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Chambers v. Grimesey

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

February 19, 2019

TONY E. CHAMBERS, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT P. GRIMESEY, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION, ORDER, AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          L. PATRICK AULD, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This case comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Application for Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (Docket Entry 1) (the “Application”), filed in conjunction with his pro se Complaint (Docket Entry 2). At a hearing on the Application, the Court (per the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge) informed Plaintiff that it would defer ruling on the Application to permit Plaintiff an opportunity to file an Amended Complaint on or before April 9, 2018, addressing matters discussed at the hearing. (See Minute Entry dated Mar. 9, 2018.) On April 9, 2018, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint. (See Docket Entry 5.) For reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Plaintiff's request to proceed as a pauper for the limited purpose of recommending dismissal of this action, under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii), for failure to state a claim.

         LEGAL BACKGROUND

         “The federal in forma pauperis [‘IFP'] statute, first enacted in 1892 [and now codified at 28 U.S.C. § 1915], is intended to guarantee that no citizen shall be denied access to the courts ‘solely because his poverty makes it impossible for him to pay or secure the costs.'” Nasim v. Warden, Md. House of Corr., 64 F.3d 951, 953 (4th Cir. 1995) (en banc) (quoting Adkins v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 335 U.S. 331, 342 (1948)). “Dispensing with filing fees, however, [is] not without its problems. Parties proceeding under the statute d[o] not face the same financial constraints as ordinary litigants. In particular, litigants suing [IFP] d[o] not need to balance the prospects of successfully obtaining relief against the administrative costs of bringing suit.” Nagy v. Federal Med. Ctr. Butner, 376 F.3d 252, 255 (4th Cir. 2004).

         To address this concern, the IFP statute provides, in relevant part, that “the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that the action or appeal fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). A complaint falls short when 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) (emphasis added) (citations omitted) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). This standard “demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Id. In other words, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id.[1] The Court may also anticipate affirmative defenses that clearly appear on the face of the complaint. Nasim, 64 F.3d at 955.

         DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff's initial Complaint names Robert P. Grimesey, Jr. and Mark Johnson as defendants. (See Docket Entry 2 at 1-2.) It alleges that Plaintiff suffered discrimination, including in the form of harassment and subjection to a hostile work environment, because of his race and disability in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e to 2000e-17 (“Title VII”). (See Docket Entry 2 at 3-4.) Plaintiff specifies his disability as “anxiety/depression and mood disorders[, and c]hronic illness.”[2] (Id. at 4.) The Complaint also references termination of employment, failure to promote, failure to accommodate Plaintiff's disability, as well as unequal terms and conditions of employment, including specifically retaliation in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d to 2000d-7 (“Title VI”). (Id.)

         As invited at the hearing on the Application, Plaintiff filed a timely Amended Complaint. (See Docket Entry 5.) The Amended Complaint substitutes Moore County Schools (the “Defendant”) for Robert Grimesey, Jr. and Mark Johnson as the defendant. (See Docket Entry 5 at 1-2.) The Amended Complaint alleges that Plaintiff suffered discrimination, including in the form of harassment and subjection to a hostile work environment, because of his race and disability in violation of Title VII. (See Id. at 3-4.) The Amended Complaint does not, however, specify Plaintiff's disability. (See id.) The Amended Complaint again references termination of employment, failure to accommodate Plaintiff's disability, as well as unequal terms and conditions of employment, including specifically retaliation in violation of Title VI. (Id.)

According to the Amended Complaint:
In September 2015 [Plaintiff] was promoted to West Pine Middle as the Technology assistant. [Plaintiff] was the only African American employee in the IT Department. The school where [Plaintiff] was assigned only had 2 African American Males including [Plaintiff]. The other African American male was a janitor. After working only 3 weeks at the school [Plaintiff] was placed in [a] storage room. The media specialist did not want to work with [Plaintiff] or along side [him] in the media center. [Plaintiff] was not given a job description for the first 7 months of working in the position. [Plaintiff] reached out numerous times to IT personnel for assistance in working at this place of employment. All [Plaintiff's] efforts end[ed] in a negative result. [Plaintiff] was terminated after filing grievances in July 2017. [Plaintiff] believes [he] was fired because [he] was African American and fil[ed] grievances for hostile working environment, retaliation for filing labor board/[Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”)] complaints and Health department complaints, [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the “EEOC”)] complaints, Office of Civil Rights complaints, U.S. Department of Education complaints, Department of public instructions complaints, [and] Labor Board retaliation division complaints. [Plaintiff's] work space was not clean for 2 school terms. [Plaintiff] became sick because of [his] workspace and the employer refused to accommodate [his] medical needs because [he] was African American. A doctor recommended twice that [Plaintiff] have an air filter placed in [his] workspace. The employer refused. [Plaintiff] was sent home on administrative leave, transferred place of employment and eventually fired in July 2017, after 4 employee evaluations in one school year. [Plaintiff] was given directives that [he] felt were discriminatory. No. other IT employee had to go through any of the situations [Plaintiff] went through. [Plaintiff] was not assigned a lunch break while [he] was working at the middle school. These adverse actions were deliberate and retaliatory. After the Labor Board/OSHA [i]nspected [Plaintiff's] work place the first time in Feb. 2017, it is [Plaintiff's] belief the employer sprayed some harsh chemical into the air of [his] workspace while [Plaintiff] was occupying the space deliberately to harm [him]. A couple of weeks prior to them spraying this harsh chemical in [Plaintiff's] work space they sprayed it only after clearing the entire building for safety. [Plaintiff] was also denied access of [his] personnel file and records 3 times at the middle school by the principal and 3 or 4 times at the central office by the Director of Human Resource. [Plaintiff] believes these actions were discriminatory and in retaliation for filing with the EEOC and the federal and state agency. [Plaintiff] was told by law [he] could not see [his] personnel file. [Plaintiff] has enclosed [as] attachments [the] original complaints sent to school, board of education and EEOC and employee's evaluations that [he] was given that [he] feels was a violation of Title [VI] and Title [VII].

(Id. at 6.)

         Regarding Plaintiff's employee evaluations from Defendant, the Amended Complaint also alleges that “some of the directives [he] felt were hostile and in violation of [his] constitutional rights and in retaliation of filing grievances.” (Id. at 5.) The Amended Complaint further expresses:

[Plaintiff's] belief that . . . [he] was terminated for filing grievances and complaints. Complaints about [his] employment and concerns [his] daughters experience. [Plaintiff] was the only African American employee in the IT department. . . . The timing of [Plaintiff's] complaints and the adverse reaction leads [Plaintiff] to believe that [Defendant] deliberately discriminated, retaliated and created a hostile working environment. . . .

(Id.)

         As an attachment to the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff included his “original complaint sent to Human Resource Director, the EEOC, and the Board of Education.” (Id.; see also Docket Entry 5-2.) This attachment provides extensive factual matter surrounding a conflict between Plaintiff and his co-worker/supervisor, Melody Thomas, which allegedly created a “hostile working environment.” (Docket Entry 5 at 6; see also Docket Entry 5-2 at 1-4.) The same attachment also gives factual information pertaining to complaints that Plaintiff made to Defendant regarding discriminatory actions allegedly directed towards his daughters on their school bus. (See Docket Entry 5-2 at 5-7.)[3]

         As to “workplace harassment/hostile working environment concerns” (id. at 1), Plaintiff alleges the following:

After working 3 weeks at West Pine Middle [Plaintiff] went to Dr. Calcutt [the school principal] to express some concerns and frustrations [Plaintiff] was having with Melody Thom[as]. . . .
One of the first concerns [Plaintiff] had was that when [he] got to school in September[, ] Melody Thomas would tell [him] periodically and almost on a daily basis how upset she was about the decision made to get rid of “her” media assistant. She would often times make these comments if [Plaintiff] asked her a question or if other staff employees were present. [Plaintiff] often felt unwelcome, devalued and unappreciated. Melody Thomas told [Plaintiff] from the beginning she was not going to train [him] for anything; she felt the IT department should be responsible for that. [Plaintiff's] only problem w[as] that Melody Thomas would often tell [Plaintiff] to do things or instruct [him] to do things that she refused to help [him] do. . . . Often and too many times when [Plaintiff] would step away from a stool [he] was sitting in[, ] Melody would put a telephone in the chair and tell [Plaintiff] the girl or “her” assistant she had last year (J. Wolfe) would never sit down [and] that th[e] stool was never used to sit down in . . . . [Plaintiff] felt Melody Thomas did not want [him] in her space or working environment at West Pine Middle. . . .
[Plaintiff and] Dr. Calcutt [had] many meeting[s] and [Plaintiff] express[ed] to [Dr. Calcutt that he] felt the environment was hostile and harassing because Melody Thomas did not like the Media assistant position being taken away and the new Technology position not covering a lot of the media center needs. Dr. Calcutt told [Plaintiff] to ...

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