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Doe v. Northrop Grumman Systems Corp.

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

October 22, 2019

JOHN DOE, Plaintiff,
v.
NORTHROP GRUMMAN SYSTEMS CORPORATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

         An individual identified by the pseudonym “John Doe”[1] claims that his former employer, Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation (“Northrop Grumman”), violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”), and the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (“ADA”). The action now is before the court on Northrop Grumman's motion, filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), asking the court to strike the hostile work environment statements mixed into the text of plaintiff's claim for “Sexual Discrimination under Title VII” (Count I of the Amended Complaint), [2] and, his claim of “Discrimination Under the Americans with Disabilities Act” (Count III).[3]Upon consideration of that motion, the Amended Complaint, and the parties' briefs, the court concludes the motion should be granted.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b) permits a party to move to dismiss a complaint for, among other reasons, “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). That rule must be read together with Rule 8(a), which requires a pleading to contain only a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). While that standard does not require “detailed factual allegations, ” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 550 (2007), it does demand “more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citations omitted). As the Supreme Court stated in its Iqbal opinion:

A pleading that offers “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” [Twombly, 550 U.S., at 555]. Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders “naked assertion[s]” devoid of “further factual enhancement.” Id., at 557.
To survive a motion to dismiss founded upon Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), [for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted], a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to “state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.” Id., at 570. 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. Id., at 556. The plausibility standard is not akin to a “probability requirement, ” but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Ibid. Where a complaint pleads facts that are “merely consistent with” a defendant's liability, it “stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of ‘entitlement to relief.'” Id., at 557 (brackets omitted).
Two working principles underlie our decision in Twombly. First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice. Id., at 555 (Although for the purposes of a motion to dismiss we must take all of the factual allegations in the complaint as true, we “are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation” (internal quotation marks omitted)). Rule 8 marks a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior era, but it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions. Second, only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss. Id., at 556. Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will, as the Court of Appeals observed, be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense. 490 F.3d, at 157-158. But where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but it has not “show[n]” - “that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 8(a)(2).
In keeping with these principles a court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.

Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79 (emphasis supplied, second and fourth alterations in original, other alterations supplied).

         II. FACTS

         The pivotal assertion in plaintiff's complaint is that, “[i]n or around 2014, [he] was diagnosed with gender dysphoria[4] - a condition marked by displeasure or unhappiness with the gender assigned to a person at birth.[5] That diagnosis led plaintiff to begin a “gender transition” by “undergoing hormone replacement therapy” during March of 2016, while still on active duty with the United States Army.[6] Even though plaintiff did not deploy outside the continental United States after beginning his gender transition therapy, the Charge he filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on November 9, 2018, stated that the Army assured him that his transition would not be an obstacle to my deployment.

I was a high-performing and well-respected member of my unit, and my performance impressed a field engineer who worked at Northrop Grumman Corporation (henceforth “NGC”). This engineer provided me with a recommendation and I was subsequently hired by NGC on November 28, 2017 as a level 2 field engineer for Air Defense Airspace Management Systems and Air and Missile Defense Planning and Control Systems.
One of the reasons I wanted to work at NGC was their diversity policy which states, in part, “Northrup [sic] Grumman is committed to hiring and retaining a diverse workforce. We are proud to be an Equal Opportunity / Affirmative Action Employer, making decisions without regard to race, color, religion, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, national origin, age, veteran status, disability or any other protected class.”

Doc. no. 7-1 (Plaintiff's EEOC Charge), at 3 (italics in original).[7]

         Plaintiff began working as a Field Engineer in the Air Defense Airspace Management Systems Division at Northrop Grumman's Voyager Way facility in Huntsville, Alabama, on January 8, 2018.[8] During his second week there, plaintiff became aware that some co-employees were beginning to notice changes in his appearance and demeanor as a result of his hormone replacement therapy.[9] As a result, plaintiff spoke to his division manager, Tim Cannon, as well as with an unspecified person or persons in Northrop Grumman's Human Resources Department. Cannon “assured Plaintiff that he would work with him to ensure that his transition would not pose any impediment to his job duties, ” and the unidentified Human Resources employee(s) “went to great lengths in order to assuage his concerns and assure him that neither his transitional state, his sexuality, nor his characteristics would be considered in employment decisions.” Doc. no. 7 (Amended Complaint), ¶¶ 18 and 19.[10]

         About three months later, however, Brian Walker replaced Tim Cannon as manager of plaintiff's division.[11]

22. Plaintiff shared his prior conversations with Mr. Cannon and the HR Department with Walker.
23. However, Walker took a much more intransigent approach than did his predecessor regarding Plaintiff's transition, his sexuality, and his developing female characteristics.
24. Walker told Plaintiff that, even if he met all the medical requirements and military requirements necessary to be deployed, he would still not allow Plaintiff to deploy in a foreign position, as he remained concerned that something might happen to Plaintiff because of his rapidly-developing female characteristics, his sexual preference (although they had not discussed same) and/or his transitioning.
25. Walker's “solution” was to deny Plaintiff's request for the opportunity to deploy to a foreign position.
26. Walker then sought Plaintiff's transfer to a different department.
27. Walker undertook efforts to hinder Plaintiff's ability to deploy, derail his career and seek his transfer because of Plaintiff's female sexual characteristics and/or his transitional state.
28. Once Walker made the decision to essentially end his [plaintiff's] engineering career, Plaintiff contacted the HR Department to complain about Walker's discriminatory actions.
29. A few weeks later, the HR Department informed Plaintiff that he would be laid off in two weeks as deployment was a requirement of the job he was performing.
30. The emotional distress of learning this led Plaintiff to attempt suicide, unsuccessfully, the same evening and he was hospitalized for a week as a result.
31. Plaintiff was discriminated against and terminated in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (1964), as amended, and the Americans with Disabilities Act based on certain female characteristics he had developed as a result of taking HRT [i.e., Hormone ...

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