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Maldonado v. State

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

March 14, 2018



          Charles B. Day United States Magistrate Judge

         Before this Court is Defendant State of Maryland's Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (“Defendant's Motion”)(ECF No. 20). The Court has reviewed Defendant's Motion, related memoranda, and applicable law. No hearing is deemed necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md.). For the reasons presented below, the Court GRANTS IN PART Defendant's Motion.

         I. Factual Background

         Plaintiff Deputy Sheriff Lieutenant Maldonado filed an Amended Complaint asserting a claim of employment discrimination during the course of his employment with the Prince George's County Sheriff's Office (“PGCSO”). Am. Compl. ¶ 14, et. seq. Plaintiff further states that he engaged in protected activity when he made internal complaints of discrimination, harassment and retaliation, as well as when he made complaints to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Prince George's Human Rights Commission. Id. at ¶ 17. Plaintiff contends he was subjected to retaliation when the PGCSO and Colonel Darrin Palmer (“Col. Palmer”) of the PGCSO subjected him to a trial board, and later still when Col. Palmer recommended Plaintiff to be terminated. Id. at ¶ 19. Plaintiff states that he filed a complaint with the PGCSO after a co-worker said she wanted Plaintiff to be sent back Puerto Rico in August 2003. The co-worker's discipline required that she write a letter of apology to Plaintiff. Id. at ¶ 20.

         Plaintiff relates that in July 2014, he submitted a memorandum to Col. Palmer regarding the PGCSO's cohabitation policy for employees while on travel. Id. at ¶ 21. In August 2014, Plaintiff contacted the Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association (“HNLEA”) regarding transfers of Spanish speaking deputies; transfers which resulted in less desirable assignments. A meeting with the leadership of the PGCSO and representatives of HNLEA led to new Hispanic hires in the PGCSO. Id. at ¶ 22.

         The following year, in May 2015, a notice was issued regarding the promotional testing for those seeking the rank of captain. The test was to be given in November. Plaintiff was one of the eligible candidates. The test date was subsequently advanced to September 2015. Col. Palmer also changed the promotional format eliminating the testing component, leaving only the requirement of an interview. Plaintiff contends the new format violated the Memorandum of Understanding which resulted in Plaintiff, the only Hispanic, being ineligible to sit for the interview. Id. at ¶ 23. In June 2015, Plaintiff filed a complaint with the Department of Justice against Col. Palmer. Id. at ¶ 24. Plaintiff alleges that in retaliation, in November 2015, Col. Palmer filed charges against Plaintiff and initiated an investigation, recommending Plaintiff's termination. Id. at ¶ 25. Plaintiff also alleges that in February 2016 he was not able to participate in the captain's selection process due to the stress of the pending trial board.

         II. Standard of Review

         The seminal Supreme Court cases of Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009) provide the essential concerns for a court considering a motion to dismiss. Twombly made clear that litigants cannot survive a motion to dismiss by the mere use of “labels and conclusions” or even a “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Twombly, 550 U.S., at 555, 127 S.Ct., at 1965. A claim that overcomes a motion to dismiss contains sufficient factual information, which accepted as true, states a claim that is “plausible.” Id., 550 U.S., at 570, 127 S.Ct. at 1974.

         The Court is required to view the “allegations in the light most favorable” to the non-moving party. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236, 94 S.Ct. 1683 (1974). While the Court is bound to accept as true all of the factual allegations, the Court is not required to accept legal conclusions masked as such. Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 106 S.Ct. 2932 (1986). “Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will, . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S., at 679, 129 S.Ct. at 1950. A motion to dismiss should be granted only “if it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts that will entitle him to relief.” Lambeth v. Board of Comm'rs of Davidson Cty., 407 F.3d 266, 268 (4th Cir. 2005).

         In an employment discrimination case, it is not necessary to set forth “specific facts establishing a prima facie case” when using the framework of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973); Swierkiewicz v. Sorema, N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 508 (2002). Requiring a plaintiff to do so, would result in a “heightened pleading standard.” This would normally be the case if a plaintiff possessed direct evidence of discrimination, but the burden-shifting paradigm of McDonnell Douglas significantly alters the analysis. To do otherwise would create the “incongruous” result of requiring a plaintiff to “plead more facts than he may ultimately need to prove to succeed on the merits if direct evidence of discrimination is discovered.” Swierkiewicz, at 511-12. On the facts offered by way of Plaintiff's Complaint, it is clear that Plaintiff is proceeding under the McDonnell Douglas paradigm.

         III. Analysis

         A. The National Origin Claim

         At the outset, the parties agree on the law that is applicable. First, while the claims asserted are premised on the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act, Md. Code Ann., State Govt. §20-606 (LexisNexis 2014), the state law is merely an analogue of the federal law. The State of Maryland is in lockstep with the federal law and courts in interpreting Title VII claims and in applying the analogous state law. Haas v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 396 Md. 469, 914 A.2d 735, 742 (2007). Second, in the absence of direct evidence of discrimination, Plaintiff must proceed under the burden shifting formula of McDonnell Douglas. Accordingly, the formula and elements for the claim of discrimination on the basis of one's national origin under federal law is set forth in Weathers v. Univ. of N. Carolina at Chapel Hill, 447 F. App'x 508 (4th Cir. 2011). Specifically, a Title VII plaintiff must show that he: (1) is a member of a protected class; (2) applied for promotion; (3) was qualified for the position; and (4) was rejected in favor of someone not a member of the protected group under circumstances giving rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination. Id. at 510.

         Defendant rightly asserts that merely parroting the elements of a cause of action will not survive a properly placed motion to dismiss. Conclusory allegations are unavailing. Cole v. Hillside Family of Agencies, Inc., Civ. No. PJM 10-3326, 2011 WL 2413928, at *4 (D. Md. June 9, 2011). Merely claiming that members outside of a protected group were treated better than a ...

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