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Myers v. Montgomery County

United States District Court, D. Maryland

June 17, 2015



DeBORAH K. CHASANOW, District Judge.

Presently pending and ready for resolution in this employment discrimination case is a motion to dismiss filed by Defendant Montgomery County. (ECF No. 6). The issues have been fully briefed, and the court now rules, no hearing being deemed necessary. Local Rule 105.6. For the following reasons, the motion to dismiss will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

The following facts are drawn from the corrected complaint. Plaintiff Nick Myers ("Mr. Myers" or "Plaintiff")[1] is a fiftyyear-old Caucasian male who began working for the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services on December 5, 1994. (ECF No. 3 ¶ 10). Plaintiff worked in the Information Technology Unit before he was transferred to the Services Eligibility Unit ("SEU") on July 11, 2011, which is when problems ensued for him. Plaintiff was transferred to SEU to work as an Income Assistance Program Specialist due to a reduction in force. ( Id. ¶ 11). Plaintiff states that SEU is predominantly African-American and that he was and remains the only Caucasian male in that unit. ( Id. ¶ 12). Monica Talley became Plaintiff's supervisor at SEU.[2] ( Id. ¶ 14). According to Plaintiff, he "experienced different treatment on the part of Ms. Talley from the beginning of [his] employment with SEU." ( Id. ). For instance, Plaintiff contends that Ms. Talley "continually interrupted his training to take phone calls, or attend to other duties. Furthermore, she would not allow anyone else in the unit to help train [Plaintiff]." ( Id. ¶ 15). Plaintiff contends that he lacked training in his position with SEU, and when he fell behind on his work resulting from the alleged lack of training, "Ms. Talley began to send [him] emails and reprimands." ( Id. ¶ 17). He states that when his coworkers attempted to help him, they were reprimanded and told that they would be formally disciplined. ( Id. ¶ 18). Plaintiff alleges that "[p]rior to his transfer to SEU, he received uniformly satisfactory work performances and was regarded as helpful and courteous with customers. He has had [a] clean record and had never been the subject of disciplinary action." ( Id. ¶ 20).

The complaint further avers that on or about October 21, 2011, Plaintiff represented his co-worker, Lucinda Ramsey (a Caucasian female) as "her union steward in a meeting with management officials, which included Ms. Talley." ( Id. ¶ 21). Plaintiff "informally told management officials [during that meeting] that he was not being properly trained by Ms. Talley." ( Id. ). Less than one month after that meeting, on November 10, 2011, Ms. Talley filed an EEO complaint against Plaintiff and Ms. Ramsey "claiming that they were creating a hostile work environment on the basis o[f] racial discrimination; in essence[, ] she accused Mr. [Myers] and Ms. Ramsey of being racists." ( Id. ¶ 22). Four days later, on November 14, 2011, both Plaintiff and Ms. Ramsey were placed on administrative leave and transferred to other locations. ( Id. ¶ 23). Plaintiff insinuates that Ms. Ramsey's placement was better than his, however. Specifically, Plaintiff explains that he "was transferred to a remote work [location] that was not within the SEU and was [] further away from his home[, ]" while Ms. Ramsey was allowed to remain in SEU at a location that was only ten miles further away from her former location. ( Id. ). He describes his new location as "a storage pod" where he was given "significantly less work and was prevented from performing work that was associated to the work he was supposed to be doing in SEU." ( Id. ¶ 24). He further contends that in his new position, he was not "allowed to do the customary overtime, which means his take home salary was also reduced." ( Id. ). In his new work location, Plaintiff also was without a supervisor, without work responsibilities for the period of the transfer, and without a working phone for three (3) months. ( Id. ¶ 25). Additionally, Plaintiff states that while at the new location, "he was excluded from emails and trainings and was not notified of events within the Unit." ( Id. ¶ 27).

On February 7, 2012, Plaintiff complained to the union about his new work location and conditions and the union filed a grievance on his behalf. Whereas Plaintiff had received only (eighteen) 18 cases to work on until February 2012 - a light load about which Plaintiff was unhappy - he was sent thirty-four (34) cases in one week after the union filed a grievance, which Plaintiff states is "an extremely large volume of casework." ( Id. ¶ 26). On May 5, 2012, Plaintiff was notified about the dismissal of Ms. Talley's EEO charge against Ms. Ramsey and him. ( Id. ¶ 28). On June 6, 2012, Plaintiff informally was advised that "he could return to the Germantown SEU and was accordingly transferred on June 25, 2012." ( Id. ¶ 29).

Plaintiff states that conditions did not improve for him even after his return to SEU. Plaintiff contends that he "continued to receive disparate treatment from Ms. Talley and management. Three months after his return, he was still not allowed to process State cases that are customary and necessary for his position. He was excluded from internal email communications that were being sent to all staff." ( Id. ¶ 30).

On August 16, 2012, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). ( Id. ¶ 31). Plaintiff contends that "[d]uring the EEOC process, [he] was still experiencing disparate treatment based on his race." ( Id. ¶ 33). He recounts an incident from April 3, 2014, when a co-worker, a Hispanic female, allegedly assaulted him in front of witnesses; specifically, his co-worker apparently "pushed into his shoulder moving him out of the way to sit down in front of him." ( Id. ¶ 34). Plaintiff states that despite the assault on him, the "aggressor" was not reprimanded or suspended, yet he was issued a reprimand by Ms. Talley. ( Id. ¶ 35). The complaint also avers that "[o]n July 2014, he was singled out for a written reprimand and threatened with termination of his employment." ( Id. ¶ 48).

The EEOC issued a right-to sue-letter on June 26, 2014. (ECF No. 7-2, at 5). Plaintiff filed a corrected complaint in this court on September 30, 2014 asserting as a single count race and gender discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the opening paragraph of his complaint, Plaintiff also lists violations of "Title 20 of the Maryland State Government Article § 20-101; the Civil Rights Act of 1991, 42 U.S.C. § 1981a." ( See ECF No. 3, at 1). Defendant moved to dismiss on November 6, 2014. (ECF No. 6). Plaintiff opposed the motion (ECF No. 7), and Defendant replied (ECF No. 8).

II. Standard of Review

The arguments raised by Defendant in its motion to dismiss - lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim - implicate different standards of review. First, "a failure by the plaintiff to exhaust administrative remedies concerning a Title VII claim deprives the federal courts of subject matter jurisdiction over the claim." Jones v. Calvert Grp., Ltd., 551 F.3d 297, 300-01 (4th Cir. 2009). A motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction is governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). Generally, "questions of subject matter jurisdiction must be decided first, because they concern the court's very power to hear the case.'" Owens-Illinois, Inc. v. Meade, 186 F.3d 435, 442 n.4 (4th Cir. 1999) ( quoting 2 James Wm. Moore, et al., Moore's Federal Practice § 12.30[1] (3d ed. 1998)). The plaintiff always bears the burden of proving that subject matter jurisdiction properly exists in federal court. See Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co., a Div. of Standex Int'l Corp., 166 F.3d 642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999). In considering a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, the court "may consider evidence outside the pleadings" to help determine whether it has jurisdiction over the case before it. Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. Co. v. United States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991); see also Evans, 166 F.3d at 647. The court should grant such a motion "only if the material jurisdictional facts are not in dispute and the moving party is entitled to prevail as a matter of law." Richmond, 945 F.2d at 768.

The purpose of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) is to test the sufficiency of the complaint. Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006). A plaintiff's complaint need only satisfy the standard of Rule 8(a), 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). "Rule 8(a)(2) still requires a showing, ' rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 n.3 (2007). That showing must consist of more than "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" or "naked assertion[s] devoid of further factual enhancement." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal citations omitted).

At this stage, all well-pleaded allegations in a complaint must be considered as true, Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994), and all factual allegations must be construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, see Harrison v. Westinghouse Savannah River Co., 176 F.3d 776, 783 (4th Cir. 1999) ( citing Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993)). In evaluating the complaint, unsupported legal allegations need not be accepted. Revene v. Charles Cnty. Comm'rs, 882 F.2d 870, 873 (4th Cir. 1989). Legal conclusions couched as factual allegations are insufficient, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, as are conclusory factual allegations devoid of any reference to actual events, United Black Firefighters v. Hirst, 604 F.2d 844, 847 (4th Cir. 1979); see also Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009). "[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged, but it has not show[n]... that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 ( quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). Thus, "[d]etermining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will... be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id.

The recent analysis undertaken by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in explaining the standard of review on a motion to dismiss in the context of a Title VII claim is instructive:

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) "requires only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). But this rule for pleading "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. Instead, a complaint must contain "[f]actual allegations [sufficient] to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id.; see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (holding that a complaint "tender[ing] naked assertion[s]' devoid of further factual enhancement'" does not "suffice" ( quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557)). The Supreme Court has accordingly held that Rule 8(a)(2) requires that "a complaint... contain[] sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to ...

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