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Peltier v. Charter Day School, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division

March 30, 2017

BONNIE PELTIER, as Guardian of A.P., a minor child; ERIKA BOOTH, as Guardian of I.B., a minor child; and PATRICIA BROWN, as Guardian of K.B., a minor child; Plaintiffs,
CHARTER DAY SCHOOL, INC., ROBERT P. SPENCER, CHAD ADAMS, SUZANNE WEST, COLLEEN COMBS, TED BODENSCHATZ, and MELISSA GOTT in their capacities as members of the Board of Trustees of Charter Day School, Inc., and THE ROGER BACON ACADEMY, INC., Defendants.


          Malcolm J. Howard, Senior United States District Judge

         This matter is before the court on defendants' motion to dismiss all claims against them for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Plaintiffs have responded, and defendants have replied. This matter is ripe for adjudication.


         Plaintiffs bring suit on behalf of three minor children, all of whom are students at Charter Day School (the "school") in kindergarten, fourth and eighth Graders respectively. Charter Day School is a co-educational charter school in Brunswick County, North Carolina. The uniform policy or dress code of the school requires girls to wear skirts, skorts or jumpers and boys to wear either pants or shorts. All students are required to wear gym uniforms for gym class. Failure to comply with the policy results in disciplinary measures.

         Plaintiffs bring this action challenging the fact that girls are not allowed to wear shorts or pants because -they are girls. Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief, along with nominal damages and attorney fees under Title IX and the North Carolina and United States Constitutions. They also assert defendants Charter Day School, Inc. ("CDS") and The Roger Bacon Academy, Inc. ("RBA") are in breach of contracts, of which plaintiffs are third-party beneficiaries.[1]

         Plaintiffs do not challenge the school's authority to impose a uniform policy or argue that uniform policies in general are unlawful. Rather, here, plaintiffs challenge the specific sex-based requirement that girls must wear skirts, skorts or jumpers and are not allowed to wear pants or shorts. Plaintiffs allege this requirement subjects them to archaic sex stereotypes about what constitutes appropriate behavior and conduct for girls, reinforcing the notion that girls, but not boys, must dress and behave modestly, that they are less' physically active than boys and that they should behave and dress in a manner that is otherwise traditionally considered appropriately feminine. As a result, they have refrained or been prevented from engaging in certain physical activities, including climbing gym structures, sliding on a slide, swinging from monkey bars, and doing cartwheels. They claim these requirements burden them with restrictions on their comfort, warmth, and freedom of movement that the boys do not suffer and therefore the policy constitutes unlawful sex discrimination. Defendants have moved to dismiss plaintiffs' claims. Appropriate responses and replies have been filed, and this matter is ripe for adjudication.


         I. Standard of Review

         A federal district court confronted with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim should view the allegations of the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Ibarra v. United States, 120 F.3d 472, 474 (4th Cir. 1997). The intent of Rule 12(b) (6) is to test the sufficiency of a complaint. Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). A Rule 12(b) (6) motion '"does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.'" Id. (quoting Republican Party v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992)). "[O]nce a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 563 (2007).

         "[A] complaint need not 'make' a case' against a defendant or 'forecast evidence sufficient to prove an element' of the claim." Chao v. Rivendell Woods, Inc., 415 F.3d 342, 349 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting Iodice v. United States, 289 F.3d 270, 281 (4th Cir. 2002)). Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides "for simplicity in pleading that intends to give little more than notice to the defendant of the plaintiff s claims and that defers until after discovery any challenge to those claims insofar as they rely on facts." Teachers' Ret. Sys. of La. v. Hunter, 477 F.3d 162, 170 (4th Cir. 2007). A complaint is generally sufficient if its "'allegations are detailed and informative enough to enable the defendant to respond.'" Chao, 415 F.3d at 349 (quoting 5 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure, § 1215 at 193 (3d ed. 2004)). Thus, a complaint satisfies the Rules if it gives "fair notice" of the claim and "the grounds upon which it rests." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 554-55 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         II. Equal Protection Claims

         Defendants move to dismiss plaintiffs' claims under the Equal Protection Clause ("EPC") of the United States Constitution. "The equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects individuals against intentional, arbitrary-discrimination by government officials." Hayden ex rel. A.H. v. Greensburg Cmty. Sch. Corp., 743 F.3d 569, 577 (7th Cir. 2014)(quoting Village of Willowbrook v. Olech, 528 U.S. 562, 564, 120 S.Ct. 1073, 1074-75, 145 L.Ed.2d 1060 (2000) (per curiam).

         Defendants argue plaintiffs have not alleged a violation of a constitutional right. Defendants first argue that because plaintiffs voluntarily chose to attend the school (as it is a charter school) and were informed of the uniform policy prior to enrollment, they cannot now claim they have been unlawfully discriminated against. Defendants cite no law to support this waiver argument and do not dispute that charter schools are statutorily-defined public schools. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 115C-218.15; see Yarbrough v. East Wake First Charter School, 108 F.Supp.3d 331, 337 (E.D. N.C. 2015). Additionally, they argue the alleged harms are "self-imposed" and can be prevented by wearing a skort or wearing leggings under a skirt or jumper, both allowed by the uniform policy. Defendants cite no legal authority to support this argument either, and the court finds this argument is, in reality, a factual contention more appropriate for consideration at a later stage of litigation. Whether plaintiffs' evidence can prove the harms alleged is not at issue on the motion to dismiss.

         Next, defendants argue the uniform policy is not based on impermissible sex stereotypes, referencing the written purpose of the uniform policy in the CDS Handbook. In this section of their brief, defendants note that North Carolina allows charter schools to operate single-sex educational facilities. Noting this statute, defendants argue that because plaintiffs' alleged harms would fail as a -matter of law at a single-sex school, they automatically fail here. Once again, defendants cite no case law to support this argument, and the court finds this argument to be irrelevant to whether 'plaintiffs have alleged a claim sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss. "Whether and when the adoption of differential grooming standards for males and females amounts to sex ...

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