Sanders v. Birmingham Jefferson CountyTransit Authority
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge R David Proctor on 6/28/2017. (KAM)
2017 Jun-28 PM 03:31
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
BIRMINGHAM JEFFERSON COUNTY
Case No.: 2:17-CV-867-RDP
This matter is before the court on Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative
Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. # 7). In its Motion (Doc. # 7), Defendant argues that
Plaintiff’s Complaint is due to be dismissed. For the reasons stated below, Defendant’s Motion
is due to be denied.
Prior to her termination, Plaintiff worked as a driver and team leader for Birmingham
Jefferson County Transit Authority. (Doc. # 1 at ¶¶ 7, 8). She was terminated from her
employment based on her conduct during an incident that occurred involving a bus passenger.
(Doc. # 24 at ¶ 24). Specifically, she alleges that when a passenger who had been repeatedly
belligerent on previous occasions attempted to board the bus she was driving, she denied him
access by closing the bus door. (Id. at ¶¶ 16, 17). The customer then kicked and pushed his way
through the bus door and eventually fell down. (Id. at ¶¶ 19, 20).
Defendant terminated Plaintiff after an investigation into this incident. (Id. at ¶ 24).
Plaintiff alleges that she was told that she had been terminated because she “used extremely
vulgar language” during the incident and because she closed the door. (Id.). She further alleges
that other male co-workers had been “rude to customers and/or used profane language and not
been terminated.” (Id. at ¶ 31).
Standard of Review
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require only that the complaint provide “a short and
plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P.
8(a)(2). Still, the complaint must include enough facts “to raise a right to relief above the
speculative level.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Pleadings that
contain nothing more than “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” do not
meet Rule 8 standards, nor do pleadings suffice that are based merely upon “labels and
conclusions” or “naked assertion[s]” without supporting factual allegations. Twombly, 550 U.S.
at 555, 557. In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, courts view the allegations in the
complaint in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Watts v. Fla. Int’l Univ., 495 F.3d
1289, 1295 (11th Cir. 2007).
To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must “state a claim to relief that is plausible
on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Although “[t]he
plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,’” the complaint must demonstrate
“more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. A plausible claim for
relief requires “enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal
evidence” to support the claim. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. The Supreme Court has identified
“two working principles” for a district court to use in applying the facial plausibility standard.
First, in evaluating motions to dismiss, the court must assume the veracity of well-pleaded
factual allegations; however, the court does not have to accept as true legal conclusions when
they are “couched as . . . factual allegation[s].” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Second, “only a
complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss.” Id. at 679.
Application of the facial plausibility standard involves two steps. Under prong one, the
court must determine the scope and nature of the factual allegations that are well-pleaded and
assume their veracity; and under prong two, the court must proceed to determine the claim’s
plausibility given the well-pleaded facts. That task is context specific and, to survive the motion,
the allegations must permit the court based on its “judicial experience and common sense . . . to
infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct.” Id. If the court determines that wellpleaded facts, accepted as true, do not state a claim that is plausible, the claims are due to be
Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer “to discriminate against any individual with
respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such
individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. . . .’” Maynard v. Bd. of Regents, 342
F.3d 1281, 1288 (11th Cir. 2003) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 2000e–2(a)(1)). Plaintiff is not required
to prove directly that gender was the reason for the employer’s challenged decision; instead,
Plaintiff may rely on either direct or circumstantial evidence of discrimination. See, e.g., id.; St.
Mary’s Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 526 (1993) (“Because Title VII tolerates no racial
discrimination, subtle or otherwise, we devised a framework that would allow both plaintiffs and
the courts to deal effectively with employment discrimination revealed only through
circumstantial evidence.” (internal quotations and citations omitted)).
To prevail on a claim for discrimination under Title VII based on circumstantial
evidence, Plaintiff must show that: (1) she is a member of a protected class; (2) she was qualified
for her position; (3) she suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) she was treated less
favorably than a similarly-situated individual outside his protected class. See McDonnell
Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973).
In its Motion to Dismiss, Defendant argues that Plaintiff has failed to allege any facts
demonstrating that it treated her differently than similarly situated male employees. (Doc. # 7-1
at p. 4). Defendant attaches Plaintiff’s termination letter to its motion (see Doc. # 7-2) and
argues that the letter establishes that Plaintiff was not merely terminated for vulgar language, but
instead was terminated for “Gross Negligence in the operation of a bus.” (Id. at p. 2). Because
Plaintiff has not alleged that any of her male counterparts committed gross negligence in the
operation of a bus without being terminated, Defendant contends that Plaintiff has failed to plead
the existence of a similarly situated comparator. (Doc. # 7-1 at p. 5). Moreover, Defendant
contends that Plaintiff’s gross negligence provided it a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason to
terminate Plaintiff’s employment. (Doc. # 6).
On a motion to dismiss, the court is required to assume the veracity of Plaintiff’s wellpleaded allegations. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Accordingly, consideration of the termination letter
and video attached to Defendant’s motion to dismiss would be improper, as that evidence falls
outside the four corners of Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint. Day v. Taylor, 400 F.3d 1272, 127576 (11th Cir. 2005).
And, assuming the veracity of Plaintiff’s well-pleaded allegations,
Plaintiff’s complaint plausibly pleads the existence of similarly-situated individuals outside of
her protected class who were treated more favorably than her. Plaintiff alleges that she was fired
for her vulgar language and for closing the bus door on a customer. She also alleges that male
drivers have used vulgar language and been rude to customers without being terminated. At this
stage, Plaintiff has plausibly pled the existence of similarly situated comparators who were
treated more favorably than her. Whether or not the facts of this case support her allegations is a
question that will be addressed at the proper stage of this litigation.
Defendant asks, in the alternative, for the court to construe its motion as one for summary
judgment. (Doc. # 7 at p. 1). “It is within the judge’s discretion to decide whether to consider
matters outside of the pleadings that are presented to the court.” Jones v. Auto. Ins. Co. of
Hartford, Conn., 917 F.2d 1528, 1531-32 (11th Cir. 199). The court declines to do so. This
action was filed May 25, 2017. (See Doc. # 1). The court has not conducted a scheduling
conference or entered a scheduling order in this case. The parties have not had an opportunity to
conduct any discovery or present material evidence pertinent to a motion for summary judgment.
Therefore, it would be inappropriate to construe Defendant’s motion as one for summary
judgment at this early stage.
For the reasons stated above, Defendant’s Motion (Doc. # 7) is due to be denied. A
separate order will be entered.
DONE and ORDERED this June 28, 2017.
R. DAVID PROCTOR
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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