United States District Court, D. Maryland
FREDERICK J. BRENNAN, Plaintiff,
DELUXE CORPORATION, Defendant.
L. Hollander United States District Judge
employment discrimination case is brought under Title VII of
the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”),
codified, as amended, at 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et
seq. Plaintiff Frederick J. Brennan has sued his former
employer, Deluxe Corporation (“Deluxe”), alleging
that he was disciplined and then terminated from his job
because of discrimination based on religion. ECF 1-4 (the
Complaint contains three counts: “Discrimination on the
Basis of Plaintiff's Christian Religion” (Count
One); “Failure to Accommodate Plaintiff's Christian
Religious Belief” (Count Two); and “Failure to
Engage in Interactive Process to Arrive at an Accommodation
(Count Three). Id. Brennan seeks reinstatement and
damages in excess of $75, 000, including back pay, front pay,
and recovery for “non-economic damages such as, but not
limited to, emotional distress, humiliation, embarrassment,
loss of enjoyment of life.” Id. ¶ 16. He
also seeks attorney's fees and costs. Id.
has moved to dismiss the Complaint (ECF 9), supported by a
memorandum of law (ECF 9-2) (collectively, the
“Motion”) and exhibits. ECF 9-3 - ECF 9-6.
Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6),  Deluxe argues that the
Complaint fails to state claims of religious discrimination
and failure to provide religious accommodation. See
ECF 9-2 at 1. Brennan opposes the Motion (ECF 12, the
“Opposition”) and has filed an exhibit. ECF 12-1.
Deluxe has replied. ECF 15 (the “Reply”).
hearing is necessary to resolve the Motion. See
Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, I shall grant
the Motion in part and deny it in part.
about July 13, 2004, Brennan, a Christian, was hired by
Payce, Inc. (“Payce”) as a Software Engineer. ECF
1-4, ¶ 1. Prior to 2017, Payce “became a
subsidiary and an affiliate of” Deluxe. Id.
¶ 2. Deluxe then “took control of day to day
operations” at Payce, “including the management
of Payce employees.” Id. Corp. v.
Jackson, 212 Md.App. 177, 200 n.8, 66 A.3d 1152, 1166
n.8 (2013). Md. 469, 914 A.2d 735 (2007)); see also
Blakes v. City of Hyattsville, 909 F.Supp.2d 431, 444
(D. Md. 2012).
“is a Minnesota Corporation which, at all times
relevant, conducted business in Maryland.” Id.
¶ 3. According to plaintiff, Deluxe “is a joint
employer” with Payce, “because . . . it exercised
control over [Brennan's] compensation, hours and terms of
employment.” Id. ¶ 4. Among other things,
Deluxe required Payce to follow “Deluxe's Code of
Ethics and Business Conduct.” Id. ¶ 5.
relevance here, Deluxe “required employees to take an
online Ethics Compliance course, ” which
“required” employees to respond to
“multiple choice questions.” Id. ¶
6. The course “was structured to accept only those
responses acceptable to” Deluxe. Id. ¶ 7.
“When a response was entered which [wa]s not acceptable
to” Deluxe, “the Ethics Compliance course refused
to allow the employee to continue to the next
question.” Id. Nor could an employee
“skip any questions.” Id.
about March 24, 2017, Brennan “proceeded to take the
Ethics Compliance Course.” Id. ¶ 8.
“When Plaintiff entered his choices to [the] question
labeled ‘Bad Behavior,' relating to transgender
issues, the course did not agree with Plaintiff's
choices.” Id. ¶ 9. As a result,
“the course refused to allow the Plaintiff to continue,
and did not allow Plaintiff to skip the question.”
avers that his “Christian religious beliefs did not
allow him to choose the answers required by Defendant's
Ethics Compliance course.” Id. ¶ 10.
Thereafter, he “requested that he be excused from
completing the Ethics Compliance course as an accommodation
to his religious beliefs.” Id. ¶ 11.
Deluxe denied Brennan's request. Id. ¶ 12.
on January 19, 2018, Deluxe “advised [Brennan] that he
would receive a 1% salary reduction as a disciplinary action
for failing to complete the Ethics Compliance course.”
Id. Thereafter, on April 20, 2018, Deluxe
“directed” Payce to “terminate the
Plaintiff.” Id. ¶ 13.
filed a Charge of Discrimination with the U.S. Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on
February 5, 2018. Id. ¶ 14. And, on February
28, 2018, “the EEOC issued a Dismissal and Notice of
Suit Rights.” Id. ¶ 15.
facts are included in the Discussion.
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 Rule 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
defendant 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).
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) (“Our decision in
Twombly expounded the pleading standard for
‘all civil actions' . . . .” (citation
omitted)); 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.
sure, 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). A complaint is
insufficient if it provides no more than “labels and
conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the
elements of a cause of action.” 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] actual proof of
those facts is improbable and . . . recovery is very remote
and unlikely.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556
(internal quotations omitted).
reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court “‘must
accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in
the complaint'” and must “‘draw all
reasonable inferences [from those facts] in favor of the
plaintiff.'” E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co.
v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 440 (4th Cir. 2011)
(citations omitted); see Semenova v. Maryland Transit
Admin., 845 F.3d 564, 567 (4th Cir. 2017); Belmora,
LLC v. Bayer Consumer Care AG, 819 F.3d 697, 705 (4th
Cir. 2016); Houck v. Substitute Tr. Servs., Inc.,
791 F.3d 473, 484 (4th Cir. 2015); Kendall v.
Balcerzak, 650 F.3d 515, 522 (4th Cir. 2011), cert.
denied, 565 U.S. 943 (2011). But, a court is not
required to accept legal conclusions drawn from the facts.
See Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986).
“A court decides whether [the pleading] standard is met
by separating the legal conclusions from the factual
allegations, assuming the truth of only the factual
allegations, and then determining whether those allegations
allow the court to reasonably infer” that the plaintiff
is entitled to the legal remedy sought. A Society Without
a Name v. Virginia, 655 F.3d 342, 346 (4th Cir. 2011),
cert. denied, 566 U.S. 937 (2012).
general, courts do not “resolve contests surrounding
the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of
defenses” through a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Edwards
v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999).
The purpose of the rule is to ensure that defendants are
“given adequate notice of the nature of a claim”
made against them. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56
(2007). But, “in the relatively rare circumstances
where facts sufficient to rule on an affirmative defense are
alleged in the complaint, the defense may be reached by a
motion to dismiss filed under Rule 12(b)(6).”
Goodman v. Praxair, Inc., 494 F.3d 458, 464 (4th
Cir. 2007) (en banc); accord Pressley v. Tupperware Long
Term Disability Plan, 533 F.3d 334, 336 (4th Cir. 2009);
see also U.S. ex rel. Oberg v. Penn. Higher Educ.
Assistance Agency, 745 F.3d 131, 148 (4th Cir. 2014).
However, because Rule 12(b)(6) “is intended [only] to
test the legal adequacy of the complaint, ”
Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. Co. v.
Forst, 4 F.3d 244, 250 (4th Cir. 1993), “[t]his
principle only applies . . . if all facts necessary to the
affirmative defense ‘clearly appear[ ] on the face of
the complaint.'” Goodman, 494 F.3d at 464
(quoting Forst, 4 F.3d at 250) (emphasis added in
survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint, relying on only
well-pled factual allegations, must state a “plausible
claim for relief.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 678-79 (2009). The “mere recital of elements of a
cause of action, supported only by conclusory statements, is
not sufficient to survive a motion made pursuant to Rule
12(b)(6).” Walters v. McMahen, 684 F.3d 435,
439 (4th Cir. 2012). To determine whether a complaint has
crossed “the line from conceivable to plausible,
” a court must employ a context-specific inquiry,
drawing on the court's “experience and common
sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679-80.
limited circumstances, when resolving a Rule 12(b)(6) motion,
a court may consider exhibits, without converting the motion
to dismiss to one for summary judgment. Goldfarb v. Mayor
& City Council of Balt., 791 F.3d 500, 508 (4th Cir.
2015). In particular, a court may consider documents that are
“explicitly incorporated into the complaint by
reference and those attached to the complaint as exhibits . .
. .” Goines, 822 F.3d at 166 (citations
omitted); see also U.S. ex rel. Oberg v. Pennsylvania
Higher Educ. Assistance Agency, 745 F.3d 131, 136 (4th
Cir. 2014); Anand v. Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC, 754
F.3d 195, 198 (4th Cir. 2014); Am. Chiropractic Ass'n
v. Trigon Healthcare, Inc., 367 F.3d 212, 234 (4th Cir.
2004), cert. denied, 543 U.S. 979 (2004);
Phillips v. LCI Int'l Inc., 190 F.3d 609, 618
(4th Cir. 1999). A court may also take judicial notice of
matters of public record. Philips v. Pitt County Mem.
Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009).
“before treating the contents of an attached or
incorporated document as true, the district court should
consider the nature of the document and why the plaintiff
attached it.” Goines, 822 F.3d at 167 (citing
N. Ind. Gun & Outdoor Shows, Inc. v. City of S.
Bend, 163 F.3d 449, 455 (7th Cir. 1998)). “When
the plaintiff attaches or incorporates a document upon which
his claim is based, or when the complaint otherwise shows
that the plaintiff has adopted the contents of the document,
crediting the document over conflicting allegations in the
complaint is proper.” Goines, 822 F.3d at 167.
Conversely, “where the plaintiff attaches or
incorporates a document for purposes other than the
truthfulness of the document, it is inappropriate to treat
the contents of that document as true.” Id.
may also “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.” Goines, 822 F.3d at 166
(citations omitted); see also Woods v. City of
Greensboro, 855 F.3d 639, 642 (4th Cir. 2017),
petition for cert. filed, No. 17-492 (Oct. 3, 2017);
Kensington Volunteer Fire Dep't. v. Montgomery
Cty., 684 F.3d 462, 467 (4th Cir. 2012). To be
“integral, ” a document must be one “that
by 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 in original).
Motion, Deluxe appended plaintiff's Complaint (ECF 9-3)
and several exhibits: the “Dismissal and Notice of
Rights” issued by the EEOC on February 28, 2018 (ECF
9-4); the “Notice of Charge of Discrimination”
filed by Brennan on February 5, 2018, and signed by EEOC
Baltimore Field Office Director Rosemarie Rhodes on June 19,
2018 (ECF 9-5); an excerpt of Section 12 of the EEOC
Compliance Manual (the “Manual”), dated July 22,
2008, titled “Religious Discrimination” (ECF ...