Davis v. Infinity Insurance Co
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER- For the reasons stated within, the motion to dismiss (Doc 52 ) is GRANTED IN PART to the extent that Davis's Count II national origin disparate treatment claim is DISMISSED; To the extent Defts request dismissal of other claims and sanctions against Davis, the motion is DENIED; Defts are DIRECTED to answer the third amended complaint by June 26, 2018; The parties are further DIRECTED to confer on dates for a new scheduling order and submit a joint status report including those dates by July 3, 2018. Signed by Magistrate Judge John H England, III on 6/12/18. (MRR, )
2018 Jun-12 PM 03:51
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
INFINITY INSURANCE CO., et al.,
Case Number: 2:15-cv-01111-JHE
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER1
Plaintiff Stephanie Davis (“Davis”) initiated this action against Infinity Insurance Co.,
Infinity Property and Casualty Corp., (collectively referred to as “Infinity”) and Robin Adams
(collectively “Defendants”) on July 1, 2015, and amended her complaint two days later. (Docs.
1 & 3). On August 14, 2015, Defendants moved to dismiss, or, in the alternative, for a more
definite statement, alleging the complaint was a shotgun pleading.
for leave to amend her complaint.2
(Doc. 9). Davis then moved
On August 29, 2016, the undersigned denied
Davis’s motion for leave to amend as futile, but permitted her to file another motion to amend
consistent with the memorandum opinion and order. (Doc. 40).
In accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 73, the parties have voluntarily consented to have a United States Magistrate Judge
conduct any and all proceedings, including trial and the entry of final judgment. (Doc. 12).
Prior to moving for leave to amend, Davis attempted to file a second amended complaint,
(doc. 18), asserting in her response to the motion to dismiss that the amendment mooted the bases
for dismissal and for a more definite statement, (doc. 19 at 3). This second amended complaint
was stricken as improperly filed. (Doc. 21).
On September 28, 2016, Davis moved for leave to file a second amended complaint, (doc.
41), and the undersigned granted Davis’s motion, (doc. 42). (See doc. 43 (second amended
Defendants again moved for dismissal or a more definite statement, again
contending the complaint was a shotgun complaint.
(Doc. 44). The undersigned denied the
motion to dismiss, but granted the motion for a more definite statement.
On October 6, 2017, Davis filed her third amended complaint. (Doc. 51).
have now moved for partial dismissal of that complaint.
and ripe for review.
(Docs. 52, 53 & 54).
(Doc. 52). The motion is fully briefed
For the reasons stated below, the motion to dismiss
is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.
Standard of Review
Rule 12(b)(6), FED. R. CIV. P., permits dismissal when a complaint fails to state a claim
upon which relief can be granted.
“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) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). A
complaint states a facially plausible claim for relief “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that
allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct
alleged.” Id. (citation omitted). The complaint must establish “more than a sheer possibility
that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id.; accord Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555
(2007) (“Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.”).
Ultimately, this inquiry is a “context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its
judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.
To that end, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a pleading must contain “a
short and plain statement of the claim showing the pleader is entitled to relief.” “[T]he pleading
standard Rule 8 announces does not require ‘detailed factual allegations,’ but it demands more
than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.”
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678
(citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Mere “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of
the elements of a cause of action” are insufficient.
quotation marks omitted).
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. (citations and internal
“Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]’ devoid
of ‘further factual enhancement.’” Id. (citing Bell Atl. Corp., 550 U.S. at 557).
This is the third motion to dismiss filed in this case, and the facts are mostly familiar.
September 2014, Infinity announced a termination and hiring plan that required current employees
and new hires to be fluent in Spanish (the “bilingual policy”). (Doc. 51 at ¶ 12). At the time
Davis, a non-Hispanic African-American who is not fluent in Spanish, was employed by Infinity
as a Policy Services Specialist. (Id. at ¶ 11).
In September 2014, Davis received a letter from
Infinity stating it was terminating her and other employees who were not fluent in Spanish.
“When considering a motion to dismiss [or, as here, its equivalent], all facts set forth in
the plaintiff=s complaint ‘are to be accepted as true and the court limits its consideration to the
pleadings and exhibits attached thereto.’” Grossman v. Nationsbank, N.A., 225 F.3d 1228, 1231
(11th Cir. 2000) (quoting GSW, Inc. v. Long Cnty., 999 F.2d 1508, 1510 (11th Cir. 1993)). In
other words, these “facts” are taken directly from the third amended complaint.
at ¶ 13). Two days later, Davis met with two Infinity executives who informed her she was being
terminated because she was not fluent in Spanish.
Despite its policy, Infinity retained a number of Caucasian, non-Hispanic employees.
at ¶ 15). These employees were not fluent in Spanish.4
These retained employees were
all less senior and less productive than Davis; some had also received formal discipline, which
Davis had not.
(Id. at ¶¶ 15-17).
In her third amended complaint, Davis asserts the following claims: (1) Title VII disparate
impact termination (national origin) claim against Infinity Defendants; (2) Title VII disparate
treatment (national origin) termination claim against Infinity Defendants; (3) Title VII and 42
U.S.C. § 1981 disparate treatment termination (race) claim against Infinity Defendants; (4) Title
VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 retaliation in benefits against all Defendants; (5) ERISA: breach of
contract against all Defendants; and (6) ERISA: interference with rights against all Defendants.
Defendants’ previous motions to dismiss challenged the complaint as a shotgun pleading,
and the undersigned agreed with that characterization.
(See docs. 40 & 50). This time they take
a different tack, contending inconsistent facts in Davis’s third amended complaint render her
Specifically, they argue the fact Infinity retained Caucasian, non-Hispanic
employees who did not speak Spanish, (doc. 51 at ¶¶ 15 & 61), calls into question the existence of
This fact did not appear in previous iterations of Davis’s complaint. (See docs. 1, 3 &
the bilingual policy Davis alleges, (doc. 51 at ¶¶ 12-13, 21, 29-30 & 61). (Doc. 52 at 5).
they say, demands dismissal of Davis’s disparate impact and disparate treatment claims, (Counts
I, II, and III) under Rule 12(b)(6). 5
(Id. at 5-8).
Defendants also argue Davis should be
sanctioned for failing to include in her previous complaints that the retained Caucasian employees
were not Spanish speakers.
(Id. at 8-9).
In response, Davis urges that the purportedly
inconsistent facts are reconcilable by drawing the inference that Defendants’ racial discrimination
shielded the non-Spanish-speaking, non-Hispanic Caucasian employees from the bilingual policy,
which would otherwise have been enforced against them.
(Doc. 54 at 10-14).
A. Sufficiency of factual allegations
The fulcrum of Defendants’ arguments against Davis’s national origin discrimination
claims is that the bilingual policy could not have existed based on the facts Davis alleges, thus
invalidating Counts I and II.
However, Defendants also argue Davis’s racial discrimination claim
is meritless since she was terminated because of the neutral bilingual policy they claim is
nonexistent, so her attempts to compare her performance to Caucasian comparators to support
Count III is misplaced.
(Doc. 52 at 7).
Left unsaid is why the undersigned should infer that the
bilingual policy did not exist for the two counts the absence of a bilingual policy would defeat,
and then infer that it did exist for the count the policy’s existence would arguably undermine.
In any event, it is unnecessary to infer that the bilingual policy existed because the third
amended complaint contains direct factual allegations to support its existence.
describes the bilingual policy as one that “conditioned hiring and continued employment on being
Defendants do not challenge Counts IV, V, or VI.
fluent in Spanish,” (doc. 51 at ¶ 12), and there is some obvious tension between this paragraph and
her later allegation that “Infinity terminated Stephanie Davis but continued to employ a number of
Caucasian, non-Hispanic employees in Birmingham, Alabama . . . [who] were not fluent in
(Id. at ¶ 15).
However, Davis alleges: (1) Infinity explicitly announced it was
implementing the policy, (id. at ¶ 12); (2) Infinity sent Davis a letter stating she and other nonSpanish-speaking employees were being terminated, (id. at ¶ 13);6 and (3) Davis met with Infinity
executives who told her that she was being terminated because of her lack of fluency in Spanish,
(id.). Although these allegations may be somewhat inconsistent with the allegation that Infinity
retained non-Spanish-speaking Caucasian employees, Defendants offer no reason why that
Defendants challenge Davis’s reference to this letter as an indication that a bilingual
policy existed and attach a copy of this letter to their motion. (Doc. 52 at 12-13). Ordinarily, a
court may not consider materials outside the complaint, such as an attached document, in
addressing a motion to dismiss without converting it to a motion for summary judgment. FED.
R. CIV. P. 12(d). However, if the attached document is (1) central to the plaintiff's claim and (2)
undisputed (in that its authenticity is not challenged), the court may appropriately consider it.
Day v. Taylor, 400 F.3d 1272, 1276 (11th Cir. 2005). Here, the letter meets both requirements:
Davis does not dispute its authenticity (and in fact endorses it, (see doc. 54 at 13)), and it is “a
necessary part of [her] effort to make out a claim” that a facially neutral bilingual policy existed,
see Day, 400 F.3d at 1276. Therefore, considering the letter does not require that the motion to
dismiss be converted to a motion for summary judgment.
However, the letter does not indicate what Defendants contend, which is that “[t]he ability
to speak Spanish was not a factor” in her termination. (Doc. 52 at 8 n.17). The letter states “we
will be transitioning some positions from the call center and policy services in Birmingham to
McAllen, Tucson, and/or Miami to increase the number of employees with bilingual
Spanish/English skills . . .” (Id. at 12) (emphasis added). Defendants seize on later language that
indicates Davis and other employees were selected for termination “based on a combination of
factors, including performance, seniority, disciplines and relevant skill sets,” (id.), but it is a
reasonable inference that, at a minimum, “relevant skill sets” includes Spanish language facility
and was thus a factor in Davis’s termination.
inconsistency should be resolved by concluding there was no policy at all, rather than that Infinity
ignored its policy by making race-based exceptions for the Caucasian employees—the inference
But the fact the complaint contains facts supporting the existence of the bilingual policy
does not necessarily mean Davis’s claims proceed. Setting aside Defendants’ contentions the
bilingual policy did not exist at all, their remaining arguments are: (1) Infinity could not have
intended to discriminate against non-Hispanics through the bilingual policy because it intentionally
retained non-Hispanics, so Davis has no viable national origin disparate treatment claim, (doc. 52
at 6-7); and (2) Davis’s race disparate treatment claim is due to be dismissed because she was
terminated pursuant to the neutral bilingual policy, (id. at 7).7
These arguments rest mainly on the principle that factual allegations that eliminate an
element of a legal theory foreclose that theory.
To that end, Defendants rely heavily on the logic
of Thomas v. Kamtek, Inc., 143 F. Supp. 3d 1179 (N.D. Ala. 2015), in which, at summary
judgment, the court observed that the plaintiff’s complaint contained multiple claims that required
but-for causation that should have been dealt with at the motion to dismiss stage. (See doc. 52 at
3-5; doc. 55 at 3-4). Davis correctly notes her Title VII national origin discrimination claims and
Title VII and § 1981 and race discrimination claims do not require but-for causation, (doc. 54 at
3), unlike the ADEA claims in Thomas. See Univ. of Texas Southwestern Med. Ctr. v. Nassar, 570
U.S. 338, 343 (2013) (“[When a]n employee alleges status-based discrimination under Title VII
As discussed below, Defendants’ argument Count I should be dismissed is founded
solely on the nonexistence of the bilingual policy. See section II.A.1.
. . . [s]o-called but-for causation is not the test. It suffices instead to show that the motive to
discriminate was one of the employer's motives”); Standard v. A.B.E.L. Servs., Inc., 161 F.3d 1318,
1330 (11th Cir. 1998) (Title VII claims and § 1981 claims “have the same requirements of proof
and use the same analytical framework”).
Defendants do not try to account for the dissimilarities
between Thomas and this case; instead, they clarify in their reply that they rely on Thomas for only
for the proposition that a plaintiff may plead alternative claims but she may not plead causes of
action her pleaded facts contradict. (Doc. 55 at 3-4) (citing Thomas, 143 F. Supp. 3d at 1188).
Defendants cite a number of additional cases in which the facts the plaintiffs pleaded truly
conflicted with their causes of action. (Doc. 52 at 5 n.12; doc. 55 at 3-4).
In Selby v. Goodman
Mfg. Co., LP, No. 2:13-CV-2162-RDP, 2014 WL 2740317 (N.D. Ala. June 17, 2014) and Selman
v. CitiMortgage, Inc., No. CIV.A. 12-0441-WS-B, 2013 WL 838193, at (S.D. Ala. Mar. 5, 2013),
the plaintiffs asserted unjust enrichment claims even though their complaints also contained factual
allegations that a contract existed.
Under Alabama law, the existence of an express contract
entirely precludes an unjust enrichment claim.
Selby, 2014 WL 2740317 at *6 (citing White v.
Microsoft Corp., 454 F. Supp. 2d 1118, 1133 (S.D. Ala. 2006)). The plaintiffs in these cases did
not simply weaken their unjust enrichment claims by alleging that a contract existed; their
allegations foreclosed the unjust enrichment claims entirely. 8
Contrary to Defendants’
In addition to these cases, Defendants cite Savage v. Secure First Credit Union, 107 F.
Supp. 3d 1212 (N.D. Ala. 2015). (Doc. 52 at 5 n.12). In Savage, the court determined that the
plaintiff could not plead inconsistent theories of recovery when several of those theories required
but-for causation. Id. On a motion to dismiss, it held “there can, in theory and logic, be only
contentions, these cases do not support that factual allegations undermining, but not directly
contradicting, legal theories are unequivocally implausible under Iqbal and Twombly.
Conversely, Davis argues that the undersigned has already resolved the viability of two of
the three claims Defendants challenge.
(Doc. 54 at 12-13).
With respect to the disparate
treatment national origin claim, Davis states that “[t]he Court has already implicitly ruled that the
plaintiff’s national origin discrimination claims are not inconsistent and are plausible in these
circumstances.” (Doc. 54 at 12) (citing doc. 50 at 17). This contention is misplaced, because
the “implicit” ruling Davis references was based on a complaint whose “rambling, disjointed, and
redundant paragraphs” did not comply with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, (see doc. 50 at
7-8), and which notably did not contain Davis’s factual allegation that Infinity retained nonHispanic, non-Spanish-speaking Caucasians. Contradicting the latter point, Davis claims in a
footnote she has already addressed the issue of Defendants’ decision not to terminate non-bilingual
one ‘but-for’ cause,” and the plaintiff’s failure to specifically plead that any of the inconsistent
theories of recovery were the sole cause of the adverse employment actions she complained of
required her to elect a single theory under which to proceed. Id. at 1216-18. The Eleventh
Circuit reversed and remanded, holding in a brief, unpublished per curiam decision that the
plaintiff could plead alternative causes of action. Savage v. Secure First Credit Union, No. 1512704, 2016 WL 2997171, at *1 (11th Cir. May 25, 2016). Perhaps recognizing Savage’s limited
utility, Defendants’ reply omits the case when recounting the authority they cited in their motion.
(See doc. 55 at 4).
Relatedly, Davis spends a great deal of time highlighting the dubious legacy of Culver v.
Birmingham Board of Education, 646 F. Supp. 2d 1270 (N.D. Ala. 2009). (Doc. 54 at 15-21).
Defendants do not actually cite this case, but it is the progenitor of the reasoning in Savage (and
Thomas) that a plaintiff may not plead alternative but-for claims. Accepting that Defendants
challenge only the consistency of the facts Davis pleaded with the elements of her claims (and not,
as Davis argues, whether she may permissibly allege multiple, alternative motives for her
termination), there is no need to explore Culver’s reasoning further.
Caucasian employees in a previous response, and cites the undersigned’s memorandum opinion
addressing her second amended complaint for the proposition that “the Court has already
recognized that the plaintiff could plead a claim for disparate treatment in these circumstances.”
(Doc. 54 at 9 n.3) (citing doc. 48 at 17-20 and doc. 50 at 15-16). A cursory review of Davis’s
previous response and the memorandum opinion shows this is not the case. The response makes
no reference at all to the Caucasian employees’ ability to speak Spanish, and in the cited portion
of the memorandum opinion, the undersigned stated that “it can be inferred from Davis’s
allegations that the white employees with inferior job performance were retained under the
bilingual policy.” (Doc. 50 at 15) (emphasis added). Based on that inference—derived from
Davis’s “disorganized, confusing, and repetitive” factual allegations—the undersigned concluded
“[a]t this stage of the litigation,” Davis’s allegations “may potentially support a claim for race
discrimination.” (Id.) (emphasis added).
This does not settle the issue.
Davis cannot rely on
a previous (and tentative) conclusion resting on an inference the undersigned made because Davis
had not supplied complete information when, after supplying the missing information, the
inference is no longer reasonable.
A fresh look at the viability of Davis’s claims is required.
1. Count I – Title VII disparate impact (national origin)
In a disparate impact claim, a plaintiff must establish three elements: “(1) there is a
significant statistical disparity between the proportion of members of the protected class available
in the labor pool and the proportion of members of the protected class hired; (2) there is a specific,
facially neutral employment practice; and (3) a causal nexus exists between the employment
practice and the statistical disparity.” Jefferson v. Burger King Corp., 505 F. App'x 830, 834
(11th Cir. 2013) (citing E.E.O.C. v. Joe's Stone Crab, Inc., 220 F.3d 1263, 1274 (11th Cir. 2000)).
Defendants challenge Davis’s disparate impact national origin claim only on the basis she
has failed to allege facts plausibly supporting the second element: that Infinity employed a facially
neutral bilingual policy.9
As discussed above, Davis has adequately pleaded facts that support
the existence of the bilingual policy, notwithstanding some non-Hispanic employees were retained
despite it. Therefore, Defendants’ motion is due to be DENIED as to their challenge to Davis’s
disparate impact claim.
2. Count II – Title VII disparate treatment (national origin)
A Title VII plaintiff asserting a disparate treatment claim must show the defendant acted
with discriminatory intent.
Denny v. City of Albany, 247 F.3d 1172, 1182 (11th Cir.2001). “In
order to show discriminatory intent, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the decisionmaker selected
or reaffirmed a particular course of action at least in part because of, not merely in spite of, its
adverse effects on an identifiable group.” Joe's Stone Crab, 220 F.3d at 1273 (internal quotation
marks, alterations, and citation omitted).
Defendants briefly note it is “implausible . . . that the alleged bilingual policy had a
disparate impact on non-Hispanics,” (doc. 52 at 6) (emphasis in original). This appears not so
much to be a challenge to Davis’s pleading of the first element as a general recitation of their
conclusion Davis’s disparate impact claim is foreclosed under the facts she alleges. Notably, this
motion to dismiss differs from Defendants’ previous direct challenge to Davis’s disparate impact
claim by not addressing Davis’s allegations of statistical disparity at all. (Compare doc. 52 at 6
with doc. 9 at 13). To the extent Defendants intend to address the first disparate impact element
as a separate matter from the existence of the bilingual policy, their argument is undeveloped and
will not be considered. See Flanigan's Enters., Inc. v. Fulton County, Ga., 242 F.3d 976, 987
n.16 (11th Cir. 2001).
Defendants’ arguments find some footing here.
While they premise their contention
Count II is due to be dismissed in part on the non-existence of the bilingual policy (a non-starter,
as discussed above), they alternatively suggest the intent behind the policy could not be to
discriminate on the basis of national origin in favor of Hispanics because Infinity intentionally
retained non-Hispanic employees.
(Doc. 52 at 6-7). Not only does this make intuitive sense,
the undersigned has already discussed this exact issue in a previous memorandum opinion in the
context of Davis’s proposed second amended complaint:
Davis does name a series of specific comparators, who are white and were not
terminated despite having discipline records and lower seniority, (doc. 23-2 at 3032), but those “comparators” are not outside of the only class for which she alleges
a claim (current and prospective non-Hispanic employees), (see id. at ¶¶ 45-97). It
is unclear why these comparators are included in the allegations, especially since
they appear to undermine Davis’s claim that intentional discrimination against nonHispanics was the reason for the challenged bilingualism requirement.
(Doc. 40 at 25 n. 16) (emphasis in original).
Arguing the claims are in fact consistent with each other, Davis reframes them as follows:
“the plaintiff has alleged the defendants instituted a policy which took jobs from non-Hispanic
employees and gave them to Hispanic persons, which was national origin discrimination.
defendants then chose to protect the jobs of certain white employees from the harmful effects of
that policy, which was race discrimination.”
(Doc. 54 at 15).
This muddies the waters by
focusing only on the racial component of intentionally retaining Caucasian employees while
ignoring the national origin component—that those intentionally retained Caucasian employees
Only the latter is relevant to Count II.
Further adding to the confusion, Davis misreads Defendants’ citations of Litman v. Sec’y
of the Navy, 703 F. App'x 766, 769 (11th Cir. 2017), and Patel v. Ga. Dep’t BHDD, 485 F. App’x
982 (11th Cir. 2012), (doc. 52 at 7 n.16) as a challenge to her race-based disparate treatment claim
rather than her national origin disparate treatment claim. 10
(Doc. 54 at 13).
In Litman, the
Eleventh Circuit examined the plaintiff’s claims through the lens of the burden-shifting framework
of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). 11
Id. at 769-70.
framework, when a plaintiff seeks to prove intentional discrimination through circumstantial
evidence, she “must show [s]he (1) is a member of a protected class; (2) was qualified for the
position; (3) suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) similarly situated employees outside
of [her] protected class were treated more favorably or that [s]he was replaced by someone outside
of [her] protected class.” Id. at 769 (citing Rice-Lamar v. City of Ft. Lauderdale, 232 F.3d 836,
842 (11th Cir. 2000)).
The plaintiff in Litman failed to allege in his complaint that the defendants
treated employees outside of his protected class more favorably; consequently, the district court
dismissed his claims, and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed.
Id. at 768-69.
Davis argues Litman is
Litman and Patel are sufficiently similar that the undersigned limits the following
discussion to Litman alone.
Both the Supreme Court and the Eleventh Circuit have expressly declined to treat the
evidentiary standard of McDonnell Douglas (applicable at the summary judgment stage) as a
pleading standard (applicable at the motion to dismiss stage) for an employment discrimination
plaintiff’s complaint. See Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 515, 122 S.Ct. 992, 999
(2002) (“[A]n employment discrimination plaintiff need not plead a prima facie case of
discrimination . . . to survive [a] motion to dismiss.”); Surtain v. Hamlin Terrace Found., 789 F.3d
1239, 1246 (11th Cir. 2015) (citing Swierkiewicz and reaffirming, post-Iqbal and -Twombly, that
McDonnell Douglas is an evidentiary standard and not a pleading standard). However, the
components of a prima facie case are a useful guideline for determining whether a plaintiff’s
complaint can survive dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6). Cf. Bowers v. Bd. of Regents of Univ. Sys.
Of Georgia, 509 F. App’x 906, 910 (11th Cir. 2013) (elements of prima facie case of Title IX
discrimination a guideline for determining whether a plaintiff has stated a claim).
distinguishable because she “has pled that the plaintiff was terminated while white employees —
who were not bilingual and also had inferior job performance — were not terminated.”
at 13 n.6). But the issue is not whether Davis has pleaded that white employees were treated
differently than her.
Davis’s protected class, for the purposes of her national origin disparate
treatment claim, is non-Hispanics. Because she has alleged non-Hispanic employees were both
retained and fired, her complaint is insufficient to support that Infinity intentionally treated
members of her protected class (non-Hispanics) differently than persons outside her protected class
Davis also argues she is not required to assign Infinity’s sole motive, and that “it is entirely
possible for a defendant to make a discriminatory decision which involves more than one
discriminatory motive, such as age and gender or age and race.”
(Doc. 54 at 21-22) (citing Archie
v. Home-Towne Suites, LLC, 749 F. Supp. 2d 1308, 1315 at n.4 (M.D. Ala. 2010)).
with Davis’s allegations is not that she has assigned multiple motives to Infinity’s actions.
that she has assigned a motive for her national origin disparate treatment claim—Infinity’s
intention to discriminate in favor of Hispanic employees—that cannot be reconciled with the fact
Because intent is not a component of Davis’s national origin disparate impact claim, the
McDonnell Douglas framework does not apply at all to it. See Equal Employment Opportunity
Comm'n v. Catastrophe Mgmt. Sols., 852 F.3d 1018, 1026 (11th Cir. 2016) (“The crux of the
disparate treatment inquiry, and the question the McDonnell Douglas framework seeks to answer,
is whether the employer intentionally discriminated against particular persons on an impermissible
basis, not whether there was a disparate impact on a protected group as a whole.”).
Infinity took an action totally inconsistent with that motive when it intentionally ensured the
bilingual policy would not be applied to certain non-Hispanic employees.
Finally, Davis attempts to harmonize her national origin disparate treatment claim with her
factual allegations by distinguishing decisions to terminate an employee, which were made on the
basis of national origin, from exemptions to termination, which were made on the basis of race.
(Doc. 54 at 11-12).
She points to these different types of employment actions—she was
terminated, Hispanic employees were hired, and white employees were retained—to support that
there is no conflict between her claims.
(Id. at 12 n.5).13
This is unconvincing.
and retaining employees are two sides of the same coin; a decision to terminate an employee is a
decision not to retain her, and vice versa. And the decision to retain non-Hispanic employees
pursuant to the bilingual policy (i.e., not to terminate them) obviously factors into whether it is
plausible the policy was motivated in part by intent to discriminate against non-Hispanics.
“Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant's liability, it
stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.”
U.S. at 678. Davis’s factual allegations fall short even of consistency with Defendants’ liability,
and her contention Infinity enacted the bilingual policy with the intent to discriminate against nonHispanics cannot cross the plausibility threshold of Iqbal and Twombly. Therefore, Defendants’
Davis includes a reference to class claims in this footnote, which is puzzling because
(unlike Davis’s original and first amended complaints, (see docs. 1 & 3), but like her second
amended complaint, (see doc. 43)) the third amended complaint contains no class claims or
allegations. (See doc. 51). Defendants also note Davis’s response presents the plaintiff in the
case style as “Stephanie Davis, on behalf of herself and others similarly situated,” (doc. 55 at 1
n.1), but chalk this up to a mistake on Davis’s part.
motion is due to be GRANTED as to Count II.
3. Count III – Title VII and § 1981 disparate treatment (race)
As noted above, Defendants initially argue Davis’s race disparate treatment claim is
nonviable because Davis has alleged she was terminated because of her lack of bilingual ability,
not her race. (Doc. 52 at 7).
In response to Davis’s contention it was the decision to shield
Caucasian employees from the effects of the bilingual policy that represents disparate treatment,
Defendants dispute Davis has adequately pleaded a “selective enforcement” disparate treatment
(Doc. 55 at 2-3).
Instead, they argue Davis has, through argument in her brief, modified
her claim from a job-performance based claim to the arguably new theory she now advances.
In support of this, Defendants cite paragraph 19 of Davis’s complaint:
Stephanie Davis (1) is African-American; (2) was fully qualified for her job; and
(3) suffered an adverse employment action by being terminated from her job.
Caucasian employees who were not fluent in Spanish; were less able to perform the
duties of plaintiff's position; and were otherwise similarly situated were treated
better than her by being allowed to continue as employees
(Doc. 55 at 8) (citing doc. 51 at ¶ 19). Defendants focus on the last two clauses, but ignore
paragraph 62 (which follows a paragraph identical to paragraph 19):
Defendants’ bilingual policy is a pretext for intentional discrimination, based on
the fact that Infinity took the jobs that Stephanie Davis and other African-American
[sic] and gave those jobs to Caucasian, non-Hispanic employees who were not
fluent in Spanish either.
(Doc. 51 at ¶ 62). While this is not necessarily the cleanest articulation Davis could have made
of her race disparate treatment claim, it is still relatively clear what she is alleging: that,
notwithstanding their inferior job performance, white employee comparators—who, like Davis,
were not fluent in Spanish—were retained under the bilingual policy, leading to the inference
Infinity intentionally discriminated on the basis of race in applying the policy.
to state a claim for race-based disparate treatment.
This is sufficient
Defendants’ motion to dismiss is due to be
DENIED as to Count III.
In a roughly page-long section of their brief, Defendants request sanctions, including
attorneys’ fees, against Davis for her “two years of misdirection that have wasted time and
resources.” (Doc. 52 at 8-9). Their factual basis for this request is that Davis “has known all
along that her continued employment was not conditioned on her ability to speak Spanish.”
at 8). To support this, they point to the letter attached to their motion, which they say shows that
the ability to speak Spanish was not a factor in Davis’s termination.
(Id. at 8 n.17). However,
the undersigned has addressed Defendants’ contentions regarding the letter and found them
misplaced. (See supra, n.4).
Additionally, Defendants’ request for sanctions does not cite any
authority, and their reply does nothing to illuminate its legal basis.
It is conceivable Defendants
seek sanctions under Rule 11, as they reference Davis’s “omitted and misrepresented fact” to the
Court, (id. at 8), but the undersigned declines to proceed further with that guess.
request for sanctions is DENIED.
For the reasons stated above, the motion to dismiss, (doc. 52), is GRANTED IN PART to
the extent that Davis’s Count II national origin disparate treatment claim is DISMISSED. To
the extent Defendants request dismissal of other claims and sanctions against Davis, the motion is
DENIED. Defendants are DIRECTED to answer the third amended complaint by June 26,
2018. The parties are further DIRECTED to confer on dates for a new scheduling order and
submit a joint status report including those dates by July 3, 2018.
DONE this 12th day of June, 2018.
JOHN H. ENGLAND, III
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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