Smith v. Harding University Inc
OPINION AND ORDER granting pltf's motion for leave to amend her complaint 11 ; denying Harding's motions to dismiss 3 13 . Signed by Judge J. Leon Holmes on 9/27/12. (vjt)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
WENDY K. SMITH
No. 4:12CV00284 JLH
HARDING UNIVERSITY, INC.
OPINION AND ORDER
Wendy Smith commenced this action against Harding University, Inc., alleging sex
discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Harding moved to dismiss
Smith’s claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Smith moved for leave to amend her
complaint, and Harding moved to dismiss Smith’s claim for a second time under Rule 12(b)(6). For
the following reasons, Smith’s motion for leave to amend her complaint is granted, and Harding’s
motions to dismiss are denied.
Harding hired Smith as an Administrative Assistant on August 15, 2011, and terminated her
employment on November 16, 2011. Smith alleges that Harding fired her based on allegations that
Smith had alcohol in her home, in violation of Harding’s prohibition of alcohol, and served alcohol
to a minor.1 According to Smith, Harding fired her without investigating these allegations. Smith
also alleges that Harding’s male employees were not terminated for violating similar policies,
including prohibitions of alcohol, extramarital sex, and sexual misconduct in the workplace. Smith
alleges in her amended complaint, for instance, that a male employee of Harding has given cocktail
parties at his home, serving other Harding university members. Instead of firing this employee,
however, Smith alleges that Harding only informed the employee that he should “be careful.” Smith
Smith contends that she occasionally had alcohol in her home but never served alcohol to
also alleges that a male employee of Harding sexually assaulted a female employee, yet Harding fired
the female after she filed a complaint about the incident, and Harding continues to employ the male.
In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the court “accept[s] as true all of the factual
allegations contained in the complaint, and review[s] the complaint to determine whether its
allegations show that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Schaaf v. Residential Funding Corp., 517 F.3d
544, 549 (8th Cir. 2008). All reasonable inferences from the complaint must be drawn in favor of the
nonmoving party. Crumpley-Patterson v. Trinity Lutheran Hosp., 388 F.3d 588, 590 (8th Cir. 2004).
A motion to dismiss should not be granted merely because the complaint “does not state with
precision all elements that give rise to a legal basis for recovery.” Schmedding v. Tnemec Co., 187
F.3d 862, 864 (8th Cir. 1999). A complaint need only contain “‘a short and plain statement of the
claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.’” Id. (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)). “While a
complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations,
a plaintiff’s obligation to provide the ‘grounds’ of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief’ requires more than
labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.”
Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 1964-65, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007).
Stated differently, the plaintiff must “raise a right to relief above a speculative level.” Schaaf, 517
F.3d at 549.
To establish a prima facie case of Title VII sex discrimination, Smith must demonstrate that
she “(1) is a member of a protected class; (2) was qualified to perform her job; (3) suffered an adverse
employment action; and (4) was treated differently than similarly situated employees who were not
members of the protected class.” Wilkie v. Dep’t of Health & Human Servs., 638 F.3d 944, 954-55
(8th Cir. 2011) (citing Philip v. Ford Motor Co., 413 F.3d 766, 768 (8th Cir.2005)). Harding
contends that Smith has failed to allege facts that she was treated differently than a similarly situated
male employee, and therefore her Title VII claim must be dismissed. Smith, however, alleges that
she was fired for having alcohol in her home and for a false accusation that she served alcohol to a
minor. She also alleges that a male employee of Harding was not fired, and was only told to “be
careful,” for serving alcohol to university members more than once, even though Harding had
knowledge that these instances occurred. Moreover, Smith alleges that male employees at Harding
have violated Harding’s sexual misconduct policies – policies which, according to Smith, are similar
to the alcohol prohibition because they stem from Harding’s religious values – without punishment.
Smith, for instance, alleges that a male employee sexually assaulted a female employee, and the female
employee was fired after filing a complaint, while Harding continues to employ the male. These facts,
as stated in Smith’s amended complaint, are sufficient to infer plausibly that Harding’s treatment of
Smith was different from Harding’s treatment of similarly situated male employees at Harding.
Courts should grant motions for leave to amend one’s complaint liberally. See, e.g., Hawks
v. J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, 591 F.3d 1043, 1050 (8th Cir. 2010). A district court’s denial of a
motion for leave to amend is appropriate only when “undue delay, bad faith on the part of the moving
party, futility of the amendment, or unfair prejudice to the non-moving party can be demonstrated.”
Roberson v. Hayti Police Dep’t, 241 F.3d 992, 995 (8th Cir. 2001). Harding has not opposed
Smith’s motion for leave to amend her complaint and therefore has not given the Court reason to find
undue delay, bad faith, futility, or unfair prejudice.
For the reasons stated above, Smith’s motion for leave to amend her complaint is GRANTED
(Document #11), and Harding’s motions to dismiss are DENIED (Documents #3 and #13).
IT IS SO ORDERED this 27th day of September, 2012.
J. LEON HOLMES
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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