RHODES v. CAMDEN REDEVELOPMENT AGENCY
OPINION. Signed by Judge Noel L. Hillman on 1/8/2021. (pr,n.m)
Case 1:20-cv-20337-NLH-KMW Document 2 Filed 01/08/21 Page 1 of 12 PageID: 17
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
No. 1: 20-cv-20337-NLH-KMW
CAMDEN REDEVELOPMENT AGENCY,
221 DOUGLAS AVENUE
HADDONFIELD, NJ 08033
Plaintiff appearing pro se.
HILLMAN, District Judge
This case arises from Plaintiff Carla Rhodes’ allegation
that she has suffered discrimination on the basis of her race,
color, and sex while working for her employer, Defendant Camden
The matter is presently before the Court
because Plaintiff, appearing pro se, has applied to proceed in
forma pauperis (“IFP”) and the Court must screen this complaint
before allowing the case to proceed.
The Court will grant
Plaintiff's IFP application, and will dismiss certain of
Plaintiff's claims without prejudice but let her remaining claim
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Plaintiff is an African American woman who is employed by
the Camden Redevelopment Agency.
Plaintiff alleges that, while
working there, she has suffered a series of “hostile acts
committed by [her] co-workers.”
(ECF No. 1 at 7).
Plaintiff alludes to multiple such acts having occurred, she
describes only one with specificity.
Plaintiff alleges that, in
October 2015, she was “physically charged by a white male . . .
co-worker while sitting in her private office at work.”
She alleges that, despite having been the one assaulted, she was
then “placed on administrative leave for a prolonged period of
time and, then, was suspended while the male was not similarly
She further alleges that she was “escorted from the
office by a police officer,” after which the co-worker who had
charged her had circulated rumors that she had been handcuffed
and was no longer employed by the Camden Redevelopment Agency.
Plaintiff further alleges that “an executive who had nearly
physically assaulted [her] in the past [was chosen] to lead the
investigation into the October 2015 incident.”
to Plaintiff, her requests for assistance from that executive
“fell on deaf ears” due to her cooperation with an investigation
into the executive’s own behavior by members of the Board of
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Plaintiff then filed charges with the New Jersey Department
of Law and Public Safety’s Division on Civil Rights and then the
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
On September 28, 2020,
the EEOC issued her a Dismissal and Notice of Rights, stating
that it was closing its file on Plaintiff’s charge because it
had adopted the findings of the state agency — which had
apparently decided not to pursue any action based on Plaintiff’s
The EEOC therefore issued Plaintiff a “right to
sue” letter on that same date.
(ECF No. 1 at 11).
December 29, 2020, Plaintiff filed this complaint.
complaint specifically asserts Title VII claims for unequal
terms and conditions of employment, hostile work environment,
failure to promote, and retaliation on the basis of her race,
color, and sex.
Plaintiff simultaneously filed an application
to proceed in forma pauperis (“IFP”).
(ECF No. 1-1).
Subject Matter Jurisdiction
The Court has subject matter jurisdiction over this matter
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, as Plaintiff has asserted her
claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Plaintiff’s IFP Application
Pursuant to Local Civil Rule 54.3, the Clerk shall not be
required to enter any suit, file any paper, issue any process,
or render any other service for which a fee is prescribed,
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unless the fee is paid in advance.
Under certain circumstances,
however, this Court may permit an indigent plaintiff to proceed
in forma pauperis.
A pro se plaintiff wishing to proceed in forma pauperis
must fill out form “AO 239 (Rev. 01/15) Application to Proceed
in District Court Without Prepaying Fees or Costs.”
requires the plaintiff to “[c]omplete all questions in this
application,” and “[d]o not leave any blanks.”
In addition, “if
the answer to a question is ‘0,’ ‘none,’ or ‘not applicable
(N/A),’ write that response.”
The form contains twelve
questions, and many questions contain numerous subparts, which
are utilized by the Court to determine a plaintiff's indigency.
Finally, as part of the application, the plaintiff must swear
under penalty of perjury that the information contained in the
application is true.
In this action, Plaintiff seeks to proceed in forma
As Plaintiff’s IFP application states, under penalty
of perjury, that her monthly expenses are greater than her total
monthly income, (ECF No. 1-1), and that she otherwise lacks
sufficient liquid assets to pay the filing fee, the Court finds
that Plaintiff may proceed in forma pauperis and therefore
grants her IFP application.
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III. Standard for Screening Complaints Filed IFP
Although § 1915 refers to “prisoners,” federal courts apply
§ 1915 to non-prisoner IFP applications.
See Hickson v. Mauro,
No. 11-6304, 2011 WL 6001088, at *1 (D.N.J. Nov. 30, 2011)
(citing Lister v. Dep't of Treasury, 408 F.3d 1309, 1312 (10th
Cir. 2005)); Lister, 408 F.3d at 1312 (“Section 1915(a) applies
to all persons applying for IFP status, and not just to
Once IFP status has been granted, a court must
follow the screening provisions of the IFP statute.
screening provisions of the IFP statute require a federal court
to dismiss an action sua sponte if, among other things, the
action is frivolous or malicious, or if it fails to comply with
the proper pleading standards.
See 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e)(2)(B)(i)-(iii); Ball v. Famiglio, 726 F.3d 448, 452 (3d
Cir. 2013); Martin v. U.S. Dep't of Homeland Sec., No. 17-3129,
2017 WL 3783702, at *1 (D.N.J. Aug. 30, 2017) (“Federal law
requires this Court to screen Plaintiff's Complaint for sua
sponte dismissal prior to service, and to dismiss any claim if
that claim fails to state a claim upon which relief may be
granted under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) and/or to dismiss any
defendant who is immune from suit.”).
As indicated, this Court must follow the Rule 12(b)(6)
standard in considering a pro se complaint.
Pro se complaints
must be construed liberally, and all reasonable latitude must be
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afforded the pro se litigant.
Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97,
107, 97 S.Ct. 285, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976).
But, pro se litigants
“must still plead the essential elements of [their] claim and
[are] not excused from conforming to the standard rules of civil
McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113, 113
S.Ct. 1980, 124 L.Ed.2d 21 (1993) (“[W]e have never suggested
that procedural rules in ordinary civil litigation should be
interpreted so as to excuse mistakes by those who proceed
without counsel.”); Sykes v. Blockbuster Video, 205 F. App'x
961, 963 (3d Cir. 2006) (finding that pro se plaintiffs are
expected to comply with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure).
When screening a complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6), a court must accept all well-pleaded
allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light
most favorable to the plaintiff.
347, 351 (3d Cir. 2005).
Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d
It is well settled that a pleading is
sufficient if it contains “a short and plain statement of the
claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R.
Civ. P. 8(a)(2).
“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
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cause of action will not do ....”
Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly,
550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)
(alteration in original) (citations omitted) (citing Conley v.
Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957);
Sanjuan v. Am. Bd. of Psychiatry & Neurology, Inc., 40 F.3d 247,
251 (7th Cir. 1994); Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286, 106
S.Ct. 2932, 92 L.Ed.2d 209 (1986)).
A district court, in weighing a motion to dismiss, asks
“not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the
claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claim.”
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563 n.8, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (quoting Scheuer v.
Rhoades, 416 U.S. 232, 236, 94 S.Ct. 1683, 40 L.Ed.2d 90
(1974)); see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 684, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (“Our
decision in Twombly expounded the pleading standard for ‘all
civil actions’ ....”); Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203,
210 (3d Cir. 2009) (“Iqbal ... provides the final nail in the
coffin for the ‘no set of facts’ standard that applied to
federal complaints before Twombly.”).
“A motion to dismiss
should be granted if the plaintiff is unable to plead ‘enough
facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
Malleus, 641 F.3d at 563 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at
570, 127 S.Ct. 1955).
The Court interprets Plaintiff’s complaint to essentially
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assert four claims: (1) unequal terms of employment, (2) hostile
work environment, (3) failure to promote, and (4) retaliation.
For the purposes of the standard applied to Rule 12(b)(6)
motions, Plaintiff need not plead all of the prima facie
elements of her discrimination claims at this stage, but still
must “allege sufficient facts to raise a reasonable expectation
that discovery will uncover proof of her claims.”
Lane Const. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 789 (3d Cir. 2016).
The Court turns first to Plaintiff’s claim for unequal
terms and conditions of employment.
“To establish a claim for
unequal terms and conditions in employment, or disparate
treatment, [Plaintiff] must establish that she (1) is a member
of a protected class; (2) was qualified for the position; (3)
was negatively affected by Defendant's employment decisions; and
(4) was treated less favorably than employees not within her
Dickerson v. New Jersey Institute of
Technology, No. 19-8344 (KM) (JBC), 2020 WL 7054156, at *6
(D.N.J. Dec. 2, 2020) (citing Murphy v. Hous. Auth. & Urban
Redevelopment Agency of City of Atl. City, 32 F. Supp. 2d 753,
763 (D.N.J. 1999), aff'd 208 F.3d 206 (3d Cir. 2000)).
Court finds that, with these elements in mind, Plaintiff has put
forth sufficient factual allegations at this stage.
alleges that she is an African American woman that was already
employed by Defendant, that she suffered adverse employment
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actions in the form of being suspended from work and escorted
out of the office in handcuffs, and alleges that she suffered
these actions despite her white male co-worker, who she alleges
was the aggressor in their interaction, suffering no similar
The Court finds that these allegations are
sufficient to survive its sua sponte screening at this stage.
Next, Plaintiff has asserted a claim for hostile work
The elements of a Title VII hostile work
environment claim are “that 1) the employee suffered intentional
discrimination because of his/her [race, color, or sex], 2) the
discrimination was severe or pervasive, 3) the discrimination
detrimentally affected the plaintiff, 4) the discrimination
would detrimentally affect a reasonable person in like
circumstances, and 5) the existence of respondeat superior
Mandel v. M & Q Packaging Corp., 706 F.3d 157, 167
(3d Cir. 2013) (internal citations omitted).
Here, Plaintiff has failed to allege facts sufficient to
sustain a hostile work environment claim.
While Plaintiff has
alleged that one of her co-workers physically assaulted her, she
does not allege that this incident occurred because of her race;
and while she alleges that she suffered from a hostile
environment and hostile actions taken by other employees over
the course of three years, she does not allege any specific
behavior or actions that contributed to creating a hostile
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As her complaint puts forth only generalized
allegations of a hostile work environment, the Court finds that
she has failed to state a claim.
Plaintiff’s third claim is for failure to promote.
state a prima facie case of failure to promote in violation of
Title VII, a plaintiff must show “(i) that [s]he belongs to a
[protected category]; (ii) that [s]he applied and was qualified
for a job for which the employer was seeking applicants; (iii)
that, despite [her] qualifications, [s]he was rejected; and (iv)
that, after [her] rejection, the position remained open and the
employer continued to seek applicants from persons of
Dickerson v. New Jersey
Institute of Tech., No. 19-8344 (KM) (JBC), 2019 WL 6032378, at
*6 (D.N.J. Nov. 14, 2019) (quoting Noel v. The Boeing Co., 622
F.3d 266, 274 (3d Cir. 2010)).
The Court further notes that, as to the second element,
“[a]lthough some courts have held that failure to apply for a
promotion is fatal to a failure to promote claim, many courts
have overlooked this failure in certain cases, such as when the
promotional system did not involve a formal application process
and when a plaintiff’s attempts to apply for a promotion have
Id. (quoting Khair v. Campbell Soup Co., 893 F.
Supp. 316, 331 (D.N.J. 1995), on reconsideration in part (July
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Here, the Court finds that Plaintiff has also failed to
sufficiently plead a claim for failure to promote.
alleges only that, due to having been placed on administrative
leave for a prolonged period of time, she missed out on
However, Plaintiff fails to plead
any specific promotional opportunities, whether she was
qualified for them, whether she applied for or attempted to
pursue them, or any specifics whatsoever about the alleged
promotions she claims to have missed out on.
specific factual allegations, Plaintiff’s claims fail to meet
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)’s pleading standards, and
cannot survive this Court’s required screening.
Finally, the Court turns to Plaintiff’s retaliation claim.
“To establish a prima facie case of retaliation under Title VII
. . . [Plaintiff] must plead (1) that she engaged in a protected
activity; (2) that she suffered an adverse employment action;
and (3) that there was a causal connection between the protected
activity and the adverse employment action.”
Davis v. City of
Newark, 417 F. App’x 201, 202 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing Abramson v.
William Paterson Coll., 260 F.3d 265, 286 (3d Cir. 2001)).
Although Plaintiff has asserted a retaliation claim, she has not
specified on what basis.
The only activity she alleges that
could plausibly appear to qualify as a protected activity is her
cooperation with the alleged investigation into the unnamed
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executive’s prior behavior, which she may be alleging impacted
the executive’s investigation into the incident in which the
white male co-worker charged her.
However, Plaintiff does not
provide any further factual allegations detailing this activity,
and fails to allege that her race, color, or sex was in any way
related to this alleged retaliation.
Accordingly, the Court
finds that she has also failed to sufficiently state a Title VII
For the reasons expressed above, the Court will grant
Plaintiff’s IFP application (ECF No. 1-1).
work environment, failure to promote, and retaliation claims
will be dismissed without prejudice, and her remaining Title VII
claim may proceed.
If Plaintiff is able to able to assert
sufficient facts in the future to set forth a plausible claim as
to the claims dismissed without prejudice she may seek leave to
amend the complaint.
An appropriate Order will be entered.
Date: January 8, 2021
At Camden, New Jersey
/s Noel L. Hillman
NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.
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