United States District Court, D. Maryland
K. Bredar Chief Judge
se plaintiff Oluwaseun Arije ("Plaintiff) filed
suit alleging that his former employer, Pointcross Life
Sciences ("Defendant"), discriminated against him
based on his race in violation of Title VII of the Civil
Rights Act of 1964, see 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a).
Now before the Court is the Defendant's motion to dismiss
for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6). (Mot Dismiss, ECF No. 18.) No hearing is
required. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For
the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion will be
granted in part and denied in part.
Factual and Procedural Background
September 22, 2017, Arije filed &pro se
complaint against Pointcross Life Services in the
District Court for the District of Columbia. (Compl., ECF No.
1.) The single-paragraph complaint accused the Defendant of
"violat[ing] the Plaintiffs civil rights by
discriminating against African-American employees with false
written evaluations [, ] . . . leading to hostile conditions
and the end of employment." (Id. at 2.) Arije
alleged that, contrary to the evaluations, he had
"performed-well [sic]," and that
performance on projects was "often, if not always,"
evaluated "in front of other employees at
meetings," suggesting that employees were aware of one
another's progress and quality of work. (Id.) He
also alleged that his name was frequently mispronounced
"by the Defendant" in a way that was
"reminiscent of a racial slur." (Id.)
Arije claimed loss of employment opportunities, damage to his
reputation, and emotional distress. (Id.)
Defendant moved to dismiss the case for lack of personal
jurisdiction, improper venue, and failure to state a claim.
(ECF No. 5.) Construing Arije's opposition as a motion to
transfer, the court denied the motion to dismiss and ordered
the case transferred to the District of Maryland. (Order at
2, ECF No. 12.) After transfer, the Defendant again moved to
dismiss the Complaint for failure to state a claim, (Mot.
Dismiss at 1.)
response, Arije advanced no legal arguments and, instead, put
forth facts about his employment history with the Defendant
that were not included in the original Complaint. (Opp'n
Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 22.) Allegations included in the
response brief are summarized below.
is African American. (Id. at 1.) He was hired by
Pointcross Life Sciences in May of 2014 on a one-year
contract as a "Non-Clinical Subject Matter Expert."
(Id. at 2, 3.) In that role, Arije was a member of
the "data standardization team" (id at 3),
and his duties related to "informatics knowledge,
triaging toxicology datasets, ... data extraction... and
identifying [and resolving] data discrepancies."
(Id. at 2.) Kristi Johnson was the "Team Lead
Subject Matter." (Id.) She reported to Shree
Nath, a Vice President. (Id.) The data
standardization team included other subject matter experts,
as well as a toxicologist, and an individual assigned to
technical support. (Id.) One of Arije's fellow
subject matter experts and the technical support person are
both African American, but most of his peers and
supervisors-including Johnson and Nath-are not. (Id.
at 2, 4.)
most of his tenure, Arije received generally positive
feedback on his performance. (See Id. at 2 ("I
was informed numerous times by my superiors and coworkers
that my work was engaged and productive."); id.
at 3 ("I received essentially positive feedback during
the three-month probationary period of my contract. . .
.").) When "evaluated in person in front of other
peers[, ] [his] work was shown to have no or very few
errors." (Id. at 4.) By contrast,
"[o]thers employed doing data standardization [produced]
work that contained more errors than [Arije's
work]." (Id. at 3.)
point, management assigned Arije to a three-person team
responsible for developing a "guide on data
standardization and implementation" that would
"outlin[e] intermediate instructions, helpful tips, and
formulas on data standardization ... for future use."
(Id. at 3-4.) The nature of this guide was such that
"[o]nly someone who knows what they are doing [and] is
proficient in the matter would be asked to create [it]."
(Id. at 4.)
and Nath "expressed hatred towards [Arije]" that he
believed was "due to racist predispositions unrelated to
work quality." (Id. at 2.) Johnson also engaged
in other forms of "unprofessional behavior,"
including "unnecessarily yelling at employees,"
habitually arriving late, and gesturing during meetings with
"only her middle finger raised." (Id. at
October 2014, Arije received a negative performance review by
email, contrary to the performance-based feedback he had
received up until that point. (Id. at 3.) The
negative review "relied greatly on Johnson's
evaluations," because, unlike other supervisors, she was
co-located with Arije in Maryland. (Id. at 3.) Arije
"vigorously defended [himself]" against the
negative review and eventually complained to the project
manager that he believed the review was inaccurate and
"dishonest," but his grievance was not addressed.
(Id. at 4.) At some point either before or after the
negative review, an employee in human resources and a senior
member of the data standardization team left Pointcross,
which Arije believed "facilitated" the
"dishonest" evaluations of his work. (Id.)
Arije was terminated on December 19, 2014. (Id.) On
the same day, Morie Alpha, another African-American subject
matter expert, was also terminated. (Id.)
Legal Standard for a Motion to Dismiss under Rule
complaint must contain "sufficient factual matter,
accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Facial plausibility
exists "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that
allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the
defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged."
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. An inference of the mere
possibility of misconduct is not sufficient to support a
plausible claim. Id. at 679. Courts must
"accept the well-pled allegations of the complaint as
true, ... constru[ing] the facts and reasonable inferences
derived therefrom in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff." Ibarra v. United States, 120 F.3d
472, 474 (4th Cir. 1997). Nevertheless, "[f]actual
allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above
the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at
555. "A pleading that offers 'labels and
conclusions' or . . . 'naked assertion[s]' devoid
of 'further factual enhancement'" will not
suffice. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (alteration in
original) (citation omitted) (quoting Twombly, 550
U.S. at 555, 557). Courts need not accept legal conclusions
couched as factual allegations. Twombly, 550 U.S. at
se plaintiffs are held to a "less stringent
standard" than lawyers, and courts construe their
pleadings liberally, no matter how "inartfully"
pled. Erickson v. Pardus,551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)
(per curiam) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S.
97, 106 (1976)). Liberal construction is especially
appropriate where a. pro se plaintiff alleges civil
rights violations. Brown v. N.C. Dep't of
Corrections,612 F.3d 720, 724 (4th Cir. 2010) (citing
Loe v. Armistead,582 F.2d 1291, 1295 (4th Cir.
1978)). Nonetheless, a pro se complaint must still
meet the "minimum threshold of plausibility" under
Twombly and Iqbal. Robb v. Md. Aviation
Admin., Civ. No. JKB-14-1421, 2014 WL 4056030, at *3 (D.
Md. Aug. 15, 2014) (citing O'Neil v. Ponzi, F.
App'x 795, 796 (2d Cir. 2010)). "While pro
se complaints may represent the work of an untutored
hand requiring special judicial solicitude, a district court
is not required to recognize obscure or extravagant claims
defying the most concerted efforts to ...