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Eckl v. Lauderdale County Board of Education

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

July 19, 2017

AMANDA J. ECKL, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
LAUDERDALE COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ABDUL K. KALLON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Amanda J. Eckl, Jessica L. VanDerVelde, and Angela C. West bring this gender discrimination complaint against the Lauderdale County Board of Education, former Superintendent Jennifer Gray, and current Superintendent Jonathan Hatton, pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Equal Pay Act of 1963, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d). See generally doc. 1. The court has for consideration Defendants' motion to dismiss, doc. 8, which is fully briefed, docs. 9; 13; 14, and ripe for review. For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motion, doc. 8, is due to be denied.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a pleading must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” “[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces 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) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Mere “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” are insufficient. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). “Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits dismissal when a complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citations omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted). A complaint states a facially plausible claim for relief “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citation omitted). The complaint must establish “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id.; see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (“Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.”). Ultimately, this inquiry is a “context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND [1]

         Eckl, VanDerVelde, and West are female employees of the Lauderdale County Board of Education's Business/Accounting Department. Doc. 1 at 3-4, 6. The Board, a separate entity from the Superintendent of Education, acts as an agent of the Superintendent. Id. at 4. The Board exercises its authority through the Superintendent and is responsible for the hiring and compensation of all employees upon written recommendation of the Superintendent. Id. at 4. This means that, pursuant to Alabama law, “the Board is responsible for establishing and maintaining a written salary schedule for each class and type of employee, including Plaintiffs.” Id. at 4.

         From January 2013 to December 2016, Jennifer Gray served as the Superintendent of Lauderdale County Schools and Jonathan Hatton assumed the office in January 2017. Id. at 4-5. The Superintendent has the authority to nominate individuals to the Board for employment. Id. at 4. This includes the authority to recommend job titles and pay scales for all employees. Id. at 4-5.

         From May 2008 through September 2016, the Business/Accounting Department was comprised of the three plaintiffs and one male (Mark Collier). All four reported to the Chief School Financial Officer. Id. at 6. All four had “Bachelor's degrees in a business related field, ” id., and were all “collectively and equally responsible for maintaining the business and accounting duties and responsibilities for the entire Lauderdale County School District, ” id. However, Eckl (hired in 1999), VanDerVelde (hired in 2006), and West (hired in 2006), id. at 3-4, were classified as “Account Clerk, Associates in Business, ” and Collier had “the unique title” of “Accounting Specialist I, Bachelor's Degree, ” id. at 7. Although Plaintiffs had “the same or substantially similar” job duties and tasks, id., the difference in titles resulted in Collier making approximately $26, 000 more than the highest paid plaintiff. Id. at 11-12.

         After Plaintiffs filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Board created three new job titles requiring bachelor's degrees in a business related field, called “Accounts Specialist, ” “Benefits Specialist, ” and “Payroll Specialist.” Id. at 9-11. The Board asked Plaintiffs to resign from their previous positions and reapply for the three newly-created ones. Id. Plaintiffs complied, and, in their new roles, they received salaries within a slightly higher pay range ($19.29 per hour ($34, 725 per year) to $21.79 per hour ($39, 225 per year)), which is still significantly less than Collier's salary. Id. Their new salaries are also “roughly equivalent to the compensation paid to the Assistant Superintendent's secretary and less than the compensation paid to the Superintendent's secretary, positions for which no advanced education is required.” Id. Plaintiffs believe the Board created these new roles and pay rates to retaliate against them for the filing of their EEOC charges.

         II. ANALYSIS [2]

         Defendants move to dismiss on two grounds: (1) insufficient service of process pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(5); and (2) failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The court will discuss these contentions below.

         A. Service of Process

         Based on Fed.R.Civ.P. 5(b)(1), [3] Defendants contend that Plaintiffs should have served the complaint and summons on their counsel, James Irby. Doc. 9 at 12-13. However, Rule 5(b)(1) does not apply to the initial summons and complaint. Instead, initial service is governed by Rule 4 through which Plaintiffs properly served the individual defendants directly, see docs. 3 at 2-3; 5 at 1; 6 at 1; 9-2 at 1; 9-4 at 1, and in the case of the Board, through the Superintendent who is the Board's “executive officer” and “secretary, ” see Ala. Code § 16-8-7; Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(j)(2) (to properly serve the Board, Plaintiffs must “deliver[] a copy of the summons and of the complaint to its chief executive officer, ” or “serv[e] a copy of each in the ...


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