United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Eastern Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE
M. BORDEN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), this case was referred to the
United States Magistrate Judge for review and submission of a
report with recommended findings of fact and conclusions of
law. Doc. 18. Plaintiff Adrian Ghioroaie-Panait
(“Ghioroaie”) filed this lawsuit on October 16,
2017, alleging discrimination on the basis of race, color,
and national origin during the course of his employment as an
assistant track and field coach at Auburn University
(“Auburn”). Doc. 1. Now before the court is
Auburn's motion to dismiss. Doc. 27. After careful
consideration of the parties' submissions and the
applicable law, the undersigned recommends that the motion to
dismiss be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.
JURISDICTION AND VENUE
court has subject-matter jurisdiction over the claims in this
action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3). The
parties do not contest personal jurisdiction or venue, and
the court finds adequate allegations to support both.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
facts alleged in the amended complaint are as follows.
Ghioroaie is a 57-year-old resident of Ohio who was employed
by Auburn as an assistant track and field coach from 2014 to
2016. Doc. 21 at 2-3. Ghioroaie is a white man of Romanian
descent and nationality. Doc. 21 at 2. At Auburn, Ghioroaie
coached men's jumps--including the triple jump, high
jump, and long jump--along with women's multi-events.
Doc. 21 at 3. During his tenure at Auburn, Ghioroaie sought
to become a lawful permanent resident of the United States.
Doc. 21 at 4. In May 2015, Auburn sponsored his green card
application, which included a letter from then-Athletics
Director Jay Jacobs recognizing Ghioroaie “as an
exceptional coach in good standing with the
University.” Doc. 21 at 4.
tenure at Auburn, however, was by marred by mistreatment from
other coaches. Specifically, in October 2015, Ghioroaie was
confronted during a coaches' meeting by fellow assistant
coach Henry Rolle, a black man originally from the Bahamas.
Doc. 21 at 4. Rolle threatened Ghioroaie, stating that he
would “take care” of him and
“destroy” his career before grabbing
Ghioroaie's neck with both hands and squeezing with
enough force to leave visible marks. Doc. 21 at 4. Rolle then
grabbed a statue and began to swing it at Ghioroaie's
head. Doc. 21 at 5. Ghioroaie attempted to record the
incident with his cell phone, but head coach Ralph Spry, a
black man, took the phone out of his hand. Doc. 21 at 5. This
incident resulted in criminal charges, and Rolle eventually
pled guilty to harassment after several witnesses testified
that he threatened and physically attacked Ghioroaie. Doc. 21
at 5. Auburn placed Rolle on administrative leave for two
weeks following the incident. Doc. 21 at 5.
who described Rolle as being “like his own son and
right-hand man, ” protected Rolle and tried to convince
Ghioroaie not to file a complaint with Auburn's Human
Resources Department or Athletics Department. Doc. 21 at 5-7.
According to Ghioroaie, Spry then called all of the track and
field coaches into his office and tried to convince them that
Rolle's behavior was normal. Doc. 21 at 5. Later, during
their investigation into the incident, members of
Auburn's Athletics Department encouraged Ghioroaie to
report that he felt safe going to work despite the fact that
they knew he did not. Doc. 21 at 6. However, because
Ghioroaie was dependent upon Auburn for his pending green
card application and “felt pressured to drop the matter
by the Auburn administration, ” he continued to report
to work and attempted to avoid Rolle. Doc. 21 at 6. Even
after the original incident, Rolle harassed Ghioroaie,
telling him that he would destroy his career. Doc. 21 at 6-7.
During one incident in February 2016, after Ghioroaie told
Rolle that Rolle did not have the authority to command
Ghioroaie to move to a different area of the track, Rolle
responded that “where he came from, people get their
‘head chopped off' for talking, ” that he
“know[s] people, ” and that he “will have
the last laugh, guaranteed.” Doc. 21 at 6-7.
of Rolle's continued harassment and because Ghioroaie
felt that Spry would not remedy the situation, Ghioroaie
filed a complaint with Bernard Hill of Auburn's Human
Resources Department on March 1, 2016. Doc. 21 at 7. In the
complaint, Ghioroaie cited the verbal abuse from Rolle and
stated that he should not be mistreated because of his
“nationality, skin, accent and other
differences.” Doc. 21 at 7. After the written
complaint, Hill told Ghioroaie that “it did not matter
whose fault the situation between Ghioroaie and Rolle was,
” and Spry told Ghioroaie to “stop going
after” Rolle. Doc. 21 at 7. As a solution, the Human
Resources Department proposed only that Ghioroaie avoid Rolle
and refrain from speaking to him. Doc. 21 at 7.
after he filed the complaint with human resources, Ghioroaie
was informed that Spry would be formally evaluating his work
performance. This occurred more than two years after he was
hired in January 2014, and was the first evaluation during
his tenure at Auburn. Doc. 21 at 8. Eventually, on May 1,
Spry notified Ghioroaie that Auburn would not renew his
employment contract and asked him to return his office keys,
employee identification card, and cell phone. Doc. 21 at 8.
Spry told Ghioroaie that his nonrenewal was without cause.
Doc. 21 at 8. Spry also asked Ghioroaie whether he remembered
complaining to the university about Rolle and Spry, which
Ghioroaie interpreted to be an indication of the true basis
for Auburn's decision not to renew his contract. Doc. 21
at 8. After May 1, Ghioroaie was forbidden from entering
Auburn's track and field facilities and was told to avoid
the campus. Doc. 21 at 8. Simultaneously, Auburn released
assistant coach Knut Hjeltnes (of unknown race and
nationality) from his employment, but informed Hjeltnes that
he would be permitted to complete the remainder of the season
with his event group. Doc. 21 at 8-9. Ghioroaie was not
allowed to complete the season, which has negatively impacted
his prospects for future employment. Doc. 21 at 9. He was
replaced by Greg Stringer, a black man. Doc. 21 at 9. While
Rolle, Hjeltnes, and Ghioroaie coached different events, they
had the same duties and responsibilities as assistant coaches
and all reported to Spry. Doc. 21 at 9.
Ghioroaie's watch, Auburn's track and field team
experienced “tremendous success, ” with
Ghioroaie's athletes accounting for 21 of the men's
team's 24 total National Collegiate Athletic Association
(“NCAA”) points at the Southeastern
Conference's indoor track championship in 2016. Doc. 21
at 3. Even though the team had five other coaches,
Ghioroaie's athletes accounted for 26.5 of the team's
47.5 total NCAA points during his time at Auburn, and at
least two of his athletes earned Auburn's most valuable
player awards. Doc. 21 at 4.
filed a Charge of Discrimination with the U.S. Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on
October 26, 2016. Doc. 1-1. The EEOC could not conclusively
determine whether Ghioroaie's claim had merit, and it
issued a “Dismissal and Notice of Rights, ”
commonly known as a right-to-sue letter, on July 18, 2017.
Doc. 1-2. Ghioroaie then filed suit on October 16, 2017
against Rolle and Auburn's Board of Trustees. Doc. 1.
After Rolle and the Board filed motions to dismiss, Ghioroaie
filed an amended complaint on December 11, 2017, naming
Auburn, Rolle, and Spry as defendants. See Docs. 10,
11 & 22. Auburn then filed its reply brief in support of
the Board's motion to dismiss (Doc. 27), which the court
construes as a motion to dismiss on behalf of Auburn.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of
the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the 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). To survive a motion to dismiss,
a complaint must include “enough facts to state a claim
to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A claim is
“plausible on its face” if “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). The complaint “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. Factual ...