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Brown v. Goodwill Industries of Eastern North Carolina, Inc.

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

May 29, 2018




         On October 17, 2017, Lenton Credelle Brown ("Brown" or "plaintiff'), a pro se plaintiff proceeding in forma pauperis [D.E. 1, 4], filed a complaint against Goodwill Industries of Eastern North Carolina, Inc. ("defendant" or "Goodwill") claiming violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to 2000e-17 ("Title VII") [D.E. 5]. On December 4, 2017, Goodwill moved to dismiss Brown's complaint for failure to state a claim [D.E. 12] and filed a supporting memorandum [D.E. 13]. On January 22, 2018, Brown responded in opposition [D.E. 17]. On February 5, 2018, Goodwill replied [D.E. 18].[1] As explained below, the court grants Goodwill's motion and dismisses the complaint without prejudice for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.


         On March 3, 2016, Brown (an African-American male) began working for Goodwill as a part-time retail manager at a Goodwill store in Kinston, North Carolina. See Compl. [D.E. 5] 2, 12; Def.'s Ex. 1 [D.E. 13-1] 1. On July 29, 2016, Brown observed a white female employee (Mia Cunningham) "in the ladies bathroom talking on her cellphone facing me with the bathroom door open." Compl. 3; see Id. 8; Def.'s Ex. 1 [D.E. 13-1] 1. Brown confirmed mat Cunningham was "on the clock[, ]and sent District Manager Larelle an email with the time she had clocked back in from lunch and the fact that I witnessed her stealing time on the clock by talking on her cellphone with the bathroom door open." Compl. 3. Goodwill terminated Cunningham's employment on an unspecified date. Id. 12.

         Cunningham was "friends both inside and outside of work" with another manager (Keisha) and employee (Keotta). Id. 4. When Brown was hired, "Larelle... warned [him] about how they set people up." Id. 7. Brown had numerous unpleasant interactions with both Cunningham and Keotta. Id. 4-7. Apparently Keotta had reported several concerns for customer and employee safety to Larelle, including "customers shopping in waste all day until 5 p.m.[, ]" "a little boy [who] had a nose bleed near the toy section, " and an incident involving unidentified "red spots" on dollar bills. Id. 5-6, 8-10. Brown calls these reports "bogus." Id.

         After Brown reported to the district manager that Cunningham had been talking on her cell phone while on the clock, Keotta "accused Brown of harassing her in retaliation." Id. 6-7 (emphasis in original). According to Brown, "[i]t is against [Goodwill] policy to retaliate against any emp[l]oyee for good faith reporting of violations of the Code of Conduct." Id. 7. Brown contends that Goodwill's investigation into Keotta's complaint against Brown "was ... biased and racist." Id. 7-8, 11. On August 2 or 3, 2016, Goodwill terminated Brown's employment. Compare Compl. 2 (alleging termination date of August 3.2016). with Def.' s Ex. 1 [D.E. 13-1] 1 (alleging termination date of August2, 2016).

         On October 3, 2016, Brown filed a discrimination charge with the EEOC, claiming retaliatory discharge and discrimination on the basis of race and sex. [D.E. 13-1] 1. On July 17, 2017, the EEOC issued Brown a notice of dismissal and right to sue. Id. 2-3.


         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the complaint's legal and factual sufficiency. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal. 556 U.S. 662, 677-80 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twomblv. 550 U.S. 544, 554-63 (2007); Giarratano v. Johnson. 521 F.3d 298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008). To withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a pleading "must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Iqbal. 556 U.S. at 678 (quotation omitted); see Twomblv. 550 U.S. at 570; Giarratano. 521 F.3d at 302. In considering the motion, the court must construe the facts and reasonable inferences "in the light most favorable to the [nonmoving party]." Massey v. Oianiit. 759 F.3d 343, 352 (4th Cir. 2014) (quotation omitted); see Clatterbuck v. Citv of Charlottesville. 708 F.3d 549, 557 (4th Cir. 2013), abrogated on other grounds by Reed v. Town of Gilbert. 135 S.Ct. 2218 (2015). A court need not accept as true a complaint's legal conclusions, "unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments." Giarratano. 521 F.3d at 302 (quotation omitted); see Iqbal. 556 U.S. at 678-79. Rather, a plaintiffs allegations must "nudge[] [her] claims, " Twomblv. 550 U.S. at 570, beyond the realm of "mere possibility" into "plausibility." Iqbal. 556 U.S. at 678-79.

         When evaluating a motion to dismiss, a court considers the pleadings and any materials "attached or incorporated into the complaint." E.I, du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus.. Inc.. 637 F.3d 435, 448 (4th Cir. 2011); see Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(c); Thompson v. Greene. 427 F.3d 263, 268 (4th Cir. 2005). A court also may take judicial notice of public records without converting the motion to dismiss intb a motion for summary judgment. See, e.g.. Fed.R.Evid. 201 (d); Tellabs. Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights. Ltd.. 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007); Philips v. Pitt Ctv. Mem'l Hosp.. 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009).

         The standard used to evaluate the sufficiency of a pleading is flexible, "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) (per curiam) (quotation omitted). Erickson. however, does not 'hmdermine [the] requirement that a pleading contain 'more than labels and conclusions.'" Giarratano. 521 F.3d at 304 n.5 (quoting Twombly. 550 U.S. at 555); see Iqbal. 556 U.S. at 677-83; Coleman v. Md. Court of Appeals. 626 F.3d 187, 190 (4th Cir. 2010), affd. 566 U.S. 30 (20 m: Nemet Chevrolet. Ltd. v. Inc.. 591 F.3d250, 255-56 (4th Cir. 2009); Francis v. Giacomelli. 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009).


         To plausibly allege retaliation in violation of Title VII, an employee must allege that: (1) he engaged in protected activity; (2) his employer took an action against him that a reasonable employee would find materially adverse; and, (3) a casual connection between the protected activity and the adverse employment action. See DeMasters v. Carilion Clinic. 796 F.3d 409, 416 (4th Cir. 2015); Bover-Libero v. Fontainbleau Corp.. 786 F.3d 264, 281 (4th Cir. 2015) (en banc); Balas v. Huntington Ingalls Indus.. Inc.. 711 F.3d 401.410 (4th Cir. 2013): see also Univ. of Tex. Sw. Med. Ctr. v. Nassar. 570 U.S. 338, 362-63 (2013); Burlington N. & Santa Fe Rv. v. White. 548 U.S. 53, 68-69 (2006). To survive a motion to dismiss, a Title VII plaintiff must plausibly allege a statutory claim, not a prima facie case. See McCleary-Evans v. Md. Dep'tof Transp.. State Highway Admin.. 780 F.3d 582, 585-88 (4th Cir. 2015).

         In relevant part, Title VH's retaliation provision prohibits an employer from discriminating against any individual "because he has opposed any practice made an unlawful employment practice by this subchapter, or because he has made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under this subchapter." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). "Oppositional activity must be directed to 'an unlawful employment practice' under Title VII." DeMasters. 796 F.3d at417: see Bover-Liberto. 786 F.3d at282: Bonds v. Leavitt. 629 F.3d 369.384 (4th Cir. 2011); Laughlin v. Metro. Wash. Airports Auth..149 F.3d 253, 259 (4th Cir. 1998). An "employee is protected when [he] opposes not only employment ...

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