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Thomas v. East Penn Manufacturing Co. Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

March 29, 2018

ASIYAH R. THOMAS, Plaintiff,
v.
EAST PENN MANUFACTURING CO. INC., ROBERT COLLINS, and JIMMY BOBBIT, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          OSTEEN, JR., District Judge

         Plaintiff Asiyah R. Thomas (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se, filed this Complaint on April 4, 2017, naming as Defendants her employer, East Penn Manufacturing Co. Inc. (“East Penn”), and Robert Collins and Jimmy Bobbit, two employees of East Penn. (Doc. 2.) A summons was issued, (Doc. 5), and served on East Penn, (Doc. 12). Defendant East Penn responded by moving to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. (8)(a) and 12(b)(6). (Doc. 13.) Plaintiff has responded, (Doc. 16), and Defendant has replied, (Doc. 20). Also before the court is Plaintiff's Motion to Seal, (Doc. 17), to which East Penn objects, (Doc. 21). These matters are now ripe for ruling, and for the reasons stated herein, this court finds Plaintiff's motion to seal should be denied, that Defendant's motion to dismiss should be granted, and the Complaint dismissed.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         While the Complaint is extensive and at times unclear, the Complaint includes claims of discrimination based upon race and Plaintiff's pregnancy, (see Complaint (“Compl.”) (Doc. 2 at 2-3), all in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on December 6, 2016. (Compl., Ex. 2 (Doc. 2-2) at 2.) The EEOC closed its file on the Charge because it “was not timely filed with EEOC” and issued a Dismissal and Notice of Rights dated January 31, 2017. (Id. at 1.) Plaintiff timely filed this Complaint and attached to the Complaint these EEOC documents. (Compl. (Doc. 2); Compl., Ex. 2 (Doc. 2-2).)

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         “To survive a motion to dismiss, a 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 Atl. Corp. V. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible if the plaintiff provides enough factual content to allow the court to reasonably infer that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct. Id. The pleading setting forth the claim must be “liberally construed” in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and allegations made therein are taken as true. Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421 (1969). However, the “requirement of liberal construction does not mean that the court can ignore a clear failure in the pleadings to allege any facts [that] set forth a claim.” Estate of Williams-Moore v. Alliance One Receivables Mgmt., Inc., 335 F.Supp.2d 636, 646 (M.D. N.C. 2004). The court must separate out allegations not entitled to the assumption of truth, including conclusory allegations and bare assertions amounting to a “formulaic recitation of the elements[, ]” to determine whether the factual allegations, taken as true, “plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 680-81.

         “A document filed pro se is ‘to be liberally construed, ' and ‘a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citations omitted). Nevertheless, liberal construction of a pro se complaint does not “undermine Twombly's requirement that a pleading contain ‘more than labels and conclusions[.]'” Giarratano v. Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 304 n.5 (4th Cir. 2008) (citation omitted).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Failure to State a Claim

         Defendant first argues that “[a]bsent a clear statement of claims showing that Plaintiff is entitled to relief, as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), the Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and should be dismissed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).” (Memorandum of Law in Support of Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (“Def.'s Br.”) (Doc. 14) at 5.) This court disagrees that dismissal is required as a result of the allegedly vague and conclusory allegations.

         Title VII prohibits an employer from “discriminat[ing] against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race [or] sex.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). As summarized by Covington v. Randolph Hosp., Inc., 147 F.Supp.3d 399 (M.D. N.C. 2015):

In Title VII cases, a plaintiff does not need to plead a prima facie case of race discrimination in order to survive a motion to dismiss. McCleary-Evans v. Md. Dep't of Transp., 780 F.3d 582, 585 (4th Cir. 2015). But a plaintiff cannot simply plead facts that are “consistent with discrimination.” Id. at 586 (alteration in original) (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937). Instead, the plaintiff must “allege facts to satisfy the elements of a cause of action created by that statute.” Id. at 585. Thus, if an employee claims to have suffered an adverse employment action, she must plead facts to raise a plausible inference that she suffered the adverse action “because of [her] race.” Id. (emphasis and alteration in original). Similarly, if the employee claims that her employer created a hostile work environment, she must plead facts to establish that “the workplace [was] permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult that [was] sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of [her] employment and create an abusive working environment.” See Boyer-Liberto v. Fontainebleau Corp., 786 F.3d 264, 277 (4th Cir. 2015).

Id. at 402-03.

         Plaintiff's Complaint, while exceeding the requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a) in terms of irrelevant details, is far more than a “the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me-accusation” as argued by Defendant. (Def.'s Br. (Doc. 14) at 7.) The Complaint alleges numerous instances of specific wrongdoing during and after the Plaintiff's pregnancy. (See, e.g., Compl. (Doc. 2) at 2 (“My supervisor at the time of my complaints . . . subjected myself . . . to offensive racial comments, and during my pregnancy heavier work assignments.”).) Attached to the Complaint as an exhibit are specific instances of inappropriate racial comments. (See generally Compl., Ex. 1 (Doc. 2-1).) The original Charge of Discrimination is attached to the Complaint and includes specific allegations of racial discrimination and disparate treatment during pregnancy. (See generally Compl., Ex. 2 (Doc. 2-2).) Plaintiff's overly descriptive complaint contains within it specific allegations sufficient to raise the inference that Defendant took adverse employment action against Plaintiff because of her race and pregnancy in violation of Title VII. While a pro se plaintiff might file a pleading in violation of Rule 8(a) in certain instances, e.g., Plumhoff v. Central Mortgage Company, ___ F.Supp.3d ___, 2017 WL 6508942, at *2-4 (D. Md. Dec. 20, 2017), this court is not persuaded dismissal is warranted on this basis here, and construes Plaintiff's Complaint as asserting claims of discrimination based upon race, pregnancy, and a racially hostile work environment.

         B. Title VII's Limitation Period

         Defendant also argues that “to the extent that Plaintiff seeks relief under Title VII, her claims are time barred as found by the EEOC, since she did not file the Charge within the 300-day ...


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