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Morgan v. City of Rockville

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

December 30, 2013

COURTNEY L. MORGAN, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF ROCKVILLE, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

PAUL W. GRIMM, District Judge.

This Memorandum Opinion disposes of Defendants City of Rockville, Maryland and Susan Swift's Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 10, and accompanying Memorandum, ECF No. 10-1; Plaintiff Courtney L. Morgan's Opposition, ECF No. 16; and Defendants' Reply, ECF No. 17. The scheduled hearing was cancelled and is not necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6. For the reasons stated below, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss shall be DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff filed a complaint in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County on April 4, 2013, which was removed to this Court on May 13, 2013. See Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1. The original Complaint alleged violations of Title VII (42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ) and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. See Compl., ECF No. 2. On July 5, 2013, Plaintiff requested leave to file an Amended Complaint, ECF No. 9, which was granted as a matter of course, ECF No. 11. The Amended Complaint does not include the two previous counts, and instead alleges violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on Equal Protection. See Am. Compl., ECF No. 13. On July 24, 2013, Defendants filed the pending Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint, ECF No. 10, which has been fully briefed.

For purposes of considering Defendants' motion, the Court accepts the facts that Plaintiff alleged in his Amended Complaint as true. See Aziz v. Alcoac, 658 F.3d 388, 390 (4th Cir. 2011). Plaintiff is an African-American male who worked for Rockville as Division Chief of Inspection Services from August 2011 until February 2012. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 6, 15-16.[1] Plaintiff had many subordinates and adequately and "completely performed all of the functions, duties and responsibilities of his employment with Defendant City of Rockville." Id. ¶ 8. "Mr. Morgan was performing his job at a level that met the City of Rockville's legitimate expectations pursuant to emails and other correspondences." Id. Throughout Mr. Morgan's employment, Defendant Susan Swift supervised Plaintiff in her capacity as Planning & Zoning Director. Id. ¶ 4.

During his employment, Plaintiff realized that some Caucasian subordinates, as well as other Division Chiefs "with similar education, skill level, and responsibility as Plaintiff, " were paid more than Plaintiff. Id. ¶¶ 9-10. Without providing any underlying facts, Plaintiff alleges "that Susan Swift, his supervisor[, ] engaged in a pattern of work place harassment and racial discrimination against Plaintiff and that Swift's unlawful conduct was subsequently ratified by the City's former Human Resources Director." See id. ¶ 11.

The City's employee manual, Plaintiff alleges, provides that new employees like Plaintiff are probationary for their first six months. Id. ¶ 12. However, they are entitled to a three-month evaluation, which Plaintiff claims all Caucasian employees received and he did not, followed by a six-month evaluation. Id. The three-month and six-month evaluations are compared to make decisions about permanent employment. Id. ¶ 13. So long as the employee progresses between the three-month and six-month evaluations, "a non-probationary job awaits." Id. ¶ 14.

On February 1, 2011, Plaintiff received his six-month evaluation, where Swift failed him in "every conceivable performance category." Id. ¶ 15. Plaintiff claims this evaluation was conducted by Swift as a pretext to terminate Plaintiff based on his race. Id. Five days later, Plaintiff was terminated based on that review. Id. ¶ 16. He complained to Carlos Vargas, Human Resources Manager, who refused to investigate Plaintiff's claim of racial discrimination. Id. Plaintiff alleges that Vargas's inaction was part of a policy and custom of inaction, which, by failing to conduct good faith investigations of racial discrimination, condones discrimination. Id. ¶ 17.

After Plaintiff's termination, the City hired the law firm of Saul Ewing, LLC, to conduct an investigation of employee complaints of racial discrimination. See id. ¶ 18. The firm never interviewed Plaintiff, investigated his claim, or released the report to the public. Id. "Plaintiff believes that the Saul Ewing report was conducted in bad faith to suppress incidents of racial discrimination reported by Plaintiff and thus said report is a sham." Id. ¶ 19.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for "the dismissal of a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Velencia v. Drezhlo, No. RDB-12-237, 2012 WL 6562764, at *4 (D. Md. Dec. 13, 2012). This Rule's purpose "is to test the sufficiency of a complaint and not to resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.'" Id. (quoting Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006)). To that end, the Court bears in mind the requirements of Rule 8, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), when considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Specifically, a complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, " Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), and must state "a plausible claim for relief, " as "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice, " Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79. See Velencia, 2012 WL 6562764, at *4 (discussing the standard from Iqbal and Twombly ). "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." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 663. When ruling on such a motion, 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).

That said, "factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above a speculative level.'" Proctor v. Metro. Money Store Corp., 645 F.Supp.2d 464, 472-73 (D. Md. 2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 545). Particularly, the Court is not required to accept as true "a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation, " Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986), or "allegations that are merely conclusory, unwarranted deductions of fact or unreasonable inferences, " Veney v. Wyche, 293 F.3d 726, 730 (4th Cir. 2002) (citation omitted). In the context of employment discrimination,

the Supreme Court [has] held that a Title VII plaintiff does not have to allege a prima facie case of employment discrimination to survive a motion to dismiss. [ Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 515 (2002).] All that a Title VII plaintiff must provide is "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Id. at 508 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)). "Indeed it may appear on the face of the pleadings that a recovery is ...

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