Young v. Smithfield Farmland Corporation
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER: Defendant's Motion to Dismiss [Record No. 5] is DENIED. Signed by Judge Danny C. Reeves on 9/27/2017.(RC)cc: COR
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF KENTUCKY
VICKIE L. HOSKINS YOUNG,
SMITHFIELD FARMLAND CORP.,
Civil Action No. 6: 17-143-DCR
This matter is pending for consideration of the defendant’s motion to dismiss the
plaintiff’s Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
[Record No. 5] The matter has been fully briefed and the Court has considered the parties’
respective positions. For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny defendants motion to
Plaintiff Vickie Young (“Young”) is a former employee of Defendant Smithfield
Farmland Corporation “(Smithfield”). She was hired to work at Smithfield’s facility in
Middlesboro, Kentucky, in October 2009. [Record No 1-1, ¶ 9] Young initially was assigned
to the packing department, but in 2010 her position and duties changed when she was approved
to be a Clerk in the Maintenance Shop. [Id. at ¶¶ 9-10] Young continued her employment in
the Maintenance Shop until she was terminated in 2015. [Id. at ¶ 10]
Young alleges that, during her last year of employment with Smithfield, she was
supervised by Joanie Bloomer (“Bloomer”). She claims that Bloomer subjected her to gender
discrimination by treating her male co-workers more favorably regarding vacation time,
criticisms of work, reprimands, and scheduling. [Id. at ¶ 11] Young also alleges that, during
her time in the Maintenance Shop, she was repeatedly subjected to offensive verbal and
physical conduct of a sexual nature from Smithfield managers and co-workers. [Id. at ¶ 19]
She contends that during the last two years of her employment, mechanic supervisor and
maintenance manager Daniel Leach (“Leach”) made unwanted sexual advances and made
clear that certain job benefits were conditioned on her acceptance of his advances. [Id. at ¶¶
Finally, Young asserts that Smithfield retaliated terminating her employment after she
complained to the human resources office regarding gender discrimination and hostile work
environment and threatened to file a complaint with the EEOC. [Id. at ¶¶ 48-49]
Under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure, the Court must look to the
complaint and determine whether it states a claim for which relief is available. The pleading
“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) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The factual contentions must be sufficient to raise a
right to relief above the speculative level, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, and permit the Court to
“draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal,
556 U.S. at 678. While a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, it must
contain more than an “unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Id. “A
pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions’ or a ‘formulaic recitation of the elements of a
cause of action’” is insufficient. Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).
KCRA Sex Discrimination Claim
Young alleges in Count I that she was subjected to a pattern and practice of gender
discrimination in the term, conditions, and privileges of employment as compared to similarlysituated male employees, who were treated more favorably. [Record No. 1-1, ¶ 11] Section
344 of the Kentucky Civil Rights Act (“KCRA”) makes it unlawful for an employer to “fail or
refuse to hire, or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against an individual
with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of the
individual’s race, color … [or] sex.” Ky. Rev. Stat. 344.040(1)(a). Because the KCRA was
enacted to implement the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, its language is “virtually identical”
to that of Title VII. Jefferson Cnty. v. Zaring, 91 S.W.3d 583, 586 (Ky. 2002); see also Gragg
v. Somerset Tech. Coll., 373 F.3d 763, 768 (6th Cir. 2004); Lewis v. Norfolk S. Ry. Co., 590
Fed. App’x 467, 469 (6th Cir.) Thus, the same analysis applies to discrimination claims under
title VII and the KCRA. See Id.
To establish a prima facie case for sex discrimination under the KCRA, a plaintiff must
demonstrate that she: (1) is a member of a protected class; (2) was subjected to an adverse
action; (3) was qualified for the job; and that (4) another similarly situated employee, not in
the protected class, was treated more favorably. Kirkland v. James, 657 F. App’x 580, 584
(6th Cir. 2016) (citing Jackson v. VHS Detroit Receiving Hosp., Inc., 814 F.3d 769, 776 (6th
Cir. 2016). These elements represent “an evidentiary standard, not a pleading requirement.”
Keys v. Humana, Inc., 684 F.3d 605, 609 (6th Cir.) (citing Swierkiewicz v. Sorema, 534 U.S.
506, 510, 122 S.Ct. 992, 152 L.Ed.2d 1 (2002)). However, the Court must still assess whether
the plaintiff alleges “sufficient ‘factual content’ from which a court, informed by its ‘judicial
experience and common sense,’ could ‘draw the reasonable inference,’ Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 67879, that Smithfield “discriminate[d] against [Young] with respect to her compensation, terms,
conditions, or privileges of employment, because of [her] race, color, religion, sex, or national
origin.” Keys, 684 F.3d at 610 (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1)) (emphasis in original).
Smithfield contends that Young has not pleaded facts sufficient to show adverse
employment action (i.e., that she received less favorable treatment than similarly situated male
employees, and that she was subjected to intentional discrimination on the basis of her gender).
However, Young asserts sufficient factual allegations from which this Court can draw a
reasonable inference of a plausible claim that Smithfield discriminated against her with respect
to her compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of her sex. See
Keys, 684 F.3d at 610. The Complaint contains allegations that are neither speculative nor
conclusory. Instead, the pleading contains factual allegations that state a plausible claim for
relief. It alleges, that over the last year of Young’s employment, Smithfield had a pattern or
practice of gender discrimination in the terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. It
also provides details of specific instances where Young alleges she was treated differently than
her male counterparts, provides facts of the adverse actions complained of, and provides the
name of the key supervisor who is alleged to have committed the discrimination. In summary,
Young has pleaded sufficient facts in her Complaint which give Smithfield “fair notice of the
basis for [Young’s] claims.” Swierkiewicz 534 U.S. at 514.
Hostile Work Environment Claim
A sexual harassment claim brought under the KCRA is also analyzed in the same
manner as a claim brought under Title VII. Ammerman v. Bd. of Educ. of Nicholas County,
30 S.W.3d 793, 797-98 (Ky.2000). “A plaintiff may establish a violation of Title VII by
proving that the discrimination based on sex created a hostile or abusive work environment.”
Williams v. Gen. Motors Corp., 187 F.3d 553, 560 (6th Cir.1999). To establish a prima facie
case of a hostile work environment based on sex, a plaintiff must demonstrate that: (1) she is
a member of protected class; (2) she was subjected to unwelcomed sexual harassment; (3) the
harassment was based on her sex; (4) the harassment created a hostile work environment; and
that (5) the employer is vicariously liable. Randolph v. Ohio Dep’t of Youth Servs., 453 F.3d
724, 733 (6th Cir. 2006).
A plaintiff can establish employer liability in a hostile work environment claim based
on two theories: co-worker liability and supervisor liability. Clark v. United Parcel Serv., Inc.,
400 F.3d 341, 348 (6th Cir.2005). When the alleged harasser is a co-worker, the employer
may be held liable if it “knew or should have known of the charged sexual harassment and
failed to implement prompt and appropriate corrective action.” Id. (quoting Hafford v. Seidner,
183 F.3d 506, 513 (6th Cir.1999)). When the harasser is a supervisor, however, the employer
is vicariously liable absent an affirmative defense. Id. For Title VII purposes, a supervisor is
an employee who is “empowered by the employer to take tangible employment actions against
the victim.” Vance v. Ball St. Univ., 133 S.Ct. 2434, 2439 (2013).
Smithfield contends that Young failed to assert a plausible claim of sexual harassment
in Count 2 because she did not identify which employees subjected her to the hostile work
environment, and only identified them as “male employees.” [Record 5-1, p. 13] Additionally,
Smithfield argues Young must have identified the co-workers by name in the Complaint.1 But
Smithfield has misconstrued what the Complaint alleges. In Count 2, Young not only alleges
that offensive verbal and physical conduct of a sexual nature was directed at her by co-workers,
she also alleges that the conduct was directed at her by managers. [Record No. 1-1, ¶ 19] At
a minimum, Young has established the reasonable inference of a plausible claim against
Smithfield for a hostile work environment claim based on supervisor liability. See Clark, 400
F.3d at 348.
Smithfield suggests Young must allege Leach’s harassment culminated in a tangible
employment action to state a plausible claim based on supervisor liability. [Record No. 5-1,
p. 15] However, this is a misstatement of what is required. As the Supreme Court explained,
If the supervisor’s harassment culminates in a tangible employment action, the
employer is strictly liable. But if no tangible employment action is taken, the
employer may escape liability by establishing, as an affirmative defense, that
(1) the employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct any harassing
behavior and (2) that the plaintiff unreasonably failed to take advantage of the
preventive or corrective opportunities that the employer provided.
Vance, 133 S.Ct. at 2439.
Whether Smithfield is liable, strictly liable, or can escape liability by establishing an
affirmative defense is not appropriate to consider at this stage of the case. All that must be
considered is whether Young has alleged sufficient factual allegations to state a plausible
claim. And as discussed above, she has met this initial hurdle. Because the Court has
determined that Smithfield is potentially liable for supervisor harassment, it need not decide at
this time whether Young has established co-worker liability.
Smithfield belittles its own argument in its reply brief. [See Record No. 14, p. 12, Fn. 2
“Smithfield acknowledges that it is not directly relevant at the 12(b)(6) stage of the lawsuit. . . .”)
Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment Claim
To succeed on a quid pro quo sexual harassment claim a plaintiff must prove that: (1)
the employee was a member of a protected class; (2) the employee was subjected to
unwelcomed sexual harassment in the form of sexual advances or requests for sexual favors;
(3) the harassment complained of was on the basis of sex; (4) the employee’s submission to
the unwelcomed advances was an express or implied condition for receiving job benefits or
that the employee’s refusal to submit to the supervisor’s sexual demands resulted in a tangible
job detriment; and (5) the existence of respondeat superior liability. Gray v. Kenton County,
467 S.W.3d 801, 806 (Ky. App. 2014) (citing Howington v. Quality Rest. Concepts, LLC, 298
F. App’x 436, 441 (6th Cir. 2008)). Smithfield contends that the Complaint fails to provide
any specific allegations regarding Young’s conversation with Leach in which sexual favors
were requested. Specifically, it argues that dates on which such conversations occurred is
required. Again however, Young is only required to plead sufficient factual allegations to state
a plausible claim for relief, not “detailed factual allegations,” such as the exact dates the
conversations took place. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.
Here, Young’s alleges the following:
29. Leach made clear to Young that certain job benefits were conditioned on Young’s
acceptance of Leach’s sexual advances. Leach made the following offers to Young
in return for Young’s satisfaction of his sexual demands:
a. Leach states that if Young had sex with him, Young could go on day shift.
b. Leach states that if Young had sex with him, Young could have a raise.
c. Leach stated that if Young had sex with him, young could become his secretary.
[Record No. 1-1, ¶ 29] These allegations are sufficient to assert a plausible claim of quid pro
quo sexual harassment.
Smithfield next argues that the claim bust be dismissed because Young does not allege
specifically whether Leach had the authority to make good on the employment incentives
which he promise in exchange for sexual favors. But this does not need to be proven at this
stage of the litigation to survive a motion to dismiss. See Vance, 133 S.Ct. at 2449 (stating
“The interpretation of the concept of a supervisor that we adopt today is one that can be readily
applied. In a great many cases, it will be known even before litigation is commenced whether
an alleged harasser was a supervisor, and in others, the alleged harasser’s status will become
clear to both sides after discovery. And once this is known, the parties will be in a position to
assess the strength of a case and to explore the possibility of resolving the dispute. Where this
does not occur, supervisor status will generally be capable of resolution at summary
To state a claim for retaliation, a plaintiff must plead facts sufficient to show that: (1)
she engaged in protected activity; (2) the defendant knew of the protected activity, (3) the
defendant subsequently subjected the plaintiff to an adverse employment action, and (4) there
was a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse employment action.
Christopher v. Stouder Memorial Hospital, 936 F.2d 870, 877 (6th Cir. 1991); Brooks v.
Lexington-Fayette Urban Cnty. Housing Authority, 132 S.W.3d 790, 803 (Ky. 2004).
Smithfield argues that Young’s claim fails because she has not set forth sufficient allegations
to satisfy the fourth element of causal connection. Young relies on the temporal proximity
between her complaint and her termination to establish the causation. According to Young’s
Complaint, 27 days elapsed between her complaint of discrimination and her termination.
[Record No. 1-1, ¶ 52] In light of Sixth Circuit authority2, a 27 day period allows an inference
of a causal connection between Young’s complaints and her termination. Therefore, Young
has alleged sufficient factual allegations to state a plausible claim for retaliation.
Based on the foregoing analysis, it is hereby
ORDERED the defendant’s Motion to Dismiss [Record No. 5] is DENIED.
This 27th day of September, 2017.
See Goller v. Ohio Dept. of Rehabilitation and Correction, 285 F. App’x 250, 257 (6th Cir. 2008)
(2 months sufficient); Herrera v. Churchill McGee, LLC, 545 F. App’x 499, 502 (6th Cir. 2013)
(1 month sufficient); Singfield v. Akron Metro. Hous. Auth., 389 F.3d 555, 563 (6th Cir. 2004) (3
months sufficient); Asmo v. Keane, Inc., 471 F.3d 588, 594 (6th Cir. 2006) (2 months sufficient);
Shefferly v. Health Alliance Plan of Mich., 94 F. App’x 275, 285 (6th Cir. 2004) (about 3 weeks
sufficient); DiCarlo v. Potter, 358 F.3d 408, 421-22 (6th Cir. 2004) (21 days sufficient). See also
Nguyen v. City of Cleveland, 229 F.3d 559, 566-67 (6th Cir. 2000) (“[P]revious cases that have
permitted a prima facie case to be made based on the proximity of time have all been short periods
of time, usually less than six months.” (internal quotation marks omitted)).
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