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Arrington v. Alabama Power Co.

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

January 18, 2017

ALABAMA POWER COMPANY and its parent company SOUTHERN COMPANY, Defendants.


          John E. Ott, Chief United States Magistrate Judge

         In this employment discrimination action, plaintiff Lucille Yvette Arrington, acting pro se, has sued Alabama Power Company and The Southern Company (collectively, the “Defendants”) for alleged violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”), and the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (“ADA”). The Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Doc. 14). They have also filed a motion to stay all discovery pending the Court's ruling on their motion to dismiss. (Doc. 25). Arrington opposes both motions. (Docs. 17 & 27). For the reasons that follow, the court will grant the Defendants' motion to dismiss but will allow Arrington an opportunity to replead her claims against Alabama Power in an amended complaint. The Court will also grant the Defendants' motion to stay discovery.


         Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes a motion to dismiss an action on the ground that the allegations in the complaint fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. On such a motion, the “‘issue is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims.'” Little v. City of North Miami, 805 F.2d 962, 965 (11th Cir. 1986) (quoting Scheur v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)). In considering a motion to dismiss, the court assumes the factual allegations in the complaint are true and gives the plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable factual inferences. Hazewood v. Foundation Financial Group, LLC, 551 F.3d 1223, 1224 (11th Cir. 2008) (per curiam).

         Rule 12(b)(6) is read in light of Rule 8(a)(2), which requires “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.'” See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). “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 entitlement 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 (citations, brackets, and internal quotation marks omitted). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . .” Id. Thus, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, '” i.e., its “factual content . . . allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citations omitted). “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).


         Arrington is a former employee of Alabama Power. She initiated this action by completing and filing a form “Complaint for a Civil Case” against Alabama Power and its parent company, The Southern Company. (Doc. 1). In the form complaint, Arrington alleges that the Defendants “violated [her] Civil Rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.” (Doc. 1 at 2). Attached to the form complaint (along with other attachments) is a six-paragraph narrative complaint setting forth the facts on which her claims are based. (Doc. 1-1 at 1-3).

         In her narrative complaint, Arrington first explains that she filed her case “because of [her] disability discrimination and retaliation based on complaining of disability discrimination which are against the Federal Retaliation and Whistle-Blowing laws.” (Doc. 1-1 at 1). She then alleges that the retaliation began in September 2013 when she was employed as a Supervisor in Alabama Power's Metro Central Business office and reported to her “leadership” that another employee possessed pornographic materials in the workplace. She was advised to “let the situation go” because management was handling it. (Doc. 1-1 at ¶ 1).

         Arrington was promoted at the end of 2013 and was assigned to an Alabama Power office in Columbiana, Alabama. In February 2014, Arrington began complaining about a “mildew odor” in the office. In response to her complaints, Alabama Power replaced the air filters and placed air fresheners in the ducts. In August 2014, it was determined that there was “toxic mold” throughout the duct work, and all of the duct work, ceiling tiles, and walls had to be removed. Arrington became ill in September 2014 and was diagnosed with asthma caused by her “daily toxic mold exposure.” (Id. at ¶ 2).

         Arrington's next allegations are somewhat confusing and hard to follow. As best as the court can determine, in late 2014 Alabama Power offered to transfer Arrington to a larger office in an effort to accommodate her “toxic mold exposure illnesses.” She was told that she would be an Assistant Manager (rather than a Supervisor) of the larger office but would not receive a pay increase. According to Arrington, Alabama Power rescinded the offer when she asked questions about the “rights” she would be giving up with the new position. Instead of transferring Arrington to the larger office, Alabama Power transferred her to its corporate headquarters in Birmingham, where she was given the position of Senior Information Analyst. According to Arrington, the transfer “negatively impacted” her quality of life because her commute to work was longer. After being transferred, Arrington was informed that she had one year to find a new position. Although she applied for multiple internal and external positions, her efforts to find a new position were unsuccessful. (Id. at ¶ 3).

         Arrington next alleges that Alabama Power attempted to force her to file a fraudulent Sexual Harassment charge against another employee.[1] She refused to file the charge and reported the matter to an Alabama Power Vice President. According to Arrington, she was then subjected to a “hostile atmosphere of harassment, ” which caused her emotional distress and aggravated her asthma. (Id. at ¶ 4).

         On or about January 15, 2016, the “Supervisor and HR Business Partner” in the Birmingham corporate office informed Arrington that she was being demoted and would be transferred to the training department effective January 23, 2016. Arrington became ill upon learning this news, left work, and could not return to work for three days. (Id. at ¶ 6).

         Since first being diagnosed with asthma in September 2014, Arrington had been taking annual leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (“FMLA”). (Id. at ¶ 4). On or about January 19, 2016, Arrington submitted a request for a personal leave of absence from work, but was advised that employees on FMLA leave were not eligible for personal leave, which caused her more emotional distress. She was referred to a Disability Management representative, who encouraged her to request a medical leave of absence. According to Arrington, this “intentional infliction of emotional distress” caused her to have an asthma attack and led her to resign from her employment on January 20, 2016. She considers her resignation to be a “forced constructive termination.” (Id. at ¶ 6).

         Prior to bringing this action, Arrington filed two Charges of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”).[2] She filed her first EEOC charge on January 19, 2016, and identified Alabama Power as her employer. (Doc. 1-1 at 17). She checked the box for discrimination based on “retaliation” and stated that she believed she was being demoted “in retaliation for complaining of a hostile work environment and because [she] reported toxic mold.” (Id. at 17-18). Arrington filed her second EEOC charge on February 1, 2016, and again identified Alabama Power as her employer. (Id. at 15). She checked the boxes for discrimination based on “retaliation” and “disability” and alleged that she had been ...

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