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Holden v. City of Madison

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

April 20, 2018

CITY OF MADISON, ALABAMA, et al., Defendants.



         Christopher Holden, proceeding pro se, brings this action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”), and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, 29 U.S.C. §§ 621 et seq. (“ADEA”). Doc. 1. Before the court are the City of Madison’s motion to dismiss, doc. 17, Troy Trulock’s motion to dismiss, doc. 22, and Ralph Cobb’s motion to dismiss, doc. 27.[1] All motions are fully briefed, docs. 18, 20, 24, 25, 26, 29, 30, 31, and ripe for review. Because Holden’s claims for conduct occurring prior to December 2015 are barred by res judicata and due to his failure to timely file an EEOC charge for the rest of his claims, all three motions are due to be granted.


         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 Bell Atl. Corp., 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 and 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 Bell Atl. Corp., 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.

         Additionally, because the Plaintiff is pro se, the court must construe the complaint more liberally than it would pleadings drafted by lawyers. Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980). “Pro se pleading are held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by attorneys and will, therefore, be liberally construed.” Boxer X v. Harris, 437 F.3d 1107, 1110 (11th Cir. 2006).


         This is the second lawsuit Holden has filed challenging his treatment by his employer. Briefly, Holden, an African American who is over the age of 40, is employed by the City as a firefighter for the Madison Fire Department (“MFD”). Doc. 1 at 1, 3, 5, 8. He contends that he has faced race- and age-based discrimination throughout his employment. Id. at 8-9. Allegedly, multiple MFD employees, including Defendant Cobb, a department chief, have made inappropriate jokes using or alluding to racial slurs in Holden’s presence. Id. In addition to the slurs, the Defendants have purportedly also discriminated against Holden in the terms and conditions of his employment. For example, in 2001, Holden received a promotion with no annual raise, while two white employees who had unsuccessfully applied for the same promotion received annual raises. Id. at 8. In 2006, a MFD captain recommended Holden for a promotion to captain, but the MFD did not promote Holden and subsequently revised the guidelines for the position such that Holden no longer qualified for a promotion to captain. Id.

         In 2015, an MFD captain singled Holden out for criticism following a meeting. Id. When Holden attempted to report this incident, the Human Resources department told him it was too busy to address his complaint. Id. at 8-9. Finally, on December 16, 2015, Cobb held a meeting of MFD employees, all of whom were white and under forty, where he instructed them not to listen to older employees and made other remarks disparaging older employees. Id. at 9; see doc. 1-1 at 3.

         After filing multiple complaints with the Human Resources department concerning racially discriminatory acts to no avail, Holden enlisted the help of the NAACP, which unsuccessfully tried to meet with Defendant Trulock, who was the City of Madison’s mayor at the time, and the Human Resources department. Doc. 1 at 9. Perhaps because of this failure to meet with him or the NAACP, on July 27, 2016, Holden filed an EEOC charge alleging race- and age-based discrimination and a hostile work environment. Id. at 6. He filed this lawsuit after obtaining a right to sue letter. Id.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Holden asserts claims of failure to promote, disparate treatment, and hostile work environment under Title VII and the ADEA against all Defendants. Doc. 1 at 3-4. The City, Trulock, and Cobb have all moved to dismiss. The court addresses each motion in turn.

         A. The City’s Motion to Dismiss

         The City seeks dismissal on the grounds of administrative preclusion, res judicata, Holden’s failure to submit a timely EEOC charge, and Holden’s failure to state a cognizable claim. Doc. 18. Because the res judicata and timeliness grounds are sufficient ...

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