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Dyer v. Oracle Corp.

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

December 5, 2016

LOUIS DYER, Plaintiff,
v.
ORACLE CORPORATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Paul W. Grimm United States District Judge.

         After three years of working as an account manager for Defendant Oracle Corporation (“Oracle”) and perceiving that his supervisor, Ken Jarrett, discriminated and retaliated against him, Plaintiff Louis Dyer, a Black man from Haiti, filed suit against his employer, alleging race and national origin discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq.; the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act (“MFEPA”), Md. Code. Ann., State Gov't §§ 20-601 et seq.; and Montgomery County Human Rights Law, Montgomery Cnty. Code § 27-19.[1] Am. Compl., ECF No. 15. Oracle has moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Def.'s Mot., ECF No. 22.[2] Because Dyer has not alleged any discriminatory conduct or statements that relate directly to any of the alleged adverse employment actions, or alleged facts from which this Court reasonably can infer that he received less favorable treatment than similarly-situated employees who are not Black or Haitian, I must dismiss his discrimination claims. Dyer has stated valid claims for retaliation, however, and I will not dismiss those claims.

         Factual Background[3]

         Oracle hired Dyer in December 2012 as a regional manager, following an interview with Jarrett that “focused on race and how Jarrett [a Black male] believed it was his mission at work to advantage black people.” Am. Compl. ¶¶ 9-10, 16. Dyer and Jarrett's conflicts began in January 2013, when Dyer informed Jarrett and human resources that a Black female had accused Dyer of harassment, and Jarrett “was upset that Dyer had forwarded [the] email to human resources.” Id. ¶ 19. Jarrett informed Dyer that “a black person does not report another black person to human resources, ” and repeatedly “threatened Dyer's job.” Id. ¶¶ 20-21, 23. Jarrett also “undermined Dyer” and “excluded Dyer from team meetings and other deal discussions.” Id. ¶¶ 27-29. Dyer first complained to Jarrett's manager, Kevin Davis, about “Jarrett's discriminatory comments” in February 2013 and continued to complain about “Jarrett's retaliatory behavior” to Davis and human resources. Id. ¶¶ 22, 29, 32.

         Dyer became a Data Integration Solutions Representative/Area Sales Manager in June 2013 under the supervision of Davis, id. ¶ 33, but Jarrett became Dyer's supervisor once again in September 2014, when he replaced Davis, id. ¶ 36. A couple weeks later, “Dyer contacted human resources via email to discuss his concerns about Jarrett being his manager again, ” stating that “he was concerned Jarrett would retaliate further.” Id. ¶¶ 36-37. Two months later, at Dyer's “first one-on-one meeting with Jarrett as his new manager, ” Jarrett “tap[ed] the conversation with his cell phone.” Id. ¶ 38. A month after that, at a meeting in which Jarrett “introduced his leadership team and invited them to the front . . . to receive applause, . . . Dyer was not called to the front.” Id. ¶ 39. Six weeks later, Jarrett informed Dyer that his sales territory would be reduced by fifty percent, which Dyer alleged “negatively affected his commissions because [he] expected several large deals.” Id. ¶ 40. In February 2015, Dyer continued to contact human resources about Jarrett's perceived discrimination and retaliation, id. ¶¶ 41-42, and he “noted that $7, 652 in commissions due to him was not paid because of the change Jarrett made in Dyer's territory, id. ¶ 46. His contact with human resources and an investigator assigned to conduct an internal investigation continued through the spring, and in June, “Jarrett sent an email formalizing the reduction in Dyer's territory and his demotion” from “DIS Area Sales Manager” to “Account Manager.” Id. ¶¶ 47-48.

         In September 2015, Oracle's Vice President informed Dyer that “he would be moved from directly reporting to Jarrett to working under another manager who reports to Jarrett.” Am. Compl. ¶ 54. Dyer filed complaints with the EEOC and the Montgomery County Human Rights Commission. Id. ¶¶ 55-56. Finally, in January 2016, Dyer's direct supervisor denied an expense report that Dyer submitted for a $265 “work-related hotel stay, ” stating that “he wanted to approve the expense report but . . . Jarrett intervened and asked him to not approve the report.” Id. ¶ 59.

         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). Similarly, “unsupported legal allegations need not be accepted.” Nam v. 2012 Inc., No. DKC-15-1931, 2016 WL 107198, at *3 (D. Md. Jan. 11, 2016) (citing Revene v. Charles Cnty. Comm'rs, 882 F.2d 870, 873 (4th Cir. 1989)).

         In an employment discrimination case such as this, the plaintiff “is not required to plead facts that constitute a prima facie case in order to survive a motion to dismiss, ” but “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. (quoting Coleman v. Md. Court of Appeals, 626 F.3d 187, 190 (4th Cir. 2010)); see also Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 510-15 (2002). “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 678.

         Discrimination

         Title VII proscribes discrimination by an employer based on race or national origin, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a), which a plaintiff ultimately may prove using direct evidence or under the McDonnell Douglas[4] burden-shifting approach. Ruffin v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 126 F.Supp.3d 521, 526-27 (D. Md. 2015), aff'd as modified, No. 15-2067, 2016 WL 4750626 (4th Cir. Sept. 13, 2016); see Hill v. Lockheed Martin Logistics Mgmt., Inc., 354 F.3d 277, 284 (4th Cir. 2004). “Under either avenue of proof, the focus is on whether a reasonable juror could conclude that illegal discrimination was a motivating factor in the employment decision.” U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Comm'n v. Dimensions Healthcare Sys., No. PX-15-2342, 2016 WL 4593470, at *3 (D. Md. Sept. 2, 2016) (citing Sawicki v. Morgan State Univ., No. WMN-03-1600, 2005 WL 5351448, at *6 (D. Md. Aug. 2, 2005), aff'd, 170 F.App'x 271 (4th Cir. 2006)). The McDonnell Douglas framework addresses what a plaintiff must prove to establish a prima facie case of discrimination, which, as noted, Dyer is not required to plead to survive Oracle's motion to dismiss. Nonetheless, it must be plausible based on his factual allegations that he could prove his case. See Coleman, 626 F.3d at 190. The elements of a claim for race or national origin discrimination under Title VII, the MFEPA, or Montgomery County Human Rights Law[5] are “(1) membership in a protected class; (2) satisfactory job performance; (3) an adverse employment action; and (4) less favorable treatment than similarly situated employees outside the protected class.” Linton v. Johns Hopkins Univ. Applied Physics Lab., LLC, No. JKB-10-276, 2011 WL 4549177, at *5 (D. Md. Sept. 28, 2011) (citing White v. BFI Waste Servs., 375 F.3d 288, 295 (4th Cir. 2004)); see also Coleman, 626 F.3d at 190.

         Direct Evidence

         “Direct evidence must be ‘evidence of conduct or statements that both reflect directly the alleged discriminatory attitude and that bear directly on the contested employment decision.' Even if there is a statement that reflects a discriminatory attitude, it must have a nexus with the adverse employment action.” Warch v. Ohio Cas. Ins. Co., 435 F.3d 510, 520 (4th Cir. 2006) (quoting Taylor v. Va. Union Univ., 193 F.3d 219, 232 (4th Cir.1999) (en banc) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted)). Stated differently, “[t]o constitute direct evidence, statements must be directly related to the employment decision in question” and must be “‘the most blatant remarks, whose intent could be nothing other than to discriminat[e].'” Betof v. Suburban Hosp., Inc., No. DKC-11-1452, 2012 WL 2564781, at *6 (D. Md. June 29, 2012) (quoting Signal v. Gonzales, 430 F.Supp.2d 528, 541 n.5 (D.S.C. 2006) (citation omitted)). The statement must be one that, “[i]f believed, . . . ‘would prove the existence of a fact . . . without any inference or presumptions, '” such as an explicit statement “that an impermissible consideration was a determining factor.” Id. (quoting O'Connor v. Consol. Coin Caterers Corp., 56 F.3d 542, 548 (4th Cir. 1995) (internal quotation marks omitted), rev'd on other grounds, 517 U.S. 308 (1996)).

         The facts in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins are illustrative. 490 U.S. 228 (1989), superseded by statute on other grounds as stated in Preston v. Virginia ex rel. New River Cmty. Coll., 31 F.3d 203 (4th Cir. 1994). There, Hopkins filed a sex discrimination suit after she was proposed, but not selected, for partnership at the accounting firm where she worked as a senior manager. Id. at 231-33. The existing partners weighed in on the decision, and it was “Hopkins' perceived shortcomings in th[e] important area” of interpersonal relations that “doomed her bid for partnership, ” which was put on hold and then not reconsidered. Id. at 232, 234-35. The Supreme Court noted that “[t]here were clear signs” in the comments the partners provided “that some of the partners reacted negatively to Hopkins' personality because she was a woman, ” with “[o]ne partner describ[ing] her as ‘macho'; another suggest[ing] that she ‘overcompensated for being a woman'; [and] a third advis[ing] her to take ‘a course at charm school.'” Id. at 235 (citations to record omitted). Additionally, when “[s]everal partners criticized her use of profanity . . ., one partner suggested that those partners objected to her swearing only ‘because it's a lady using foul language.'” Id. (citation to record omitted). Of most significance was one partner's advice to Hopkins when he explained to her why her bid was on hold: “in order to improve her chances for partnership, ” he suggested that she “‘walk more femininely, talk more femininely, dress more femininely, wear make-up, have her hair styled, and wear jewelry.'” Id. (citation to record omitted). The Supreme Court concluded that these facts were sufficient direct evidence of sex discrimination, reasoning:

Hopkins proved that Price Waterhouse invited partners to submit comments; that some of the comments stemmed from sex stereotypes; that an important part of the Policy Board's decision on Hopkins was an assessment of the submitted comments; and that Price ...

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