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Fulton v. Mississippi State University

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division

January 29, 2018

NAOMI J. FULTON PLAINTIFF
v.
MISSISSIPPI STATE UNIVERSITY; DR. PAULA THREADGILL; DR. LINDA MITCHELL; JULIE RESTER; BRETT HARVEY; and JAMES RANDALL NEVINS DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' SEPARATE MOTIONS TO DISMISS

         Before this court are three separate motions of the Defendants to dismiss the Plaintiffs claims - one filed by the Defendant Mississippi State University ("MSU"), one filed by Individual Defendants Dr. Paula Threadgill and Dr. Linda Mitchell, and one filed by Individual Defendants Julie Rester, Brett Harvey, and James Randall Nevins - [Doc. Nos. 4, 6, 22]. Upon due consideration, the court finds that the Individual Defendants' motions should be granted and that MSU's motion should be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On October 1, 2008, Plaintiff Naomi Fulton, an African-American woman who resides in Chickasaw County, Mississippi, began her employment with MSU as a salaried program assistant with MSU's Extension Service office in Monroe County. Pl. Comp. [Doc. No 1] at ¶¶ 1, 11. Plaintiff is still employed with MSU, having been transferred to its Extension Service office in Chickasaw County in November 2015. Id., at ¶¶ 11, 24-28.

         Plaintiff claims that, while she was stationed in the Monroe County office, she endured racial discrimination and sex discrimination at the hands of her co-workers and the Individual Defendants, and was subjected to retaliation from the Defendants for her association and interaction with an African-American co-worker who alleged that she was subjected to sexual advances by the Defendant Dr. Paula Threadgill. Id. at ¶¶ 12-27. Plaintiff claims that after reporting this alleged conduct to MSU, the Defendants ignored her allegations and instead forced her in November 2015 to accept an involuntary lateral transfer to the Extension Service's Chickasaw County office, where she remains employed as a program assistant. Id. at ¶¶ 15, 19-27.

         Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC on January 1, 2016, asserting solely retaliation discrimination in connection with her lateral transfer, alleging that the transfer was in retaliation for her association with the co-worker who complained of sexual harassment. Id. at ¶ 31. She then timely filed her compliant in this matter, complaining of her transfer and asserting claims against MSU and the Individual Defendants for: (1) race discrimination in violation of Title VII; (2) sex discrimination in violation of Title VII; (3) retaliation in violation of Title VII; and (4) for violations of 42 U.S.C. §1983 in connection with her alleged "adverse and hostile employment conditions at [MSU] due to the actions of Defendants and agents and employees thereof." Id. at ¶¶ 33-55. The Defendants have now filed three separate motions to dismiss, arguing that Plaintiffs claims for race and sex discrimination must be dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies and because the Individual Defendants cannot be held liable under Title VII, that Plaintiff has not stated a claim for Title VII retaliation, and that Plaintiffs Section 1983 claims should be dismissed due to Eleventh Amendment immunity.

         II. STANDARD FOR DISMISSAL UNDER RULE 12(B)(6)

         When deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court is limited to the allegations set forth in the complaint and any documents attached to the complaint. Walker v. Webco Indus., Inc., 562 Fed.Appx. 215, 216-17 (5th Cir. 2014) (per curiam) (citing Kennedy v. Chase Manhattan Bank USA, NA, 369 F.3d 833, 839 (5th Cir. 2004)). "[A plaintiffs] complaint therefore must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Phillips v. City of Dallas, Tex., 781 F.3d 772, 775-76 (5th Cir. 2015) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007))). A claim is facially plausible when the pleaded factual content "allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct 1955).

         In other words, "plaintiffs must allege facts that support the elements of the cause of action in order to make out a valid claim." Webb v. Morella, 522 P. App'x 238, 241 (5th Cir. 2013) (per curiam) (quoting City of Clinton, Ark. v. Pilgrim's Pride Corp., 632 F.3d 148, 152-53 (5th Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted)). "[C]onclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as factual conclusions will not suffice to prevent a motion to dismiss." Id. (quoting Fernandez-Montes v. Allied Pilots Ass'n, 987 F.2d 278, 284 (5th Cir. 1993) (internal quotation marks omitted)). "Dismissal is appropriate when the plaintiff has not alleged 'enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face' and has failed to 'raise a right to relief above the speculative level' " Emesowum v. Hous. Police Dep't, 561 Fed.Appx. 372, 372 (5th Cir. 2014) (per curiam) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Plaintiffs Claims against MSU

         1. Title VII Claims for race and sex discrimination

         First, Plaintiff asserts claims in her complaint that she was subjected to race and sex discrimination in violation of Title VII. [Doc. No 1 at ¶¶ 33-38, 45-50]. Before an employee can pursue Title VII claims in a federal district court, however, she must first exhaust her administrative remedies with respect to those claims; exhaustion of administrative remedies includes filing a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") to allow an investigation into the allegations. McClain v. Lufkin Industries, Inc., 519 F, 3d 264, 273 (5th Cir. 2008). Although a charge of discrimination is liberally construed, lawsuits exceeding the scope of what was contained in a plaintiffs charge should not be condoned and any claims asserted in a complaint that were not contained in the charge must be dismissed. McClain, 519 F, 3d at 273.

         In the case subjudice, in her EEOC Charge, Plaintiff solely alleged that she was subjected to discrimination based on retaliation and that she was "transferred / reassigned ... to another county in retaliation for [her] association with a coworker who made a complaint about sexual harassment." Plaintiffs EEOC Charge [Doc. No. 24].[1]Plaintiff makes no mention whatsoever in her Charge that she was ever subjected to discrimination on the basis of race or sex. In addition, Plaintiff did not check the boxes available for discrimination on the basis of race or sex, and instead solely checked the retaliation box. In fact, nowhere in her Charge does Plaintiff identify her race or the race of anyone else, and the only indication of sex is to the extent it can be inferred from her name. [Doc. No. 24].

         Accordingly, before the Plaintiff can proceed on her claims for Title VII race and sex discrimination, the Court must find that an EEOC investigation for those claims could "reasonably be expected to grow out of the allegations of retaliation in her Charge. McClain, 519 F.3d at 273-74. Plaintiffs Charge, however, contains no reference whatsoever to her race or sex, and otherwise contains no grievances that would trigger an investigation by the EEOC into discrimination based on those characteristics. Accordingly, the Court holds that she cannot now pursue her claims for Title VII discrimination on the basis of race or sex. See Castro v. Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice, 541 Fed, App'x 374, 379 (5th Cir. 2013) (dismissing plaintiffs claims for race and sex discrimination for failure to exhaust administrative remedies where, in plaintiffs charge of discrimination, plaintiff made no reference to race or sex or any incidents of discrimination based on those ...


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