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Gates v. Waffle House Corp.

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

January 8, 2019

Deanna L. Gates, Plaintiff,
v.
Waffle House Corp., et al., Defendants.

          ORDER & MEMORANDUM & RECOMMENDATION

          Robert T. Numbers, II United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Deanna L. Gates asks the court to allow her to proceed against the Defendants without paying the required filing fee or other costs normally associated with a civil lawsuit (otherwise known as proceeding “in forma pauperis” or “IFP”). D.E. 1. As part of its evaluation of this request, the court must also examine the viability of Gates's claims. The court must dismiss any claims that are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seek monetary damages from a party who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e).

         After reviewing Gates's financial affidavits, the court grants her application to proceed IFP. D.E. 1. The court also finds that some claims in Gates's Complaint survive frivolity review and may proceed forward.

         I. Background

         Gates filed a Charge of Discrimination with the North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings in April 2018. D.E 1-2 at 3. In the Charge, Gates alleged that Waffle House discriminated against her because of her race and color by disciplining her unfairly, failing to train her properly, failing to consider her for promotions, and failing to address threats made by other workers. D.E. 1-2 at 3-4. She also claims that Waffle House's actions created a hostile work environment and that she was subjected to retaliation for complaining about discriminatory conduct. Id. The NCOAH forwarded the Charge of Discrimination to the EEOC, who notified Waffle House of Gates's allegations. Id. at 1-2 at 6. The EEOC issued a Notice of Right to sue letter to Gates in May 2018. D.E. 1-2 at 1.

         Gates, proceeding pro se, filed a timely Motion to Proceed IFP and a Proposed Complaint in August 2018. D.E. 1, 1-1. The next month, Gates filed an Amended Complaint. D.E. 5.

         The Amended Complaint names Waffle House Corporation, Cheryl Allen, Angelo Martinez, James Dean, Desiree Lassiter, and Eve Stubbs as defendants. D.E. 5 at 1. Allen is a manager at the Waffle House where Gates worked, Dean is a regional manager, Martinez and Lassiter are district managers, and Stubbs is an employee at another Waffle House location. Id.

         In her Amended Complaint, Gates alleges that Waffle House and its employees discriminated against her because of race and color and that it retaliated against her for complaining about the discriminatory conduct. Gates contends that Waffle House and its employees subjected her to a hostile work environment where she was harassed, singled out, and treated differently from other employees and was then wrongfully terminated for complaining about her treatment. D.E. 5 at 5-7. Gates further alleges Martinez, Allen, and Stubbs, defamed her, which forced her to seek employment in another town. D.E. 5 at 6-7.

         II. Analysis

         A. Application to Proceed in District Court without Prepaying Fees or Costs

         A party asking to proceed IFP must submit an affidavit about their monthly income and expenses. A review of Gates's IFP application (D.E. 1) reveals that her monthly income does not greatly exceed her monthly expenditures. The court finds that she lacks sufficient resources to pay the required filing fee and other costs associated with litigation. Thus, her application is granted and she may proceed without full prepayment of costs.

         B. Screening under 28 U.S.C. § 1915

         In addition to determining whether Gates is entitled to IFP status, the court must also analyze the viability of the claims in her Complaint. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e). The court reviews a complaint to eliminate those claims that unnecessarily impede judicial efficiency and the administration of justice. The court must dismiss any portion of the complaint it determines is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Id. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         A complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted if it does not “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). The Supreme Court has explained that “[a] claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. Gates's status as a pro se party relaxes, but does not eliminate, the requirement that her complaint contain facially plausible claims. The court must liberally construe a pro se plaintiff's ...


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