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Cox v. U.S. Postal Service Federal Credit Union

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

June 17, 2015

LORETTA COX, Plaintiff,
v.
U.S. POSTAL SERVICE FEDERAL CREDIT UNION, ET AL., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GEORGE J. HAZEL, District Judge.

This is a disparate treatment, retaliation, and hostile work environment case brought by Plaintiff Loretta Cox ("Cox") against her former employer, U.S. Postal Service Federal Credit Union ("the Credit Union"), as well as her various supervisors, Will Yarborough ("Yarborough"), Steve Cimino ("Cimino"), and Erica Lanceskes ("Lanceskes") (together with the Credit Union, "the Credit Union Defendants") for purported violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Cox has also sued CUNA Mutual Group, CUMIS Ins. Society, Inc., Jeff Post (collectively, "the CUMIS Defendants"), and the Credit Union Defendants for defamation. This Memorandum Opinion and accompanying Order address the motions to dismiss filed by the CUMIS Defendants ( see ECF No. 16) and the Credit Union Defendants ( see ECF No. 13). A hearing is not necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (Md.). For the reasons stated below, the CUMIS Defendants' motion to dismiss is GRANTED, in full, and the Credit Union Defendants' motion to dismiss is GRANTED, in part, and DENIED, in part.

I. BACKGROUND

Cox, an African-American female, began her employment with the Credit Union on April 23, 2007 as a Personal Service Representative. See ECF No. 18-9. Up until the time Cox was terminated on April 17, 2013, she claims that she was subjected to a racially offensive atmosphere that was tolerated by several high ranking Credit Union supervisors. See id. Specifically, Cox alleges that she received two "racially inappropriate e-mails" from Lanceskes and Credit Union Chief Financial Officer Don Jarboe ("Jarboe"). ECF No. 3-1. She also alleges that she was subjected to several other "offensive situations." Id. In addition to the alleged racially hostile work environment, Cox contends that African-American employees of the Credit Union were treated less favorably than white employees. See id. Thus, at a meeting on February 6, 2013, Cox expressed this concern to her manager, Brinton Chalmers, and the Credit Union's Vice-President, Cimino. See id. Shortly thereafter, the Credit Union accused Cox of financial malfeasance and placed her on administrative leave. See id. According to Cox, these allegations were relayed to the CUMIS Defendants causing them to "revoke [her] Fidelity Bond." Id. As a result of Cox's alleged financial malfeasance and the resulting loss of her fidelity bond, Cox alleges she was terminated from the Credit Union on April 17, 2013. See ECF No. 18-9.

Cox has filed the instant lawsuit against the Credit Union Defendants for violating Title VII. Specifically, Cox alleges in her amended complaint that she was (1) treated differently from similarly situated employees; (2) retaliated against for complaining of this disparate treatment; and (3) subjected to a racially hostile work environment. Additionally, Cox contends that the Credit Union's allegations of her involvement in financial malfeasance were false and defamatory. As such, Cox has sued the Credit Union and the CUMIS Defendants for defamation. The Credit Union and the CUMIS Defendants have both moved to dismiss Cox's amended complaint. See ECF Nos. 13, 16.

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." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). 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." 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, 5 56 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. "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." Id. 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., No. 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).

The Fourth Circuit "has not, however, interpreted Swierkiewicz as removing the burden of a plaintiff to allege facts sufficient to state all the elements of her claim." Bass v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 324 F.3d 761, 765 (4th Cir. 2003) (citing Dickson v. Microsoft Corp., 309 F.3d 193, 213 (4th Cir. 2002) ("[T]he Supreme Court's holding in Swierkiewicz v. Sorema did not alter the basic pleading requirement that a plaintiff set forth facts sufficient to allege each element of his claim." (internal citation omitted)). Thus, while a plaintiff pleading a discrimination claim does not need to establish a prima facie case under McDonnell Douglas to survive a motion to dismiss, Swierkiewicz, 534 U.S. at 510, she must still plead facts sufficient to state each element of the asserted claim. See Bass, 324 F.3d at 765 ("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.") (emphasis in original).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Title VII Claims

Title VII makes it illegal for an employer "to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race...." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). Additionally, Title VII prohibits discrimination against an employee in retaliation for the employee's opposing the employer's illegal discrimination practices or participating in Title VII enforcement proceedings. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). Cox contends that the Credit Union violated these two sections of Title VII by (1) treating her differently than other employees; and (2) by terminating her in retaliation for expressing concern about the alleged disparate treatment. See ECF No. 3-1. An employer also contravenes § 2000e-2(a)(1) by, inter alia, requiring an African-American employee to work in a racially hostile environment. See Meritor Sav. Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 65-67 (1986). Here, in addition to her disparate treatment and retaliation claims, Cox also alleges the existence of a racially hostile work environment. See ECF No. 3-1.

1. Disparate Treatment Claim

First, Cox alleges that the Credit Union Defendants discriminated against her by treating her differently than other employees who also spoke up during the February 2013 meeting, but who were not terminated like her. See ECF No. 3-1 at 1. In order to state a prima facie claim of discrimination under Title VII, a plaintiff must plausibly allege: "(1) membership in a protected class; (2) satisfactory job performance; (3) an adverse employment action; and (4) different treatment from similarly situated employees outside the protected class." Coleman v. Md. Court of Appeals, 626 F.3d 187, 190 (4th ...


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