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Wells v. Voestalpine Nortrak, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

February 11, 2015

DANTE R. WELLS, Plaintiff,
v.
VOESTALPINE NORTRAK, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

SHARON LOVELACE BLACKBURN, District Judge.

This case is presently pending before the court on defendant's Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 8.)[1] Plaintiff Dante Wells has sued defendant Voestalpine Nortrak, Inc. alleging race discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("§ 1981"). Upon consideration of the record, the submissions of the parties, the arguments of counsel, and the relevant law, the court is of the opinion that defendant's Motion to Dismiss, (Doc. 8), is meritorious with regard to plaintiff's Title VII and § 1981 claims, but is not meritorious as to plaintiff's Title VII exhaustion requirement. As discussed with counsel at the hearing on the Motion to Dismiss, defendant's Motion to Dismiss will be denied with leave for plaintiff to replead his claims.

I. MOTION TO DISMISS STANDARD

Defendant has moved to dismiss plaintiff's Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. (Doc. 8 at 1.) The purpose of such motions, authorized by Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, is to test the facial sufficiency of the plaintiff's statement of his claims for relief. Brooks v. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, Inc., 116 F.3d 1364, 1367 (11th Cir. 1997). Rule 12(b)(6) must be read together with Rule 8(a)(2), which "requires that a pleading contain a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Am. Dental Ass'n v. Cigna Corp., 605 F.3d 1283, 1288 (11th Cir. 2010) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

To survive a 12(b)(6) motion, Rule 8 "does not require detailed factual allegations, ' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). The "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 cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Accordingly, "[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. (citations and footnote omitted). The plaintiff need not prove his case but must plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570 (emphasis added).

Additionally, "[w]hen considering a motion to dismiss, all facts set forth in the plaintiff's complaint are to be accepted as true and the court limits its consideration to the pleadings and exhibits attached thereto.'" Grossman v. Nationsbank, N.A., 225 F.3d 1228, 1231 (11th Cir. 2000) (quoting GSW, Inc. v. Long Cnty., Ga., 999 F.2d 1508, 1510 (11th Cir. 1993)). Further, all "reasonable inferences" are drawn in favor of the plaintiff. St. George v. Pinellas Cnty., 285 F.3d 1334, 1337 (11th Cir. 2002). However, while the court must accept all factual allegations as true, it is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citation omitted).

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND[2]

Plaintiff is an African-American male and a resident of Jefferson County, Alabama. (Doc. 1 ¶ 3.) Defendant is a rail manufacturing and distribution company that hired plaintiff as a machinist on October 19, 1999. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 4, 7.) On September 3, 2012, plaintiff's supervisor accused him of stealing inserts from a LISTA machine at work and suspended plaintiff during an investigation of the theft. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 9, 13.) On December 5, 2012, plaintiff filed his first charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging racial discrimination in his suspension and treatment at work. (Doc. 1 at 6.) Plaintiff's explanation of discrimination reads as follows:

I am an African American male. I was hired as a machinist by the above named employer during October 19, 1999. On October 2, 2012, my supervisor wrote a derogatory and insulting comment on a "wing rail" about my job performance in public view for everyone to see. My White coworkers are not treated in this manner. On December 3, 2012, I was suspended from work without pay. I have not been allowed to return to work. I was accused of taking inserts out of the LISTA machine. I deny committing the alleged misconduct. Two White employees who have full and unlimited access to the LISTA machine have not been suspected of stealing or suspended. I do not have full access to the LISTA machine and there is no proof of me taking the inserts in question from the machine. During the period of my suspension the inserts in question were found in the workplace, however, I remain suspended because the situation is allegedly still being investigated. White employees who have been caught stealing inserts and other company property were not suspended or treated in the same manner as I. The majority of the White employees are related to each other, or close friends.
I believe I have been discriminated against because of my race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as amended.

(Doc. 1 at 6.) Defendant terminated plaintiff's employment on December 6, 2012, the day after plaintiff filed his EEOC charge. (Doc. 1 ¶ 10.) Plaintiff filed another EEOC charge on December 17, 2012 that is identical to the first charge, except plaintiff added that "[m]y employer discharged me on December 6, 2012." (Doc. 16-1.) Plaintiff filed the EEOC charges without the assistance of counsel. (Hearing on Motion to Dismiss, Statement by Plaintiff's Counsel (Oct. 14, 2014).)

Plaintiff sued defendant on November 7, 2013 and attempted to serve defendant through certified mail. (Docs. 1, 9 at 3.) The Complaint was returned to plaintiff marked "unclaimed-unable to forward." (Doc. 9 at 3.) This court issued a Show Cause Order on June 6, 2014 for plaintiff to show cause why he had not served defendant with the Complaint, (Doc. 5), and on June 10, 2014, plaintiff properly served defendant with the Complaint, (Doc. 9 at 3).

III. DISCUSSION

Defendant contends that plaintiff failed to sufficiently plead facts that state a claim for race discrimination or retaliation, (Doc. 8 ¶¶ 2, 4), and that plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as to his retaliation claim under Title VII, (Doc. 8 ¶ 5). The court agrees that plaintiff's Complaint does not state a claim for race discrimination or retaliation under Title VII or § 1981, [3] but the court finds that ...


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