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Holliday v. Board of Education for Ann Arundel County

United States District Court, D. Maryland

December 13, 2017

ALLEN HOLLIDAY, Plaintiff,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION FOR ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Richard D. Bennett, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Allen Holliday (“Plaintiff” or “Holliday”), an African-American male, filed this four-count Complaint against Defendant Board of Education for Anne Arundel County (“Board” or “Defendant”), asserting claims for retaliation, breach of contract, and declaratory judgment stemming from his filing of charges of discrimination with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights (“Commission”) and U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). (Second Am. Compl., ECF No. 13-1.) Currently pending before this Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint (ECF No. 8), [1] Plaintiff's Motion to Strike the Reply to the Response (ECF No. 11), and Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to file a Second Amended Complaint (ECF No. 13). The parties' submissions have been reviewed, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to file a Second Amended Complaint (ECF No. 13) is GRANTED and Plaintiff's Motion to Strike the Reply to the Response (ECF No. 11) is DENIED. Further, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint (ECF No. 8) is DENIED IN PART and GRANTED IN PART.[2]Specifically, this Court denies Defendant's Motion as to Counts I-III but grants Defendant's Motion as to Count IV.

         BACKGROUND

         When reviewing a Motion to Dismiss, this Court accepts as true the facts alleged in Plaintiff's Complaint. See Aziz v. Alcolac, Inc., 658 F.3d 388, 390 (2011). Plaintiff Allen Holliday, an African-American male, has been a maintenance mechanic with the Anne Arundel County school system since 2010. (Second Am. Compl., ECF No. 13-1 at ¶¶ 2-4, 15.) The maintenance department has over twenty maintenance staff. (Id. at ¶ 16.) Plaintiff claims that at the time of his hire and throughout his first year, he noticed that more African-American employees were tasked with roof work than white employees, a harder assignment due to elevated height, dirty materials, and exposure to the elements (Id. at ¶¶ 17-18.) Further, he noticed that promotion practices favored white employees. (Id. at ¶ 20.) When Holliday complained about these alleged unfair practices, he claims that he “did not get help, ” but rather became known as a trouble maker and one who complained about discriminatory work environment. (Id. at ¶¶ 21-23.) In addition to complaining about unfair practices generally, Plaintiff also made a complaint alleging that he himself was denied a promotion due to his race. (Id. at ¶ 22.) In 2013, he filed a Charge of racial discrimination with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights (“Maryland Commission”) about the racially discriminatory practices (“2013 Charge”). (Id. at ¶ 24.)

         Sometime after Plaintiff filed the 2013 Charge, the Maryland Commission conducted an onsite investigation which involved interviewing five to six of Holliday's co-workers. (Id. at ¶ 26.) After the investigation, a co-worker told Plaintiff that he was upset Plaintiff filed the 2013 Charge, Plaintiff heard gossip about the Charge, and Plaintiff “began to receive regular dirty looks and also received verbal threats.” (Id.) Further, Plaintiff claims that while at headquarters, groups of co-workers yelled “snitch” at him numerous times. (Id. at ¶ 27.) Plaintiff also heard co-workers say “snitches get stitches.” (Id. at ¶ 28.) At a departmental meeting in 2015, a co-worker went as far to write “Snitch's Get Stiches [sic]” on the meeting board. (Id. at ¶ 29.) A presiding manager who was present at the meeting did nothing in response. (Id. at ¶¶ 31-32.) Plaintiff subsequently complained about this “written retaliatory public threat” to his supervisor. (Id. at ¶ 33.)

         Around the summer of 2015, Plaintiff was removed from his maintenance positon and put on a floor crew. (Id. at ¶ 36.) In his experience, those working floor crew had a substantial background in the work, which Plaintiff did not. (Id. at ¶ 42.) When he asked why he was transferred, a manager told him that it was in part because he had signed up for a particular shift schedule. (Id. at ¶ 37.) Plaintiff told both his supervisors and an individual in Human Resources that he never signed up for the particular shift and that he did not want to be assigned to floor crew. (Id. at ¶ 38.) Despite his objections, he remained on floor crew. (Id. at ¶ 39.) Due to the nature of the work, Plaintiff claims that he started noticing knee problems, including bilateral knee osteoarthritis and/or right knee medial meniscus. (Id. at ¶¶ 43-44.) He brought in doctors' notes to substantiate these injuries and support his requests to be moved off of floor crew. (Id. at ¶ 45.) Despite his repeated requests, Plaintiff worked on floor crew through March of 2016. (Id. at ¶ 46.)

         During his time in this assignment, Plaintiff claims that he was harassed by two, Caucasian onsite supervisors, one of which had been interviewed by the Maryland Commission related to Plaintiff's 2013 Charge. (Id. at ¶ 47.) The harassment consisted of the supervisors leaving banana peels and chicken bones on the hood of Plaintiff's vehicle up to ten times in 2015 and 2016, which Plaintiff understood as racist, taunting symbols. (Id. at ¶¶ 47-52.) Because his vehicle was parked in public areas or at public school facilities, the “symbolic harassment and litter” was visible to the public, including children. (Id. at ¶ 52.) Plaintiff claims that this “retaliatory hostile work environment altered the conditions of employment and made it difficult to work, to succeed, and to maintain employment.” (Id. at ¶ 53.) In 2016, Plaintiff's knee condition worsened and caused him to quit his second, part-time job. (Id. at ¶ 56.) In addition, during all of this time he claims that he was denied opportunities to work overtime. (Id. at ¶ 58.)

         On March 11, 2016, Plaintiff filed a second charge with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights and U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for retaliation, racial discrimination, and disability discrimination (“2016 Charge”). (ECF No. 5-2.) In May of 2016, the Plaintiff and Defendant entered into a Pre-Determination Settlement Agreement (“the Agreement”).[3] (ECF No. 5-1.) On March 29, 2017, Plaintiff brought the instant suit alleging retaliation under both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq., and Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act (“FEPA”), Md. Code, State Gov't §§ 20-266(a) (Counts I, II); breach of contract (Count III); and seeking a declaratory judgment (Count IV). After Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 4), Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint, (ECF No. 5). Defendant subsequently filed a Motion to Dismiss the First Amended Complaint (ECF No. 8), to which Plaintiff filed a Response (ECF No. 9) and Defendant a Reply to the Response (ECF No. 10). Currently pending before this Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint (ECF No. 8), Plaintiff's Motion to Strike the Reply to the Response (ECF No. 11), and Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to file a Second Amended Complaint (ECF No. 13), which Defendant opposes (ECF No. 14).

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         I. Motion to Amend

         A plaintiff may amend his or her complaint once “as a matter of course at any time before a responsive pleading is served” or “by leave of court or by written consent of the adverse party.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a). Rule 15(a) requires that leave “shall be freely given when justice so requires.” Id. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has held that Rule 15 “gives effect to the federal policy in favor of resolving cases on their merits instead of disposing of them on technicalities.” Laber v. Harvey, 438 F.3d 404, 426 (4th Cir. 2006). Notwithstanding this liberal standard, a district court may deny leave to amend “when the amendment would be prejudicial to the opposing party, the moving party has acted in bad faith, or the amendment would be futile.” Equal Rights Center v. Niles Bolton Assocs., 602 F.3d 597, 603 (4th Cir. 2010); see also Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962) (“In the absence of any apparent or declared reason-such as undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive . . . undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, futility of amendment, etc. - the leave sought should, as the rules require, be ‘freely given.'”). “Whether an amendment is prejudicial will often be determined by the nature of the amendment and its timing.” Harvey, 438 F.3d at 427.

         II. Motion to Dismiss

         A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim is governed by Rule 12(b)(6), which authorizes 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). The purpose of Rule 12(b)(6) 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); see also Goines v. Valley Cmty. Servs. Bd., 822 F.3d 159, 165-66 (4th Cir. 2016). The sufficiency of a complaint is assessed by reference to the pleading requirements of Rule 8(a)(2), which provides that 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). To survive a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain facts sufficient to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl., Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 684 (2009).

         ANALYSIS

         I. Motion to Amend

         Holliday filed the initial complaint on March 29, 2017. (ECF No. 1.) After Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss, he filed an Amended Complaint on July 14, 2017. (ECF No. 5.) Defendant subsequently filed a Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint (ECF No. 8), Plaintiff filed a Response (ECF No. 9), and Defendant filed a Reply to the Response (ECF No. 10.) Plaintiff then filed a Motion to Strike Defendant's Reply to the Response, “for introducing new legal argument in a filed Reply without Plaintiff having an ability to respond.” (ECF No. 11.) Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant argued for the first time that certain factual allegations supporting Plaintiff's retaliation claims are statutorily time barred. (Id.) On September 14, 2017, Plaintiff also filed a Motion to file a Second Amended Complaint for similar reasons, explaining that the Second Amended Complaint does not add any new legal claims but rather addresses Defendant's statute of limitations argument by distinguishing certain time periods. Defendant argues that there is no legal basis to strike the Reply or amend the pleadings.

         The Second Amended Complaint adds no new legal claims, but rather adds labels to certain sections of the Complaint in order “to separate the background facts before the actionable period, from the actionable facts.” (ECF No. 13 at 2.) In addition, discovery has not commenced in this case given that it is at the motion to dismiss stage. Accordingly, the amendment will not be prejudicial to the Defendant. Further, the record shows no bad faith on behalf of Plaintiff and as explained below, the amendment is not futile given that this Court is denying Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's retaliation and breach of contract claims. See Equal Rights Center v. Niles Bolton Assocs., 602 F.3d 597, 603 (4th Cir. 2010) (explaining that a district court may deny leave to amend “when the amendment would be prejudicial to the opposing party, the moving party has acted in bad faith, or the amendment would be futile”). Accordingly, Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to file a Second Amended Complaint is (ECF No. 13) is GRANTED and Plaintiff's Motion to Strike the Reply to the Response (ECF No. 11) is DENIED.

         II.Motion to ...


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