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Sewell v. Westat

United States District Court, D. Maryland

November 8, 2016

STARSHA M. SEWELL, M.ED., Plaintiff,
WESTAT, Defendant.



         On July 13, 2015, Plaintiff filed a charge of race discrimination and retaliation with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights against Defendant Westat, which was dually filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. ECF No. 1 at 1. She alleges that she then received a Notice of Right to Sue, and filed her complaint within ninety days of receipt of the notice. Id. at 2. On January 14, 2016, Plaintiff filed this pro se action claiming employment discrimination based on race and gender against Defendant Westat, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. ECF No. 1. On March 7, 2016, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss and for Partial Summary Judgment. ECF No. 8. On March 8, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Strike and Dismiss Westat's Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 11, and on August 5, 2016, Plaintiff moved for a status teleconference, ECF No. 14. The issues have been fully briefed, and no hearing is necessary. Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons discussed below, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss and for Partial Summary Judgment will be granted and Plaintiffs Motion to Strike and Motion for a Status Teleconference will be denied.


         Plaintiff alleges that she applied for the position of Survey Methodologist at Westat in February 2015. ECF No. 1 at 2. On March 25, 2015, she received a letter stating that she was not selected for this position. Id. On May 15, 2015, Plaintiff applied for the position of Research Associate - Education, and was rejected for this position five days later. Id. On May 29, 2015, she allegedly left a voice message for Mr. Randy Yu, a member of Westat's Human Resources Department, explaining that she was a class member of a settlement with the Department of Labor. Id. On June 2, 2015, Plaintiff applied for a third position, Clinical Trials Research Associate, for which her application was also rejected. Id. at 3.

         Plaintiff alleges that she was qualified for each of the three positions for which she applied, and that the denial of her applications for these positions was an act of retaliation for informing Mr. Yu that she was a member of the settlement class in a discrimination case for which Westat was "required to improve and increase employment opportunities." ECF No. 1 at 3. She explains that the settlement to which she is a party "regulates the Company's recruitment of minorities, " especially African-American women, and contends that Westat is using its non-disclosed list of protected class members for discriminatory purposes. Id. Plaintiff believes that she was denied the Research Associate position "as a discriminatory act of retaliation, because [she is] on the class member [sic] on Westat's OFCCP conciliation settlement list in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") and 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., retaliation, failure to hire on the basis of Plaintiff s race and gender [sic]." Id.

         On June 11, 2015, Plaintiff filed a complaint with Defendant's recruitment team to "inquire about the ongoing disqualification notices that [she] received for each position that [she] qualified for outside of the Settlement agreement, " but she has not received a response. Id. On August 21, 2015, she received correspondence from Phillip Wikes, a Civil Rights Officer, who she claims "did not thoroughly investigate the employment discrimination that Westat is subjecting class members to." Id. Plaintiff avers that since she began to "engage[] in protected activity, " Defendant has not advertised any Research Analyst opportunities "with the sole intentions [sic] to discriminate against class members." Id. Plaintiff alleges that there is a "causal connection between the Plaintiffs protected activity"-her internal complaint and voicemail to Mr. Yu-and the adverse hiring decisions that Defendant made against her. Id. at 4. These actions were allegedly taken because "Plaintiff is a class member and is black listed internally, because her name is on an undisclosed list." Id.


         I. Westat's Motion to Dismiss and for Partial Summary Judgment

         In a ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Plaintiffs well-pleaded allegations are accepted as true and the Complaint is viewed in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff. Bell Ail. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). "However, conclusory statements or a 'formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not [suffice].'" E.E.O.C. v. Performance Food Grp., Inc., 16 F.Supp.3d 584, 588 (D. Md. 2014) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         A federal district court is charged with liberally construing a complaint filed by a pro se litigant to allow the development of a potentially meritorious case. Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980). Nonetheless, liberal construction does not mean that a court can ignore a clear failure in the pleading to allege facts which set forth a claim cognizable in a federal district court. See Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990). The mandated liberal construction afforded to pro se pleadings means that if the court can reasonably read the pleadings to state a valid claim on which the plaintiff could prevail, it should do so; however, a district court may not rewrite a complaint in order for it to survive a motion to dismiss. See Beaudettv. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985).

         A. Plaintiff Failed to Exhaust Administrative Remedies on her Gender Discrimination Claim.

         Defendant first argues that Plaintiffs gender discrimination claims should be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), as she failed to exhaust her administrative remedies on this claim. See Khoury v. Meserve, 268 F.Supp.2d 600, 606 (D. Md. 2003) ("Motions to dismiss for failure to exhaust administrative remedies are governed by Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction."). In deciding a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, the court "may look beyond the pleadings and 'the jurisdictional allegations of the complaint and view whatever evidence has been submitted on the issue to determine whether in fact subject matter jurisdiction exists.'" Id. (quoting Capitol Leasing Co. v. FDIC, 999 F.2d 188, 191 (7th Cir. 1993)).

         Before a plaintiff can file suit under Title VII, she "must exhaust administrative remedies by filing a charge with the EEOC." Bryant v. Bell Ail. Md, Inc., 288 F.3d 124, 132 (4th Cir. 2002). This charge "defines the scope of the plaintiffs right to institute a civil suit, " and the "scope of the civil action is confined only by the scope of the administrative investigation that can reasonably be expected to follow the charge of discrimination." Id. Plaintiffs charge with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights was dually filed with the EEOC. See ECF No. 8-4. In her charge, she checked only the boxes relating to discrimination based on race and retaliation. ECF No. 8-3. The investigation and findings were accordingly limited to the question of whether she was discriminated against based on her race or her participation in a protected activity. ECF No. 8-4. Because her civil suit is limited by the charge with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights, Plaintiffs claims based on gender discrimination will be dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.

         B. Plaintiff Failed to State a Failure to Hire Race ...

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