LEBLANC et al v. DELAWARE COUNTY BOARD OF PRISON INSPECTORS et al
MEMORANDUM AND/OR OPINION SETTING FORTH THE REASONS WHY DEFENDANT DELAWARE COUNTY BOARD OF PRISON INSPECTORS' MOTION TO DISMISS PLAINTIFFS' AMENDED COMPLAINT (DOCKET NO. 26) IS GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART. SIGNED BY HONORABLE GENE E.K. PRATTER ON 7/13/11. 7/14/11 ENTERED AND COPIES E-MAILED.(rab, ) Modified on 7/14/2011 (rab, ).
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
NIGEL LeBLANC, et al.,
DELAWARE COUNTY BOARD of
PRISON INSPECTORS, et al.,
JULY 13, 2011
Nigel LeBlanc, Eugene Briggs and Zayid Bolds have sued their former employer,
Community Education Centers (“CEC”), in an Amended Complaint, claiming that they were
each terminated from their positions as correctional officers at the George W. Hill Correctional
Facility (“the Facility”) as a result of their religious beliefs, in violation of Title VII of the Civil
Rights Act and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Plaintiffs have also sued the Delaware County Board of
Prison Inspectors (“the Board”), which is responsible for management of the Facility, and which
hired CEC to provide basic services therein, under the same two statutes.
The Court dismissed the Plaintiffs’ initial Title VII claims against the Board on the
ground that the Complaint failed to allege facts sufficient to support the Plaintiffs’ conclusory
allegation that the Board qualified as their joint employer. The Board has now moved to dismiss
the Title VII claims in the Amended Complaint on the same basis, and has moved to dismiss the
Plaintiffs’ § 1983 claims on the ground that the Amended Complaint fails to identify any illegal
policy or custom. For the reasons set forth below, the Board’s Motion to Dismiss will be denied
in part and granted in part.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
For the purposes of a motion to dismiss, facts alleged in the Complaint are considered to
be true. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-556 (2007). On that basis, the facts
are as follows.
In 1996, the Board hired a firm called the GEO Group to perform a variety of basic
services at the Facility. Between 2000 and 2004, the GEO Group hired each of the Plaintiffs to
serve as a correction officer at the Facility. While so employed, each Plaintiff became a follower
of the Rastafari movement. As adherents of the movement, the Plaintiffs, who are male, believed
themselves compelled, as an article of religious faith, to stop shaving their facial hair and to wear
their head hair in long dreadlocks.1 The Plaintiffs assert, however, that they wore their long hair
in neat buns on the back of their heads, and that it did not touch the collars of their uniforms.
The Plaintiffs allege that as a result of their decision to conform with this perceived
religious mandate, they were subjected to “harassment” by their GEO Group superiors between
September of 2006 and December of 2008. For example, Mr. LeBlanc claims that the Facility’s
chief of security and warden threatened him with disciplinary action if he refused to cut his hair,
and that he was transferred from a preferred to a disfavored work assignment. Messrs. Briggs
and Bolds also claim that they were ordered to cut their hair during this time. None of the three
Plaintiffs was ever formally disciplined by the GEO Group.
On January 1, 2009, the GEO Group’s management contract expired, and the Board
A dreadlock is a “ropelike strand of hair formed by matting or braiding.” Merriam
Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 352 (10th ed. 1986). Followers of the Rastafari movement believe that
dreadlocks are required by the Bible, citing Leviticus 21:5 and 19:27 and Numbers 6:5. See also Reed v.
Faulkner, 842 F.2d 960, 962 (7th Cir. 1988) (summarizing Rastafari doctrine, and observing that there is
no reason to doubt that the Rastafari movement is a bona fide religion).
replaced the GEO Group with CEC. The terms of the Board’s contract with CEC were in all
relevant respects identical to its contract with the GEO Group. As part of this transition, CEC
took on many of the GEO Group’s employees in the Facility, including the Plaintiffs.
Plaintiffs allege that the same day CEC assumed management of the Facility, an unnamed
agent of CEC issued Messrs. Bolds and Briggs a one-day deadline, until Friday, January 2, to
shave their beards, and a four-day deadline, until Monday, January 5, to cut their hair. On
January 5, both men had shaved their beards, but neither had cut his hair. They were summoned
to the office of Mario Colucci, the Facility’s chief of security, a CEC employee who had worked
in the same capacity under the GEO Group. Messrs. Bolds and Briggs allege that Mr. Colucci
informed them that they were suspended from work until they cut their hair. Mr. LeBlanc, who
had been away on vacation when the shave and cut deadlines were issued, returned to work at the
Facility on January 5, and claims that he then was also told not to return to work until he had
shaved his beard and cut his hair.
On January 8, 2009, the Plaintiffs met, seriatim, with the Facility’s warden, Frank Green,
an employee of CEC. Mr. Colucci, along with a CEC human resources employee named Debbie
Winager, and a union representative were also present at these meetings. The Plaintiffs assert
that during their meetings with Warden Green, they each explained – as indeed they claim to
have done on many earlier occasions – the religious significance of their dreadlocks and beards.
Nevertheless, each of the Plaintiffs was terminated from their employment, ostensibly for failing
to comply with a provision of CEC’s employee handbook that requires the following of all CEC
employees at secure facilities:
Hair shall be neatly combed and clean at all times.
Hair length shall not extend beyond the collar.
Shall be clean shaven.
The Plaintiffs concede that the Board did not pre-approve their terminations. However,
they claim that this was because there was “no opportunity” for the Board to do so, and assert
that the Board was “duly informed” of their terminations. They further allege that under its
contract with CEC, the Board had the authority to “re-institute ... [the] accommodations” that the
GEO Group had made for the Plaintiffs – referring, presumably, to the fact that the GEO Group
had allowed the Plaintiffs to continue working while wearing beards and their dreadlocks in a
bun. In essence, then, Plaintiffs argue that the Board “ratified” their terminations.
In their initial Complaint against CEC and the Board, the Plaintiffs asserted that both of
the Defendants had discriminated against them unlawfully based on religion (Counts I and II),
gender (Count III) and their race, which is African American (Count IV). CEC moved to dismiss
Count III pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), and at oral argument on that motion, the Plaintiffs stipulated
to its dismissal as against each Defendant. In addition, as noted above, the Board moved
successfully for the dismissal of all claims against it, on the ground that the initial Complaint
failed to plead facts sufficient to show that the Board was Plaintiffs’ joint employer.
Plaintiffs have since filed an Amended Complaint, which does not include a race
discrimination claim. Count I asserts that both of the Defendants discriminated against the
Plaintiffs based upon their faith in violation of Title VII and in violation of § 1983 by refusing to
make any reasonable accommodation for the Plaintiffs’ religious practice of maintaining long
dreadlocks; and Count II alleges that the Defendants violated the same statutes when it fired the
Plaintiffs for refusing to cut their hair.
The Amended Complaint asserts a number of relevant facts that did not appear in the first
iteration of the Complaint. These include the alleged facts that: (1) under the Board’s contract
with CEC, the Board and CEC “together maintained control over labor policies and discipline”;
(2) under that same contract, the Board “made express contractual commitments [to] taking on
(or actually, continuing) responsibility [it had held when the Facility services were provided by
the GEO Group] for setting and maintaining employment policies to be followed by CEC”; and
(3) “certain members of the Board, particularly [the head of the Board,] John Reilly, personally
participated in the process of assessing violations of ... rules and procedures” by CEC (and
previously, GEO Group) employees who worked in the Facility.2
The Board has moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint on the same ground that it
moved for dismissal of the initial Complaint, arguing that these new factual claims should not
change the Court’s analysis of the joint-employer question. Indeed, the Board argues, its conduct
is not even regulated by Title VII, because it does not employ the statutory minimum of 15
employees. As to the Plaintiffs’ § 1983 claims, the Board argues that Plaintiffs have failed to
plead an unconstitutional “policy or custom” which could potentially subject the Board, a state
actor, to liability under Monell v. New York Dep’t of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978).
The Board denies that Mr. Reilly is an employee of the Board, and asserts that he is
employed by Delaware County itself. Even if this turns out to be inconsistent with the Plaintiffs’ claim
that Mr. Reilly was the head of the Board, the facts alleged in the Amended Complaint are, at this stage
in the litigation, assumed to be true. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-556.
A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of a complaint. Conley v. Gibson,
355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires only “a short
and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,” Fed. R. Civ. P.
8(a)(2), in order to “give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon
which it rests.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (2007) (quoting Conley, 355 U.S. at 47). While a
complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, the plaintiff must provide “more than
labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not
do.” Id. (citations omitted). Specifically, “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to
relief above the speculative level ... .” Id. (citations omitted).
To make such a determination, courts “must only consider those facts alleged in the
complaint and accept all of those allegations as true.” ALA, Inc. v. CCAIR, Inc., 29 F.3d 855,
859 (3d Cir. 1994); see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-556 (courts must assume that “all the
allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)”). The Court must also accept as
true all reasonable inferences that may be drawn from the allegations, and view those facts and
inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Rocks v. Philadelphia, 868 F.2d
644, 645 (3d Cir. 1989). However, the Court need not accept as true “unsupported conclusions
and unwarranted inferences,” Doug Grant, Inc. v. Great Bay Casino Corp., 232 F.3d 173, 183184 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing City of Pittsburgh v. West Penn Power Co., 147 F.3d 256, 263 n.13
(3d Cir. 1998)), or plaintiff's “bald assertions” or “legal conclusions.” Morse v. Lower Merion
Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997).
The Court will first address the sufficiency of the Amended Complaint’s factual
allegations in regard to the Plaintiffs’ theory that the Board was their joint employer, and then
discuss whether the Board qualifies as an employer regulated by Title VII. Finally, the Court will
address the Board’s argument as to § 1983.
The Board as Joint Employer
Two entities may be considered “joint employers” for the purposes of a Title VII claim
where both exercise “significant control” over the same employees. Myers v. Garfield &
Johnson Enterprises, Inc., 679 F.Supp.2d 598, 607 (E.D. Pa. 2010) (citing NLRB v. BrowningFerris Industries, 691 F.2d 1117, 1123 (3d Cir. 1982)). Such a situation generally arises where
one entity, “while contracting in good faith with an otherwise independent company, has retained
for itself sufficient control of the terms and conditions of employment of the employees who are
employed by the other employer.” Browning-Ferris Industries, 691 F.2d at 1123.
The joint employer analysis is “intensely factual” in nature. Thompson v. US Airways,
Inc., 717 F. Supp.2d 468, 479 (E.D. Pa. 2010) (citing Graves v. Lowery, 117 F.3d 723, 729 (3d
Cir. 1997) (applying joint-employer analysis in the Title VII context, and noting that “the precise
contours of an employment relationship can only be established by a careful factual inquiry”)).
Among the facts commonly considered in determining whether an entity is a joint employer are
whether that entity (1) has authority to hire and fire employees, to promulgate work rules, to hand
out work assignments, or to set conditions of employment (such as compensation and hours); (2)
engages in day-to-day supervision of employees; or (3) controls employee records that relate to
payroll, insurance taxes, and the like. Myers, 679 F. Supp.2d at 607-608 (citing Butterbaugh v.
Chertoff, 479 F.Supp.2d 485, 494 (W.D. Pa. 2007)). Each of these factors can be considered in
concert with the others. None is dispositive, taken alone, and “a weak showing on one factor
may be offset by a strong showing on the other two.” Id. at 608.
Considering these factors, Plaintiffs’ Amended Complaint has pled facts sufficient to
demonstrate that the Board might have been the Plaintiffs’ joint employer. The Plaintiffs have
alleged, for example, with reference to particular provisions of the Board’s contract with CEC,
that the Board retained some formal authority to promulgate and enforce employment policies.
They have further alleged that John Reilly, who they describe as the “head” of the Board did, in
practice, “participate[ ] in the process of assessing violations of ... rules and procedures” by the
employees of GEO Group and its successor CEC (each of which companies stood in essentially
the same posture with regard to the Board). And finally, they have alleged, albeit generally, that
although the Board did not pre-approve their termination, that it had the authority to reverse this
decision after the fact. Bearing in mind that the joint employment analysis is fact-intensive, and
that the record at the pleading stage is necessarily thin, Plaintiffs have cleared, however narrowly,
the hurdle established by courts in this Circuit.3
The Board as Title VII Employer
Title VII defines regulated employers as “person[s] engaged in an industry affecting
See, e.g., Myers, 679 F. Supp. 2d at 610 (complaint sufficient as to entity’s joint
employer status where plaintiff alleged that entity supervised employees and had authority to promulgate
and enforce work rules, but conceded that it lacked hiring and firing power); Thompson, 717 F. Supp. at
479 (same, where the complaint alleged that the entity controlled decisions regarding compensation and
performance rules); Braden v. County of Washington, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 98511 (W.D. Pa., Dec. 5,
2008) (same, where more factual development was required before the court could properly address the
issue of joint employment).
commerce who [have] fifteen or more employees for each working day in each of twenty or more
calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(b). Although the
Board has asserted, plausibly, that it has too few employees to be an considered an employer for
the purposes of Title VII (indeed, that it has no employees at all), the fact that it may share joint
employer status with CEC suggests that the minimum employee analysis ought to consider the
number of individuals employed by both entities, taken together. See Podsobinski v. Roizman,
1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1743 at *6-7 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 13, 1998) (where the plaintiff proceeds on a
joint employer theory, “the number of employees of two or more entities may be aggregated to
determine whether an employer has the requisite number of employees to trigger the protections
of Title VII”) (citing Browning-Ferris Industries, 691 F.2d at 1122). The Amended Complaint
presents no specific factual allegations as to the number of individuals employed by CEC, but it
pleads facts that would allow the Court to reasonably infer that it employs more than 15 people (a
fact which the Board has not attempted to contest).
In Monell, 436 U.S. 658, the Supreme Court held that although a state actor like the
Board cannot not be sued under § 1983 for an injury that has been inflicted solely by the state
actor’s employees or agents, it can be sued under § 1983 where one of its “policies or customs”
provides the basis for the claim. Analysis of Monell claims often focuses on whether the plaintiff
has adequately pled that the state actor in question made a “deliberate” or “conscious” decision to
adopt the policy or custom to which the plaintiff objects, and whether this policy or custom was
in fact the “moving force” behind any constitutional violations that may have been perpetrated by
the state actor’s employees. See Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 389 (1989) (citing County v.
Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 326 (1981); Pembaur v. Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 483-484 (1986)).
In this case, the Plaintiffs have failed to plead facts that might allow the Court to
conclude that some deliberately-adopted Board policy was an active ingredient in the alleged
failure of CEC employees to make “reasonable accommodation” for the Plaintiffs’ religious
practices, or for the Plaintiffs’ termination. Although the Amended Complaint asserts that the
Board effectively “ratified” the Plaintiffs’ termination at the hands of CEC, it provides no basis
to believe that the Board had any direct role in formulating the grooming policy that led to that
result.4 Although the Plaintiffs filed a response in opposition to the Board’s motion to dismiss
the Plaintiffs’ Title VII claims, they ignored the Board’s argument as to § 1983, and appear
effectively to have conceded the point.
For the reasons set forth above, the Board’s Motion to Dismiss will be denied as to the
Plaintiff’s claims under Title VII, and granted as to their claims under § 1983. An order to this
BY THE COURT:
S/Gene E.K. Pratter
GENE E.K. PRATTER
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Indeed, the Plaintiffs assert that although the Board’s contracts with the GEO Group and
CEC were identical, the Plaintiffs were allowed under the GEO Group to grow beards and wear their hair
in a bun, and were only terminated after CEC became their employer. This suggests that the proximate
cause of the alleged failure to accommodate, as well as of the Plaintiffs’ termination, was the change in
contractors, and not any policy or custom deliberately or consciously adopted by the Board itself.
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