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Bagwell v. Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

November 8, 2018



          Ellen Lipton Hollander United States District Judge

         In this employment discrimination case, plaintiff Tashia M. Bagwell has sued her former employer, Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, Inc. (“Downtown”). ECF 1. Her suit contains four counts: a claim of race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”) (Count I); wrongful discharge under Maryland common law (Count II); disparate treatment, in violation of Title VII (Count III); and violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count IV). ECF 1. Plaintiff seeks declaratory relief, compensatory and punitive damages, and attorney's fees and expenses. Id. ¶ 35.

         In response, defendant filed a partial motion to dismiss (ECF 14), supported by a memorandum of law (ECF 14-1) (collectively, the “Motion”), as well as an answer as to Counts I and III of the Complaint. ECF 15. In particular, defendant seeks dismissal of Counts II and IV of the Complaint, under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). See ECF 14-1. Bagwell opposes the Motion. ECF 19 (“Opposition”). Defendant replied. ECF 20 (“Reply”).

         The Motion is fully briefed and no hearing is necessary to resolve it. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, I shall grant the Motion.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background [1]

         Bagwell, an African-American woman, began her employment with Downtown on November 13, 2006, as an administrative assistant. ECF 1, ¶ 5. Downtown is a “corporation . . . engaged in the business of supporting workforce development and overseeing the largest business improvement district in Baltimore, MD.” Id. ¶ 2.

         On November 2, 2017, Bagwell received a company-wide email from Kirby Fowler, Downtown's President. Id. ¶ 6. The email pertained to “the promotions of two employees. Plaintiff replied to the all-staff email by congratulating those individuals.” Id. ¶ 6. Soon after, she “received notification that Mr. Kirby was displeased with her email and that he requested a follow-up with the Plaintiff regarding such.” Id. ¶ 7.

         The next day, November 3, 2017, Bagwell “was terminated from her position due to the ‘perceived negative' email.” Id. ¶ 8. She later learned that a “non-Black co-employee” had sent “similar inappropriate emails” but was “disciplined with only a write-up” and referred to the employee assistance program. Id. ¶ 9.

         Bagwell filed a Charge of Discrimination (“Charge”) with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on March 6, 2018. Id. ¶ 11. The EEOC issued a Notice of Right to Sue (“Notice”) on March 15, 2018, without a finding that Downtown violated federal law. Id. ¶ 12. This suit followed on June 15, 2018, within the 90 day filing period provided by 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1).

         Additional facts are included in the Discussion.

         II. Standard of Review

         A defendant may test the legal sufficiency of a complaint by way of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). In re Birmingham, 846 F.3d 88, 92 (4th Cir. 2017); Goines v. Valley Cmty. Servs. Bd., 822 F.3d 159, 165-66 (4th Cir. 2016); McBurney v. Cuccinelli, 616 F.3d 393, 408 (4th Cir. 2010), aff'd sub nom., McBurney v. Young, 569 U.S. 221 (2013); Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion constitutes an assertion by a defendant that, even if the facts alleged by a plaintiff are true, the complaint fails as a matter of law “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.”

         Whether a complaint states a claim for relief is assessed by reference to the pleading requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). That rule provides that a complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” The purpose of the rule is to provide the defendants with “fair notice” of the claims and the “grounds” for entitlement to relief. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007).

         To survive a motion under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain facts sufficient to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570; see Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 684 (2009) (citation omitted) (“Our decision in Twombly expounded the pleading standard for ‘all civil actions' . . . .”); see also Willner v. Dimon, 849 F.3d 93, 112 (4th Cir. 2017). But, a plaintiff need not include “detailed factual allegations” in order to satisfy Rule 8(a)(2). Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Moreover, federal pleading rules “do not countenance dismissal of a complaint for imperfect statement of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted.” Johnson v. City of Shelby, Miss., 574 U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 346, 346 (2014) (per curiam).

         Nevertheless, the rule demands more than bald accusations or mere speculation. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; see Painter's Mill Grille, LLC v. Brown, 716 F.3d 342, 350 (4th Cir. 2013). If a complaint provides no more than “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, ” it is insufficient. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Rather, to satisfy the minimal requirements of Rule 8(a)(2), the complaint must set forth “enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest” a cognizable cause of action, “even if . . . [the] ...

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