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Blancher v. City of Birmingham

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

January 15, 2020

MICHAEL BLANCHER, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF BIRMINGHAM, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          KARON OWEN BOWDRE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This case comes before the court on Defendant City of Birmingham's “Partial Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint, ” pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. 5.) For the reasons explained below, the court will GRANT the City's motion.

         A. Background

         Plaintiff Michael Blancher, a white male and nine-year veteran of the Birmingham Police Department, filed suit against the City of Birmingham on June 25, 2019, alleging (1) racial discrimination and (2) retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. To support his two-count complaint, Mr. Blancher alleges that on January 6, 2018, he was called to the scene of a traffic accident featuring a pickup truck, driven by a white male, that collided with two other vehicles, including a car driven by a black female (the “victim”). (Doc. 1 at 4.) Mr. Blancher, the officer in charge of the scene, was accompanied by three other officers: one white male and two black females. (Id.)

         According to the Complaint, while the victim was trapped in her vehicle and required assistance from paramedics to escape, “some witnesses” reported seeing the driver of the pickup truck throwing items off a nearby bridge, and “conflicting reports” existed as to whether someone found bags of heroin at the scene. (Id.) Mr. Blancher alleges that he investigated the scene and, finding no indication that the truck driver was impaired, did not charge the truck driver with driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. (Id.)

         In the days that followed, according to the Complaint, one of the black female officers who was at the scene of the accident discovered that she personally knew the victim's mother. The officer told the victim's mother that the truck driver was intoxicated when his truck collided with the victim's car and that he threw items off a bridge immediately following the accident; she also told the victim's mother that someone found bags of heroin at the scene. (Id. at 5.) Based on this information, the victim's mother filed a complaint against Mr. Blancher with the City of Birmingham, and the victim's uncle sent an email to the mayor of Birmingham suggesting that racial bias influenced Mr. Blancher's decision to not criminally charge the truck driver. (Id.)

         In March of 2018, about two months after the accident, a black female internal affairs officer interviewed both black female police officers who were present at the scene of the accident, as well as three witnesses at the scene, all of whom were also black and female. The internal affairs officer also interviewed Mr. Blancher, who denied knowledge of any drugs or alcohol at the scene of the accident. (Id.)

         The internal affairs officer then submitted a “purposefully misleading” report to Birmingham Chief of Police (and black male) Orlando Wilson, who fired Mr. Blancher on March 21, 2018. (Id. at 6.) A series of bureaucratic reversals and appeals followed, culminating with Mr. Blancher's filing of a discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on September 18, 2018 and the instant case on June 25, 2019. (Id.)

         Mr. Blancher brings two claims against the City of Birmingham: race discrimination and retaliation, both in violation of Title VII. The City's “Partial Motion to Dismiss, ” filed on August 26, 2019, seeks only to dismiss the retaliation claim. (Doc. 5.)

         B. Standard

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss attacks the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Generally, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require only that the complaint provide “‘a short and plain statement of the claim' that will give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)). “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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         C. Analysis

         Although Mr. Blancher brings two claims against the City of Birmingham-race discrimination and retaliation-the City's short, ten-paragraph motion seeks only to dismiss the retaliation claim. (Doc. 5.) The City essentially argues that Mr. Blancher cannot allege retaliation because he did nothing the City could retaliate against. The City is correct.

         Title VII prohibits retaliation when an employee “oppos[es] any practice made an unlawful employment practice by [Title VII]” or “has made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). The Eleventh Circuit has broken this statutory language into two distinct categories: the participation clause and the opposition clause. “The participation clause includes activity done in connection with proceedings conducted by the federal government and its agencies.” EEOC v. Total Sys. Servs., 221 F.3d 1171, 1175 (11th Cir. 2000). Because this clause protects a plaintiff's “participation” pursuant to an EEOC complaint, an EEOC complaint must exist before a plaintiff's activity is protected by the participation clause. Parker v. Econ. Opportunity for Savannah-Chatham Cty. Area, Inc., 587 Fed.Appx. 631, 634 (11th Cir. 2014). On the other hand, the opposition clause comes into play when a plaintiff engages in an “act” that is “directed at an unlawful employment practice of an ...


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