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Lindsay v. East Penn Manufacturing Co. Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

March 18, 2019

BOBBY W. LINDSAY, Plaintiff,
v.
EAST PENN MANUFACTURING CO. INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          OSTEEN, JR., DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Bobby W. Lindsay brings claims for employment discrimination and retaliation against his former employer, Defendant East Penn Manufacturing Co. Inc. (Complaint (Doc. 7).) Defendant has moved to dismiss these claims pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). (Doc. 12.) For the reasons that follow, this court finds that Defendant's motion should be denied.

         I. FACTUAL & PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         In reviewing a motion to dismiss, this court “must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007).

         Plaintiff was employed by Defendant from 2008 until 2016. (Complaint (“Compl.”) (Doc. 7) ¶ 3.) In approximately 2014, Plaintiff applied for an internal promotion to lead man and did not receive the position. (Id. ¶ 12.) Instead, Defendant allegedly hired a less-qualified white employee from outside the company. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that, when he brought this to the attention of management, “he was informed by East Penn management that the company had a policy of not promoting black employees.” (Id. ¶ 13.)

         Plaintiff further alleges that, on multiple occasions, he was the recipient of racial slurs and demeaning comments from several specific co-workers, including being called a “black mother fucker” in August 2016. (Id. ¶¶ 4-5.) Plaintiff further alleges that certain white co-workers spat on black co-workers on multiple occasions. (Id. ¶ 6.) Plaintiff complained about these incidents to management in late August 2016, who allegedly took no meaningful action and blamed Plaintiff for bringing the treatment on himself. (Id. ¶¶ 7-8.)

         After the complaint about disparaging racial comments in late August 2016, Defendant allegedly disciplined Plaintiff for using foul language on September 2, 2016 and then terminated Plaintiff for insubordinate conduct on October 4, 2016. (Id. ¶¶ 9-10.) Plaintiff filed his Complaint in this matter in Forsyth County Superior Court on April 9, 2018, (Doc. 4-1), and Defendant then removed the matter to this court as a federal-question case. (See Doc. 4.) Plaintiff brings claims for a hostile work environment, discriminatory failure to promote, and retaliation pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and for violation of a state public policy. (Compl. (Doc. 7) ¶¶ 14-23.) Defendant has moved to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), (Doc. 12), and submitted a memorandum in support of its motion, (Def.'s Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss (“Def.'s Mem.”) (Doc. 13).) Plaintiff has responded, (Doc. 15), and Defendant has replied, (Doc. 16.)

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         “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.

         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 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). The Fourth Circuit has explained, however, that “evidentiary determinations regarding whether the comparators' features are sufficiently similar to constitute appropriate comparisons generally should not be made at” the motion to dismiss stage. Woods v. City of Greensboro, 855 F.3d 639, 650 (4th Cir.), cert. denied sub nom., City of Greensboro v. BNT Ad Agency, LLC, U.S., 138 S.Ct. 558 (2017).

         “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).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Hostile ...


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