Shelton v. Parish of DeSoto
MEMORANDUM RULING re 17 MOTION to Dismiss For Failure to State a Claim SECOND AMENDED COMPLAINT filed by Parish of DeSoto. Signed by Chief Judge S Maurice Hicks, Jr on 7/19/2021. (crt,McDonnell, D)
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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
CIVIL NO. 19-1561
JUDGE S. MAURICE HICKS, JR.
PARISH OF DESOTO
MAGISTRATE JUDGE HORNSBY
Before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss filed by DeSoto Parish (“Defendant”)
(Record Document 17) moving for the dismissal of Plaintiff Amy Shelton’s (“Plaintiff”)
claims of gender and/or race discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation.
Plaintiff opposes the Motion. See Record Document 24. For the following reasons, the
Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.
Plaintiff’s claims stem from events that occurred prior to and while she was
employed as the Human Resources Director for the DeSoto Parish Police Jury. Before
beginning her job, Plaintiff believes the Defendant spread rumors to area news outlets
claiming she obtained her position through a sexual relationship with a police juror.
Plaintiff later filed several complaints alleging discrimination on the basis of gender and/or
race and the creation of a hostile work environment. One such complaint was filed on
February 7, 2017, to which Defendant responded, but Plaintiff’s work environment
remained unchanged. Plaintiff contends retaliatory actions were then taken against her
for filing the complaint.
Plaintiff filed a separate complaint against fellow employees Reggie Roe (“Roe”)
and Steve Brown (“Brown”) for their creation of a hostile work environment. Soon
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thereafter, Roe became Plaintiff’s direct supervisor. Plaintiff alleges that she continued to
experience belittling and negative treatment in her workplace. Plaintiff contends that
Police Jury members ignored her recommendations and suggestions as to the hiring and
firing of candidates and made her office an uncomfortable space, deterring employees
Plaintiff filed the present suit against the Defendant on December 6, 2019, seeking
declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief from the Defendant for gender and/or race
discrimination, the creation of a hostile work environment, and retaliation for her
complaints. See Record Document 1. The Defendant moved to dismiss the Complaint for
failure to state a claim. See Record Document 4. Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint
(Record Document 11) in response to the Motion to Dismiss and then filed a Second
Amended Complaint (Record Document 16) to include updated information regarding her
continued experience with retaliatory conduct. The Defendant filed this Motion to Dismiss
(Record Document 17), again seeking dismissal for Plaintiff’s failure to state a claim.
LAW AND ANALYSIS
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires a pleading to contain “a short and
plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. Rule Civ.
Pro. 8(a)(2). The standard for the adequacy of complaints is one of “plausibility.” See Bell
Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S. Ct. 1955 (2007). “[F]actual allegations
must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level…on the assumption
that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Id. at 555–56,
127 S. Ct. at 1965. If a pleading only contains “labels and conclusions” and “a formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action,” it does not meet the standards of Rule
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8(a)(2). Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citation
In conjunction with Rule 8, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows parties
to seek dismissal of a party's pleading for failure to state a claim upon which relief may
be granted. A court does not evaluate a plaintiff’s likelihood for success, but instead
determines whether a plaintiff has pleaded a legally cognizable claim. See Thompson v.
City of Waco, Tex., 764 F.3d 500, 503 (5th Cir. 2014). Courts considering a motion to
dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) are only obligated to allow those complaints that are facially
plausible to survive such a motion. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678–79, 129 S. Ct. at 1949.
Plaintiff brings her claims under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3), and the
relevant state laws for discrimination and retaliation. The Defendant moves to dismiss
Plaintiff’s Second Amended Complaint (Record Document 16) because it believes
Plaintiff has failed to plead plausible claims of race and/or gender discrimination nor has
she met the threshold for her retaliation and hostile work environment claims.
Plaintiff first argues she experienced gender discrimination from an anonymous
letter she believes was sent by the Defendant which falsely accused her of obtaining her
job through sexual relations with a police jury member. However, as the Defendant points
out, it is unclear exactly how these accusations relate to Plaintiff’s Title VII suit. The
alleged conduct occurred before she was employed and seem to have no link to her
claims of harassment or retaliation.
Even so, the Court agrees with the Defendant that Plaintiff does not name a
specific individual who may have sent the letter, nor does she allege that the Defendant
knew about and failed to address the letter. See Record Document 17-1. The Court does
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not have a clear indication of whether the Plaintiff’s harasser was a co-worker or
supervisor and cannot adequately assess liability for the alleged harassment. See
Matherne v. Ruba Mgmt., 624 Fed, Appx. 835, 839 (5th Cir. 2015) (“[I]t matters whether
a harasser is a supervisor or simply a coworker.”) (quoting Vance v. Ball State Univ., 570
U.S. 421, 424, 133 S.Ct. 2434, 2439 (2013)). Without more, Plaintiff’s claim involving the
anonymous letter must be DISMISSED.
Plaintiff’s next argument appears to be one of a hostile work environment. Courts
have interpreted Title VII to prohibit such discriminatory practices and have created a
framework for what a plaintiff must prove in order to succeed on her claim. Plaintiff must
(1) she belongs to a protected group; (2) she was subjected to unwelcome
harassment; (3) the harassment complained of was based on [the protected
group status]; (4) the harassment complained of affected a term, condition,
or privilege of employment; and (5) the employer knew or should have
known of the harassment in question and failed to take prompt remedial
Id. at 839 (5th Cir. 2015) (quoting Royal v. CCC & R Tres Arboles, LLC, 736 F.3d 396,
401 (5th Cir. 2013)). While the Plaintiff describes numerous instances of alleged
harassment, she does little to explain how these occurrences are based on her race or
gender. In fact, the only attempt she makes to tie these claims to her status in a protected
class is to conclude that “no other similarly situated…employees” were subjected to such
treatment. Record Document 16. Because Plaintiff has failed to plead more than mere
conclusions as to the basis of her alleged harassment, her hostile work environment
claims must be DISMISSED.
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As for her remaining claims, the Court believes they can be best classified as ones
of retaliation rather than general discrimination.1 For a claim of retaliation, Plaintiff must
prove 1) she engaged in a protected activity, 2) an adverse employment action occurred,
and 3) a causal link exists between the protected activity and the adverse employment
action. See Long v. Eastfield College, 88 F.3d 300, 304 (5th Cir. 1996). Plaintiff has
successfully alleged that she engaged in a protected activity. She “made a charge,
testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or
hearing” under Title VII by filing both the February 7 complaint and the subsequent
complaint against Roe and Brown. Id.
The Defendant argues that while Plaintiff clearly participated in a protected activity,
she has not proven she was subjected to an adverse employment action. An adverse
employment action generally constitutes a discharge, demotion, refusal to promote or
hire, and any reprimand. See Breaux v. City of Garland, 205 F.3d 150, 157 (5th Cir. 2000).
It is an action harmful enough to “dissuade a reasonable worker” from engaging in the
protected activity. Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53, 68 (2006). This
broad definition encompasses actions that affect “job title, grade, hours, salary, or
benefits” or cause “a diminution in prestige or change in standing among…coworkers.”
Paul v. Elayn Hunt Corr. Ctr., 666 F.Appx. 342, 346 (5th Cir. 2016) (quoting Stewart v.
Miss. Transp. Comm’n, 586 F.3d 321, 332 (5th Cir. 2009) (internal quotations omitted)).
Plaintiff’s Second Amended Complaint includes details of actions taken by Roe
and Brown to undermine her position, including bullying other employees to file
complaints against the Plaintiff and requesting derogatory information about the Plaintiff.
The only somewhat substantiated claim made for general discrimination based on race and/or sex is
tenuously tied to the anonymous letter and has been addressed above.
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Plaintiff also alleges that employees are no longer comfortable coming to her office
because they are constantly interrogated by Roe and Brown. Duties once assigned to
Plaintiff have now be removed from her job description and given to the Parish
Administrator. And finally, Plaintiff offers that Brown installed a video surveillance camera
in the HR office which further diminished Plaintiff’s role as HR Director because it
discourages employees to visit her office for complaints and other HR matters. See
Record Document 16.
Taking all facts presented as true, the Court believes Plaintiff has sufficiently pled
a retaliation claim under Title VII. She provides a litany of instances where she contends
her duties as the Human Resources Director were circumvented and her position
diminished by fellow coworkers after she filed her complaints. Furthermore, Plaintiff has
drawn the requisite causal connection between her filed complaint against Roe and
Brown and their alleged retaliatory conduct. See Record Document 16 at 3-4. Plaintiff has
met the plausibility standard and her retaliation claim survives the Rule 12(b)(6)
For the foregoing reasons,
The Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED with regards to Plaintiff’s racial
and/or gender discrimination and hostile work environment claims under both Title VII
and the relevant state law provision.2
Plaintiff gives no clear indication of which state statute she believes is applicable. The Court presumes
Plaintiff intended to plead her state law claims under the Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law, La.
R.S. 22:332(A)(1). Because the state law provision is a near replica of Title VII, the Court reaches the same
conclusions it did with the Title VII claims.
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The Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss is DENIED with regards to Plaintiff’s retaliation
claim under both Title VII and the relevant state law provision.
An order consistent with this Memorandum Ruling will issue herewith.
THUS DONE AND SIGNED in Shreveport, Louisiana, this 19th day of July 2021.
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