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Garnes v. State

United States District Court, D. Maryland

January 3, 2018

PHAEDRA OLIVETTE GARNES, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF MARYLAND, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Richard D. Bennett United States District Judge.

         Pro se Plaintiff Phaedra Olivette Garnes (“Plaintiff” or “Garnes”) originally brought this action against Defendants State of Maryland, Maryland Department of Transportation, Maryland Transit Administration (“MTA”), Maryland Transit Administration Police Force (collectively, “Defendants”) and fourteen individual police officers, alleging sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq., and Maryland Humans Relation Act, referred to as the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act (“FEPA”), Md. Code, State Gov't §§ 20-601, et seq.[1] (Compl., ECF No. 1.) Currently pending before this Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint.[2](ECF No. 16.) The parties' submissions have been reviewed, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons stated below, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint (ECF No. 16) is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         When reviewing a motion to dismiss, this Court accepts as true the facts alleged in the plaintiff's complaint. See Aziz v. Alcolac, Inc., 658 F.3d 388, 390 (2011). Plaintiff worked as a police officer at the Maryland Transit Administration (“MTA”) Police Force from February 19, 2010 through April 5, 2016. (ECF No. 15 at 8.)[3] At the time she completed her field training, there was another detective, Eric Smith, who was assigned to providing Closed Circuit Television footage during the evening shift. (Id. at 9.) Det. Smith often requested Garnes to view the footage in his office rather than at the designated work station. (Id.) After Plaintiff began believing that Det. Smith was using the time to “analyz[e] [Garnes] for personal reasons, ” Garnes expressed to her supervisor at the time, Sergeant Ronald Johnson, that she would rather view the footage at the designated area. (Id.) Sgt. Johnson complied with her request. (Id.) Afterwards, Plaintiff claims that Det. Smith stopped speaking to her. (Id.)

         A short time after, [4] Det. Smith was promoted to Corporal and he and Garnes were assigned to the same unit. (Id.) Despite acquiring this supervisory role, Plaintiff claims he still refused to speak to her. (Id.) In addition, he gave her written reprimands. (Id.) During this time, Garnes also claims that Sgt. Johnson “repeatedly expressed interest” to see her before work. (Id. at 10.) When she did not reciprocate his advances, he began calling her at home repeatedly and at late hours of the night. (Id.) Eventually Garnes wrote a memorandum to her captain, who said that he would submit a document to Human Resources on her behalf. (Id.) In response, Plaintiff claims that Sgt. Johnson became irritated and annoyed with her, and her “work place was very stressful and hostile.” (Id.) Corporal Smith also continued to direct “negative behaviors” at Plaintiff, including ridiculing her. (Id.) When she advised her lieutenant about Corporal Smith and Sgt. Johnson's behavior, Sgt. Johnson was transferred to another unit. (Id. at 10-11.) The lieutenant then questioned Corporal Smith in front of Plaintiff about her complaint, and he denied everything. (Id. at 10.)

         Corporal Smith was then promoted to Sgt. Smith, and thereafter became “vague and less confrontational.” (Id. at 11.) The negative reviews decreased significantly, and eventually he and Garnes were reassigned to different units. (Id.) Plaintiff believes that “actions were silently taken to quell the discrimination. But the incidents were not properly addressed by the Maryland Transit Administration to prevent further discrimination or retaliation.” (Id.) When Plaintiff began a new assignment with the Southern District, her new supervisor advised her that Sgt. Smith had personally called him and stated negative comments about her. (Id.) A year and a half later, Sgt. Smith was also assigned to the Southern District. (Id.) Because their last encounter had allegedly resulted in her being labeled “difficult, ” Plaintiff “chose to remain quiet to avoid any further aggravation and to avoid appearing problematic.” (Id.) However, “the hostile work environment began again” with Sgt. Smith expressing “differences” about Plaintiff to another lieutenant and ridiculing her. (Id.)

         In January of 2016, Plaintiff was transferred back to the Northern District. (Id. at 12.) Unbeknownst to her at the time, she was the subject of four cases with Internal Affairs, one of which was investigated by the MTA Police Executive Officer to the Chief of Police. (Id.) That case allegedly related to Plaintiff's error in a daily log. (Id.) The Agency found against Plaintiff. (Id.) Plaintiff subsequently appealed the prior Agency decision in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, which affirmed.[5] (Id.)

         On February 11, 2016, Garnes filed a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC, alleging that she was discriminated against based on her sex. (ECF No. 15 at 8; ECF No. 16-2.) One year later, Plaintiff received a notice that the EEOC had investigated her claim and determined that it was “unable to conclude that the information obtained establishes violations of [Title VII].” (ECF No. 1-1.) Accordingly, the notice gave her the right to file a suit within ninety days under federal law in federal or state court. (Id.)

         On May 24, 2017, Plaintiff filed the instant suit using a pro se Complaint for Employment Discrimination form, claiming she was discriminated against because of her sex. (ECF No. 1.) Further, she alleges that as a result of an incident that occurred while she was under Sgt. Smith's supervision on December 22, 2014, she was ultimately retaliated against by being discharged almost one year and four months later on April 5, 2016. (Id. at 13; ECF No. 15 at 12.) After Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 9), Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint (ECF No. 15). Defendants subsequently filed a Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 16.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A motion to dismiss for failure to exhaust administrative remedies is governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), which requires dismissal when the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. Khoury v. Meserve, 268 F.Supp.2d 600, 606 (D. Md. 2003); Clarke v. DynCorp Intern. LLC, 962 F.Supp.2d 781, 786 (D. Md. 2013). The plaintiff bears the burden to show that subject matter jurisdiction exists. Piney Run Preservation Ass'n v. Cnty. Comm'rs of Carroll Cnty., 523 F.3d 453, 459 (4th Cir. 2008). 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). Further, a pro se plaintiff's pleadings are “to be liberally construed” and are “held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Alley v. Yadkin County Sheriff Dept., No. 17-1249, ___ Fed App'x ___, 2017 WL 4415771 (4th Cir. Oct. 5, 2017). However, even a pro se litigant's complaint must be dismissed if it does not allege a “plausible claim for relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         While ruling on motion to dismiss, a court's evaluation is generally limited to allegations contained in the complaint. Goines v. Calley Cmty. Servs. Bd., 822 F.3d 159, 166-67 (4th Cir. 2016). However, courts may also consider documents explicitly incorporated into the complaint by reference. Id. at 166 (citing Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322, 127 S.Ct. 2499 (2007)). In addition, a court may “consider a document submitted by the movant that was not attached to or expressly incorporated in a complaint, so long as the document was integral to the complaint and there is no dispute about the document's authenticity.” Id. (citing Sec'y of State for Defence v. Trimble Nav. Ltd., 484 F.3d 700, 705 (4th Cir. 2007)). A document is “integral” when “its ‘very existence, and not the mere information it contains, gives rise to the legal rights asserted.'” Chesapeake Bay Found., Inc. v. Severstal Sparrows Point, LLC, 794 F.Supp.2d 602, 611 (D. Md. 2011) (citation omitted) (emphasis omitted). Considering such documents does not convert a motion to dismiss to one for summary judgment. Goldfarb v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore, 791 F.3d 500, 508 (4th Cir. 2015).

         Accordingly, in ruling on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, this Court will consider Plaintiff's EEOC Charge and related documents. See Stennis v. Bowie State Univ., 236 F.Supp.3d 903, 907 n. 1 (D. Md. 2017) (explaining that “the EEOC charge and its related documents are integral to the Complaint”); Bowie v. Univ. of Maryland Med. Sys., No. ELH-14-03216, 2015 WL 1499465, at *3 n.4 (D. Md. Mar. 31, 2015) (“Courts commonly consider EEOC charges as integral to a plaintiff's Complaint, i.e., effectively a part of the pleading, even if the EEOC charge is not filed with the Complaint.” (citations omitted)).

         ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff brings retaliation, discrimination, and hostile work environment claims pursuant to both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq., and the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act (“FEPA”), Md. Code, State Gov't §§ 20-601, et seq. Claims under FEPA are interpreted consistently with Title VII. Williams v. Silver Spring Volunteer Fire Dept., 86 F.Supp.3d 398, 419 (D. Md. 2015) (citing Chappell v. S. Md. Hosp., 320 Md. 483, 578 A.2d 766 (1990)). Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint argues that (1) Plaintiff fails to allege that the State of Maryland and the Maryland Department of Transportation acted as her “employers” under Title VII and FEPA, (2) the Maryland Transit Administration Police Force is not a legal entity subject to suit, (3) Plaintiff's Title VII claims are time-barred, (4) certain claims are barred by her failure to exhaust administrative remedies, and (5) Plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. The Reply to Plaintiff's Response to the Motion to Dismiss further asserts that Garnes' Response was untimely and that it did not respond to all of the above arguments, thereby waiving any opposition to dismissal on those grounds.

         This Court begins with Defendants' assertions that first, Plaintiff's Response to the Motion to Dismiss was untimely, and second, that by not responding to all of the arguments raised in its Motion to Dismiss, Plaintiff abandoned any opposition to those arguments. Specifically, Defendants' arguments that the MTA Police Force is not a legal entity, her claims are time barred, she failed to exhaust all the necessary administrative remedies, and she has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         Neither the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure nor the Local Rules of this Court require a party to file a response in opposition to a motion to dismiss. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12; L.R. 105(a) (providing a 14-day response deadline but not requiring opposing party to file a response); Pueschel v. United States, 369 F.3d 345, 353-54 (4th Cir. 2004) (interpreting the United States Eastern District of Virginia's local rule that the “opposing party shall file a response brief” as entitling, but not requiring, the district court to dismiss suit on “uncontroverted bases” asserted in unopposed motion to dismiss). An opposition that is untimely or non-responsive in some fashion therefore does not require a district court to dismiss the suit by treating the motion to dismiss as unopposed. See United States v. Sasscer, Civ. No. Y-97-3026, 2000 WL 1479154, at *2 n.6 (D. Md. Aug. 25, 2000). Rather, it is within the trial court's discretion to decide whether to reach the merits of a motion to dismiss. See Pueschel, 369 F.3d at 354. Garnes, a pro se litigant, filed a Response one day after the briefing deadline. The Response lays out additional facts[6] and concludes that she “wish[es] to continue with this civil action.” (ECF No. 19 at 3.) In light of the Plaintiff's pro se status and in exercising its sound discretion, this Court declines to adopt Defendants' waiver argument. This Court now turns to the merits of Defendants' Motion to Dismiss.

         I. Claims against the State of Maryland and Maryland Department of Transportation

         Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against an individual because of that individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). Accordingly, “[o]ne must be an ‘employer' within the meaning of Title VII in order to be held liable under th[e] statute.” Bradley v. Balt. Police Dep't, 887 F.Supp.2d 642, 645 (D. Md. 2012). The only employer Plaintiff references in the Amended Complaint is the Maryland Transit Administration Police Force.[7] She alleges no facts regarding the State of Maryland or Maryland Department of Transportation, including how there is a direct employment relationship between her and these Defendants, or any facts for this Court to find an employment relationship under the “integrated employer test.” See Glunt v. GES Exposition Services, Inc., 123 F.Supp.2d 847, 874 (D. Md. 2000) (explaining that in the absence of a direct employment relationship, courts apply the “integrated employer test” to determine whether a defendant is an “employer” ...


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