Lewis v. US Steel
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Chief Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn on 9/18/2013. (KAM, )
2013 Sep-18 PM 02:03
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
D.J. GUY, an individual; DALLAS
BLAKENEY, an individual, and others
from UNITED STATES STEEL
FAIRFIELD, AL.; UNITED STATES
CASE NO. 2:12-cv-2250-SLB
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION
This case is currently before the court on defendant United States Steel Corporation’s (“U.S.
Steel”) Motion to Dismiss, (doc. 4),1 brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Although the court finds U.S. Steel’s arguments meritorious, the Motion to Dismiss is
due to be denied with the right to refile because the court will afford plaintiff an opportunity to replead
his claims against U.S. Steel.
I. STATEMENT OF FACTS
Plaintiff Alonzo Lewis (“plaintiff”), proceeding pro se, filed this action against U.S. Steel and
certain U.S. Steel employees on June 22, 2012, asserting claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights
Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”) and the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42
Reference to a document number, [“Doc. ___”], refers to the number assigned to each
document as it is filed in the court's record.
U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (“ADA”). (Doc. 1 at 9-10.) Plaintiff’s claims arise from his participation
in and dismissal from U.S. Steel’s Electronic Technician Training Program (“the Training Program”).
U.S. Steel hired plaintiff as a Grade 1 Laborer in June of 2006. (Id. at 9.) On April 11,
2010, plaintiff was selected for the Training Program which was supervised by defendant D.J. Guy
(“Guy”). (Id.) He was the only African American selected for the Training Program. (Id.) Shortly
thereafter, plaintiff informed Guy that he suffers from an apparent disability, although plaintiff does not
identify the particular disability in the Complaint. (Id.) In Count I, plaintiff asserts Title VII claims
for racial discrimination and harassment because Guy, a white male, subjected him to “harassment,
intimidation, and verbal abuse” in the presence of other employees, and Guy did not subject white
employees to similar treatment. (Id.) In Count II, plaintiff asserts an ADA discrimination claim
because Guy “accused [plaintiff] of ignoring him” on one occasion. (Id. at 10.) In Count III, plaintiff
brings Title VII and ADA retaliation claims because Guy and an unnamed Program Director
dismissed plaintiff from the Training Program. (Id.)
On February 28, 2013, U.S. Steel filed the instant Motion to Dismiss, (doc. 4), on its behalf
alone, arguing that plaintiff’s claims are due to be dismissed for failure to state a claim under Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The other defendants remain unserved.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
The purpose of a motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) is to evaluate the facial
sufficiency of the pleading.
Rule 12(b)(6) must be read together with Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure, which “requires that a pleading contain a short and plain statement of the
claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the
claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Am. Dental Ass’n v. Cigna Corp., 605 F.3d 1283,
1288 (11th Cir. 2010) (internal citations and quotations omitted). The Supreme Court has explained
that the pleading requirement of Rule 8(a)(2) “does not require ‘detailed factual allegations,’ but it
demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555
(2007)). A complaint satisfies Rule 8(a)(2)’s pleading requirement and withstands a Rule 12(b)(6)
motion to dismiss if it contains “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief
that is plausible on its face.” Id. (emphasis added) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570) (internal
quotations omitted). A claim for relief has “facial plausibility” if it “allows the court to draw the
reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly,
550 U.S. at 556).
Pro se pleadings are held to “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by
lawyers,” and, therefore, the court will construe the Complaint liberally. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S.
519, 520 (1972); Tannenbaum v. United States, 148 F.3d 1262, 1263 (11th Cir. 1998); see a lso
Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(e) (“Pleadings must be construed so as to do justice.”). Nevertheless, pro se
litigants are not exempt from complying with the requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure, including Rule 8(a)(2)’s pleading standard.
GJR Investments, Inc. v. Cnty. of
Escambia, 132 F.3d 1359, 1369 (11th Cir. 1998) (“Yet even in the case of pro se litigants this
leniency does not give a court license to serve as de facto counsel for a party, or to rewrite an
otherwise deficient pleading in order to sustain an action[.]” (internal citations omitted)), overruled
on other grounds as recognized in Randall v. Scott, 610 F.3d 701, 706 (11th Cir. 2010); see
also Moon v. Newsome, 863 F.2d 835, 837 (11th Cir. 1989) (stating that pro se litigants are
“subject to the relevant law and rules of court, including the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure”).
Even construing the Complaint generously, as the court must, the Complaint does not meet
the minimal pleading standard of Rule 8(a)(2). With respect to his race discrimination claim in Count
I, plaintiff has not alleged facts plausibly demonstrating that U.S. Steel subjected him to an adverse
employment action because of his race. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e–2(a). An adverse employment
action is one that seriously and materially alters the terms, privileges, or conditions of the plaintiff’s
employment, such as termination or demotion, Davis v. Town of Lake Park, 245 F.3d 1232, 1239
(11th Cir. 2001), and Count I sets forth no facts remotely suggesting that Guy’s alleged mistreatment
caused a tangible alteration in plaintiff’s employment terms or conditions. Count III, which plaintiff
frames as a retaliation claim, does state that Guy and an unnamed Project Manager dismissed him
from the Training Program based on his race. (Doc. 1 at 10.) Assuming Count III is better suited
as a discrimination claim, the Complaint does not contain any factual basis for inferring that plaintiff’s
dismissal was racially motivated. The only allegation conceivably relating to racial animus is that Guy
subjected plaintiff to “harassment, intimidation, and verbal abuse” and “[Guy] did not do this with
white males.” (Id. at 9.) Not only is this generalized allegation precisely the type of “formulaic
recitation of [an] element of a cause of action” that the Supreme Court has deemed inadequate
under Rule 8(a)(2), Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, but plaintiff has presented no facts that these
unnamed comparators are similarly situated, Holland v. Gee, 677 F.3d 1047, 1055 (11th Cir.
2012) (providing that a prima facie case of discrimination generally requires establishing the following
elements: “ the plaintiff was a member of a protected class,  [he] was qualified to do the job,
 [he] was subjected to an adverse employment action, and  similarly situated employees
outside of the protected class were treated differently” (emphasis added)).
Likewise, with respect to the harassment/hostile work environment claim in Count I, plaintiff
has not pleaded facts plausibly demonstrating that U.S. Steel subjected him to a hostile or abusive
work environment based on his race. To state a hostile work environment claim,
[plaintiff is] required to allege that: (1) he belongs to a protected group; (2) he was
subjected to unwelcome harassment; (3) the harassment was based on his
membership in the protected group; (4) it was severe or pervasive enough to alter
the terms and conditions of employment and create a hostile or abusive working
environment; and (5) the employer is responsible for that environment under a
theory of either vicarious or direct liability.
Edwards v. Prime, Inc., 602 F.3d 1276, 1300 (11th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted). Whether
harassment is severe or pervasive enough to alter an employee’s terms or conditions of employment
depends upon “(1) the frequency of the conduct; (2) the severity of the conduct; (3) whether the
conduct is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and (4) whether the
conduct unreasonably interferes with the employee’s job performance.” Mendoza v. Borden, Inc.,
195 F.3d 1238, 1246 (11th Cir. 1999) (citing Allen v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 121 F.3d 642, 647
(11th Cir. 1997)).
The Complaint, however, does not describe Guy’s alleged “harassment,
intimidation, and verbal abuse” in any way, much less that it was frequent, humiliating, or interfered
with plaintiff’s job performance. Plaintiff must allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.
The ADA discrimination claim contained in Count II falls even shorter of Rule 8(a)(2)’s
pleading standard. A plaintiff states a prima facie case of disability discrimination by alleging that: (1)
“he has a disability”; (2) “he is qualified to serve [in his position], with or without some reasonable
accommodation by the [employer], despite his disability”; and (3) “he has suffered an adverse
employment action because of his disability (i.e., that he has suffered employment discrimination).”
Doe v. Dekalb Cnty. Sch. Dist., 145 F.3d 1441, 1445 (11th Cir. 1998) (citation omitted). Plaintiff
has presented no facts plausibly showing that his impairment qualifies as a “disability” within the
meaning of the ADA. The ADA defines “disability” as: “(A) a physical or mental impairment that
substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual; (B) a record of such
impairment; or (C) being regarded as having such impairment.” 42 U.S.C. §12102(1). Not only
does plaintiff not identify his alleged impairment, the Complaint does not provide any details
describing its nature or how it affects his major life activities. See Standard v. A.B.E.L. Servs., Inc.,
161 F.3d 1318, 1328 (11th Cir. 1998) (“[T]he mere existence of a physical impairment does not
constitute a disability under the ADA[.]”). Further, the alleged discrimination – that “Guy accused
[plaintiff] of ignoring him” on one occasion – does not constitute an adverse employment action as
a matter of law. See Davis, 245 F.3d at 1239 (an adverse employment action affects the “terms,
conditions, or privileges” of an individual’s employment “in a real and demonstrable way”). To the
extent that plaintiff asserts an ADA discrimination claim based on his dismissal from the Training
Program, that claim has been inadequately plead. The Complaint is devoid of factual matter
suggesting that his dismissal was related to his alleged disability.
The allegations supporting the Title VII and ADA retaliation claims in Count III are equally
deficient. To state a claim for retaliation under Title VII or the ADA, a plaintiff must allege that: (1)
he engaged in statutorily protected activity; (2) he suffered an adverse employment action; and (3)
a causal connection between the plaintiff’s participation in protected activity and the adverse
employment action exists. Week s v. Harden Mfg. Corp., 291 F.3d 1307, 1311 (11th Cir. 2002)
“A plaintiff engages in statutorily protected activity when [he] opposes an
employment practice that [he] has a good faith, reasonable basis to believe is unlawful.” Diamond
v. Morris, Manning & Martin, LLP, 457 F. App’x 844, 846 (11th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted);
see 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a) (Title VII anti-retaliation provision); 42 U.S.C. § 12203(a) (ADA
anti-retaliation provision). Here, plaintiff does not allege that he participated in activity protected
under either statute, “such as opposing an unlawful employment practice or participating in
proceedings against his employer.” Biniashvili v. Bohne, 397 F. App’x 597, 599 (11th Cir. 2010).
To that end, plaintiff also has not alleged facts plausibly demonstrating a casual link between any
protected activity and his dismissal from the Training Program.
Having found U.S. Steel’s Motion to Dismiss meritorious, the only question remaining is
whether plaintiff’s claims against U.S. Steel should be dismissed or whether the court should allow
plaintiff the opportunity to replead. In Bank v. Pitt, 928 F.2d 1108, 1112 (11th Cir. 1991), the
Eleventh Circuit stated that district courts should give plaintiffs at least one opportunity to amend their
complaint before dismissing it if “it appears a more carefully drafted complaint might state a claim
upon which relief can be granted.” The Eleventh Circuit partially overruled this holding in Wagner
v. Daewoo Heavy Indus. Am. Corp., 314 F.3d 541, 542 (11th Cir. 2002), wherein the court
announced that “[a] district court is not required to grant a plaintiff leave to amend his complaint sua
sponte when the plaintiff, who is represented by counsel, never filed a motion to amend nor requested
leave to amend before the district court.” However, the Wagner decision “did not disturb [the
holding] in Bank with respect to a pro se litigant’s right to amend.” Edwards v. FernandezRu ndell, 512 F. App’x 996, 997 (11th Cir. 2013) (citing Wagner, 314 F.3d at 542 n.1 (“In this
opinion, we decide and intimate nothing about a party proceeding pro se.”)).
In light of plaintiff’s pro se status, the court will afford plaintiff the opportunity to replead its
claims against U.S. Steel in a manner that comports with the pleading requirements set forth above.
The court declines to dismiss these claims without prejudice because the statute of limitations, at least
with respect to plaintiff’s Title VII claims, has expired, and a dismissal without prejudice would be
tantamount to dismissing these claims with prejudice.
Based on the foregoing, the court finds that U.S. Steel’s Motion to Dismiss, (doc. 4), is due
to be denied with the opportunity to refile. An order denying the Motion to Dismiss and allowing
plaintiff an opportunity to replead his claims against U.S. Steel will be entered contemporaneously
Done this 18th day of September, 2013.
SHARON LOVELACE BLACKBURN
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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