this order, the Court grants in part and denies in part the motion to dismiss.

         1. Background

         Paulson worked as CDI's Vice President of Marketing and Executive Creative Director from February 2, 2015 until her termination on February 11, 2016. (Compl. ¶ 6, ECF No. 1.) Paulson reported directly to Colleu, CDI's Chief Executive Officer. (Id. at ¶ 13.) Bain served as Vice President of Sales for CDI and Matha served as Executive Director of Finance and handled CDI's Human Resources. (Id. at ¶¶ 9-11.) According to the complaint, Paulson was “subjected to continuous and escalating harassment” from Bain-harassment that was reported to both Colleu and Matha. (Compl. ¶ 15, ECF No. 1.) Despite Paulson's and other employees' complaints, Bain was never disciplined or terminated for his behavior. (Id. at ¶¶ 15-20, 30.)

         At some point during her employment, Paulson terminated Author Gallow, a friend of Matha's. (Id. at ¶ 68.) According to the complaint, this action created a personal rift between Paulson and Matha, leading Matha to “solicit[] staff to change their opinions about Paulson, alleg[e] to staff that Paulson had planned to make personnel changes, [and] imply[] to staff that Paulson had intended to terminate them.” (Id. at ¶¶ 31, 68.) On February 11, 2016, Matha informed Paulson of her termination, citing complaints that Paulson was bullying members of her Product Development team. (Id. at ¶ 24.) Later in the evening, Matha received emails from three employees that allegedly contained solicited, false complaints about Paulson. (Id. at ¶¶ 25-26, 28.) Matha sent “a company-wide email notifying staff in the United States and all global countries, that Paulson had been terminated for ‘violat[ing] company policy.'” (Id. at ¶ 27.) According to the complaint, “[t]he email went on to note that CDI has ‘zero tolerance' for behavior that ‘cause[s] another individual any type of harassment and behavior that is unprofessional.'” (Id.)

         Paulson alleges that Matha's email defamed her in her professional capacity and amounts to libel per se because it contained “false statements [that] not only impugned Paulson's integrity, character and reputation as a business professional, but also indicate she lacks sufficient ability to perform her professional duties.” (Id. at ¶ 59.) Paulson also alleges that Matha's actions in soliciting and obtaining false emails that resulted in Paulson's discharge interfered with Paulson's business relationship with her employer and were part of a conspiracy to interfere with that business relationship. (Id. at ¶¶ 65- 75.) The Defendants move to dismiss, arguing that the complaint fails to state a claim for tortious interference with a business relationship against Matha or for defamation per se or conspiracy to interfere with a business relationship against all of the Defendants.

         2. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires “a short and plain statement of the claims” that “will give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the ground upon which it rests.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). The Supreme Court has held that “[w]hile a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitlement to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations omitted).

         “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quotations and citations 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.” Id. Thus, “only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss.” Id. at 679. When considering a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept all of the plaintiff's allegations as true in determining whether a plaintiff has stated a claim for which relief could be granted. Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984).

         3. Analysis

         The Defendants have moved to dismiss four causes of action in the complaint in their entirety and two causes of action as they are applied to individual defendants. The Court will address each of the counts specifically set forth in the complaint.

         A. Counts One and Two

         Count one asserts that CDI, Colleu and Matha discriminated against Paulson by targeting her for discharge on the basis of her age. (Compl. at 6-7, ECF No. 1.) Count two asserts that CDI, Colleu and Matha discriminated against Paulson by targeting her for discharge on the basis of her gender. (Id. at 7-8.) The Defendants moved to dismiss counts one and two as applied to Colleu and Matha. (Mot. at 2-3, ECF No. 16.) Paulson concedes that counts one and two are not properly asserted against those defendants. (Resp. at 1, ECF No. 19.) Accordingly, counts one and two fail to state a claim against Colleu and Matha upon which relief may be granted. Albra v. Advan, Inc., 490 F.3d 826, 830 (11th Cir. 2007) (noting that under Title VII and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act “individual defendants are not amenable to private suit”).

         B. ...


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