Nurse Assistant’s Allegations That She Was Fired For Getting Pregnant Cannot Support Emotional Distress Claim Against Former Employer

A Pennsylvania nurse assistant, who claimed she suffered emotional distress when she was fired for getting pregnant, may not pursue her tort claim against the former employer in federal court, held a U.S. District Court recently [see Galezniak v. Millville Health Ctr., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5808 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 18, 2012)]. Holding that her allegations of intentional infliction of emotional distress, or alternatively, negligent infliction of emotional distress were barred by the exclusive remedy provisions of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, the district also indicated that under Pennsylvania law, termination, even termination alleging wrongful discharge and discrimination, did not rise to the level of outrageous conduct. 

Plaintiff, a certified nurse assistant, alleged that approximately four months after she began working for the defendant health center, she informed the head nurse that she was pregnant. She alleged that the next day she was required to complete paperwork so as to take a non-paid leave of absence, since no light-duty work was available, and that she was eventually terminated by the defendant. She maintained that she did not request light-duty work, did not require any work restrictions, wanted to continue working, and did not desire to take a leave of absence. Indeed, it appeared that she subsequently worked at Blockbuster Video, with no restrictions or complications, until the birth of her child. Defendant countered that plaintiff’s claims failed because claims of negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress arising out of an employment relationship were barred by the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act.

The district court held that plaintiff’s claims were “squarely foreclosed” by the Third Circuit’s decision in Matczak v. Frankford Candy & Chocolate Company, 136 F.3d 933, 940 (3d Cir. 1997). In that case, Matczak alleged that the employer fired him because of his disability, and that following his termination he cried “at least once a week.” The Third Circuit held that these allegations could not support a claim of negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress because the exclusivity provision of the Pennsylvania Comp Act barred claims for both negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress arising out of an employment relationship.

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