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Jones-Davidson v. Prince George's County Community College

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

November 7, 2013



ALEXANDER WILLIAMS, Jr., District Judge.

Pending before the Court is Defendant Prince George's County Community College's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint for failure to state a claim. Doc. No. 6. The Court has reviewed the motion papers and concludes that no hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2011). For the reasons articulated below, Defendant's Motion will be GRANTED-IN-PART and DENIED-IN-PART.


The following facts are taken from Plaintiff's Complaint. Plaintiff Benita Jones-Davidson is a mixed race woman in her early fifties with a Master's degree in network engineering. Plaintiff has been employed by Defendant Prince George's County Community College ("PGCCC") since September 2006 as a network engineer in the Administrative Technology Services department. Plaintiff also holds an adjunct position on PGCCC's faculty. Currently, Plaintiff is the only female network engineer in her department, which also employs approximately five male network engineers. From 2006 through January 2010, Plaintiff worked in her department without incident and received the highest ratings in her annual job performance evaluations.

In January 2010, Plaintiff complained about being denied overtime pay based on her gender. By April 2010, management stopped acknowledging her daily accomplishments. As part of her responsibilities, Plaintiff reports her daily activities to the management of her department. Following her complaints about overtime pay, however, management stopped responding to these daily e-mails. On December 3, 2010, all of the network engineers in Plaintiff's department received annual job performance evaluations except for Plaintiff. Plaintiff filed a complaint with PGCCC alleging retaliation on December 6, 2010. Plaintiff received her evaluation on March 22, 2011, but it contained "disparaging comments." Prior to raising her complaint to PGCCC, Plaintiff was given challenging assignments that drew on her education and experience. After her complaint, however, Plaintiff was frequently not given any assignments.

On April 13, 2011, Plaintiff received a written warning and a one-day suspension. The following day, Plaintiff filed a sex and retaliation complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). Since the filing of her EEOC complaint, Plaintiff is no longer given challenging assignments. Her duties and responsibilities are currently limited to assisting other network engineers when they encounter problems, and Plaintiff receives no official credit for this work. When Plaintiff is given an assignment, her requests for approval are ignored by management, hampering her ability to complete such assignments. Plaintiff is no longer invited to important meetings and is the target of disparaging e-mails from her colleagues and management.


The purpose of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) is "to test the sufficiency of [the] complaint." Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). Except in certain specified cases, the complaint need only satisfy Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which requires a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). A plaintiff must plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). In resolving a motion to dismiss, the Court should proceed in two steps. First, the Court should determine which allegations in the Complaint are factual allegations entitled to deference, and which are mere legal conclusions that receive no deference. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. at 678. Second, "[w]hen there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Id. at 679.

In its determination, the Court must "accept the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint as true, " Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994), and "must construe factual allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, " Harrison v. Westinghouse Savannah River Co., 176 F.3d 776, 783 (4th Cir. 1999). The Court should not, however, accept unsupported legal allegations, Revene v. Charles Cnty. Comm'rs, 882 F.2d 870, 873 (4th Cir. 1989), "legal conclusion[s] couched as... factual allegation[s], " Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986), or conclusory factual allegations devoid of any reference to actual events, United Black Firefighters of Norfolk v. Hirst, 604 F.2d 844, 847 (4th Cir. 1979). "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)." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

In the context of employment discrimination, the Supreme Court has clarified that pleadings need not "contain specific facts establishing a prima facie case of discrimination under the framework set forth" in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). Swierkiewicz v. Sorema, N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 508 (2002). To require otherwise would essentially create a "heightened pleading standard" under which a plaintiff without direct evidence of discrimination would need to plead a prima facie case even though he might uncover direct evidence during discovery. Id. at 511-12. This would create the "incongruous" result of requiring a plaintiff "to plead more facts than he may ultimately need to prove to succeed on the merits if direct evidence of discrimination is discovered." Id. Furthermore, before discovery "it may be difficult to define the precise formulation of the required prima facie case in a particular case." Id. at 512; see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 569-70 (explaining that Swierkiewicz is consistent with more recent case law).[1] "While a plaintiff is not charged with pleading facts sufficient to prove her case, as an evidentiary matter, in her complaint, a plaintiff is required to allege facts that support a claim for relief." Bass v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 324 F.3d 761, 765 (4th Cir. 2003) (emphasis added).


Plaintiff alleges that Defendant unlawfully retaliated against her in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681 et seq. As an initial matter, the Court rejects Defendant's argument that Plaintiff's Title IX claim should be dismissed because it is duplicative of the Title VII claim. The Fourth Circuit has not squarely addressed whether Title VII preempts employment discrimination claims brought under Title IX.[2] However, there is some authority within this circuit suggesting that Title VII and Title IX employment discrimination claims can proceed simultaneously, particularly where the plaintiff seeks equitable relief, as Jones-Davidson does in this case. The Fourth Circuit has noted that the implied right of action for enforcement of Title IX "extends to employment discrimination on the basis of gender by educational institutions receiving federal funds."[3] Preston v. Commonwealth of Va. ex rel. New River Cmty. Coll., 31 F.3d 203, 206 (4th Cir. 1994). In Preston, the plaintiff brought retaliation claims against her employer under both Title VII and Title IX. Id. at 204. In an earlier unpublished opinion, the Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's initial dismissal of the plaintiff's claims, ordered the reinstatement of both claims, and remanded for further proceedings. Preston v. Commonwealth of Va., 941 F.2d 1207 (Table), 1991 WL 156224 (4th Cir. Aug. 18, 1991). With respect to the Title IX claim, although it declined to decide whether compensatory damages would be available, the court nevertheless concluded that the district court could provide equitable relief to the plaintiff if she could prove a Title IX violation. Id. at *2-3; see also Bartges v. Univ. of N.C. at Charlotte, 908 F.Supp. 1312, 1332 (W.D. N.C. 1995) (concluding that under Preston, plaintiff could bring a Title IX employment discrimination claim, but dismissing it for the same reasons it dismissed the Title VII claim). Accordingly, the Court declines to find that Plaintiff's Title IX claim is duplicative of her Title VII claim.

The Court will therefore proceed to Defendant's argument that Plaintiff's Complaint should be dismissed for failure to state a claim. Title VII makes it unlawful for "an employer to discriminate against any of [its] employees... because he has opposed any practice made an unlawful practice by this subchapter, or because he has made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under this subchapter." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). Title IX provides that "[n]o person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance...." 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a). Courts look to case law interpreting Title VII for guidance in evaluating claims brought under Title IX. See, e.g., Jennings v. Univ. of N.C. , 482 F.3d 686, 695 (4th Cir. 2007); Preston, 31 F.3d at 206-07; Doe v. Bd. of Educ. of Prince George's Cnty., 888 F.Supp.2d 659, 665-68 (D. Md. 2012). Accordingly, the Court will review Plaintiff's Title VII and Title IX retaliation claims together.

To establish a prima facie case for retaliation, Plaintiff must show that: (1) she engaged in a protected activity; (2) the employer took an adverse employment action against her; and (3) there was a causal connection between the protected activity and the asserted adverse action. Laughlin v. Metro. Wash. Airports Auth., 149 F.3d 253, 258 (4th Cir. 1998). For the purposes of its Motion to Dismiss, Defendant assumes, without conceding, that Plaintiff has sufficiently pled the existence of the first element. The ...

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