Kotwal v. Tran et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER by Judge John G. Heyburn, II on 6/4/13 Plaintiff's motion for default judgment is DENIED. Defendant's motion to dismiss is SUSTAINED and Plaintiff's Complaint is dismissed WITH PREJUDICE.cc:counsel, Plaintiff (pro se) (JBM)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF KENTUCKY
CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:12-CV-00695-H
DR. GIRISH J. KOTWAL
DR. HIEU TRAN, DR. MARIA LOU
CORONEL, and DR. KIMBERLY DOHERTY
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff, Dr. Girish J. Kotwal, proceeding pro se, brings this employment discrimination
action against Defendants, Dr. Hieu Tran, Dr. Maria Lou Coronel and Dr. Kimberly Doherty
(collectively “Defendants”), alleging that Defendants discriminated against him on the basis of
his religion, national origin, and gender in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42
U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., (“Title IV”) and on the basis of his age in violation of the Age
Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq., (“ADEA”). Two motions are
pending before the Court: Defendants’ motion to dismiss and Plaintiff’s motion for default
judgment. For the following reasons, the Court will sustain Defendants’ motion and deny
Plaintiff, a fifty-seven year old Indian male, worked for Sullivan University’s College of
Pharmacy (“Sullivan University”) as a Professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences
from January 15, 2010 to January 7, 2011, when he was notified that his one-year employment
contract would not be renewed for the following year. According to Plaintiff, he experienced
unfair treatment by Defendants due to his religion, national origin, gender and age, which in sum
fostered a hostile, intimidating and unfair working environment. Numerous times during his
employment, Plaintiff claims that Defendants took several adverse employment actions against
him that evidence a pattern of discrimination.
He highlights instances wherein Sullivan
University failed to renew the employment contracts of older, Indian, and male colleagues
disproportionately when compared to younger, female counterparts.
Plaintiff asserts that
Sullivan University terminated from his employment for discriminatory reasons despite being
highly qualified and earning good teaching performance evaluations from his students and
On January 4, 2012, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination against Sullivan University
with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), alleging that the university
violated Title VII and the ADEA. After an investigation into the matter, the EEOC dismissed
Plaintiff’s discrimination claims, because it did not find that the university violated either statute.
Subsequent to the EEOC decision, Plaintiff filed the present action.
Defendants have moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).1
To survive a motion to dismiss, the “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) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544,
570 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the pleaded factual content allows the court
to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id.
(citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The Court must view the allegations in the Complaint in the
light most favorable to the Plaintiff, treating all well-pleaded facts as true, but need not accept
Defendants advance several grounds for dismissal, including Plaintiff’s alleged failure to exhaust his
administrative remedies and insufficient service of process. The Court need not address these alternative theories of
dismissal as Defendants’ primary argument concerning individual liability under Title VII and the ADEA warrants
dismissal of this action.
bare legal conclusions as definitive. See Tackett v. M & G Polymers, USA, LLC, 561 F.3d 478,
488 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Gunasekera v. Irwin, 551 F.3d 461, 466 (6th Cir. 2009)).
Defendants principally argue that Plaintiff’s claims must be dismissed because Title VII
and the ADEA afford no individual liability.2
As a threshold matter, “an individual
employee/supervisor, who does not otherwise qualify as an ‘employer,’ may not be held
personally liable under Title VII.” Wathen v. Gen. Elec. Co., 115 F.3d 400, 405 (6th Cir. 1997);
Morris v. Oldham Cnty. Fiscal Court, 201 F.3d 784, 788 n.1 (6th Cir. 2000). An “employer” is
defined as “a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has fifteen or more
employees . . . and any agent of such person.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(b). “Agent” is not explicitly
defined in Title VII, but courts have interpreted the term to denote “an individual who serves in a
supervisory position and exercises significant control over the plaintiff’s hiring, firing or
conditions of employment.” Wathen, 115 F.3d at 405.
Plaintiff does not argue that Defendants were his “employer” per se. Rather, he argues
that Defendants are agents of his employer, Sullivan University. As such, Plaintiff maintains
that the use of the word “agent” in the statute permits him to sue Defendants in their individual
capacities as agents of Sullivan University, Plaintiff’s employer. The Sixth Circuit recognizes
that “[a]n examination of the statutory scheme and remedial provisions of Title VII, convinces us
that Congress did not intend to provide individual employee/supervisor liability under Title VII.”
Id. at 405. Congress included of the term “agent” to “incorporate respondeat superior liability
into the statute.” Id. (quoting Miller v. Maxwell’s Intern. Inc., 991 F.2d 583, 587 (9th Cir.
Generally, courts evaluate claims of individual liability under Title VII and the ADEA jointly given the nearly identical
language in the statutes. See Wathen, 115 F.3d at 404 n.6 (“The liability schemes under Title VII [and] the ADEA . .
. are essentially the same in aspects relevant to this issue; they limit liability to the employer and use the term “agent”
in defining employer.”) (citing 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-5(b), 2000e(b), 29 U.S.C. §§ 626(b), 630(b)).
1993)). This decision “surely evinces an intent [on behalf of Congress] to place some limits on
the acts of employees for which employers under Title VII are to be held responsible.” Meritor
Sav. Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 72 (1986). However, that Congressional intent defines
the extent of employer liability under Title VII and does not speak to individual liability on the
part of the agent. See Wathen, 115 F.3d at 406 (“Notably, while the Supreme Court found that
Congress’s purpose in including ‘agent’ in the definition of employer was to define the scope of
liability of the employer, it said nothing about liability on the part of the employee/agent.”).
In sum, the Sixth Circuit recognizes that individuals “cannot be held personally liable for
violations of Title VII.” Griffin v. Finkbeiner, 689 F.3d 584, 600 (6th Cir. 2012). The Court in
Griffin highlighted that, in some instances, “individual managers and supervisors can be held
jointly or severally liable with their employer for their own violations of” state antidiscriminatory laws. The same cannot be said for federal law. Plaintiff’s two-count Complaint
only asserts violations of federal law, and as such, Defendants cannot be held personally liable
for alleged discrimination under Title VII and the ADEA.
Since the Court will sustain Defendants’ motion to dismiss, Plaintiff’s motion for default
judgment is therefore moot and will be denied.
Being otherwise sufficiently advised,
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Plaintiff’s motion for default judgment is DENIED.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Defendants’ motion to dismiss is SUSTAINED and
Plaintiff’s Complaint is dismissed WITH PREJUDICE.
This is a final order.
June 4, 2013
Counsel of Record
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