Carey v. Lone Star Coll. Sys., 16-cv-1638

Decision Date14 February 2017
Docket NumberNo. 16-cv-1638,16-cv-1638
PartiesCARL CAREY, Plaintiff, v. LONE STAR COLLEGE SYSTEM, STEPHEN HEAD, SHELLEY CARAWAY, KATHERINE PERSSON, And REBECCA RILEY, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Texas
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

Pending before the Court is Defendants' Stephen Head, Shelley Caraway, Katherine Persson, and Rebecca Riley (collectively "the Individual Defendants") Motion to Dismiss. [Doc. 14]. In his amended complaint, Plaintiff alleges gender and race discrimination as wells as retaliation against his former employer, Lone Star College System ("Lone Star"), and four of its employees, the Individual Defendants. [Doc. 12]. United States District Judge Keith P. Ellison referred the motion to dismiss for a Report and Recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). [Doc. 21].

I. BACKGROUND
A. Factual Background

Plaintiff is an African-American man. In August 2011, Lone Star hired Plaintiff as an Assistant Professor of Education at its Kingwood campus. [Doc. 12 ¶ 13]. When he was hired, Plaintiff observed that Lone Star had an unbalanced racial makeup with less than ten percent African-American full-time faculty and high-level administrators. Id. ¶ 13. Plaintiff also alleges that the administration at Lone Star's Kingwood campus favored female professors over male professors. Id. ¶ 14. For example, a full-time female English professor, Brenda Stubbs ("Stubbs"), was promoted to Lead Faculty and Department Chair. Plaintiff claims he was more qualified and was never approached for the position. Id. ¶ 15. Plaintiff also claims that he was not given the same opportunities as female professors. For example, in the spring of 2014, another female psychology professor was assigned to teach a psychology class instead of Plaintiff. Id. ¶¶ 17-18.

In June 2013, Defendant Shelley Caraway ("Caraway") was hired as Dean for Lone Star's Kingwood campus. Id. ¶ 16. Plaintiff alleges that Caraway conspired with Stubbs to force Plaintiff out of the college and began to harass and discriminate against Plaintiff based on his race and sex. Id. Specifically, Plaintiff claims the following: on February 17, 2014, Caraway overly scrutinized his work and gave him a "C" rating based on a short and incomplete in-class evaluation; on February 27, 2014, Caraway falsely accused Plaintiff of misconduct and placed him on a Performance Improvement Plan ("PIP") despite the fact that he had excellent reviews in the past; and throughout 2014, Caraway did not assist Plaintiff implement the PIP, as she had promised him she would. Id. ¶¶ 19-21, 24.

Plaintiff brought his complaint to Becky Landry, a Human Resources Officer at Lone Star Kingwood. He also sent emails to two human resources representatives, Defendants Katherine Persson ("Persson") and Rebecca Riley ("Riley"), requesting an investigation into his claims of race and gender discrimination. Id ¶ 22. Shortly thereafter, Lone Star apparently opened an investigation. Plaintiff alleges that attorneys for Lone Star interviewed him and dismissed his allegations within weeks. Id.

Plaintiff alleges that Caraway continued to verbally harass him. With the support ofDefendant Stephen Head ("Head"), the Chancellor of Lone Star College System, Persson, and Riley, Caraway had Plaintiff terminated based on his race, gender, and in retaliation for his complaints of discrimination. Id. ¶¶ 34, 40. On February 26, 2015, Plaintiff was told that his contract would not be renewed and he was summarily terminated. The police then escorted him out of the building. Id. ¶ 25.

B. Procedural Background

Plaintiff alleges three causes of action in his amended complaint: (1) discrimination based on his race and sex under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2, and the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act ("TCHRA"), Tex. Lab. Code Ann. § 21.051, against the Individual Defendants, in their official capacities as agents and officials of Lone Star; (2) retaliation in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3, and the TCHRA, Tex. Lab. Code Ann. § 21.055, against Lone Star, as well as the Individual Defendants, in their official capacities; and (3) gender and racial discrimination in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against Lone Star and the Individual Defendants, in their individual capacities. [Doc. 12].

The Individual Defendants filed a motion to dismiss. [Doc. 14]. Plaintiff filed a response. [Doc. 15]. Defendants then filed a reply. [Doc. 16]. Without seeking leave as required under Judge Ellison's rules, Plaintiff filed a sur-reply, [Doc. 20].

II. LEGAL STANDARD

A court may dismiss a complaint for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). "Motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) are viewed with disfavor and are rarely granted." Lormand v. U.S. Unwired, Inc., 565 F.3d 228, 232 (5th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted); Duke Energy Int'l v. Napoli, 748 F. Supp. 2d 656 (S.D. Tex. 2010)(Atlas, J.). "To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint 'does not need detailed factual allegations,' but must provide the plaintiff's grounds for entitlement to relief—including factual allegations that when assumed to be true 'raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'" Culliver v. Taylor, 503 F.3d 397, 401 (5th Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). A complaint must "contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A claim is plausible "when the pleaded factual contents allow the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Bowlby v. City of Aberdeen, Miss., 681 F.3d 215, 219 (5th Cir. 2012). A complaint is insufficient if it offers only "labels and conclusions, [and] a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted)).

The ultimate question "is whether the complaint states a valid claim when viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Brown v. Bd. of Trustees Sealy Indep. Sch. Dist., 871 F. Supp. 2d 581, 590 (S.D. Tex. 2012) (Ellison, J.). The court must accept well-pleaded facts as true, but legal conclusions are not entitled to the same assumption of truth. Id. (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).

III. ANALYSIS

The Individual Defendants make three arguments in support of their motion to dismiss: first, that it would be duplicative to name both the Individual Defendants and Lone Star as Defendants in Plaintiff's discrimination and retaliation claims; second, that Plaintiff has failed to file his § 1983 cause of action within the applicable statute of limitations; and third, that the Individual Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity on Plaintiff's § 1983 claim. [Doc. 14].In addition to Defendant's arguments, the Court sua sponte identifies deficiencies in the amended complaint. [Doc. 12].1 The Court will address the limitations argument first because certain claims are time-barred and need not be discussed further.

A. The Applicable Statute of Limitations Bars All Claims Except Termination

The Individual Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's § 1983 gender and race discrimination claim on the ground that Plaintiff has failed to file it within the two-year statute of limitations. The Court first sua sponte examines whether Plaintiff's Title VII and TCHRA claims were timely filed.

1. The Title VII and TCHRA claims, except termination, are time- barred

A plaintiff must bring his Title VII claim within ninety days of receiving an EEOC right-to-sue letter. Harris, 628 F.3d at 239 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1)). Plaintiff timely filed his lawsuit within the ninety day window; however, to determine which of his claims are timely, the issue here is when Plaintiff filed his charge with the EEOC.

A charge with the EEOC is timely when filed "within 180 days after the alleged unlawful discriminatory practice," unless the complainant has "instituted proceedings with a state or local agency with authority to grant or seek relief from such practice," then the charge must be filed "within 300 days after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred . . . ." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1). The qualifying state agency in Texas is the Texas Workforce Commission ("TWC"). Jones v. FJC Sec. Servs., Inc., 40 F. Supp. 3d 840, 848 (S.D. Tex. 2014) (Harmon, J.), aff'd, 612 F. App'x 201 (5th Cir. 2015). Under an agreement between the EEOC and the TWC,all charges filed with one agency are effectively filed on the same date with the other agency. See Vielma v. Eureka Co., 218 F.3d 458, 461 (5th Cir. 2000); Griffin v. City of Dall., 26 F.3d 610, 612 (5th Cir. 1994) ("once the [TWC] received Mr. Griffin's complaint, even if only nominally, proceedings were instituted within the meaning of [42 U.S.C § 2000e-5(e)]"). Therefore, in Texas, any events that accrued more than 300 days before the EEOC charge is filed are time-barred. See Hernandez v. City of Corpus Christi, 820 F. Supp. 2d 781, 794 (S.D. Tex. 2011) (Jack, J.) ("As Plaintiff filed her EEOC Charge on September 16, 2008, the 300-day period extends back to November 20, 2007. Any events occurring before this time are barred. Thus, Plaintiff cannot state a claim [in her law suit] for discrimination based upon the April 2007 promotion of Captain Moseley to commander, nor any other events that preceded November 20, 2007.").

Plaintiff has not included the date on which he filed his EEOC charge, but alleges he filed his charge with the EEOC within one hundred eighty days of the adverse acts and filed his complaint within ninety days of receiving the right to sue letter. [Doc 12 ¶10]. Plintiff's EEOC Chare number 460-2015-03855 indicates that he filed his case in 201...

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