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Dreher v. State

United States District Court, D. Maryland

February 11, 2019

PAUL DREHER, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF MARYLAND, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GEORGE L. RUSSELL, III, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant Anne Arundel County, Maryland's (the “County”) Motion to Dismiss First Amended Complaint (ECF No. 8) and Defendant State of Maryland's (the “State”) Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 10). The Motions are ripe for disposition, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D.Md. 2018). For the reasons outlined below, the Court will deny the Motions.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiff Paul Dreher began working for the State of Maryland in 2002 as a payroll clerk in the Anne Arundel County Department of Health (the “Department of Health” or the “Department”). (1st Am. Compl. ¶ 13, ECF No. 5). Both State and County employees work in the Department of Health; the County nominates the Department's chief executive-the health officer-and the State appoints her. (Id. ¶¶ 4, 5). In 2009, Dreher was promoted to fiscal accounts clerk supervisor. (Id. ¶ 13). In that role, Dreher managed payroll operations for State and County employees who worked for the Department of Health. (Id. ¶ 15).

         From 2012 to November 2016, Dreher's immediate supervisor was payroll supervisor Blair Schiro, a County employee. (Id. ¶ 16). On July 24, 2015, Schiro told Dreher that his “people” had a “pride problem” and that they “do not listen.” (Id. ¶ 18). Dreher, who is African-American, understood these remarks from Schiro, who is Caucasian, to relate to his race. (Id. ¶¶ 12, 16, 18).

         Over the course of several months in 2015 and 2016, Dreher reported Schiro's remarks and his concerns about the work environment to four managers at the Department of Health, all of whom were State employees. (Id. ¶¶ 19, 23-24). In September 2015, Dreher reported Schiro's remarks to Shelley English, then-Director of Human Resources at the Department of Health. (Id. ¶ 19). Dreher said if the environment at work did not change, he would feel compelled to resign from his job. (Id.). Instead of taking remedial action, English asked Dreher when his last day of work would be. (Id. ¶¶ 20-21). On September 30, 2015, Dreher submitted a written complaint about the office environment to Rae Miller, the Deputy Director of Human Resources at the Department of Health. (Id. ¶¶ 17, 22). A year later, in September or October of 2016, Dreher told Tim Laureska, the Deputy Health Officer in the Department of Health, about Schiro's remarks, the office environment, and the disparate treatment of African-American employees at the Department of Health. (Id. ¶ 23). Shortly thereafter, Dreher also complained to Health Officer Dr. Jinlene Chan, the Department of Health's chief executive. (Id. ¶ 24). Dreher's complaints did not result in remedial action. (Id. ¶¶ 22, 24). English, Miller, and Laureska are Caucasian; the First Amended Complaint does not specify Dr. Chan's race. (Id. ¶¶ 17, 19, 23-25).

         On November 15 and 22, 2016, the Human Resources Director for the Department of Health, Grace Jibril, disciplined Dreher for making incorrect entries on his time sheets.[2] (Id. ¶ 25). Dreher explained to Jibril that his supervisor, Schiro, had told him to complete his time sheets that way. (Id.). On or about December 2, 2016, Dreher was terminated as a result of the time-sheet errors. (Id. ¶ 27). Caucasian employees who worked in the Department of Health, including Sharron Ward and Norman Pennington, made time sheet errors like Dreher but were not terminated. (Id. ¶ 28).

         On November 30, 2016, Dreher filed a Charge of Discrimination against the Department of Health with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights (“MCCR”) and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), alleging racial discrimination and retaliation. (Id. ¶¶ 8-9). On January 19, 2017, the EEOC served the Charge of Discrimination on the Department of Health. (Id. ¶ 9). On April 4, 2017, the MCCR held a fact-finding conference, which Laureska, Jibril, and an unnamed County employee attended. (Id. ¶ 10). On July 12, 2017, the EEOC notified the Department of Health that Dreher's attorney had requested a Notice of Right to Sue and that Dreher would have ninety days from receipt of a Notice of Right to Sue to file suit in federal court. (Compl. ¶ 8, ECF No. 1). On Oct. 4, 2017, Dreher received his Notice of Right to Sue. (1st Am. Compl. ¶ 11).

         On December 29, 2017, Dreher sued the County. (ECF No. 1). On February 26, 2018, Dreher filed a First Amended Complaint, adding the State as a Defendant and naming it as his employer, as well as other related facts.[3] (ECF No. 5). In his four-Count First Amended Complaint, Dreher alleges: (1) Defendants discriminated against him on the basis of his race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. (2018) (Count 1); (2) Defendants retaliated against him for complaining of discrimination and a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII (Count 2); (3) Defendants discriminated against him on the basis of his race in violation of the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act (the “MFEPA”), Md. Code Ann., State Gov't [“SG”] §§ 20-606 et seq. (West 2018) (Count 3); and (4) Defendants retaliated against him for complaining of discrimination and a hostile work environment in violation of the MFEPA (Count 4). (See id. ¶¶ 30-77). Dreher seeks compensatory damages, back pay and interest on the damages, equitable relief, including a clean personnel record, and attorney's fees and costs. (Id. at 13).

         On March 12, 2018, the County filed its Motion to Dismiss First Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 8). On March 20, 2018, the State filed its Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 10). Dreher filed his Opposition to the County's Motion on April 9, 2018, (ECF No. 15), and his Opposition to the State's Motion on April 17, 2018, (ECF No. 17). The County filed its Reply on April 30, 2018. (ECF No. 20). The State filed its Reply on May 1, 2018. (ECF No. 21).

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         The purpose of a motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is to “test[ ] the sufficiency of a complaint, ” not to “resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” King v. Rubenstein, 825 F.3d 206, 214 (4th Cir. 2016) (quoting Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999)). A complaint fails to state a claim if it does not contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), or does not “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, ” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Though the plaintiff is not required to forecast evidence to prove the elements of the claim, the complaint must allege sufficient facts to establish each element. Goss v. Bank of America, N.A., 917 F.Supp.2d 445, 449 (D.Md. 2013) (quoting Walters v. McMahen, 684 F.3d 435, 439 (4th Cir. 2012)), aff'd sub nom., Goss v. Bank of America, NA, 546 Fed.Appx. 165 (4th Cir. 2013). In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a 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, 407 F.3d 266, 268 (4th Cir. 2005) (citing Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)). But, the court need not accept unsupported or conclusory factual allegations devoid of any reference to actual events, United Black Firefighters v. Hirst, 604 F.2d 844, 847 (4th Cir. 1979), or legal conclusions couched as factual allegations, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         B. Analysis

         1. The County's Motion

         The County maintains that it was not Dreher's employer, and therefore the Court should dismiss Dreher's claims against it. Specifically, the County argues that even if Dreher's direct supervisor, a County employee, made the comments as alleged, the people Dreher complained to-the same people who eventually terminated him-were State employees. As a result, the County argues Dreher was a State, not a County, employee. The Court disagrees.

         Under Title VII, a party is liable for discrimination “only if it is an ‘employer' of the complainant.”[4]Butler v. Drive Auto. Indus. of America, Inc., 793 F.3d 404, 408 (4th Cir. 2015). Title VII defines “employer” as “a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has fifteen or more employees, ” 42 U.S.C. § ...


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