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Nguyen v. Unified Government of Wyandotte County

United States District Court, D. Kansas

May 15, 2017

HOANG NGUYEN, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff Hoang Nguyen brings this action against his employer the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas (“Unified Government”), alleging discrimination and retaliation on the basis of race and national origin under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Doc. 12). The motion is fully briefed and the Court is prepared to rule. As described more fully below, Defendant's motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Standard

         The standard for a motion for judgment on the pleadings under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c) is the same as that applied to a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).[1] The court must accept all facts pleaded by the non-moving party as true and grants all reasonable inferences from the pleadings in favor of the non-moving party.[2] A motion for judgment on the pleadings should not be granted unless the movant has clearly established that there are no material facts to be resolved and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.[3] The court does not accept as true legal conclusions that are couched as factual allegations, [4] but rather determines whether the factual allegations “plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.”[5] To avoid dismissal, a plaintiff must state a plausible claim, which requires “sufficient factual allegations to ‘raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'”[6]

         II. First Amended Complaint

         The First Amended Complaint was filed on January 31, 2017, changing only the identity of the Defendant. Therefore, even though Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings was filed before the First Amended Complaint, the parties agree it applies equally to the amended pleading. The following facts are alleged in the First Amended Complaint and are accepted as true for purposes of this motion.

         Plaintiff Hoang Nguyen is an Asian male born in Vietnam. He has been employed by the Kansas City Board of Public Utilities (“KCBPU”) since May 2003. Initially hired as a Plant Engineer, Plaintiff was promoted to Director of Electrical Power Operations in 2011. While in that position, Plaintiff received positive performance evaluations. In his last performance evaluation relating to that position, Plaintiff was given ratings of either “high quality” or “exceptional” in every aspect of his performance. Mr. Nguyen's primary supervisor while he was in that position also gave him extremely positive reviews.

         In October 2012, after Plaintiff had been in the position for nearly two years, Don Gray, KCBPU's General Manager, demoted Mr. Nguyen from the position. Mr. Gray initially offered no reason for the demotion, but he replaced Mr. Nguyen with a white male of U.S. origin. On March 14, 2013, Plaintiff met with his supervisor and personnel from KCBPU's Human Relations Department, who indicated that there was no performance-based reason for the demotion, but that Mr. Gray, as General Manager, had the authority to implement the demotion.

         On March 15, 2013, Plaintiff filed an internal HR complaint alleging that his demotion constituted discrimination based on race and national origin.

         In April 2014, the employee who had replaced Plaintiff in his position as Director of Electric Production Operations retired, and Plaintiff re-applied for the position. Plaintiff was well qualified for the position, not only because he had experience in that position, but because he exceeded the objective criteria set forth in the position posting. In October 2014, Plaintiff received a letter from Human Resources denying the requested promotion. KCBPU instead hired a white male of U.S. origin who was less qualified. Plaintiff had superior experience with KCBPU in all of KCBPU's plants, superior experience in the categories of experience identified as minimal requirements, and superior educational qualifications.

         After being denied the promotion, Plaintiff spoke with his supervisor, Dong Quach, about why he did not receive the promotion. Mr. Quach stated that Mr. Gray would not approve Plaintiff for the position. Defendant later took the position that Plaintiff was denied the promotion because his performance was unsatisfactory.

         III. Discussion

         Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint alleges two counts: (1) discrimination on the basis of race and national origin; and (2) retaliatory nonselection. In both counts, Plaintiff asserts he is entitled to recover under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5 and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Defendant moves for judgment on the pleadings on four grounds: (1) Plaintiff's claim that he was unlawfully demoted in 2012 is time-barred; (2) any claim of discrimination or retaliation based on national origin under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 must be dismissed because the statute does not cover discrimination on the basis of national origin; (3) Plaintiff cannot recover punitive damages against Defendant because it is a municipality; and (4) Plaintiffs' factual allegations are insufficient to state a plausible claim for relief under either Title VII or § 1981.

         In response to the motion, Plaintiff concedes most of these issues. He clarifies that he does not assert claims based on the 2012 demotion, his national origin claims arise under Title VII only, and he does not seek punitive damages. Given these concessions, Defendant's motion is granted to the extent Plaintiff asserts a claim of liability based on the 2012 demotion as an adverse employment action, relief under § 1981 for national origin discrimination, and punitive damages. The Court proceeds to consider whether Plaintiff has otherwise alleged sufficient facts to state a plausible claim for relief. The Court also addresses Defendant's request in the reply that Plaintiff “be precluded from referencing or ...

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