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Richardson v. Kellogg Co.

United States District Court, D. Kansas

February 4, 2015

KELLOGG COMPANY, et al., Defendants.


DANIEL D. CRABTREE, District Judge.

Plaintiff, a pro se litigant, filed this lawsuit alleging that defendants denied him retirement pay and medical benefits because of his race and in retaliation for complaining about discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended (Doc. 1 at 6). On August 28, 2014, defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 8) seeking dismissal for two reasons: (1) plaintiff failed to exhaust administrative remedies before asserting an ERISA claim; and (2) plaintiff's Title VII claims failed to state a claim for relief.

On December 22, 2014, the Court entered a Memorandum and Order (Doc. 13), converting defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's ERISA claim to a motion for summary judgment and providing notice to the parties that they may submit additional materials outside of the pleadings, on or before February 1, 2015, for the Court to consider now that it has converted defendant's motion to one seeking summary judgment. The Court also concluded in that Order that plaintiff had failed to state a claim for relief under Title VII, but granted plaintiff leave to file an Amended Complaint against defendants by February 1, 2015.

In response to the Court's Order, defendants submitted a Supplemental Memorandum in Support of Summary Judgment (Doc. 15), and plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint (Doc. 17). After considering the additional submissions by the parties, the Court grants defendants' motion to dismiss (Doc. 8), which it converted in part to a motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's ERISA claim, for two reasons. First, plaintiff's ERISA claim fails because he failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. Second, the Court dismisses plaintiff's Amended Complaint for failing to state a claim for relief under Title VII. The Court explains the reasons for its decisions below.

I. Factual Background

The following facts are alleged in the Amended Complaint (Doc. 17), and viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff. SEC v. Shields, 744 F.3d 633, 640 (10th Cir. 2014) (citation omitted). Because plaintiff brings this lawsuit pro se, the Court construes his Complaint liberally and holds it to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. See Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). But the Court does not cross the line and assume a role as the pro se litigant's advocate. Id.

Plaintiff, who is African-American, worked for defendant Kellogg Company from 1973 until his retirement in 2013. Plaintiff alleges that he suffered a workers' compensation injury in February 2012 and that he was approved for short-term disability on August 20, 2012. Plaintiff claims he received short-term disability payments until November 4, 2012, when defendants stopped those payments without notice.

On April 22, 2013, plaintiff received a letter from the Kellogg Company stating that he had health care coverage effective April 12, 2013. Plaintiff claims that on May 20, 2013, he received a check stub in the amount of $1, 741.14, but that the money was never put into his bank account. Plaintiff alleges that, at some later point in time, he had to undergo surgery, and he learned that he did not have medical insurance coverage.

Plaintiff alleges that he "used every administrative remedy available" to him but was "denied the appeal process" (Doc. 17 at 2). He also asserts that the Kellogg Company breached his retirement contract by denying him health insurance benefits. Plaintiff claims that the Kellogg Company retaliated against him because of a workers' compensation injury, denied him reasonable accommodation, and violated "the Disability Act" (Doc. 17 at 2-3). Plaintiff also asserts that the Kellogg Company has discriminated against him because of his race and retaliated against him when he complained of being treated unfairly because of his race.

II. Legal Standard

a. Motion to Dismiss

Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2) provides that a complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Although this Rule "does not require detailed factual allegations, '" it demands more than "[a] pleading that offers labels and conclusions' or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action'" which, as the Supreme Court explained, simply "will not do.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

"To survive a motion to dismiss [under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6)], a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. 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. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). "Under this standard, the complaint must give the court reason to believe that this plaintiff has a reasonable likelihood of mustering factual support for these claims.'" Carter v. United States, 667 F.Supp.2d 1259, 1262 (D. Kan. 2009) (quoting Ridge at Red Hawk, L.L.C. v. Schneider, 493 F.3d 1174, 1177 (10th Cir. 2007)).

Although the Court must assume that the factual allegations in a complaint are true, it is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.'" Id. at 1263 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice'" to state a claim for ...

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