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Bowling v. Humanim, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

February 21, 2017

SHEILA BOWLING, Plaintiff
v.
HUMANIM, INC. Defendant

          MEMORANDUM

          JAMES K. BREDAR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Sheila Bowling initiated this action by filing a complaint against her former employer, Defendant Humanim, Inc., alleging discrimination and retaliation in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. (Compl. ECF No. 1.) Defendant's motion to dismiss (ECF No. 4), has been fully briefed (ECF Nos. 7, 8), and no hearing is necessary, Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Standard for Dismissal for Failure to State a Claim

         A complaint must contain “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Facial plausibility exists “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. An inference of a mere possibility of misconduct is not sufficient to support a plausible claim. Id. at 679. As the Twombly opinion stated, “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” 550 U.S. at 555. “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.' . . . Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557). Although when considering a motion to dismiss a court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint, this principle does not apply to legal conclusions couched as factual allegations. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         II. Allegations of the Complaint[1]

         In December of 2014, Plaintiff, an African American of Panamanian descent, was hired by Defendant for the position of Director of Human Resources. (Compl. ¶ 6.) On March 9, 2015, her supervisors gave her a “satisfactory” performance evaluation. (Id. at ¶ 10.)

         On March 30, 2015, R.C., [2] Defendant's Vice President of Human Resources, allegedly instructed Plaintiff to place an African American employee, S.W., on a Performance Improvement Plan. (Id. at ¶ 12.) Plaintiff claimed S.W.'s performance was satisfactory but observed that a white employee, J.L., committed significant infractions without being subject to any discipline. (Id.) Accordingly, Plaintiff objected to R.C. that this discrepancy appeared to be racially-motivated. (Id. at ¶ 13.)

         On April 6, 2015, Plaintiff allegedly complained to L.S., Defendant's Chief Operating Officer, concerning racism in Defendant's organization. (Id. at ¶ 15.) In that conversation, Plaintiff recounted an incident in which R.C. threw fifteen dollars at an African American staff member, saying “this is all you are worth to me.” (Id.) Plaintiff also indicated to L.S. that Plaintiff had not received the same training opportunities enjoyed by her predecessor, who was white. (Id. at ¶ 16.)

         On April 24, 2015, Plaintiff alleges that during a conference call with R.C. and two other white executives, Plaintiff protested the disparate discipline of two of Defendant's employees. (Id. at ¶ 17.) J.J., a white manager, had instigated an incident in which E.C., an African-American supervisor, responded with inappropriate comments. (Id. at ¶ 18.) Those involved in the call contemplated termination for E.C., but no discipline at all for J.J.; Plaintiff protested this course of action as racist. (Id.)

         On April 30, 2015, Plaintiff was placed on a Performance Improvement Plan. (Id. at ¶ 19.) On May 4, 2015, Plaintiff complained to L.S. that such a disciplinary measure was in retaliation for her speaking out against discriminatory conduct. (Id. at ¶ 20.) Defendant terminated Plaintiff's employment on May 14, 2015. (Id. at ¶ 21.)

         III. Analysis

         Plaintiff brings two claims under § 1981: Count I is for discrimination, and Count II is for retaliation. (Compl. ¶¶ 22-26.) Because Plaintiff alleges facts sufficient to state a plausible claim for relief only under her retaliation claim, Defendant's motion to dismiss will be granted with respect to Count I; it will be denied with respect to Count II.

         A. Count I: Discrimination

         Originally passed as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, § 1981 provides in pertinent part that “[a]ll persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts . . . as is enjoyed by white citizens.” 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (2015). In the employment context, courts analyze claims of racial discrimination brought under § 1981 according to the same requirements as those brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Gairola v. Va. Dept. of Gen. Serv.,753 F.2d 1281, 1285 (4th Cir. 1985). Accordingly, a plaintiff bringing a claim of discrimination under § 1981 must allege that because of her race, her employer did any of the following: failed to hire her; discharged her; discriminated against her with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment; or limited, segregated, or classified employees in any way that would tend to deprive her of employment opportunities or otherwise affect her status as an employee. 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000e-2(a) (2015). Thus, in order to survive a motion ...


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