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Deabreu v. United Parcel Service, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

December 3, 2018

SEON D. DEABREU, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED PARCEL SERVICE, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          THEODORE D. CHUANG DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Seon Deabreu has filed a civil action against Defendant United Parcel Service, Inc. ("UPS") alleging that UPS discriminated against Deabreu on the basis of religion by harassing him about his religious practice and retaliated against Deabreu for contacting an attorney and filing a complaint with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") about the discrimination. Deabreu asserts claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to 2000e-17 (2012). Presently pending before the Court is UPS's Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment. Upon review of the submitted materials, the Court finds that no hearing is necessary. See D. Md. Local R. 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, UPS's Motion is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         UPS delivers packages to customers throughout the United States. Deabreu is a Rastafarian and as a result of his religious beliefs wears his hair in dreadlocks, usually under a head covering known as a tarn. He began working for UPS on January 1, 2003. His hair was covered by a tarn when he interviewed for the position and when he began to work at UPS, such that his hair was not visible. Initially, none of his co-workers or managers asked him about his hairstyle or tarn. Deabreu was assigned to work at UPS's warehouse distribution facility in Laurel, Maryland and did not interact with or see customers. While working at the warehouse distribution center, he was promoted to the position of supervisor. Deabreu never received complaints regarding the quality and quantity of his work or his supervision of other employees. Occasionally, his co-workers and supervisors asked him about his hairstyle, and he informed them that he wore his hair in dreadlocks because of his religion.

         On January 3, 2008, James Lott, a UPS manager, informed Deabreu that his dreadlocks and facial hair did not comply with UPS's appearance standards and that he had to comply with those standards. Lott could not explain to Deabreu how his hair and facial hair failed to meet those standards. UPS's Employee Handbook described the company's policies regarding employee conduct. The Employee Handbook's appearance standards identified acceptable hair and facial hair styles for employees who are drivers and who otherwise interact with customers. However, the Employee Handbook did not detail what appearance standards apply to employees at warehouse distribution facilities, who do not interface with customers. Specifically, it did not state that employees at the Laurel warehouse distribution facility could not wear their hair in dreadlocks.

         When Deabreu told Lott that he wore his hair in dreadlocks because of his religious beliefs, Lott responded by questioning Deabreu about those beliefs in a manner that suggested that Lott did not believe Deabreu was "truthful" about his beliefs. Compl. ¶ 16, ECF No. 1. After this encounter, Lott gave Deabreu forms that would allow him to request a religious accommodation.

         Deabreu then contacted an attorney, who sent a cease-and-desist letter to Lott on February 14, 2008 asking Lott to stop harassing Deabreu about his religion. Less than a month later, on March 12, 2008, UPS suspended Deabreu and prevented him from returning to work at the warehouse facility. Deabreu then filed a discrimination complaint with the EEOC on March 17, 2008. UPS terminated Deabreu's employment on April 14, 2008. The next day, on April 15, 2008, the EEOC mailed to Lott at UPS the Notice of Charge of Discrimination filed by Deabreu. After conducting an investigation, the EEOC issued Deabreu a right-to-sue letter on October 17, 2008 and mailed it to him at 6017 Springhill Drive #302, Greenbelt, MD 20770 on the same day.

         On June 22, 2016, Deabreu emailed Carol Glace, the EEOC investigator assigned to investigate his Charge of Discrimination in 2008, and requested a copy of his case file. Glace responded to Deabreu on the same day, informing him that his charge was closed on October 17, 2008 and that the file was destroyed in 2015 under the EEOC's record retention policy. On February 8, 2018, Deabreu again contacted Glace by email and requested a copy of the right-to-sue letter. Glace replied to Deabreu the next day, stating that the file had been destroyed and reminding Deabreu that they had had a similar conversation in 2016. On February 15, 2018, Deabreu contacted Rosemarie Rhodes, another EEOC employee, who told him by email that EEOC records stated that a right-to-sue letter had been sent to him on October 17, 2008, his file was destroyed in 2015, and he had spoken with Glace in June 2016 about the closure of his case. On February 16, 2018, Rhodes informed Deabreu by email that she could not reissue the right-to-sue letter to him.

         On April 20, 2018, Deabreu filed his Complaint in this Court, alleging discriminatory harassment based on religion (Count One) and retaliation (Count Two) in violation of Title VII. Deabreu seeks compensatory and punitive damages and an injunction preventing UPS from discriminating against employees in this way in the future.

         DISCUSSION

         In its Motion, UPS seeks dismissal of all counts of the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), or, in the alternative, Rule 56. First, UPS argues that Deabreu's suit is barred by the statute of limitations because it was filed more than 90 days after the EEOC issued a right-to-sue letter to Deabreu. Second, UPS asserts that the doctrine of laches bars consideration of the suit, because Deabreu did not act diligently in pursuing his claims and UPS was prejudiced as a result. Next, UPS argues that Deabreu has failed to exhaust administrative remedies relating to his retaliation claim, as required by Title VII. Finally, UPS contends that Deabreu has failed to state a plausible claim for retaliation.

         I. Legal Standard

         To defeat a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the complaint must allege enough facts to state a plausible claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A claim is plausible when the facts pleaded allow "the Court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. Although courts should construe pleadings of self-represented litigants liberally, Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007), legal conclusions or conclusory statements do not suffice, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The Court must examine the complaint as a whole, consider the factual allegations in the complaint as true, and construe the factual allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994); Lambeth v. Bd. of Comm 'rs of Davidson Cty., 407 F.3d 266, 268 (4th Cir. 2005).

         Courts may consider facts and documents subject to judicial notice without converting a motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment. Clatterbuck v. City of Charlottesville,708 F.3d 549, 557 (4th Cir. 2013), abrogated on other grounds, Reed v. Town of Gilbert,135 S.Ct. 2218 (2015). "Under this exception, courts may consider 'relevant facts obtained from the public record,' so long as these facts are construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff along with the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint." Id. (quoting B.H. Papasan v. Allain,578 U.S. 265, 283 (1986)). The Court therefore takes judicial notice of the official filings of the EEOC to ...


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