United States District Court, D. Maryland
SHARON A. RANDOLPH, Plaintiff,
CARUSO HOMES, INC., et al., Defendants.
ROGER W. TITUS, District Judge.
In her Amended Complaint, pro se Plaintiff Sharon A. Randolph asserts claims against Defendants Caruso Homes, Inc., Chris Block, and Nancy Walsh for race and gender discrimination under Title VII, wrongful termination, fraud, and retaliation. ECF No. 4. Before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 11. Plaintiff filed an Opposition on February 14, 2014, ECF No. 13, and Defendants filed a Reply on March 4, 2014. ECF No. 15. There are no material facts in dispute, and Defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Accordingly, Defendants' Motion will be granted.
Sharon A. Randolph ("Randolph") was hired as a sales manager by Chris Block ("Block") of Caruso Homes, Inc. ("Caruso Homes"), on November 23, 2010. ECF No. 4 at 4. Randolph appears to allege that she suffered discriminatory treatment throughout the entirety of her brief employment at Caruso Homes. See ECF No. 4 at 2 ("Race and Gender Discrimination violations occurred during the timeframe of November 23, 2010 to February 4, 2011."). However, the only specific alleged discriminatory act the Court can glean from the Amended Complaint, prior to Randolph's termination, is that Caruso Homes failed to submit a certification Randolph was required to have to act as a sales manager, whereas Caruso Homes did submit the certifications for white sales managers. ECF No. 4 at 3.
Caruso Homes terminated Randolph on February 4, 2011, 68 days after she was hired. Id. On that same date, she executed a Separation Agreement and Release (the "Release") in which she agreed to release all claims against Caruso Homes in exchange for 2 weeks of base pay. ECF No. 11-3. Pertinent to the pending Motion, the express terms of the Release provide that Randolph has 45 days from the date of the Release to sign it, that she may wish to consult an attorney before signing it, and that she has 7 days from the date she signs the Release to revoke it. Id. Randolph accepted the severance payment. ECF No. 11-5.
On August 3 and August 12, 2011, Randolph filed charges of race and gender discrimination with the Prince George's County Human Relations Commission ("PGCHRC") and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), respectively. ECF No. 11-5 at 2-3. On October 31, 2012 PGCHRC closed the case, determining that the Release precluded its enforcement and jurisdiction over the case. ECF No. 11-6. EEOC issued Randolph a right to sue. ECF No. 4 at 3.
Defendants argue in their Motion that Randolph's claims are barred by the Release. ECF No. 11-1 at 5-8. As to Randolph's fraud claim, Defendants assert she has failed to plead it with sufficient particularity under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(b). Id. at 8-11. As to Randolph's retaliation claim, Defendants assert Randolph failed to exhaust her administrative remedies, and that the claim is now time-barred. Id. at 11-12.
In Randolph's Opposition, she claims that she signed the Release under duress, that she "was not allowed time to think about signing" the Release, was "not allowed or offered the legal right to view" the Release with an attorney, and "was not allowed a period of several days to change her mind after the release was signed." ECF No. 13 at 2. According to Randolph, this makes the Release invalid. Id. Randolph's Opposition also advances a number of new allegations, facts, and legal theories, and is accompanied by an avalanche of exhibits, many of which have no significance to this case. Defendants filed a Reply, addressing Randolph's claim of duress, and generally reasserting the arguments from the pending Motion.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
I. Consideration of Release Requires Conversion to Motion for Summary Judgment
Each of the parties has submitted for consideration, and the Court will consider in connection with the pending Motion, exhibits and matters outside of the pleadings. Accordingly, the Motion will be treated as a Motion for Summary Judgment. Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 12(d). Specifically, the Defendants assert that Randolph's claims are barred because of her execution of the Release. ECF No. 11-1 at 5-10. Defendants argue that the Court can appropriately consider the Release without converting the Motion into a motion for summary judgment. Id. at 8. The Court disagrees. It is true that the Court can consider matters and exhibits outside the Complaint when considering a motion to dismiss if they are "central to plaintiff's claim" and "sufficiently referred to in the complaint." Philips v. Pitt Cnty. Mem'l Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2006). In each of the cases Defendants cites for the proposition that a release can be properly considered on a motion to dismiss, the release agreement is explicitly referred to in the complaint. See Taylor v. Northrup Grumman Systems Corp., CIV. JKB-13-1832, 2013 WL 4781094 at *4n.3 (D. Md. Sept. 5, 2013); Hewett v. Leblang, 12 CIV. 1713 PKC, 2012 WL 2820274, *6 (S.D.N.Y. July 5, 2012) ("The Complaint discusses the Settlement Agreement and the Separation Agreement and lists them as exhibits."); Matusovsky v. Merrill Lynch, 186 F.Supp.2d 397, 400 (S.D.N.Y. 2002) ("Here, Matusovsky explicitly referred to the General Release in his complaint."); Powe v. City of Chicago, 1996 WL 99711, *3 (N.D. Ill. 1996) ("The plaintiff conceded in her complaint that she entered into the Settlement Agreement with the defendant."). Here, the body of the Complaint does not reference the Release at all. The Release was not attached to the Complaint. There are exhibits included with the Complaint that do reference the Release. However, Defendants have cited no authority for the proposition that documents not actually referred to in a complaint, nor attached to it, but merely referred to by documents attached to it, are "sufficiently referred to in the complaint" for purposes of considering them on a motion to dismiss. Philips, 572 F.3d at 180. Accordingly, the Court will treat the pending Motion as a Motion for Summary Judgment.
II. Summary Judgment Standard
Summary judgment is appropriate if "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P 56(a); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). "A material fact is one that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.'" Spriggs v. Diamond Auto Glass, 242 F.3d 179, 183 (4th Cir. 2001) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). Disputes of material fact are genuine if, based on the evidence, "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.
In order to avoid summary judgment, the nonmoving party "may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. at 256. While the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, Francis v. Booz, Allen & Hamilton, Inc., 452 F.3d 299, 302 (4th Cir. 2006), it must also "prevent factually unsupported claims and defenses from proceeding to trial, " Drewitt v. Pratt, 999 F.2d 774, ...