United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
STARRETT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
reasons below, the Court grants in part and denies in
part Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the
Pleadings . Specifically, the Court grants the motion as
to Plaintiff's Title VII claims against Defendants Turner
and Fairburn in their individual capacities, but the Court
denies the motion as to Plaintiff's claims of racial
discrimination under Sections 1981 and 1983, and claim of
First Amendment retaliation under Section 1983.
an employment discrimination case. Plaintiff was a teacher
employed by Defendant, the Lawrence County School District.
Defendant Darrell Turner is the principal of Lawrence County
High School, and Defendant Tammy Fairburn is the
Superintendent of the District.
alleges that Defendants engaged in a series of discriminatory
and retaliatory actions against him because he complained
about racial discrimination against African-American teachers
and students. Among other things, he alleges that Defendants
suspended him without pay, formally reprimanded him,
instituted false charges against him, threatened him when he
asserted his due process rights, prevented him from traveling
for work, refused to accept his office referrals for
disruptive student behavior, permitted students to sexually
harass him, restricted his classroom internet access, refused
to address his concerns regarding another teacher's
discriminatory treatment of his son, threatened to follow him
and his wife home, and generally treated him more harshly
than they did similarly situated white teachers. Plaintiff
claims that he was constructively discharged, having resigned
because of Defendant's actions.
asserted claims of racial discrimination and retaliation
under Title VII, racial discrimination under 42 U.S.C.
§§ 1981 and 1983, and First Amendment retaliation
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He also asserted the following
state-law claims: breach of contract, libel, and slander.
Defendants Fairburn and Turner filed a Motion for Judgment on
the Pleadings , which the Court now addresses.
Standard of Review
“motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c)
is subject to the same standard as a motion to dismiss under
Rule 12(b)(6).” Doe v. MySpace, Inc., 528 F.3d
413, 418 (5th Cir. 2008). To survive a motion to dismiss
under Rule 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.” Great
Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. LLC v. La. State, 624 F.3d
201, 210 (5th Cir. 2010) (punctuation omitted). “To be
plausible, the complaint's factual allegations must be
enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative
level.” Id. (punctuation omitted). The Court
must “accept all well-pleaded facts as true and
construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff.” Id. But the Court will not accept
as true “conclusory allegations, unwarranted factual
inferences, or legal conclusions.” Id.
Likewise, “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a
cause of action will not do.” PSKS, Inc. v. Leegin
Creative Leather Prods., Inc., 615 F.3d 412, 417 (5th
Cir. 2010) (punctuation omitted). “While legal
conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they
must be supported by factual allegations.” Ashcroft
v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950, 173
L.Ed.2d 868 (2009).
Title VII Discrimination and Retaliation
Defendants argue that the Court should dismiss the Title VII
claims against them because they were not Plaintiff's
employer. Plaintiff did not respond to this argument.
‘employer' under Title VII is a ‘person in an
industry affecting commerce who has fifteen or more employees
. . . .” Oden v. Oktibbeha County, 246 F.3d
458, 465 (5th Cir. 2001) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(b)).
This definition “includes one or more individuals,
governments, governmental agencies, [or] political
subdivisions . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(a).
Accordingly, a supervisor may be “considered an
‘employer' under Title VII if he wields the
employer's traditional rights, such as hiring and
firing.” Huckabay v. Moore, 142 F.3d 233, 241
(5th Cir. 1998). But if the supervisor exercises such power
in their official - rather than individual - capacity, it
“is necessarily exercised . . . by a person who acts as
an agent of the corporate or municipal body he represents.
Because the wrongful acts are performed in his official
capacity, any recovery . . . must be against him in that
capacity, not individually.” Id. Therefore,
Defendants Turner and Fairburn can not be liable in their
individual capacities under Title VII.
Section 1981 - Discrimination
Defendants argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity
from liability for Plaintiff's claim of racial
discrimination under Section 1981, and that Plaintiff did not
plead sufficient facts to satisfy the heightened pleading
standard applicable in qualified immunity cases.
All persons within the jurisdiction of the United States
shall have the same right in every State and Territory to
make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give
evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and
proceedings for the security of persons and property as is
enjoyed by white citizens, and shall be subject to like
punishment, pains, penalties, taxes, licenses, and exactions
of every kind, and to no other.
42 U.S.C. § 1981(a). “[T]he term ‘make and
enforce contracts' includes the making, performance,
modification, and termination of contracts, and the enjoyment
of all benefits, privileges, terms, and conditions of the
contractual relationship.” 42 U.S.C. § 1981(b). To
state a claim of racial discrimination under 42 U.S.C. §
1981, Plaintiff must allege “(1) that he is a racial
minority; (2) that the defendant intended to discriminate
against him on the basis of race; and (3) that the
discrimination concerns one or more of the activities
enumerated in the statute.” Wesley v. Gen. Drivers,
Warehousemen & Helpers Local 745, 660 F.3d 211, 213
(5th Cir. 2011).
doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials
from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct
does not violate clearly established statutory or
constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have
known.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223,
231, 129 S.Ct. 808, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009). “Although
nominally a defense, the plaintiff has the burden to negate
the defense once properly raised.” Poole v.
Shreveport, 691 F.3d 624, 627 (5th Cir. 2012).
immunity can be raised at either the pleading or summary
judgment stage of litigation. When it is raised at the
pleading stage, “[h]eightened pleading” is
required. Reyes v. Sazan, 168 F.3d 158, 161 (5th
Cir. 1999). The plaintiff must provide “allegations of
fact focusing specifically on the conduct of the individual
who caused the plaintiffs' injury.” Id.
Plaintiffs must “rest their complaint on more than
conclusions alone and plead their case with precision and
factual specificity.” Nunez v. Simms, 341 F.3d
385, 388 (5th Cir. 2003). In other words, a “plaintiff
seeking to overcome qualified immunity must plead specific
facts that both allow the court to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the harm he has
alleged and that defeat a qualified immunity defense with
equal specificity.” Backe v. Leblanc, 691 F.3d
645, 648 (5th Cir. 2012). The ...