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Thoopsamoot v. Regional Services Center

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

March 19, 2014

ANOTHAI THOOPSAMOOT, Plaintiff,
v.
REGIONAL SERVICES CENTER, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

PAUL W. GRIMM, District Judge.

While working for Regional Services Center[1] as a public service aide, Anothai Thoopsamoot felt that she was discriminated against, and she complained to the EEOC about hostility, harassment, and corruption that she perceived in the workplace. RSC terminated her employment on September 29, 2012, and Ms. Thoopsamoot filed this lawsuit, alleging various forms of discrimination, a hostile workplace, and retaliation. Defendant has moved to dismiss, and I must decide whether Ms. Thoopsamoot's lawsuit is subject to dismissal on any of the grounds Defendant asserts.[2] Because Montgomery County is the proper defendant and Plaintiff has exhausted her administrative remedies and stated a claim as to her sex and age discrimination and retaliation claims, Montgomery County shall be substituted for RSC, and these claims shall proceed as to Montgomery County. As for Plaintiff's race and color discrimination claims, Plaintiff shall be given the opportunity to show that she has exhausted her administrative remedies and, if she does so, these claims also shall proceed as to Montgomery County. Plaintiff's reinstatement and hostile workplace claims shall be dismissed.

I. BACKGROUND[3]

Ms. Thoopsamoot, "an Asian female of Thai descent, " worked for Defendant as a "Wheaton Urban District Public Service Aide (Safe Team) at Regional Services Center, Montgomery County, Maryland on [a] temporary basis" from 2008 to September 29, 2012. Compl. 2, ECF No. 1. She claims that RSC discriminated against her on the basis of race, color, and sex, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., and on the basis of age, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621 et seq. Id. at 1-2. Plaintiff also claims that she was subjected to a hostile work environment and retaliated against for filing an administrative complaint. Id. at 2-3. According to Plaintiff, the discrimination occurred when her employer failed to promote her in October 2011, failed to hire her on September 12, 2012, [4] and terminated her employment on September 29, 2012. Id. Additionally, she "was denied overtime several times and assignment of a vehicle, " while "[s]imilarly situated younger employees were treated more favorably than plaintiff with respect to overtime, assignment to vehicle and re-hire" between December 2008 and her termination. Id. at 3. In Plaintiff's view, "Defendant terminated Plaintiff's employment in retaliation for filing complaints with [the] Human Rights Department - Montgomery County, Inspector General, and the EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] about sexual harassment, hostile working environment and corruptions etc." Id. She claims that she filed charges with the EEOC on April 11, 2012. Id.

In her Complaint, Ms. Thoopsamoot seeks "front pay benefits and damages... for lost wages, lost benefits, compensatory damages for pain and suffering, mental anguish, emotional distress, interest, " as well as back pay and "[t]he amount of tax on an award and reasonable attorney's fees[] or reinstatement of full time position." Compl. 3-4. However, after Plaintiff informed the Court that it was her understanding that she would be reinstated to her position at RSC, I directed Montgomery County to provide a letter to the Court by February 17, 2014 with regard to the status of Ms. Thoopsamoot's reinstatement. Feb. 3, 2014 Ltr. Order, ECF No. 14. Additionally, I notified Plaintiff that if the County indicated that she has been or will be reinstated to her position, then I would be dismissing her reinstatement claim without prejudice. Id. The County advised that Ms. Thoopsamoot has been reinstated. Feb. 10, 2014 Ltr., ECF Nos. 15 & 16. Plaintiff has not disputed the County's assertion. Therefore, her reinstatement claim is DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE as moot.

Defendant moved to dismiss on July 31, 2013, arguing that it "is not an entity subject to suit" and that "Plaintiff has not exhausted her administrative remedy for any claims of race, color, and hostile work environment discrimination, or any allegations except for those relating to her alleged denial of overtime, denial of access to a company vehicle, and her termination." Def.'s Mot. ¶¶ 2-3. Defendant also contends that "Plaintiff[']s sparse allegations do not state a plausible claim for relief." Id. ¶ 4.

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 Fed.R.Civ.P. 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 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.

In an employment discrimination case such as this, "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)." Westmoreland v. Prince George's Cnty. ("Westmoreland I"), No. AW-09-2453, 2010 WL 3369169, at *3 (D. Md. Aug. 23, 2010) (quoting Swierkiewicz v. Sorema, N.A., 534 U.S. 506 (2002)). Such a requirement "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 she might uncover direct evidence during discovery." Id. (quoting Swierkiewicz, 534 U.S. at 511-12). If this were the case, a plaintiff claiming employment discrimination would have "to plead more facts than [s]he may ultimately need to prove to succeed on the merits if direct evidence of discrimination is discovered.'" Id. (quoting Swierkiewicz, 534 U.S. at 512). Nonetheless, a plaintiff "must plead facts sufficient to state each element of the asserted claim." Lopez v. BMA Corp., No. DKC-13-2406, 2013 WL 6844361, at *9 (D. Md. Dec. 24, 2013) (discussing Swierkiewicz holding and citing Bass v. E.I. Dupont De Nemours & Co., 324 F.3d 761, 765-65 (4th Cir. 2003)).

Because pro se lawsuits, such as Ms. Thoopsamoot's, "represent the work of an untutored hand requiring special judicial solicitude, " the Court must "construe pro se complaints liberally, " such that "litigants with meritorious claims [are] not... tripped up in court on technical niceties." Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1277-78 (4th Cir. 1985) (citing Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978)). Even so, "[d]istrict judges are not mind readers, " and "[e]ven in the case of pro se litigants, they cannot be expected to construct full blown claims from sentence fragments...." Id. at 1278. Therefore, "[p]rinciples requiring generous construction of pro se complaints are not... without limits, " and this Court need not "conjure up questions never squarely presented to [it]." Id.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Proper Defendant

Defendant contends that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim against it because "there is no provision in the Annotated Code of Maryland or in the Montgomery County Code that empowers the Regional Services Center to sue or be sued in its own right, " as it "is no more than a subordinate agency of the County." Def.'s Mem. 5. Plaintiff concedes that she "may have failed to state a claim, as the Regional Services Center' is not an entity properly subject to suit, " insisting that the failure is due to the fact that she "has no representative and is not an attorney... to know what is the difference." Pl.'s Opp'n 1. In her view, she "should be able to hold [RSC] accountable in this case no matter what name plaintiff put on the complaint [s]ince Plaintiff worked for it and it exists in the system." Id. She also asserts that she "wants to... hold Montgomery County Government accountable for breaking the laws [and] discriminat[ing] against Plaintiff...." Id. at 2. Also, she contends that she originally named Montgomery County as Defendant, but changed the name when "questioned by a court clerk of what department of Montgomery County." Id. at 4.

Thus, it is undisputed that RSC is not subject to suit. However, I liberally construe Plaintiff's Opposition to incorporate a request for leave to amend her Complaint to substitute Montgomery County as the proper defendant. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 1; Beaudett, 775 F.2d at 1277-78; Johnson v. Silvers, 742 F.2d 823, 824 n.1 (4th Cir. 1984) (noting that "[t]he district court must allow a pro se litigant a reasonable opportunity to amend his pleadings to name the proper defendant, and if necessary advise him how to determine that person"). Plaintiff filed her Opposition on August 19, 2013, within twenty-one days after Defendant moved to dismiss. See Docket. Therefore, Plaintiff was ...


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