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Taylor v. Hinds County Department of Human Services

United States District Court, Fifth Circuit

August 16, 2013



MICHAEL T. PARKER, Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the Motions to Dismiss [3][5] filed by the defendants, Michael W. Miller and Mississippi Department of Human Services. The Plaintiff has responded in opposition. Having considered the motions, submissions of the parties, and applicable law, the undersigned recommends that the motions be granted, but that the Plaintiff be granted leave to amend her complaint as to certain claims.


Plaintiff Natasha Evans Taylor is a former employee of the Mississippi Department of Human Services ("MDHS").[1] Taylor worked at MDHS from approximately December 1, 2009, until her termination on or about April 5, 2011. On July 23, 2012, Taylor filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), alleging that she was discriminated against and terminated from MDHS in retaliation for assisting in a sexual harassment investigation concerning an MDHS director at her office, Michael W. Miller, and another employee. In a letter dated July 26, 2012, the EEOC notified Taylor that her charge had not been timely filed and, therefore, the file related to the charge would be closed. Doc. [1-2]. In addition, the EEOC issued Taylor a "notice of suit rights, " which stated that Taylor had 90 days from the date she receives the notice to file a lawsuit regarding her claim in federal or state court.

On October 24, 2012, Taylor filed a complaint in this Court against Michael W. Miller, in his official and individual capacities, and the Hinds County Department of Human Services for sexual harassment, sexually hostile work environment, sex discrimination, and retaliation. Taylor asserts that the defendants have acted in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, the Fourteenth Amendment, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. She seeks back pay, future pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorneys' fees, costs, and expenses.

On November 1, 2012, both defendants filed motions to dismiss the complaint. In its motion, MDHS provides that the Plaintiff incorrectly identified "Hinds County Department of Human Services" as a defendant rather than MDHS, which is the proper name of the Plaintiff's former employer. In their respective motions, both defendants argue that the Plaintiff fails to state a viable claim against them. MDHS contends that it cannot be held liable under § 1983, that the Plaintiff's Title VII claim is time-barred, and that punitive damages are not an available remedy against governmental agencies under Title VII or § 1983. Miller further argues that he is entitled to sovereign and qualified immunity on the claims asserted against him.

Taylor responded to the defendants' motions, contending that she is entitled to equitable tolling on her Title VII claim, that she has stated a claim under § 1983 against Miller, and that Miller is not entitled to qualified immunity. Taylor did not respond to the arguments that MDHS cannot be held liable under § 1983; that individual liability does not exist under Title VII; and that punitive damages are not recoverable against a governmental agency under Title VII or Section 1983. As such, she concedes these claims. It must now be determined whether the remaining facts, as alleged in the complaint, state a claim for relief against the defendants.


Dismissal Standard

"Under Rule 12(b)(6), a claim may be dismissed when a plaintiff fails to allege sufficient facts that, taken as true, state a claim that is plausible on its face." Amacker v. Renaissance Asset Mgmt. LLC, 657 F.3d 252, 254 (5th Cir. 2011) (citing Hershey v. Energy Transfer Partners, L.P., 610 F.3d 239, 245 (5th Cir. 2010)). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain... factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). A complaint will not pass Rule 12(b)(6) scrutiny if it contains "threadbare recitals of a cause of action's elements, supported by mere conclusory statements... [which] do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct." Id. at 678-679. Although for purposes of a motion to dismiss, courts "must take all factual allegations in the complaint as true, [they] are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286, 106 S.Ct. 2932, 92 L.Ed.2d 209 (1986).

The Plaintiff does not allege sufficient facts for this Court to infer that the defendants violated her rights under the Constitution or Title VII. The complaint is filled with conclusory statements, and fails to provide a sufficient factual basis for this Court to conclude that she has a viable claim against the defendants.

Claims against Defendant Miller

Taylor alleges that while she worked at MDHS, she "experienced, observed, and heard sexually harassing remarks and actions by Michael W. Miller who created a hostile and offensive work environment." Compl. [1] at 3. She claims she saw Miller order a female coworker inside a file room and lock himself in the room with the coworker. Id. Taylor contends that the coworker later stated that Miller sexually harassed her and forced her in his lap asking "What do you want Santa Claus to get you for Christmas?" Id. Taylor also alleges that she observed "future sexual harassment" by Miller and that she testified in an internal investigation against Miller. The Plaintiff claims that other witnesses to Miller's alleged conduct were terminated and that she was ultimately terminated in retaliation for helping with the sexual harassment investigation. Compl. [1] at 4. She asserts that Miller created a sexually hostile work environment, engaged in gender discrimination, and retaliated against her in violation of Title VII and § 1983.

Although confessed, Taylor does not have a viable Title VII claim against Miller because individuals cannot be held liable under that statute. See Ackel v. Nat'l Commc'ns, Inc., 339 F.3d 376, 381 n. 1 (5th Cir. 2003) (citing Smith v. Amedisys Inc.298 F.3d 434, 448-49 (5th Cir. 2002)) ("[I]ndividuals are not liable under Title VII in either their individual or official capacities"). Title VII prohibits employers, not individuals, from engaging in unlawful employment practices such as discriminating against a ...

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