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Gaines v. Anderson

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 5, 2018

JUANITA GAINES, Plaintiff,
v.
SHERIFF JOHN ANDERSON, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Richard D. Bennett United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Juanita Gaines (“Plaintiff” or “Gaines”) brings this action against John W. Anderson (“Defendant” or “Anderson”), in his official capacity as Sheriff of Baltimore City, alleging that he retaliated against her in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000-e et seq.[1] Anderson asserts that res judicata bars this action because this Court dismissed with prejudice Gaines' prior Title VII claims against various defendants including Anderson. See Gaines v. Martin, No. JKB-12-1126, 2014 WL 1622316 (D. Md. Apr. 23, 2014) (“Gaines I”). Anderson further asserts that this Court should deny Plaintiff's Motion to File a Second Amended Complaint (ECF No. 13) because even if amended, res judicata bars her suit. The parties' submissions have been reviewed and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 6) is DENIED and Plaintiff's Motion to file a Second Amended Complaint (ECF No. 13) is GRANTED.[2]

         BACKGROUND

         When reviewing a motion to dismiss, this Court accepts as true the facts alleged in the plaintiff's complaint. See Q Intern. Courier Inc. v. Smoak, 441 F.3d 214, 216 (4th Cir. 2006). When a defendant moves to dismiss on the ground of res judicata, a court may also take judicial notice of facts from a prior judicial proceeding so long as the res judicata defense does not raise disputed issues of fact. Id. (citing Andrews v. Daw, 201 F.3d 521, 524 n. 1 (4th Cir. 2000)). Plaintiff Gaines began working as a Deputy Sheriff with the Baltimore City Sheriff's Office (“BCSO”) on September 27, 2001. (Second Am. Compl., ECF No. 13-1 at ¶ 2.) On July 9, 2010, Gaines filed a Charge of Discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) against Anderson and Baltimore City, alleging that she was passed over for a promotion and denied overtime because she was a female (“First Charge”). (Id. at ¶ 18.) The First Charge further alleged that she was retaliated against for following complaint protocols. (Id.)

         On February 4, 2011, Gaines reported to work wearing dark pants, a white collared button-down shirt, hooded jacket, and vest. (Id. at ¶ 21.) Gaines asserts that she had worn similar clothes before, and as recently as that day, her supervisor did not object to her attire. (Id. at ¶¶ 21-22.) Later that day, however, Gaines' captain sent her home for violating dress code. (Id. at ¶ 23.) Gaines alleges that other male employees with similar assignments and wearing similar attire were not sent home. (Id. at ¶ 24.) When she left work, Gaines went to the EEOC office to incorporate what happened that day into her First Charge. (Id. at ¶ 26.) Four days later on February 8, 2011, her Captain sent her home again for violating dress code. (Id. at ¶¶ 29-34.) After leaving work, Gaines again went to the EEOC office to update her Charge. (Id. at ¶ 36.) On February 17, 2011, she was placed on a performance improvement plan and kept on probationary status through the fall. (Id. at ¶ 38.) On August 8, 2011, she was “notified of formal internal affairs charges against her for unsatisfactory performance, conduct unbecoming a Sheriff's Deputy, failure to obey orders, unauthorized absence, and insubordination; all relating to what transpired at work on February 4 and 8, 2011.” (Id. at ¶ 39.)

         On January 13, 2012, Gaines received a Right to Sue letter from the EEOC related to her First Charge, indicating that the EEOC was unable to conclude that there was reasonable cause to believe discrimination occurred.[3] (Id. at ¶ 42.) On April 12, 2012, Gaines filed suit in this Court against the State of Maryland, Anderson, and three other individual defendants, alleging violations of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and the Fourteenth Amendment (“Gaines I”). (Id.; Gaines v. Martin, No. JKB-12-1126, 2014 WL 1622316 (D. Md. Apr. 23, 2014)). The complaint alleged conduct going back to 2008 when the Plaintiff was working as a Deputy Sheriff in the Special Operations Unit. Gaines, 2014 WL 1622316 at *1. On September 15, 2008, she was involved in the execution of a search warrant where a fellow deputy sheriff was shot in the face. Id. at *1. Although an investigation into the incident concluded that the deputy was shot by the subject of the warrant, Gaines developed reason to believe that he had been shot by a fellow deputy. Id. The complaint then asserted that her supervisors intended to remove her from the Special Operations Unit because of her contention that the deputy had been shot by a fellow deputy. Id. at *2. From these facts, Plaintiff brought, among other claims, a claim for retaliation under Title VII, asserting she was retaliated against “for among other things complaining about adverse personnel and disciplinary actions, complaining to the Inspector General and filing a charge of discrimination with the EEOC.” Id. at *5.

         Five days after Gaines filed her suit, on April 17, 2012, she was notified that she needed to attend an internal trial board hearing for charges relating to the dress code incidents that had occurred over a year before on February 4 and 8, 2011. (ECF No. 13-1 at ¶ 43.) She was subsequently found guilty of the charges and the board recommended a thirty-day suspension. (Id. at ¶ 44.) Despite the recommendation, on June 22, 2012, Anderson fired Gaines. (Id. at ¶ 45.) On July 18, 2012, Gaines filed a Second Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC (“Second Charge”), asserting that her termination from employment was in retaliation for her earlier claim of retaliation in violation of Title VII. (Id. at ¶ 7; ECF No. 1-1.)

         On May 13, 2013, Gaines filed an amended complaint in Gaines I, adding her termination as a retaliatory act. (Gaines I, Am. Compl., ECF No. 25.) The amended complaint did not, however, allege any facts detailing the internal trial board hearing, the incidents on February 4 and 8, or any circumstances surrounding her termination. (Id.) Further, the amended complaint only referenced and attached Plaintiff's First Charge of Discrimination and Right to Sue Notice. (Id.) The defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiff's amended complaint, arguing in part that she had failed to properly exhaust her Title VII claims. (Gaines I, Mot., ECF No. 31.) On April 23, 2014, this Court issued a memorandum opinion dismissing all of Plaintiff's claims with prejudice. Gaines v. Martin, No. JKB-12-1126, 2014 WL 1622316 (D. Md. Apr. 23, 2014). The memorandum opinion only referenced Plaintiff's First Charge filed on July 9, 2010 and did not reference Plaintiff's termination. Id. at *2. As to Gaines' retaliation claim, this Court found that Gaines failed to state a claim for retaliation under Title VII.[4] Id. at *5. Specifically, this Court held that Gaines' had not met the first element of a retaliation claim, engaging in a protected activity, explaining:

Ultimately, the conduct that Plaintiff opposed was not discrimination under Title VII. Rather, the picture that emerges from Plaintiff's own pleadings is that she was discriminated against for arguing that Deputy Lane was shot by a fellow Deputy and contradicting the Sheriff Department's conclusion that Deputy Lane was shot by a suspect.

Id. at *5.

         Nearly three years after this Court's opinion in Gaines I, on March 31, 2017, Gaines received a Letter of Determination from the EEOC concerning her Second Charge. (ECF No. 13-1 at ¶ 15; ECF No. 1-2.) The EEOC found that the Sheriff's Office violated Title VII by terminating Gaines. (ECF No. 1-2.) The EEOC then referred the matter to the Department of Justice, which notified Gaines on June 22, 2017 that the DOJ would not be pursuing charges and Gaines had the right to file suit under Title VII. (ECF No. 1-3.) On September 15, 2017, Plaintiff filed the instant suit against Defendant John Anderson in his official capacity as the Sheriff of Baltimore City. (ECF No. 13-1 at 2.) The Second Amended Complaint details the 2011 incidents concerning her dress code, her suit in Gaines I, and her termination. She asserts that “[b]ut for [her] complaints of discrimination and retaliation made internally and to the EEOC, the allegations of discrimination and retaliation under Title VII she made in the lawsuit she filed on April 12, 2012, and her opposition to gender discrimination, retaliation, and sexual harassment, Sheriff Anderson would not have fired her, thereby escalating the Trial Board's recommendation.” (Id. at ¶ 45.) To support her claim, Gaines alleges that there were various other officers who committed similar or more serious infractions than Gaines, but never filed complaints or asserted their rights, and were not fired. (Id. at ¶ 57.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         I. Motion to Amend

         A plaintiff may amend his or her complaint once as a matter of course before a responsive pleading is served, or within twenty-one days of service of a responsive pleading or motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b), (e), or (f), whichever is earlier. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a). While Rule 15(a) requires that leave “shall be freely given when justice so requires, ” id., 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). “Whether an amendment is prejudicial will often be determined by the nature of the amendment and its timing.” Laber v. Harvey, 438 F.3d 404, 427 (4th Cir. 2006). An amendment is futile “when the proposed amendment is clearly insufficient or frivolous on its face.” Johnson v. Oroweat Foods Co., 785 F.2d 503, 510 (4th Cir. 1986).

         II. ...


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