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O'Reilly v. University of Mississippi Medical Center

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

June 24, 2019




         Plaintiff Wilhelmina O'Reilly, an African-American female, has brought the present action against the University of Mississippi Medical Center School of Dentistry, [1] and David A. Felton, individually and in his official capacity as Dean of the School of Dentistry, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and/or § 1981 asserting, or attempting to assert, claims for race discrimination, gender discrimination, retaliation, violations of her Fourteenth Amendment right to due process and, arguably, her First Amendment right to free speech. She additionally asserts, or attempts to assert state law claims for breach of contract, wrongful termination, tortious interference with employment, conspiracy, failure to train and intentional/negligent infliction of emotional harm. Defendants have moved to dismiss, contending that, with the exception of her Title VII claims against UMMC, all of plaintiff's claims are barred as a matter of law and due to be dismissed. Plaintiff has responded in opposition to the motion. The court, having considered the memoranda of authorities submitted by the parties, concludes that the motion should be granted in part. However, as to those claims that are not dismissed herein, the court does not find that plaintiff has stated viable claims for relief, but rather concludes that plaintiff should be allowed to file an amended complaint to more clearly and fully delineate both the factual and legal basis for such claims.

         The Complaint

         In support of her various causes of action, plaintiff alleges the following: She is a pediatric dentist. For over twenty-five years, she was employed by UMMC's School of Dentistry in various capacities, including as Assistant Dean of Student Affairs and as Interim Chair of Pediatric Dentistry. In October 2017, she was terminated as Assistant Dean based on her race and gender. She filed an appeal and grievance, which UMMC refused to handle in accordance with its policies and procedures. Both prior to and following her termination as Assistant Dean, defendants subjected her to ongoing discrimination, harassment and hostility (a hostile work environment) because of her race and gender, and, after she filed her grievance, also in retaliation for her grievance. Because the “continued and ongoing discrimination, harassment, hostility in the workplace, and retaliation” to which she was subjected had “such an effect on her physical, mental and emotional, health, ” it could no longer be endured and she was eventually compelled to resign and thus was constructively discharged.

         Rule 12(b)(6) Standard

         Under Rule 12(b)(6), “[d]ismissal 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.'” True v. Robles, 571 F.3d 412, 417 (5th Cir. 2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). In evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court must accept all well-pleaded facts as true and view those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Shakeri v. ADT Sec. Servs., Inc., 816 F.3d 283, 290 (5th Cir. 2016). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). Although a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, the “allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. “[C]onclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as factual conclusions will not suffice to prevent” dismissal. Turner v. Lieutenant Driver, 848 F.3d 678, 685 (5th Cir. 2017) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         Eleventh Amendment

         Defendants contend that UMMC and Dr. Felton in his official capacity are entitled to immunity under the Eleventh Amendment as to O'Reilly's claims under §§ 1981 and 1983, and all her state law claims.[2] The Eleventh Amendment “bars an individual from suing a state in federal court unless the state consents to suit or Congress has clearly and validly abrogated the state's sovereign immunity.” Perez v. Region 20 Educ. Serv. Ctr., 307 F.3d 318, 326 (5th Cir. 2002) (citations omitted). This immunity “extends to any state agency or entity deemed an ‘alter ego' or ‘arm' of the state.” Id. at 326 (citations omitted). See also Sullivan v. Univ. of Miss. Med. Ctr., 617 F.Supp. 554, 555 (S.D.Miss. 1985) (“Generally speaking, the Eleventh Amendment immunizes states and state agencies from suit in federal court, unless the state has consented to be sued, or unless Congressional legislation specifically overrides this immunity.”). UMMC is an arm of the State of Mississippi and is entitled to immunity under the Eleventh Amendment unless there has been an abrogation or waiver of such immunity. See McGarry v. Univ. of Miss. Med. Ctr., 355 Fed.Appx. 853, 856 (5th Cir. 2009) (noting that UMMC is an arm of the University of Mississippi, a state agency). There has been no such abrogation or waiver as to plaintiff's § 1981 or § 1983 claims or any of her state law claims. See Moore v. Univ. of Miss. Med. Ctr., 719 Fed.Appx. 381, 388 (5th Cir. 2018) (“Section 1981 does not waive a state's Eleventh Amendment immunity” and “[w]hile Mississippi has waived its state sovereign immunity to suit in state court for breach of contract, there is no unequivocal statement of its intent to also waive its Eleventh Amendment immunity to suit in federal court.”) (citations omitted); NiGen Biotech, L.L.C. v. Paxton, 804 F.3d 389, 394 (5th Cir. 2015) (“§ 1983 does not abrogate state sovereign immunity.”) (citation omitted); Black v. N. Panola Sch. Dist., 461 F.3d 584, 594 (5th Cir. 2006) (the Mississippi Tort Claims Act “preserves all immunities granted by the Eleventh Amendment of the United States Constitution.”) (citing Miss. Code § 11-46-5(4)).

         Plaintiff's claims against Dr. Felton in his official capacity under §§ 1981 and 1983 are likewise barred by the Eleventh Amendment, [3] as are her state law claims. Suits against state officers in their official capacities, rather than their personal capacities, are treated as suits against the state entity itself. See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165-67, 105 S.Ct. 3099, 87 L.Ed.2d 114 (1985) (“Official-capacity suits ... ‘generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent.'”). Such officials are thus entitled to invoke the state's Eleventh Amendment immunity. McKinley v. Abbott, 643 F.3d 403, 406 (5th Cir. 2011), cert. denied, 565 U.S. 1079 (2011) (“Eleventh Amendment immunity extends to state officials who are sued in their official capacities because such a suit is actually one against the state itself”). See Kermode v. Univ. of Miss. Med. Ctr., 496 Fed.Appx. 483, 488 (5th Cir. 2012) (state's immunity under Eleventh Amendment “extends to both [UMMC] itself and to its faculty administrators sued in their official capacities.”).[4]

         Dr. Felton: Individual Capacity

         Title VII:

         Plaintiff's Title VII claims against Dr. Felton in his individual and official capacities fail as a matter of law. See Ackel v. Nat'l Comm'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)) (noting that “[i]ndividuals are not liable under Title VII in either their individual or official capacities.”).

         State Law Claims

         Plaintiff has undertaken to assert state law causes of action against Dr. Felton for breach of contract, wrongful discharge, tortious interference with employment, negligent and/or intentional infliction of emotional distress and conspiracy.[5]

         With respect to plaintiff's claim for breach of contract, defendants correctly assert that Dr. Felton cannot be held liable for any breach of contract as he was not a party to Felton's employment contract. See Whiting v. Univ. of S. Miss., 62 So.3d 907, 916-17 (Miss. 2011) (plaintiff's employment was with Board of Institutions of Higher Learning, not the university or its officers, and thus ...

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