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Stanley v. Universal Cable Holdings, Inc.

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

July 8, 2019

STAN C. STANLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
UNIVERSAL CABLE HOLDINGS, INC, d/b/a SUDDENLINK COMMUNICATIONS, Defendant.

          ORDER

          TERRENCE W. BOYLE, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on the defendant's partial motion to dismiss. [DE 1');">10]. Plaintiff has responded in opposition and the matter is ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, defendant's partial motion to dismiss [DE 1');">10] is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         In 2000, plaintiff began working for defendant, a "broadband communications and video service provider," as an installer. [DE 1');">1, ¶¶ 6, 1');">12]. Over the next fifteen years, plaintiff worked his way up to sales engineer in Greenville, North Carolina. Id.1');">13.

         In May 201');">15, plaintiff complained to his district manager, Mr. Michael Tarrant, that one of defendant's female sales representatives, Ms. Sherry Cooper, was harassing another female sales representative, Ms. Tracy Williams. Id.1');">16. Over the course of that summer, plaintiff complained to Mr. Tarrant a few more times that Ms. Cooper and a third female sales representative, Ms. Casey Bailey, were harassing Ms. Williams. Id.1');">17. In August 201');">15, one of defendant's HR representatives, Mr. Scott McKittrick, began investigating plaintiffs complaints. Id.1');">19. Plaintiff participated in Mr. McKittrick's investigation as a witness in support of Ms. Williams. Id. ¶ 20. Plaintiff alleges that as a result, Ms. Cooper, Ms. Bailey, and Mr. Tarrant all began harassing him, too. Id. ¶ 21');">1. Plaintiff alleges that his office was relocated to be closer to Ms. Cooper and Ms. Bailey, he was not included in weekly sales meetings, and he was excluded from the process of preparing new quotes and installations. Id. ¶¶ 22-25.

         Plaintiff complained about this treatment to Mr. Sam Smith, his supervisor, and to Mr. McKittrick. Id. ¶ 26-27. It seems, however, that no action was taken until Mr. Tarrant was demoted from district manager to manager, with reduced "supervisory territory," for unspecified reasons. Id. ¶ 28. But plaintiff and Mr. Tarrant continued to have difficulties, so plaintiff complained to Mr. Eric Harris, the "Vice-President of Business Services," in June 201');">16. Id. ¶ 29. In August 201');">16, Ms. Williams complained to Ms. Andrea Nelson, Mr. McKittrick's supervisor, to report the harassment that she and plaintiff were suffering at the hands of Mr. Tarrant, Ms. Cooper, and Ms. Bailey. Id. ¶¶ 30-31');">1. Again, seemingly no action was taken until Mr. Tarrant's employment was terminated the following month, in September 201');">16, for unspecified reasons. Id. ¶ 32.

         A new manager, Mr. John Autry, replaced Mr. Tarrant in the Greenville location. Id. ¶ 34. Ms. Cooper and Ms. Bailey "stopped making false complaints against [p]laintiff' at this time, but he "continued to be excluded from sales calls and was not permitted to return to his previous office location." Id. But "hostility[iesj" between Ms. Williams, Ms. Cooper, and Ms. Bailey continued throughout the fall of 201');">16, and plaintiff was "regularly interviewed" about the disputes between his co-workers. Id. ¶ 35. Ultimately, Ms. Williams' employment was terminated in February 201');">17. Id. ¶ 37. Plaintiff was then permitted to take part in "some sales meetings and related telephone conferences" but was still "exclude[d] . . . from new quotes and installations," and was asked for the first time to "start submitting records of his work to [Mr.] Smith." Id. ¶ 38.

         Six months later, in August 201');">17, Mr. Aaron Penny sent plaintiff an inappropriate image of a man's genitals on the cell phone that defendant provided to him. Id. ¶ 39; see also DE 1');">1-1');">1, p. 1');">1. Plaintiff asked Mr. Penny not to send him inappropriate text messages and, in response, Mr. Penny sent another. Id. A few days later, plaintiff participated in a telephone conference that was held at his request. Id. ¶¶ 40-41');">1. Three days after that, plaintiff reported to Mr. Smith that Mr. Penny had sent him an inappropriate text message. Id. ¶ 42; see also DE 1');">1-1');">1, p. 1');">1. That day, plaintiff learned that Mr. Penny had accused him of providing Ms. Williams with defendant's "proprietary information" and with the "dial-in information" for the earlier telephone conference. Id. ¶ 43. Mr. Penny admitted to sending the inappropriate text messages. Id. ¶ 44.

         One month later, on September 28, 201');">17, defendant terminated plaintiffs employment without providing a reason. Id. ¶ 45. Plaintiff then started his own company, selling "services and products like those offered by [d]efendant," and alleges that defendant has "purposely sabotaged" his new company. Id. ¶¶ 46-47.

         On October 3, 201');">17, plaintiff filed a timely, pro se charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Id. ¶ 48; DE 1');">1-1');">1. In particular, plaintiff alleged that he was "sexually harassed" in August 201');">17 and discharged in September 201');">17, referencing the incident with Mr. Penny. [DE 1');">1-1');">1, p. 1');">1]. Plaintiff also mentions in the EEOC charge his participation in an "internal investigation," in which he provided examples of alleged sexual harassment committed by Mr. Penny and Mr. Autry. [DE 1');">1-1');">1, p. 2]. The EEOC investigated and mailed plaintiff a Right to Sue letter on December 3, 201');">18. [DE 1');">1, ¶ 1');">10].

         In March 201');">19, plaintiff initiated this action. He brings three causes of action, all under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1');">1964, claiming that defendant (1');">1) discriminated against him on the basis of his gender, (2) created an abusive and hostile working environment, and (3) retaliated against him for engaging in a protected activity. Id. ¶¶ 49-69. In response, defendant has partially moved to dismiss under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 1');">12(b)(1');">1) and 1');">12(b)(6), arguing that petitioner has not exhausted his administrative remedies as to his first two claims and has not alleged sufficient facts to state either a sex discrimination or a hostile work environment claim upon which relief can be granted. [DE 1');">10, 1');">11');">1]. Plaintiff has responded in opposition to dismissal. [DE 1');">16].

         DISCUSSION

         Defendant has moved to dismiss two of plaintiffs claims for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction under Rule 1');">12(b)(1');">1). The existence of subject-matter jurisdiction is a threshold question that a court must address before considering a case's merits. Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 88-89 (1');">1998). "Subject-matter jurisdiction cannot be forfeited or waived and should be considered when fairly in doubt." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 671');">1 (2009) (citation omitted). When subject-matter jurisdiction is challenged, the plaintiff has the burden of proving jurisdiction to survive the motion. Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co., 1');">166 F.3d 642');">1');">166 F.3d 642, 647-50 (4th Cir. 1');">1999). When a facial challenge to subject-matter jurisdiction is raised, the facts alleged by the plaintiff in the complaint are taken as true, "and the motion must be denied if the complaint alleges sufficient facts to invoke subject-matter jurisdiction." Kerns v. United States, 1');">187');">585 F.3d 1');">187, 1');">192 (4th Cir. 2009). The Court can consider evidence outside the pleadings without converting the motion into one for summary judgment. See, e.g., Evans, 1');">166 F.3d at 647.

         Defendant has also moved to dismiss two of plaintiff s claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Rule 1');">12(b)(6). When considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 1');">12(b)(6), "the court should accept as true all well-pleaded allegations and should view the complaint in a light most favorable to the plaintiff." Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari,1');">11');">130');">7 F.3d 1');">11');">130, 1');">11');">134 (4th Cir. 1');">1993). A complaint must state a claim for relief that is facially plausible. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly,550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). "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," as merely reciting the elements of a cause of action with the support of conclusory statements does not suffice. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The Court need not accept the ...


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