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Newton v. The Unified Government of Wyandotte County

United States District Court, D. Kansas

June 15, 2017

Kecia Newton, Plaintiff,
v.
The Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kannsas City, Kansas, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          John W. Lungstrum United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff filed this lawsuit against her former employer alleging that defendant failed to promote plaintiff and then terminated her employment on the basis of her race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. In addition, plaintiff asserts claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for deprivation of a liberty interest without due process of law and malicious prosecution. This matter is presently before the court on defendant's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (doc. 7). As will be explained, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         Standard

         The court will grant a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim when a plaintiff's factual allegations fail to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). The complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, but a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions; a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. See id. at 555. The court must accept the facts alleged in the complaint as true, even if doubtful in fact, see id., and view all reasonable inferences from those facts in favor of the plaintiff, see Tal v. Hogan, 453 F.3d 1244, 1252 (10th Cir. 2006). Viewed as such, the “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         Background

         Consistent with the applicable standard, the court accepts as true the following well-pleaded facts alleged in plaintiff's complaint. See Sanders v. Mountain Am. Federal Credit Union, 689 F.3d 1138, 1141 (10th Cir. 2012). Plaintiff is an African-American female who began her employment with defendant in February 2008 as a customer service representative in the “3-1-1” department. In January 2013, plaintiff moved to the Delinquent Real Estate Department where she worked as an administrative support specialist. In that capacity, plaintiff supported the tax sale process through the Wyandotte County District Court. Plaintiff took on additional duties in September 2014 when the department's business coordinator resigned her employment. In March 2015, plaintiff started receiving out-of-grade pay to compensate for those new duties. According to the complaint, the first fifteen years of plaintiff's employment passed without incident. Despite her expression of interest in formally applying for the business coordinator position, defendant refused to post the position and plaintiff continued to perform the duties associated with the position until mid-October 2015.

         On October 16, 2015, plaintiff was summoned into a meeting by a member of management, who was accompanied by a police officer employed by the Unified Government. The officer questioned plaintiff about computer crimes relating to a tax sale that she allegedly committed in the course of her employment. Plaintiff denied any wrongdoing and, without warning, was taken into custody by the officer and escorted to the police department. According to plaintiff, a management-level employee in the Delinquent Real Estate Department provided false information to the police which caused plaintiff's arrest. Plaintiff was charged with four counts of criminal conduct.

         On October 21, 2015, defendant suspended plaintiff's employment without pay pending the resolution of the charges against her. A Wyandotte County District Judge dismissed the charges against plaintiff in May 2015 on the motion of plaintiff's counsel. Despite the fact that the charges were dismissed, defendant never reinstated plaintiff to her position. In June 2016, plaintiff received a letter from defendant's director of operations advising plaintiff that defendant was terminating her employment effective October 16, 2015. Thereafter, plaintiff submitted information to defendant refuting the charges against her and requesting a grievance hearing. On July 11, 2016, defendant notified plaintiff that a grievance hearing would be held on July 13, 2016. Plaintiff's counsel was denied the opportunity to attend the hearing with plaintiff. After the hearing, defendant decided to uphold the termination decision.

         Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC and, after receiving her notice of right to sue, filed her complaint here.

         Failure-to-Promote Claim

         Defendant moves to dismiss plaintiff's failure-to-promote claim on the grounds that plaintiff failed to include that claim in her charge of discrimination. Plaintiff concedes in her response that her charge does not include a failure-to-promote claim and that the claim must be dismissed. This aspect of defendant's motion, then, is granted. See Apsley v. Boeing Co., 691 F.3d 1184, 1210 (10th Cir. 2012) (exhaustion of administrative remedies is a prerequisite to suit and administrative remedies generally must be exhausted as to each discrete instance of discrimination or retaliation).

         Discriminatory Discharge Claim

         In her complaint, plaintiff alleges that her employment was terminated based on her race in violation of Title VII. Defendant moves to dismiss this claim on the grounds that plaintiff has failed to allege any facts plausibly suggesting that similarly situated employees outside of her protected class were treated more favorably. This argument borders on frivolous and is denied. Plaintiff clearly alleges that defendant treated Caucasian employees who engaged in similar or more egregious conduct more favorably than it treated plaintiff. No more is required at this stage. See Townsend-Johnson v. Cleveland, 494 Fed.Appx. 833, 837 (10th Cir. June 25, 2012) (the plaintiff stated plausible claim for relief for race discrimination under § 1981 where she alleged that she is an African-American, that the defendant terminated her employment and that employees outside the protected class were not terminated for similar conduct); Khalik v. United Air Lines, 671 F.3d 1188, 1192-93 (10th Cir. 2012) (plaintiff need not set forth prima facie case for each element but must plead enough facts to satisfy plausibility requirement). Moreover, because a plaintiff is not required to show differential treatment of persons outside the protected class to satisfy the initial prima facie burden under McDonnell Douglas, it defies logic to suggest that a plaintiff's complaint might be subject to dismissal for failing to allege adequately that similarly situated employees outside the protected class were treated more favorably. See Sorbo v. United Parcel Serv., 432 F.3d 1169, 1173 (10th Cir. 2005) (comparison to similarly situated employees is not required as part of a plaintiff's prima facie case; the relevant prima facie element may be framed more broadly, requiring only a “showing of circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination”); English v. Colo. Dept. of Corrs., 248 F.3d 1002, 1008 (10th Cir. 2001) (In disciplinary discharge cases, a “plaintiff does not have to show differential treatment of persons outside the protected class to meet the initial prima facie burden under McDonnell Douglas.”). Defendant's motion to dismiss plaintiff's discriminatory discharge claim is denied.

         Section ...


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