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Dobson v. Harnden Group, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 15, 2019

LARRY DOBSON, JR., Plaintiff
HARNDEN GROUP LLC, et al., Defendants.


          James K. Bredar Chief Judge.

         Pro se plaintiff Larry Dobson, Jr. ("Plaintiff') sued his employer, Harnden Group LLC, and several of its employees for race-based discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, see 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2(a), 2000e-3(a). In his complaint, Plaintiff named Harnden Group, its owner Chuck Harnden, its co-owner Don McCoy, and two of its superintendents, Sonny Jayne and Bradley Miller ("Defendants"). Plaintiff initially filed suit in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court. Defendants removed the case to this Court and, then, moved to dismiss. No. hearing is required. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion to dismiss will be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         In summarizing the allegations of the complaint, the Court construes all facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, as is required on a motion to dismiss. Ibarra v. United States, 120 F.3d 472, 474 (4th Cir. 1997). Courts construe pro se complaints liberally. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (per curiam).

         Plaintiff has worked for Harnden Group since May 2015. (Compl. at 4, ECF No. 4-3.) In December 2017, Plaintiff became the target of his co-workers' jokes. On December 12, one co-worker asked Plaintiff if he wanted some "black donuts" and laughed. (Id. ¶ 1.) On December 13, other co-workers mentioned that Jayne had some "black donuts" for Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 3.) One of the co-workers explained to Plaintiff that someone had left black and white donuts in the office and that Jayne had said, "[I] do[]n't eat black donuts only white donuts, give these black donuts to Larry Dobson." (Statement at 1, ECF No. 4-4.)[1] The co-worker continued that, if his name was Larry Dobson, the black donuts were a gift from Jayne, who "doesn't like anything black." (Id.)

         The next day, Plaintiff asked Miller about filing a racial discrimination claim. (Compl. ¶ 4.) Miller told Plaintiff that "Jayne had other instances wherein racial slurs were used." (Id. ¶ 7.) Miller supported Plaintiffs decision to file a claim and offered to give Plaintiff the appropriate paperwork. (Id.) When Miller was unable to find the paperwork, he conducted a meeting with Plaintiff, Jayne, and McCoy. (Id. ¶ 5.) When Plaintiff insisted on filing a discrimination claim after the meeting, McCoy agreed to forward the claim to the human resources department. (Id.) Plaintiff sent McCoy his claim on December 18. (Id. ¶ 6.)

         Between January 3 and February 22, 2018, Plaintiff was demoted from Operator to Laborer. (Id. ¶ II.) In March, Plaintiff was assigned to work "in confined spaces without certification from the Army Corps of Engineers." (Id. ¶ 13.) On several occasions, Defendants did not inform Plaintiff of "rain days" even though "other employers were allowed to work on those days." (Id. ¶ 11, 14.) Also, during March, Defendants assigned other employees to operate equipment that Plaintiff used to operate. (Id. ¶ 15.)

         On the same day that Plaintiff filed his internal discrimination claim, he filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). (PI. Opp. at 2, ECF No. 9.)[2] On May 31, 2018, the EEOC issued Plaintiff a letter informing him that he had ninety days to sue on the charge. (Not. of Right to Sue at 1, ECF No. 4-5.) The EEOC forwarded this right-to-sue letter to Harnden at Harnden Group. (Id.) On June 4, "McCoy insinuated and communicated biased remarks regarding the new cellphone policy directed towards Plaintiff." (Compl. ¶ 18.) Later in June, "Jayne negligently shortened Plaintiffs payroll hours." (Id. ¶ 19.)

         In late August or early September, Plaintiff filed a pro se complaint, claiming that Defendants discriminated against him because of his race and retaliated against him for complaining of the allegedly discriminatory conduct at Harnden Group. Defendants moved to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).

         II. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         Before turning to Defendants' arguments for dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the Court addresses whether it has subject matter jurisdiction. In the Fourth Circuit, it is a jurisdictional matter whether an individual qualifies as an "employer" under Title VII and, thus, may be liable for Title VII violations. See Woodard v. Va. Bd. of Bar Examiners, 598 F.2d 1345, 1346 (4th Cir. 1979). "When a requirement goes to subject-matter jurisdiction, courts are obligated to consider sua sponte issues that the parties have disclaimed or have not presented." Gonzalez v. Thaler, 565 U.S. 134, 141 (2012).

         A plaintiff bears the burden of establishing a court's subject matter jurisdiction, Adams v. Bain, 697 F.2d 1213, 1219 (4th Cir. 1982), meaning "whether the court has the competence or authority to hear the case," Davis v. Thompson, 367 F.Supp.2d 792, 799 (D. Md. 2005). A challenge to a court's subject matter jurisdiction may be either facial, i.e., complaint fails to allege facts upon which subject matter jurisdiction can be based, or factual, i.e., jurisdictional allegations of complaint are not true. Kerns v. United States, 585 F.3d 187, 192 (4th Cir. 2009). In a facial challenge, "the facts alleged in the complaint are taken as true, and the motion must be denied if the complaint alleges sufficient facts to invoke subject matter jurisdiction." Id. at 192. Applying this standard, the Court considers whether Plaintiff has established its subject matter jurisdiction over each Defendant.

         Under Title VII, "employer" "means a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has fifteen or more employees for each working day in each of twenty or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year, and any agent of such a person." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(b). Only "employers" are liable for Title VII violations. Baird ex rel. Baird v. Rose, 192 F.3d 462, 472 (4th Cir. 1999) ("Title VII does not provide a remedy against individual defendants who do not qualify as 'employers.'"). Plaintiff does not allege that the individual defendants-Harnden, McCoy, Miller, and Jayne-are his employers. See Lewis v. Antwerpen Hyundai of Clarksville, Civ. No. RDB-18-1393, 2018 WL 5809708, at *6 (D. Md. Nov. 5, 2018) (dismissing defendants where plaintiff failed to allege that they met criteria of an "employer" under Title VII). Indeed, the individual defendants appear to be mere supervisors. See Spell v. Md. Human Relations Comm'n, Civ. No. RDB-11-803, 2011 WL 6000862, at *5 (D. Md. Nov. 28, 2011) (dismissing defendants because it appeared from complaint that they were supervisors, not employers). Plaintiff does allege that Harnden Group is his employer but does not allege that it meets the specific criteria of an "employer."[3] Construing the allegations of the complaint liberally, and in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the Court concludes that Harnden Group is an "employer" pursuant to Title VII. See Marshall v. Capital View Mut. Homes, Civ. No. RWT-12-3109, 2013 WL 3353752, at *2 (D. Md. July 2, 2013) (declining to dismiss where pro se plaintiff failed to allege defendant employed fifteen employees).

         Because the facial allegations relating to the individual defendants reveal that they were Plaintiffs co workers and supervisors, the Title VII claims against them are dismissed. The Court proceeds with Defendants' arguments as to the remaining Defendant, Harnden Group.

         III. Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a complaint. Presley v. Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006). A complaint need only satisfy Rule 8(a), which requires a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). To survive a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must allege sufficient facts, accepted as true, to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Facial plausibility exists where the facts allow the court to reasonably infer that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct. Ashcroft v. Iqbal,556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Inferring the "mere possibility of misconduct" is not enough to establish a plausible claim. Id. at 679. Moreover, a complaint offering "labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. at 678 (quoting Twom ...

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