Haley-Muhammad et al v. Colonial Management Group, LP
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER that the defendant's motion todismiss is GRANTED, and plaintiffs' pay discrimination claims are DISMISSED; defendant's motion to sever plaintiffs' claims is GRANTED; each plaintiff is ORDERED to file an amended complaint in her respective case within fourteen days as more fully set out in order. Signed by Judge C Lynwood Smith, Jr on 8/26/2014. (AHI)
2014 Aug-26 AM 09:57
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
DEBORAH L. RHYNES,
Civil Action No. S:13-cv-02061-CLS
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This action was commenced on November 12, 2013, on behalf of two
plaintiffs, Kimberly Haley-Muhammad and Deborah L. Rhynes.!
complaint asserts claims against Colonial Management Group, LP, the former
employer ofboth plaintiffs, for race-based discrimination in violation of Title VII of
the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., and 42 U.S.C.
§ 1981.2 Plaintiff Haley-Muhammad also asserts a claim for retaliation under the
Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993,29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq.3 The case presently
is before the court on defendant's motion to dismiss plaintiffs' pay discrimination
Doc. no. 1 (Complaint).
claims and defendant's motion to sever plaintiffs' claims.4
I . STANDARDS OF REVIEW
Motion to Dismiss
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b) permits a party to move to dismiss a
complaint for, among other reasons, "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b )(6). That rule must be read together with Rule 8(a),
which requires that a pleading contain only a "short and plain statement ofthe claim
showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). While those
combined pleading standards do not require "detailed factual allegations," Bell
Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 550 (2007), they do demand ''more than an
unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Ashcroftv. Iqbal, 556
U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citations omitted). As the Supreme Court stated in Iqbal:
A pleading that offers "labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." [Twombly,
550 U.S., at 555]. Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders "naked
assertion[s]" devoid of "further factual enhancement." Id., at 557.
To survive a motion to dismiss founded upon Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), [for failure to state a claim upon which relief
can be granted], a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter,
accepted as true, to "state a claim for reliefthat is plausible on its face."
Id., at 570. A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads
factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference
4 See doc. no. 9 (Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Pay Discrimination Claims), and
doc. no. 14 (Defendant's Motion to Sever Plaintiffs' Claims).
that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Id., at 556. 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. Ibid. 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. '" Id., at 557
Two working principles underlie our decision in Twombly. First,
the tenet that a court must accept as true all ofthe allegations contained
in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals
of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory
statements, do not suffice. Id., at 555 (Although for the purposes of a
motion to dismiss we must take all of the factual allegations in the
complaint as true, we "are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion
couched as a factual allegation" (internal quotation marks omitted)).
Rule 8 marks a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical,
code-pleading regime of a prior era, but it does not unlock the doors of
discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions.
Second, only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives
a motion to dismiss. Id., at 556. Determining whether a complaint states
a plausible claim for relief will, as the Court of Appeals observed, be a
context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its
judicial experience and common sense. 490 F 3d, at 157-158. But where
the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the
mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but it has
"that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. Rule Civ.
In keeping with these principles 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 oftruth.
While legal conclusions can provide the framework ofa complaint, they
must be supported by factual allegations. 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
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79 (emphasis added).
Motion to Sever
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42(b) provides: "For convenience, to avoid
prejudice, or to expedite and economize, the court may order a separate trial of one
or more separate issues, claims, crossclaims, counterclaims, or third party claims."
Fed. R. Civ. P. 42(b). "The decision whether to bifurcate, or to sever and try issues
separately, pursuant to Rule 42(b) is one committed to the sound discretion of the
district court." Kimberly-Clark Corp. v. James River Corp. of Virginia, 131 F.R.D.
607,608 (N.D. Ga. 1989)
II. RELEVANT ALLEGATIONS OF EACH PLAINTIFF'S CLAIMS 5
Ms. Haley-Muhammad is an African American female who began working for
defendant, Colonial Management Group, LP, on November 24,2002. 6 She worked
at Colonial's Huntsville, Alabama location, which is called the "Huntsville Metro
Treatment Center.,,7 On the date of her termination, her job title was "Program
Director."g Ms. Haley-Muhammad alleges that, during her employment, "she was
All allegations ofplaintiffs' complaint have been taken as true for purposes ofruling on the
Doc. no. 1 (Complaint) ~ 6.
Id. ~ 7.
treated less favorably, subjected to a hostile work environment, and suffered adverse
employment actions because of her race, African American, and skin color, Black."9
Ms. Haley-Muhammad was out of work on leave pursuant to the Family and
Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") from June 4 to July 16,2012. 10 In August of20 12, she
was provided with an "action plan," and on September 26, 2012, she was terminated
for her purported failure to address items on that plan. 11 Ms. Haley-Muhammad
alleges that her regional manager, Brent Hamer, who is Caucasian, was not
disciplined, even though he was in charge of the treatment center while Ms. HaleyMuhammad was on FMLA leave. 12 She also alleges that defendant failed to promote
an interim director in her absence, which it had done for other Caucasian directors. 13
Additionally, Ms. Haley-Muhammad alleges that she was subjected to
discriminatory treatment because of her race in the following ways: (1) she and her
employees were not given the same assistance and training resources as similarly
situated Caucasian employees; 14 (2) she was told by management member Susan Case
that Colonial prohibited a management team at the Huntsville facility that was
Doc. no. 1 (Complaint) ,-r 10.
14Id. ,-r 11.
composed of entirely African American personnel;15 (3) Colonial "maintains a
practice of paying Caucasian employees with less experience or qualifications at a
higher rate of pay than similarly situated African American or Black employees";16
and (4) she did not receive any severance pay from Colonial, even though the
company had previously paid severance to Caucasian employees.17
Deborah L. Rhynes
Ms. Rhynes is an African American female who was employed at Colonial's
Huntsville Metro Treatment Center from May 17,2011 to September 26,2012. 18 Her
last job title was "Treatment Services Coordinator.,,19 She alleges that, during her
employment, "she was treated less favorably, subjected to a hostile work
environment, and suffered adverse employment actions because of her race, African
American, and skin color, Black."20
Ms. Rhynes "was terminated because ofher race when cash was missing from
a deposit, even though Ms. Rhynes did not have supervisory authority for the deposit
in question[,] and regional management was present on the day ofthe discrepancy.,,21
Doc. no. 1 (Complaint) ~ 15.
Id. ~ 21 (alteration supplied).
She alleges that other non-African American employees violated regulations and
company policies, but were not terminated. 22 Instead, they were either allowed to
retain their jobs, or were assigned to a different job, but in no case were they
subjected to a hostile work environment. 23
Ms. Rhynes further alleges that she filed grievances related to ethical violations
and harassment from a Caucasian male, but Colonial failed to investigate or act upon
her grievances. 24 She alleges that grievance procedures are available to non-African
Additionally, Ms. Rhynes alleges that she was discriminated against in the
following ways: (l) she was told to stay home from work after refusing to violate
state law by signing patient assessments that she did not perform, while similarly
situated Caucasian employees were not disciplined;26 (2) she was told by management
member Susan Case that Colonial would not allow a management team at the
Huntsville facility to be composed of entirely African American personnel;27 (3) she
did not receive severance pay;28 and (4) Colonial "maintains a practice of paying
Doc. no. 1 (Complaint) ~ 19.
Caucasian employees with less experience or qualifications at a higher rate of pay
than similarly situated African American or Black employees."29
Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Pay Discrimination Claims
Colonial argues that plaintiffs' pay discrimination claims should be dismissed
for failing to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. 30 Plaintiffs allege that
they are both African Americans, and that Colonial "maintains a practice of paying
Caucasian employees with less experience or qualifications at a higher rate of pay
than similarly situated African American or Black employees.,,3) They further allege
that Caucasian employees received severance pay, but that they did not. 32
A plaintiff establishes a prima facie case of racially discriminatory pay
disparities by demonstrating that she belongs to a racial minority, and that the job she
occupied was similar to higher paying jobs occupied by employees outside her
protected class. See Miranda v. B & B Cash Grocery Store, Inc., 975 F .2d 1518,
1529 (1Ith Cir. 1992); see also Lee v. Mid-State Land & Timber Co., Inc., 285 F.
App'x 601, 606 (11 th Cir. 2008). Here, plaintiffs have failed to allege that they were
Doc. no. 9 (Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Pay Discrimination Claims).
Doc. no. 1 (Complaint) ~~ 4, 6, 13, 15.
ld. ~~ 14, 24.
paid less than Caucasians who occupied similar jobs,33 Rather, they simply allege
that Colonial has a practice of paying Caucasian employees more than similarly
situated African American employees, and that they are African American,34 Stated
differently, nowhere in their joint complaint does either plaintiff say "I was paid less
than a similarly situated employee who is Caucasian." To sufficiently state a claim,
plaintiffs must allege that they have been personally discriminated against with
respect to their wages. 35 Because they have not done so, plaintiffs' pay discrimination
claims are due to be dismissed.
Defendant's Motion to Sever Plaintiffs' Claims
Defendant has moved for severance of plaintiffs' claims on the grounds that
allowing those claims to proceed together will result in prejudice to defendant at trial,
while severing the claims would promote judicial economy and efficiency.36 In
response, plaintiffs argue that their "claims are sufficiently common in their factual
allegations to best serve judicial economy when tried together."37 Plaintiffs further
See id. ,-r 13.
35 To the extent plaintiffs seek to base a discrimination claim on the fact that they did not
receive severance pay when similarly situated Caucasian employees did, plaintiffs have sufficiently
stated such a claim.
Doc. no. 14 (Defendant's Motion to Sever Plaintiffs' Claims).
Doc. no. 17 (Plaintiffs' Response in Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Sever) at 1.
The Plaintiffs['] claims are nearly identical with regard to the claims of
race discrimination. The Plaintiffs, both African American females,
were terminated within one day of each other. They were both
terminated by the same management, and they both worked in the same
duty location, which environment is described by both. Both females
share comparators, worked together in the same environment at the same
time, and have knowledge of one another's particular circumstances.
The circumstances for the Plaintiffs are also identical concerning lack
ofany offer ofseverance pay. The similarities between the claims vastly
outweigh the differences. 38
The court is not persuaded by plaintiffs' arguments. While there are factual
similarities between the plaintiffs' claims, their claims are not "nearly identical." Each
plaintiff held a different job, was terminated for an ostensibly different reason, and
has a different ground for her discrimination claim.
Further, plaintiff Haley-
Muhammad has asserted an FMLA claim that is wholly unrelated to plaintiff Rhynes.
Accordingly, it would not promote judicial economy for these two cases to proceed
together. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 42(b) ("For convenience, to avoid prejudice, or to
expedite and economize, the court may order a separate trial ofone or more separate
issues, claims, crossclaims, counterclaims, or third party claims.").
In accordance with the foregoing, it is ORDERED that defendant's motion to
dismiss is GRANTED, and plaintiffs' pay discrimination claims are DISMISSED.
Additionally, defendant's motion to sever plaintiffs' claims is GRANTED. The Clerk
[d. at 1-2 (alteration supplied).
is instructed to open a new case file styled Deborah L. Rhynes v. Colonial
Management Group, LP. Each plaintiff is ORDERED to file an amended complaint
in her respective case within fourteen days. Each amended complaint should address
only those claims that apply to that plaintiff,39 Further, Ms. Rynes must either pay the
required filing fee, or obtain an order allowing her to proceed in forma pauperis,
within fourteen days, or her action will be dismissed, without further notice, for want
The present action, Civil Action No.5: 13-cv-02061-CLS, shall proceed as
Kimberly Haley-Muhammad v. Colonial Management Group.
DONE this 26th day of August, 2014.
States District Judge
39 Nothing in the foregoing precludes plaintiffs from reasserting a pay discrimination claim
so long at is pleaded in confonnity with this opinion.
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?