Smith v. Mechiconne et al
ORDER granting in part and denying in part Defendants' 34 Motion to Dismiss. The Court grants the motion as to Plaintiff's Title VII and ADEA claims against Defendants Melchionne and Slayton, and as to Plaintiff's demand for fees and costs under state law. The Court denies the motion in all other respects. Signed by District Judge Keith Starrett on April 28, 2015 (dsl)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI
HERMAN EUGENE SMITH, SR.
CIVIL ACTION NO. 2:13-CV-312-KS-MTP
BILL MELCHIONNE, et al.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
For the reasons stated below, the Court grants in part and denies in part
Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss .
This is a discrimination and retaliation case arising under Title VII and the
ADEA. Plaintiff, a 57-year-old African-American man, was employed by Defendant
FTS USA, LLC as a cable technician. Defendants Bill Melchionne and John Slayton
were his supervisors. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants denied him a promotion because
of his race and/or age, instead promoting a 25-year-old white man. Plaintiff also alleges
that Defendants subjected him to a series of adverse employment actions after he
complained about the denial of promotion. He asserted discrimination and retaliation
claims under both Title VII and the ADEA. Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss ,
which is ripe for review.
To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint “must contain
sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on
its face.” Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. LLC v. La. State, 624 F.3d 201, 210 (5th Cir.
2010) (punctuation omitted). “To be plausible, the complaint’s factual allegations must
be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. (punctuation
omitted). The Court must “accept all well-pleaded facts as true and construe the
complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Id. But the Court will not accept
as true “conclusory allegations, unwarranted factual inferences, or legal conclusions.”
Id. Likewise, “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.”
PSKS, Inc. v. Leegin Creative Leather Prods., Inc., 615 F.3d 412, 417 (5th Cir. 2010)
(punctuation omitted). Legal conclusions may provide “the complaint’s framework,
[but] they must be supported by factual allegations.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
664, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1940, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009).
Title VII and ADEA Discrimination
Plaintiff alleges that Defendants denied him a promotion because of his race
and/or age. The elements of a Title VII discrimination claim are identical to those of
an ADEA discrimination claim. Brown v. Bunge Corp., 207 F.3d 776, 781 (5th Cir.
2000); Crosby v. Computer Sci. Corp., 470 F. App’x 307, 308 (5th Cir. 2012). Cases
arising under one statute generally “have value as precedent for cases arising under
the other.” Phillips v. S. Bell Tel. & Tel. Co., 650 F.2d 655, 658 n. 6 (5th Cir. 1981). To
allege a prima facie case of discrimination in this context, Plaintiff must plead facts
demonstrating “that (1) he was not promoted, (2) he was qualified for the position he
sought, (3) he fell within a protected class at the time of the failure to promote, and (4)
the defendant either gave the promotion to someone outside of that protected class or
otherwise failed to promote the plaintiff because of his race.” Autry v. Fort Bend Indep.
Sch. Dist., 704 F.3d 344, 346-47 (5th Cir. 2013).
Defendants argue that Plaintiff alleged insufficient facts to demonstrate that he
was qualified for the promotion. Plaintiff alleged that he “performed his duties in an
outstanding and professional manner,” and that he “had more experience and seniority
[than] the chosen candidate.” The Fifth Circuit has found a “relatively spare . . .
complaint sufficient to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss when it contains
factual allegations evidencing plaintiff’s experience, promotions, and commendations.”
Wooten v. McDonald Transit Assocs., 775 F.3d 689, 698 (5th Cir. 2015). Even a
complaint which contains “few facts” and “admittedly bare allegations” may state “a
plausible claim for . . . discrimination to survive a motion to dismiss.” Id. (citing Leal
v. McHugh, 731 F.3d 405, 413 (5th Cir. 2013)). Plaintiff certainly could have provided
more specific facts to support the claim that he was qualified for the promotion to
trainer. However, Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, and the Court must hold his “complaint
‘to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.’” Webb v. Round
Rock Indep. Sch. Dist., 595 F. App’x 301, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 23291, at *3 (5th Cir.
Dec. 11, 2014) (quoting Hale v. King, 642 F.3d 492, 499 (5th Cir. 2011)). Therefore, the
Court finds Plaintiff’s allegations barely sufficient to demonstrate that he was qualified
for the promotion.
Title VII and ADEA Retaliation
Plaintiff alleges that Defendants retaliated against him for complaining about
the denial of promotion. To sufficiently plead a prima facie case of retaliation, Plaintiff
must allege: 1) that he participated in an activity protected by Title VII or the ADEA,
(2) that his employer took an adverse employment action against him, and (3) that a
causal connection exists between the protected activity and the adverse employment
action. See McCoy v. City of Shreveport, 492 F.3d 551, 556-57 (5th Cir. 2007) (Title VII);
Holtzclaw v. DSC Communs. Corp., 255 F.3d 254, 259 (5th Cir. 2001) (ADEA); Barrow
v. New Orleans S. S. Ass’n, 10 F.3d 292, 298 (5th Cir. 1994). Defendants argue that
Plaintiff failed to plead facts establishing a causal link between his protected activity
and the alleged adverse employment actions.
Plaintiff alleged that he was denied promotion in February 2012, and that on
February 27, 2012, his supervisor instituted a new policy that effectively denied him
the privilege of taking his company vehicle home, while allowing all other employees
to do so. According to Plaintiff, the mistreatment continued as his supervisors gave him
assignments no other technicians wanted, paid him less than other employees,
threatened and intimidated him, and enforced policies/rules more strictly against him
than they did against other employees. On June 19, 2012, Plaintiff filed a charge of
discrimination with the EEOC. In a supplemental letter to the EEOC which was
attached to his Amended Complaint [4-4],he alleged that his supervisor harassed him
in a phone conversation on June 23, 2012, after having learned of the EEOC charge.
Temporal proximity between protected activity and an adverse employment
action can be enough to satisfy the prima facie causation requirement if the events are
“very close.” Clark County Sch. Dist. v. Breeden, 532 U.S. 268, 273, 121 S. Ct. 1508, 149
L. Ed. 2d 509 (2001); see also Strong v. Univ. Health Care Sys., LLC, 482 F.3d 802, 808
(5th Cir. 2007) (temporal proximity, while not sufficient by itself to prove “but for”
causation, may be sufficient to state a prima facie case). Here, Plaintiff alleged that
adverse employment actions began very soon after he complained about being denied
the promotion. He also alleged that his supervisor harassed and threatened him within
days of his filing a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. Plaintiff certainly could
have provided more specific facts to support his allegation that Defendants harassed
him because of his protected activity. However, he is proceeding pro se, and the Court
holds his “complaint ‘to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by
lawyers.’” Webb, 595 F. App’x 301, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 23291 at *3. Therefore, the
Court finds Plaintiff’s allegations barely sufficient to state the causation element of a
prima facie retaliation claim.
Defendants Melchionne and Slayton argue that Plaintiff’s Title VII and ADEA
claims against them must be dismissed because they were not his “employer.” The
Fifth Circuit “has held that there is no individual liability for employees under Title
VII.” Smith v. Amedisys, Inc., 298 F.3d 434, 448 (5th Cir. 2002); see also Grant v. Lone
Star Co., 21 F.3d 649, 652 (5th Cir. 1994). Likewise, “the ADEA provides no basis for
individual liability for supervisory employees.” Stults v. Conoco, 76 F.3d 651, 655 (5th
Cir. 1996). It is clear from the allegations in Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint that
Defendants Melchionne and Slayton were not his “employers.” Rather, they were
Plaintiff’s supervisors and employees of Defendant FTS USA, LLC. Accordingly, the
Court dismisses Plaintiff’s claims against them.
State Law Claims
Finally, Defendants argue that Plaintiff’s request for “attorney fees and cost as
provided by state law” should be dismissed, as Plaintiff asserted no causes of action
arising under state law. Defendants are correct, and the Court dismisses any purported
demand for relief under state law. However, the Court notes that this has no bearing
on the availability of such relief under applicable federal law.
For the reasons stated above, the Court grants in part and denies in part
Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss . The Court grants the motion as to Plaintiff’s Title
VII and ADEA claims against Defendants Melchionne and Slayton, and as to Plaintiff’s
demand for fees and costs under state law. The Court denies the motion in all other
SO ORDERED AND ADJUDGED this 28th day of April, 2015.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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