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Bowman v. City of Birmingham

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

July 10, 2018

CALVIN BOWMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF BIRMINGHAM, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ABDUL K. KALLON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Calvin Bowman, proceeding pro se, asserts a hostile work environment claim under Title VII against the City of Birmingham. The court has for consideration the City's Motion to Dismiss, doc. 3, which is fully briefed, docs. 7, 8, 10, and ripe for review. For the reasons explained more fully below, as to the portion of Bowman's complaint not barred by res judicata, the City's motion 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 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).

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND[1]

         This is Bowman's second lawsuit against the City related to his employment. See Bowman v. City of Birmingham, No. 17-CV-255-AKK (“Bowman I”). The vast majority of the facts alleged in the current complaint repeat the contentions made in Bowman I. See doc. 2. Thus, the court will only recount the allegations that are new to this lawsuit.

         In October 2017, during a mediation hearing related to Bowman I, the City falsely accused Bowman of using his work email account for personal purposes and demanded that Bowman resign and accept a settlement offer for $5, 000, or face a disciplinary hearing and termination. Doc. 2 at 35. After Bowman rejected the settlement offer, his supervisor issued him a written reprimand for the email infraction. Id. at 35-36. These actions led Bowman to file an EEOC charge alleging a retaliatory hostile work environment. Doc. 2 at 36-37. Allegedly, the City retaliated further by: (1) temporarily assigning Bowman the responsibilities of a maintenance manager without promoting him to that position, (2) denying a request to work on a Saturday, and (3) instructing him to work as a cashier during one event while assigning management roles to less qualified employees. Id. at 37-38. As a result, Bowman filed this lawsuit, pleading a retaliatory hostile work environment claim under Title VII.

         III. ANALYSIS

         The City seeks to dismiss this lawsuit on the grounds that (1) res judicata bars portions of Bowman's claim, (2) the City's conduct during mediation is inadmissible to support Bowman's claim, and (3) Bowman fails to state a hostile work environment claim. Doc. 3. The court addresses each argument in turn.

         1. Res Judicata

         As stated previously, this is Bowman's second lawsuit before the undersigned.[2] Given that the allegations here overlap with Bowman I, the court begins its analysis with the City's contention that the doctrine of res judicata bars portions of Bowman's claim. This doctrine bars a subsequent action if: “(1) the prior decision was rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction; (2) there was a final judgment on the merits; (3) the parties were identical in both suits; and (4) the prior and present causes of action are the same.” Davila v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 326 F.3d 1183, 1187 (11th Cir. 2003) (quoting Jang v. United Techs. Corp., 206 F.3d 1147, 1149 (11th Cir. 2000)). The res judicata bar pertains not only to the claims actually raised in the prior action, but also to existing claims that were not raised. Trustmark Ins. Co. v. ESLU, Inc., 299 F.3d 1265, 1271 (11th Cir. 2002). In determining whether the prior and present causes of action are the same, the court must decide whether the actions arise “out of the same nucleus of operative fact, or [are] based upon the same factual predicate.” In re Piper Aircraft Corp., 244 F.3d 1289, 1297 (11th Cir. 2001) (internal quotation marks omitted), cert. denied sub nom. TDY Indus., Inc. v. Kaiser Aerospace & Elec. Corp., 534 U.S. 827 (2001).

         To the extent Bowman's new claim implicates conduct that occurred prior to the filing of Bowman I, all four res judicata factors apply. First, the court properly exercised jurisdiction over Bowman I pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983. See doc. 1 in Bowman I. Second, the court dismissed Bowman I on the merits, satisfying step two. See doc. 57 in Bowman I. Third, the parties are identical, as Bowman ...


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