Gadson v. State of Alabama Department of Corrections
MEMORANDUM OPINION and ORDER-re: Motion to Dismiss 9 . The Motion is GRANTED with leave for pltf to replead her complaint within 20 days. Signed by Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins on 7/26/2013. (AVC)
2013 Jul-26 PM 12:48
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
STATE OF ALABAMA
) Case No.: 2:13-CV-105-VEH
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Monica Gadson (“Ms. Gadson”) initiated this job discrimination case
arising under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 against the State of Alabama Department
of Corrections (the “DOC”) on January 16, 2013. (Doc. 1). Pending before the court
is the DOC’s Motion To Dismiss (Doc. 9) (the “Motion”) filed on June 24, 2013. The
DOC also supported its Motion on that same date with a separate brief. (Doc. 10).
Ms. Gadson opposed the Motion on July 8, 2013. (Doc. 11). The DOC
followed with its reply on July 18, 2013. (Doc. 12). Accordingly, the Motion is now
ready for disposition, and, for the reasons explained below, is GRANTED with leave
for Ms. Gadson to replead her race discrimination claim only.
A Rule 12(b)(6) motion attacks the legal sufficiency of the complaint. See Fed.
R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require only that the
complaint provide “‘a short and plain statement of the claim’ that will give the
defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff’s claim is and the grounds upon which it
rests.” Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957), abrogated by Bell Atlantic Corp.
v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 545 (2007); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a).
While a plaintiff must provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief, Rule 8
does not mandate the inclusion of “detailed factual allegations” within a complaint.
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 545 (quoting Conley, 355 U.S. at 47). However at the same
time, “it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me
accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). “[O]nce a claim has
been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with
the allegations in the complaint.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563.
“[A] court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying
pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the
assumption of truth.” Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1950. “While legal conclusions can provide
the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations.” Iqbal,
129 S. Ct. at 1950. “When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should
assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an
entitlement to relief.” Id. (emphasis added). “Under Twombly’s construction of Rule
8 . . . [a plaintiff’s] complaint [must] ‘nudge [any] claims’ . . . ‘across the line from
conceivable to plausible.’ Ibid.” Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1950-51.
A claim is plausible on its face “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that
allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. “The plausibility standard is not akin
to a ‘probability requirement,’ but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a
defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).
Ms. Gadson’s complaint alleges gender and race discrimination as an employee
of the DOC stemming from her being sent to the Warden’s office on December 1,
2010, and subsequently “being sent home and not allowed to work because of her
hairstyle, dreadlocks.” (Doc. 1 at 5 ¶ 17). Ms. Gadson additionally complains that
after she returned to work on December 15, 2010, she had to cover up her dreadlocks
to avoid being sent home again. (Id. ¶¶ 18, 19). Ms. Gadson further states that the
DOC “did not have a policy regarding hairstyles for male employees.” (Id. ¶ 22).
The DOC contends in its Motion that Ms. Gadson’s claims are not cognizable
under Title VII or § 1981 and relies primarily upon a series of rulings made by Judge
R. David Proctor of this court in the comparable case of Andrea Campbell v. State of
Alabama Department of Corrections, No. 2:13-CV-0106-RDP (attached by the DOC
in this lawsuit as Doc. 9-2 at 1-5, Doc. 9-3 at 1, and Doc. 9-4 at 1).
Gender Discrimination (Count One)
In the Campbell case, Judge Proctor dismissed Ms. Campbell’s gender
discrimination claim against the DOC which, akin to Ms. Gadson’s, was premised upon
the DOC’s objection to her dreadlocks and the alleged absence of any hairstyle policy
applicable to the DOC’s male employees. (See Doc. 9-1 at 4 ¶ 14 (“The policy
[disallowed dreadlocks, but] allowed female employees to wear hair weaves, braids
and twists. There was no policy regarding hairstyles for men.”)). The court has studied
Judge Proctor’s analysis and finds its reasoning to be persuasive, particularly as the
opinion, in turn, relies upon Eleventh Circuit binding precedent as support for the
conclusion that a plaintiff cannot assert gender discrimination with respect to the
enforcement of an employer’s grooming policy even if the requirements for female and
male employees are different.
More specifically, in Harper v. Blockbuster Entertainment Corp., 139 F.3d 1385
(11th Cir. 1998), the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of a Title
VII lawsuit brought by four male employees who complained about a grooming policy
that permitted women — but not men — to have long hair. Id. at 1386. Regarding the
plaintiffs’ purported claim for gender discrimination, the Eleventh Circuit reasoned:
The plaintiffs allege that Blockbuster’s grooming policy
discriminates on the basis of sex in violation of Title VII. In Willingham
v. Macon Telegraph Pub. Co., 507 F.2d 1084, 1092 (5th Cir.1975) (en
banc), our predecessor Court held that differing hair length standards for
men and women do not violate Title VII, a holding which squarely
forecloses the plaintiffs’ discrimination claim. See Bonner v. City of
Prichard, 661 F.2d 1206, 1209-10 (11th Cir. 1981). Accordingly, the
district court correctly dismissed Count I.
Harper, 139 F.3d at 1387 (emphasis added).
Further, as the pre-split Willingham court explained regarding an employer’s
enforcement of hairstyle or grooming standards:
We agree with the District of Columbia Circuit’s treatment of this
problem. Dodge v. Giant Food, Inc., D.C. Cir. 1973, 488 F.2d 1333,
following that court's earlier decision in Fagan v. National Cash Register
Co., 1973, 157 U.S. App. D.C. 15, 481 F.2d 1115. In Fagan, the plaintiff
employee was discharged for refusal to comply with a company grooming
rule because of his long hair, and sued under Sec. 703(a). Dismissal of
his suit was affirmed, on the ground that hair length is not constitutionally
or statutorily protected, and hence its regulation as to men but not women
designed to further the employer's legitimate business interest, is not
sexual discrimination. Fagan v. National Cash Register Co., supra, 481
F.2d at 1125. Enlarging upon this principle, the court held in Dodge that
hair length regulations ‘are classifications by sex . . . which do not
represent any attempt by the employer to prevent the employment of a
particular sex, and which do not pose distinct employment disadvantages
for one sex. Neither sex is elevated by these regulations to an appreciably
higher occupational level than the other. We conclude that Title VII never
was intended to encompass sexual classifications having only an
insignificant effect on employment opportunities.’ Dodge v. Giant Food,
Inc., supra, 488 F.2d at 1337.
We adopt the view, therefore, that distinctions in employment
practices between men and women on the basis of something other than
immutable or protected characteristics do not inhibit employment
opportunity in violation of Sec. 703(a). Congress sought only to give all
persons equal access to the job market, not to limit an employer’s right to
exercise his informed judgment as to how best to run his shop.
Willingham, 507 F.2d at 1091-92 (emphasis added).
Accordingly, because Ms. Gadson’s dreadlocks are mutable, she cannot
plausibly state a claim for gender discrimination with respect to the DOC’s prohibition
against her wearing dreadlocks, even though the challenged hairstyle policy allegedly
only applies to females. Accordingly, the Motion is GRANTED, and count one of Ms.
Gadson’s complaint is HEREBY DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
Race Discrimination (Count Two)1
Regarding her race discrimination claim, Ms. Gadson asserts that:
She was unjustly disciplined because of her race, African
American, and subjected to racial discrimination. Plaintiff further avers
the Defendant has a habit and/or practice of discriminating against
(Doc. 1 at 8 ¶ 32).
In addressing some similar allegations made by Ms. Campbell, Judge Proctor
Because “Title VII and § 1981 ‘have the same requirements of proof and use
the same analytical framework[,]’” Chapter 7 Trustee v. Gate Gourmet, Inc., 683 F.3d
1249, 1256-57 (11th Cir. 2012) (quoting Standard v. A.B.E.L. Servs., Inc., 161 F.3d
1318, 1330 (11th Cir. 1998)), the court addresses the viability of Ms. Gadson’s race
discrimination claim asserted under both statutes collectively.
appropriately characterized the claim as one of disparate impact2 (as opposed to
disparate treatment)3 and concluded:
“A disparate impact claim is one that ‘involve[s] employment practices that are
facially neutral in their treatment of different groups but that in fact fall more harshly
on one group than another and cannot be justified by business necessity.’” Adams v.
Florida Power Corp., 255 F.3d 1322, 1324 n.4 (11th Cir. 2001) (quoting Hazen Paper
Co. v. Biggins, 507 U.S. 604, 609, 113 S. Ct. 1701, 1705, 123 L. Ed. 2d 338 (1993)).
Here, the facially neutral employment practice that Ms. Gadson contends has a racially
disparate impact is the DOC’s enforcement of its hairstyle policy.
“To make out a prima facie case of racial discrimination a plaintiff must show
(1) she belongs to a protected class; (2) she was qualified to do the job; (3) she was
subjected to adverse employment action; and (4) her employer treated similarly situated
employees outside her class more favorably.” Crawford v. Carroll, 529 F.3d 961, 970
(11th Cir. 2008) (citing Knight v. Baptist Hosp. of Miami, Inc., 330 F.3d 1313, 1316
(11th Cir. 2003)). Here, any claim of disparate treatment on the basis of race is flawed
for at least two reasons.
First, Ms. Gadson’s allegation that she was sent home due to her non-compliance
with the DOC’s hairstyle policy, without more, is not sufficient to satisfy the adverse
employment action element. In particular, the court points out that, in her opposition,
Ms. Gadson incorrectly urges that sending her home satisfies the material adversity
standard. (Doc. 11 at 2 ¶ 7). However, that “more relaxed” measure is applicable to
retaliation claims only, not to alleged discriminatory conduct. See, e.g., Crawford, 529
F.3d at 973 (“If any doubt remained regarding the incorrectness of the district court’s
[retaliation] ruling—though we find none does—application of the decidedly more
relaxed Burlington standard to the facts of this case must emphatically dispel it.”).
Instead, “when defining the level of substantiality required for a Title VII
discrimination claim, [the Eleventh Circuit still] require[s] an employee to demonstrate
she suffered ‘a serious and material change in the terms, conditions, or privileges of
employment’ to show an adverse employment action.” Crawford, 529 F.3d at 970-71
(emphasis added in Crawford) (quoting Davis v. Town of Lake Park, 245 F.3d 1232,
1239 (11th Cir. 2001)).
Second, Ms. Gadson has not alleged that the DOC allowed other employees,
[T]he court is unsure how a policy that purportedly allows black
males but not black females to wear a certain hairstyle has a disparate
impact based upon race. Nevertheless, the court will provide Plaintiff a
final opportunity to amend the complaint to assert a viable disparate
impact claim based upon race. That is, as with all such Title VII impact
claimants, Plaintiff must be prepared to show, usually through statistical
evidence, that the policy in question disproportionately and adversely
(Doc. 9-2 at 5). Accordingly, Judge Proctor dismissed Ms. Campbell’s case without
prejudice to her right to replead this particular claim. (Doc. 9-3 at 1). Ultimately, Ms.
Campbell never amended her complaint, and Judge Proctor dismissed her entire case
with prejudice and taxed her with costs. (Doc. 9-4 at 1).
The undersigned, like Judge Proctor, struggles to envision how Ms. Gadson
might plausibly plead a disparate racial impact claim premised upon the DOC’s
enforcement of its hairstyle policy against her. Nevertheless, the court will allow Ms.
Gadson the option to endeavor to do so within 20 days from the entry date of this order.
Accordingly, count two of Ms. Gadson’s complaint is HEREBY DISMISSED
WITHOUT PREJUDICE to her right to replead a plausible discriminatory impact
claim based upon race.
outside of her racially protected category, to remain at to work despite their noncompliance with the hairstyle policy.
For the reasons stated herein the Motion is GRANTED with leave for Ms.
Gadson to replead only her discriminatory impact claim within 20 days of the entry date
of this order. Further, the failure of Ms. Gadson to file an amended pleading that
complies with this order will result in a dismissal of her entire case with prejudice.
DONE and ORDERED this 26th day of July, 2013.
VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS
United States District Judge
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