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Oliver v. YMCA of Greater Birmingham

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

November 28, 2017




         This is a civil action filed by the Plaintiff, Cynthia Michelle Oliver, against the YMCA of Greater Birmingham (the “YMCA”), Stan Law, and Lane Vines. (collectively the “Defendants”). Against the YMCA alone, the Complaint sets out the following claims: age discrimination in violation of both the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-634 (the “ADEA”) and the Alabama Age Discrimination in Employment Act, Ala. Code §§ 25-1-20 through 25-1-29 (the “AADEA”) (Count One); “age harassment/hostile work environment” in violation of the ADEA and AADEA (Count Two); “sex discrimination” in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e through 2000e-17 (“Title VII”) (Count Three); “sex harassment/hostile [work] environment” in violation of Title VII (Count Four); “sexual orientation discrimination” in violation of Title VII (Count Five); “sexual orientation harassment/hostile [work] environment” in violation of Title VII (Count Six); “race discrimination” in violation of Title VII (Count Seven); “sexual orientation harassment/hostile [work] environment” in violation of Title VII (Count Eight); “retaliation” in violation of the ADEA, AADEA, and Title VII (Count Nine); and the Alabama state law claim of “negligent and wanton hiring, training, supervision, and retention” (Count Twelve). Against the YMCA and Vines together, the plaintiff sets out the following Alabama state law claims: “libel and slander” (Count Ten); “defamation” (Count Eleven); “interference with contractual or business relations” (Count Thirteen); and “invasion of privacy” (Count Fourteen). Finally, against all of the Defendants, the Plaintiff sets out the Alabama state law claim of “intentional infliction of emotional distress” (Count Fifteen).[1]

         The case comes before the Court on the Defendants' “Motion To Dismiss Counts Ten Through Fifteen of the Complaint” (the “Motion”). (Doc. 13). The Motion is brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and generally claims that the “Plaintiff's threadbare, conclusory allegations in support of each cause of action are clearly insufficient to state a claim under applicable law.” (Doc. 13 at 2). For the reasons stated herein, the Motion will be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. STANDARD

         Generally, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require only that the complaint provide “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). However, to survive a motion to dismiss brought under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007) (“Twombly”).

         A claim has facial plausibility “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that 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) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556) (“Iqbal”). That is, the complaint must include enough facts “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation and footnote omitted). Pleadings that contain nothing more than “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” do not meet Rule 8 standards, nor do pleadings suffice that are based merely upon “labels or conclusions” or “naked assertion[s]” without supporting factual allegations. Id. at 555, 557 (citation omitted).

         Once a claim has been stated adequately, however, “it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint.” Id. at 563 (citation omitted). Further, when ruling on a motion to dismiss, a court must “take the factual allegations in the complaint as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Pielage v. McConnell, 516 F.3d 1282, 1284 (11th Cir. 2008) (citing Glover v. Liggett Group, Inc., 459 F.3d 1304, 1308 (11th Cir. 2006)).


         The Complaint alleges, in pertinent part:

21. Michelle Oliver is a 55-year-old Caucasian female, born on May 30, 1961.
22. Oliver began her employment in 1985 with YMCA's predecessor company, Sports First, and had accrued a total of thirty-one (31) years of service.
23. Oliver was District Vice President of the YMCA of Greater Birmingham and Executive Director of the YMCA Mountain Brook branch.
24. As District Vice President, Oliver was responsible for leading and supervising the Executive Directors of the Hoover, Downtown Birmingham, Hargis, and Alabaster YMCA branches.
25. As Executive Director of the Mountain Brook branch, Oliver was responsible for overall leadership and operation of the branch, including facility management, membership and financial development, policy implementation, employee staffing, and customer service leadership.
26. Oliver was a salaried employee and classified as exempt from overtime.
27. Between 1985 and 2015, Oliver routinely worked between 40-50 hours a week depending on staffing requirements, workload, and the season of the year.
28. Oliver received exemplary performance reviews, both in her role as District Vice President and as Executive Director of the Mountain Brook branch.
29. In 2007-2008, Oliver witnessed Defendant Lane Vines frequenting the office of one of her female subordinates.
30. Defendant Vines did not have any business-related reason to be visiting alone with this employee so frequently, or having private, closed-door meetings.
31. The employee was Oliver's direct subordinate and a subordinate to Vines.
32. Oliver reported Vines'[s] conduct to the CEO at the time out of concern that Vines'[s] relationship with the subordinate was inappropriate.
33. Oliver is unaware as to whether Defendant investigated Vines'[s] conduct or did anything to correct it.
34. In February 2013, Stan Law (African American) became the YMCA's Chief Executive Officer.
35. During Law's first year, he had no complaints about Oliver's performance.
36. Toward the end of 2013, the position of Chief Operating Officer became available.
37. Oliver was qualified for the position and applied for it.
38. Law selected Defendant Vines for the position over Oliver, despite Oliver's qualifications of having more managerial and administrative experience.
39. In the fall of 2015, Oliver complained to Defendant Vines that the female tennis pro at her facility was making less money than the male tennis pro at the Greystone facility.
40. The female tennis pro had more seniority with the YMCA than the male tennis pro.
41. Vines told Oliver that he did not want her to think it was a “male/female issue” but that he would look into it.
42. To Oliver's knowledge there was no investigation.
43. Defendants failed to correct the unequal pay.
44. After becoming CEO, Law sought to change YMCA programs to be more about community outreach than about health and fitness.
45. The majority of YMCA's funding comes from members and corporate partners who pay membership fees to belong to state-of-the-art fitness facilities.
46. Law's change negatively impacted the financial success of the YMCA, including Oliver's Mountain Brook branch, because there was less funding to upgrade facilities and equipment.
47. Defendants, by and through Law, created a policy and preference for diverting funds from predominately Caucasian facilities to more predominantly African American facilities.
48. Law intentionally made improvements to facilities that have small membership numbers but are primarily African American, whereas he cut funding and improvements to larger facilities that he perceived as predominately Caucasian.
49. Oliver's Mountain Brook branch had a predominately Caucasian membership due to its predominately Caucasian overall population.
50. Law referred to Oliver's Mountain Brook branch as a “country club.” 51. Defendants, by and through Law, denied Oliver improvements to her facility based on her race and the race of most of the members of that facility.
52. Because the Mountain Brook facility nonetheless required much needed improvements, Oliver sought funding on her own. When she was successful in securing improvements or funding for her facility, Law refused to acknowledge her efforts.
53. In 2015, although the Mountain Brook branch did not meet budget, Oliver managed to increase the branch's financial performance by $100, 000 over 2014.
54. Law and Vines nonetheless began scrutinizing Oliver's performance.
55. Defendants did not scrutinize African-American and male Executive Directors, whose branches were performing more poorly than the Mountain Brook branch.
56. Defendants did not hold the African-American and male Executive Directors to the same high performance standards as Oliver.
57. Caucasian managers were singled out for minor infractions, whereas African Americans were not.
58. One African-American Executive Director was investigated for dishonesty and breach of fiduciary duty.
59. The investigation concluded that the Execute Director was guilty of tampering with employees' payroll.
60. Law refused to terminate the African-American Executive Director and allowed him to continue in his position.
61. Law would fraternize with African-American members of management and exclude Caucasian managers.
62. Law hosted a private party at his home following a national YMCA event that was held in Birmingham, excluding Caucasian members of management.
63. Defendants applied dress code policies unequally between African Americans and Caucasians.
64. Caucasians were disciplined or counseled for having exposed tattoos or piercings, whereas African-American employees were not.
65. Defendants threatened to terminate Oliver if she did not remove her dreadlocks, which she kept in a clean, professional style.
66. Defendants allowed African Americans to wear dreadlocks without threatening their employment.
67. Oliver's dress or hairstyle had never been an issue during her previous thirty (30) years of employment.
68. Oliver complained to [the] YMCA's Human Resources Manager on numerous occasions about her hostile environment.
69. Defendants failed to investigate or remedy any of Oliver's complaints.
70. In March 2015, Oliver complained and referenced the dreadlock issue.
71. The HR manager asked Oliver if she wanted her to initiate a formal investigation into Oliver's complaints, since Oliver had specifically used the word “discrimination.”
72. Oliver thought about the question for a moment and replied, “No, ” fearing she would lose her job.
73. The HR Manager failed to reassure Oliver that Defendants would not retaliate against her for making the complaints or having them investigated.
74. Instead, the HR Manager advised Oliver that she should remove her dreadlocks and stop wearing cargo pants if she did not want to be fired by upper management.
75. In June 2015, Oliver, who is homosexual, married her partner.
76. Law and Vines thereafter became even more openly hostile toward Oliver.
77. Law and Vines made derogatory comments about Oliver's sexual orientation and made the terms and conditions of her ...

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