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Robinson v. The Procter & Gamble Manufacturing Co.

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

March 1, 2019




         Currently before this court are motions to dismiss filed by each of the following Defendants: (1) The Procter & Gamble Manufacturing Company ("P&G"), (Doc. 28); (2) Scott Spillmann, M.D. ("Spillmann"), (Docs. 31, 38); and (3) Candy Wright ("Wright"), (Doc. 33.) Each Defendant moves to dismiss the relevant claims in Plaintiff's complaint, (Amended Complaint ("Am. Compl.") (Doc. 26)), for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). For the reasons that follow, this court finds that the motion to dismiss filed by Defendant Spillmann should be granted. This court further finds that the motions to dismiss filed by Defendants P&G and Wright should each be granted in part and denied in part, as described more fully herein.


         A concise summary of the factual allegations in the complaint follows. Plaintiff Dorothea Robinson is black and worked for Defendant P&G from 1989 to 2017, first as a technician and later as a registered nurse. (Am. Compl. (Doc. 26) ¶¶ 1, 8, 40.) Plaintiff's claims are based on events that occurred between 2013 and 2017, when she was working as a registered nurse at P&G's Greensboro/Browns Summit facility. (Id. ¶ 8.) Plaintiff worked under the medical license of Defendant Spillmann, a contract physician but not a direct P&G employee, with Spillmann's permission. (Id. ¶¶ 16-18.) Plaintiff's duties included reviewing the sufficiency of invoices submitted to P&G by Spillmann. (Id. ¶ 19.)

         In July 2013, Plaintiff applied for a promotion to an open Nurse Manager position. (Id. ¶ 11.) Plaintiff alleges that P&G failed to follow its own hiring procedures and that she complained to P&G supervisors; approximately one year after applying, Plaintiff received the promotion. (Id. ¶¶ 12-13.) P&G then hired Defendant Wright, who is white and had less experience than Plaintiff, as a second Nurse Manager at the Greensboro/Browns Summit facility. (Id. ¶ 14.) Wright had the same title and responsibilities as Plaintiff and both were full-time P&E employees working under Spillmann's medical license. (Id. ¶¶ 15-16.) In 2017, Plaintiff learned that Wright was paid a higher salary than Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 20.) Plaintiff inquired within P&G about the salary differential but did not receive a satisfactory answer. (Id. ¶¶ 21-22.)

         Plaintiff subsequently applied for a position on the P&G disability board and requested additional training to advance her career; however, Plaintiff did not receive necessary support for her application and was denied training. (Id. ¶¶ 23-24.) Plaintiff made official complaints within P&G about racial discrimination around this time. (Id. ¶¶ 25-28.) Plaintiff, who was responsible for reviewing Spillmann's invoices, also raised concerns with the P&G Finance Manager because she believed that Spillmann was submitting inaccurate and incomplete invoices. (Id. ¶ 33.)

         In mid-2017, Plaintiff contends that Spillmann and Wright began a campaign to discredit her by raising concerns about her job performance. (Id. ¶¶ 31-32.) In September 2017, Wright submitted a complaint to the North Carolina Board of Nursing alleging that Plaintiff had violated professional standards of conduct in patient care. (Id. ¶¶ 36-37.) Plaintiff alleges that Wright made false and defamatory statements about her job performance, both to Spillmann and to the Board. (Id. ¶¶ 66-73.) In August 2017, Spillmann filed an internal complaint against Plaintiff and revoked her ability to practice as a nurse under his medical license. (Id. ¶ 38.) Plaintiff was suspended pending an investigation into her performance and ultimately terminated by P&G in late 2017. (Id. ¶¶ 38-40.)


         Plaintiff received a right to sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on November 21, 2017. (Id. ¶ 41, Ex. A) Plaintiff then timely filed her initial complaint in Guilford County Superior Court on January 24, 2018, (see Doc. 1-1 at 23), and P&G removed the case to this court on February 23, 2018. (Doc. 1.)

         Plaintiff subsequently filed an amended complaint. (Am. Compl. (Doc. 26).) Each Defendant then moved to dismiss the amended complaint and filed a memorandum in support of its respective motion: P&G, (Doc. 29); Spillmann, (Doc. 32); and Wright, (Doc. 34). Defendants P&G and Wright separately filed answers to the amended complaint. (Docs. 30, 35, respectively.) P&G then filed an amended answer, (Doc. 37). Spillmann filed an amended consolidated answer and motion to dismiss, (Doc. 38), and a memorandum in support thereof, (Doc. 39). These amendments were permitted as a matter of course. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a) .

         Plaintiff responded opposing each motion to dismiss. (Docs. 40, 41, 43). Each Defendant filed a reply. (Docs. 42, 45, 46.)


         "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)). In other words, the plaintiff must plead facts that "allow[] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable" and must demonstrate "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556-57).

         When ruling on a motion to dismiss, this court must accept the complaint's factual allegations as true. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Further, "the complaint, including all reasonable inferences therefrom, [is] liberally construed in the plaintiff's favor." Estate of Williams-Moore v. All. One Receivables Mgmt., Inc., 335 F.Supp.2d 636, 646 (M.D. N.C. 2004) (citation omitted). Despite this deferential standard, a court will not accept mere legal conclusions as true, and "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, [will] not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         Employment discrimination complaints must meet the Twombly/Iqbal plausibility standard; however, the plaintiff is not required to make out a prima facie case or satisfy any heightened pleading requirements at the motion to dismiss stage. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 511 (2002); McCleary-Evans v. Md. Dep't of Transp., State Highway Admin., 780 F.3d 582, 584-85 (4th Cir. 2015). The plaintiff is, however, required to plead facts that permit the court to reasonably infer each element of the prima facie case, including less favorable treatment than similarly-situated employees outside of the protected class. McCleary-Evans, 780 F.3d at 585; see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 682-83 (plaintiff must plead facts supporting reasonable inference of discriminatory intent); Coleman v. Md. Ct. of Appeals, 626 F.3d 187, 191 (4th Cir. 2010) (stating that a complaint must "assert facts establishing the plausibility" that plaintiff was terminated based on race).

         "A plaintiff may prove that an employer took action with discriminatory or retaliatory intent through direct evidence or through the burden-shifting framework of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green." Strothers v. City of Laurel, 895 F.3d 317, 327 (4th Cir. 2018). Under the McDonnell Douglas framework, once the plaintiff has made a plausible showing of each element, the claim will survive a motion to dismiss and the burden then shifts to the defendant to provide "some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason" for the disparate treatment. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         A. Employment Discrimination

         A Title VII employment discrimination claim includes the following elements: "(1) membership in a protected class; (2) satisfactory job performance; (3) adverse employment action; and (4) different treatment from similarly situated employees ...

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