United States District Court, D. Kansas
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
D. Crabtree United States District Judge.
Angelica Hale brings this action pro se against defendants
Emporia State University (“ESU”), Gwen Alexander,
David Cordle, and Jackie Vietti. Plaintiff alleges that her
former employer, ESU, retaliated against her by terminating
her employment because she complained about racial
discrimination. She asserts a Title VII retaliation claim
against ESU. Plaintiff also alleges that defendants
Alexander, Cordle, and Vietti retaliated against her after
she exercised her right to speak out against discrimination
and racism. She asserts a First Amendment retaliation claim
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against these three individuals.
have filed a Motion to Dismiss all of plaintiff's claims
under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Doc. 17. Plaintiff has filed an
Opposition to defendants' Motion. Doc. 19. And,
defendants have submitted a Reply. Doc. 15. After considering
the parties' arguments, the court grants defendants'
motion in part and denies it in part. The court grants
defendants' Motion to Dismiss the official capacity
claims asserted against defendants Alexander, Cordle, and
Vietti. The court denies the motion in all other respects.
following facts are taken from plaintiff's Complaint
(Doc. 1). The court accepts the facts asserted in the
Complaint as true and views them in the light most favorable
to plaintiff. Burnett v. Mortg. Elec. Registration Sys.,
Inc., 706 F.3d 1231, 1235 (10th Cir. 2013) (citing
Smith v. United States, 561 F.3d 1090, 1098 (10th
Cir. 2009)). The court also construes plaintiff's
allegations liberally because she proceeds pro se. See
Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991)
(holding that courts must construe pro se litigant's
pleadings liberally and hold them to a less stringent
standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers).
is an African-American female. On July 1, 2014, ESU hired
plaintiff as an Assistant to the Dean for Marketing in the
School of Library and Information Management
(“SLIM”) at ESU. Also on July 1, 2014, ESU hired
plaintiff's spouse, Dr. Melvin Hale, as an Assistant
Professor in the SLIM.
December 2014, Dr. Hale complained to Dr. Gwen Alexander,
Dean of SLIM, about Debra Rittgers, Office Manager and
Assistant to the Dean of SLIM. Dr. Hale accused Ms. Rittgers
of racial discrimination directed at him as well as his wife
(plaintiff). Dr. Alexander refuted Dr. Hale's claim. Dr.
Alexander told Dr. Hale that Ms. Rittgers had not committed
any acts of racial discrimination. Dr. Alexander also told
Dr. Hale that he and his wife probably were too sensitive,
and she asked if his wife was going through menopause.
Hale told Dr. Alexander that plaintiff would not return to
work at the SLIM unless her employer satisfied certain
conditions, including moving plaintiff to a private office on
the fourth floor of the building, away from Ms. Rittgers.
Plaintiff believes that her move to the fourth floor office
then created “unspoken tensions in the
workplace.” Doc. 1 ¶ 26. After plaintiff's
office move, Ms. Rittgers stopped communicating with
plaintiff unless necessary. Ms. Rittgers also failed to
transfer plaintiff's phone to the upstairs office for
almost six months. And, Ms. Rittgers interfered with
plaintiff's assignments to a graduate assistant by giving
the graduate assistant conflicting assignments.
April 8, 2015, the graduate assistant arrived at work to find
that someone had unlocked her office, tampered with its
contents, and wrote the word “NIGGAZ” on a
notepad on her desk. The graduate assistant reported what she
found to plaintiff. Plaintiff believes that the racial slur
was directed at her and her husband, and that the graduate
assistant who reported it to her merely served as a conduit
to deliver the message.
and Dr. Hale reported the incident to Dr. Alexander and
requested that she investigate it. Plaintiff believes that
Dr. Alexander did nothing to investigate the matter. In late
June 2015, the Hales reported the incident to Dr. David
Cordle, ESU's Provost, and Judy Anderson, Director of
Human Resources. The Hales also reported the incident to the
ESU Police Department and attempted to file a police report.
According to plaintiff, the ESU Police Department refused to
investigate the matter. The Hales also called the Lyon County
Attorney and left a message asking that he call them to
discuss a possible hate crime at ESU. The Lyon County
Attorney never returned this phone call. According to
plaintiff, the Lyon County Attorney chose not to investigate
the matter and concluded that no crime had occurred after
relying on information that ESU provided.
Hale then wrote a letter to Dr. Jackie Vietti, ESU's
Interim President, asking her to investigate the April 8,
2015 incident and reporting his belief that he and his wife
were victims of retaliation. Shortly after Dr. Hale sent the
letter, a Human Resources employee contacted the Hales,
explaining that he was assembling a report about the incident
for Dr. Vietti. The Hales met with the Human Resources
employee separately. During their conversations, they each
discussed their concerns about the April 8, 2015 incident.
They also reported the earlier incidents of discrimination by
Hales later learned that the Human Resources employee charged
with writing the report about the incident was a family
friend of Ms. Rittgers. The Hales accused the employee of
bias and asked that he recuse himself from the investigation.
The employee refused to recuse. Dr. Vietti also refused to
remove the employee from reporting the matter.
alleges that Dr. Alexander began to treat her and her husband
differently than others in the SLIM after they reported the
April 8, 2015 incident to Provost Cordle and the ESU Police
Department. On July 7, 2015, Dr. Alexander came to the fourth
floor to visit all of the faculty members on that floor but
refused to visit the Hales. Afterwards, Dr. Hale went to the
third floor to talk to Dr. Alexander. During this
conversation, Dr. Alexander expressed disappointment that the
Hales had reported the April 8, 2015 incident to the Provost
and the ESU Police Department. Dr. Alexander said that the
Hales' performance had been stellar leading up to their
complaints, but that she felt blindsided by their allegations
that she and Ms. Rittgers had engaged in misconduct. Dr.
Alexander told Dr. Hale that she had hoped he would have
overlooked the April 8, 2015 incident because he could have
served as a model for professional behavior by an
African-American. Dr. Alexander also expressed frustration
that the Hales wanted something done about the incident. She
told him that he should accept the incident because
“[t]his is Kansas.” Doc. 1 ¶ 78.
was a contractual employee when she started working for the
SLIM. According to plaintiff, Dr. Alexander promised that she
would make plaintiff a permanent employee because she was
doing an excellent job. Dr. Alexander encouraged plaintiff to
complete her Bachelor's degree so that she could earn a
higher salary and have the opportunity for promotions at ESU.
Plaintiff enrolled in classes at ESU starting in the fall of
2015, so that she could work toward her degree. But, after
the Hales complained to the Provost and the ESU Police
Department about the April 8, 2015 incident, Dr. Alexander
told plaintiff that ESU would not renew her contract and that
she would not become a permanent employee. Because of this
decision, plaintiff had to drop her enrollment in the college
courses at ESU.
resigned from ESU two weeks before her contract ended. She
did so because Dr. Alexander had asked her to interact with
Ms. Rittgers in what plaintiff perceived as a demeaning and
subservient manner. After plaintiff resigned, Dr. Alexander
sent an email to the SLIM faculty praising plaintiff's
work, informing them of her resignation, and asking for
recommendations to fill the vacant position. Plaintiff
alleges that this email shows that Dr. Alexander did not
terminate plaintiff's contract based on her performance
or a budget shortfall. Instead, plaintiff asserts that Dr.
Alexander terminated her contract as retaliation for
plaintiff complaining about racial discrimination. Plaintiff
also alleges that Dr. Cordle and Dr. Vietti ignored her and
her husband's complaints about racial discrimination and
retaliation for reporting discrimination.
Motion To Dismiss Standard Under Fed.R.Civ.P.
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,