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Kent v. City of Birmingham

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

April 5, 2019

RAYMOND KENT, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF BIRMINGHAM, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER [1]

          JOHN H. ENGLAND, IIIUNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Raymond Kent (“Kent”) brings this action against his employer, Defendant City of Birmingham (“City”), alleging unlawful employment discrimination and retaliation pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. The City moves to dismiss Kent's Amended Complaint on the basis that it fails to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), Fed.R.Civ.P. and for lack of jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), Fed.R.Civ.P. (Doc. 21). Kent has filed a response in which he argues he sufficiently pled cognizable claims. (Doc. 23). For the reasons stated below, the City's motion (doc. 21) is 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 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 Atlantic 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).

         Rule 12(b)(6), Fed. R. Civ. P., 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.

         II. Analysis

         A. Allegations Prior to February 2, 2017 and Conduct Beyond EEOC Charge's Scope

         The City argues that Kent's time-barred claims and claims outside the scope of the EEOC charge should be dismissed. (Doc. 21 at 8-9).

         1. Timeliness

         As to timeliness, § 706 of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1), provides that only those “unlawful employment practice[s]” that are complained of in a timely-filed charge of discrimination to the EEOC can form the basis for Title VII liability. See, e.g., City of Hialeah v. Rojas, 311 F.3d 1096, 1102 (11th Cir.2002) (“If the victim of an employer's unlawful employment practice does not file a timely complaint, the unlawful practice ceases to have legal significance, and the employer is entitled to treat the unlawful practice as if it were lawful.”). For claims arising in so-called “non-deferral” states, such as Alabama, to be timely, the applicable charge must have been filed within 180 days “after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred.” § 2000e- 5(e)(1). See Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Inc., 421 F.3d 1169 (11th Cir. 2005). Therefore, as a general rule, only those “practice[s]” that “occurred” within 180 days of the operative EEOC charge can form the basis for Title VII liability.

         In this case, Kent filed his EEOC charge on August 7, 2017, and the City argues that any allegations that occurred before February 2, 2017 - 180 days before - should not be considered. (Doc. 21 at 8-9). Kent points to National Railroad Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, in which the Supreme Court considered whether, and under what circumstances, a Title VII plaintiff may file suit on events that fall outside the 180-day filing period. 536 U.S. 101, 105 (2002). The Morgan Court reached two answers: one for disparate treatment and retaliation claims challenging “discrete discriminatory or retaliatory acts” and another for claims alleging a hostile work environment. Id. Thus, while the timely-filing requirement erects an “absolute bar” on recovery for “discrete discriminatory or retaliatory acts, ” when there is an alleged hostile work environment “consideration of the entire scope of [the] claim, including behavior alleged outside the statutory time period, it is permissible for the purposes of assessing liability, so long as an act contributing to that hostile environment takes place within the statutory time period.” Id. at 113-14. Because Kent alleges he was subject to a hostile work environment, (see doc. 20 at ¶¶ 18, 30, 35, 37, 41, 50, 62, 67, 69, 72, 82, 94, 99, 101, 104), any alleged discriminatory acts that occurred prior to February 2, 2017, may be considered as part of his hostile work environment claim.

         2. Scope

         The City is correct that a Title VII plaintiff's judicial complaint is limited by the scope of the EEOC investigation that can reasonably be expected to grow of the EEOC charge. (Doc. 21 at 9); Alexander v. Fulton County, Ga., 207 F.3d 1303, 1332 (11th Cir.2000). However, courts are “extremely reluctant to allow procedural technicalities to bar claims brought under [Title VII]. Sanchez v. Standard Brands, Inc., 431 F.2d 455, 460-61 (5th Cir. 1970). As such, the scope of an EEOC charge should not be strictly interpreted.

         The City fails to point to anything in Kent's complaint that it contends is outside the scope of Kent's EEOC charge. (See doc. 21 at 9). Instead, the City states “Plaintiff attempts to allege claims of discrimination outside the scope of the August 7, 2017 EEOC Charge of Discrimination, ” and then provides a one-sentence summary of the general rule with a case citation, and finally concludes “[t]herefore, any allegations of discrimination not included in the August 7, 2017 charge of discrimination cannot be considered in the present matter.” (Id.). Because the court must evaluate whether the material alleged to be “outside the scope” of the EEOC charge is “like or related to, or grew out of, the allegations ...


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