Chapter 7 Tr. Fredrich Cruse v. Bi-State Dev. Agency of Missouri-Illinois Metro. Dist.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Missouri)
PartiesCHAPTER 7 TRUSTEE FREDRICH CRUSE, Plaintiff, v. BI-STATE DEVELOPMENT AGENCY OF THE MISSOURI-ILLINOIS METROPOLITAN DISTRICT, et al., Defendants.
Docket Number4:20-cv-00366-MTS
Decision Date26 August 2021
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

MATTHEW T. SCHELP UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

This matter is before the Court on Defendants Bi-State Development Agency of the Missouri-Illinois Metropolitan District (Bi-State), Lawrence Brew, Sparkle Catchup, and Young Abigail Willis's Joint Motion to Dismiss Counts III and IV of the Second Amended Complaint, Doc. [43]. The Motion is fully briefed. For the reasons that follow, the Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background[1]

This case arises out of Defendants' alleged mistreatment of Niema Jordan, [2] who has been employed as a Bus Operator for Defendant Bi-State since April 2015. Doc. [40] ¶ 2. Jordan alleged that prior to September 2018, she did not interact “that often” with Defendant Lawrence Brew, one of her supervisors, but that when she did, he “would routinely make sexual comments to [her].” Id. ¶¶ 11-12. In September 2018, Jordan expressed interest in a promotion, leading her to interact more frequently with Brew. Id. ¶ 13. Brew began “regularly insist[ing] that Jordan meet him in his office, and he “would close the door” and “speak to her sexually, ” stating that if Jordan “wanted to be ‘off the bus' she ‘knew how to prove' herself to him because she was a ‘smart girl.' Id. ¶ 14. He also made sexually charged gestures and asked Jordan “how she was special.” Id. ¶ 15. Around September 24, 2018, on a phone call with Jordan, Brew suggested that if she would engage in sexual activity with him, she would get the promotion. Id. ¶ 16. Based on his actions, Plaintiff alleged that “Brew was constantly seeking a quid pro quo relationship with” Jordan. Id. ¶ 15-16. Jordan reported Brew's conduct to his supervisors, but no disciplinary action was taken. Id. ¶ 17-18.

Around October 2018, Plaintiff applied for the promotion. Id. ¶ 19. Brew was her main interviewer, and Defendant Bi-State later informed her “that she had gotten the job.” Id. ¶¶ 20- 23. Jordan called Brew afterwards to ask questions related to the new job, and Brew again sexually propositioned Plaintiff on those calls. Id. ¶¶ 24-28. Jordan again reported Brew to his supervisors, but this time, she also complained to Bi-State's human resources and equal employment opportunity (“EEO”) groups. Id. ¶ 29. In response, “Bi-State told [Jordan] she was likely just misinterpreting Brew and not to worry about it, ” telling her she needed to focus on her potential to get a promotion and doing what management asked.” Id. ¶ 30-31. Plaintiff alleged that Bi-State “ultimately intimidated and shamed Plaintiff into withdrawing her complaint.” Id. ¶ 32. Weeks later, Brew revoked Jordan's promotion after he learned that he was under investigation for sexual harassment based on Jordan's complaints. Id. ¶¶ 33-34. He also “turned to several of his friends and family members in management, ” including Defendants Catchup and Willis and informed them of Jordan's complaints against him. Id. ¶ 35. Plaintiff alleged that those managers, again including Catchup and Willis, conspired with Brew to retaliate against and harass Jordan, which they did by taking her off the clock while she was at work, berating and demeaning her, yelling at her for complaining to HR and management too much, refusing to let her take vacation, removing her from the work schedule, preventing her from volunteering at a Christmas party, placing “unfounded discipline” in her personnel file, and forcing her, without good cause, to submit to a drug test. Id. ¶¶ 36-38.

In November 2018, Jordan “reinstated” her complaint against Brew, adding to the complaint “information about what his cohorts were doing.” Id. ¶ 39. Bi-State began an investigation, but “once again, no disciplinary actions were taken and harassment persisted, ” leading Jordan to file two similar complaints in February and March 2019. Id. ¶ 40. Unsatisfied with Bi-State's handling of the issues, Jordan filed a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC on March 27, 2019 based on Defendants' conduct. Id. ¶ 41. According to Jordan, “the retaliation and harassment multiplied” after she filed the EEOC charge, including [m]ore of the same behavior” from Bi-State's management, Catchup, and Willis. Id. ¶ 42. Because her work environment “became untenable, ” on June 10, 2019, Jordan filed another EEOC charge for retaliation. Id. ¶ 43. Because of Defendants' treatment of her and the resulting stress and anxiety, Jordan “was forced to take FMLA leave” shortly after her second EEOC charge. Id. ¶ 44.

Jordan asserted that, though she did not work much from June 2019 to November 2019, “when she did, it was more of the same.” Id. ¶ 46. Specifically, she alleged that Bi-State, Catchup and Willis, among other things, (1) refused to let her clock in when she arrived to work, “saying the system was down but . . . allow[ing] others to clock in;” (2) routinely calling her into the office to chastise her “in attempts to bait [her] into reacting;” (3) refusing to give her a “float day, ” even though they gave one to a different employee who asked after Jordan; and (4) attempting to discipline her for using FMLA time. Id. ¶¶ 47-51. Jordan also found in her personnel file a police report that “falsely insinuate[d] illegal and wrongful activity” by Jordan, which was later removed once she brought it to Defendants' attention. Id. ¶ 53. Jordan alleged that the retaliation persisted, as Defendants refused to give her medical leave after she was exposed to a coworker who had COVID-19, even though Defendants had granted several of Jordan's coworkers' similar requests. Id. ¶ 57. Finally, in spite of her complaints, Brew was not fired for his conduct until the end of 2019. Id. ¶ 54.

In the Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiff asserts four Counts: (1) sex discrimination/harassment in violation of Title VII, against Bi-State; (2) retaliation in violation of Title VII, against Bi-State; (3) sex-based unlawful deprivation of federally protected rights under the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against Bi-State and Brew; and (4) unlawful deprivation of federally protected rights under the First Amendment and § 1983 (First Amendment Retaliation), against all Defendants. Id. at 8-14. Defendants now move to Dismiss Counts III and IV under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), arguing that Plaintiffs failed to state a claim in either Count. Doc. [43].

II. Legal Standard

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a party may move to dismiss a claim for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” The purpose of such a motion is to test the legal sufficiency of a complaint. When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court assumes all of a complaint's factual allegations to be true and makes all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. See Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 326-27 (1989); Martin v. Iowa, 752 F.3d 725, 727 (8th Cir. 2014). A complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). To survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint must allege facts supporting each element of the plaintiff's claims, and the claims cannot rest on mere speculation. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Specifically, the complaint “must allege more than [t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements' and instead must “allege sufficient facts that, taken as true, ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' K.T. v. Culver-Stockton Coll., 865 F.3d 1054, 1057 (8th Cir. 2017) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). The Court “need not accept as true plaintiff's conclusory allegations or legal conclusions drawn from the facts.” Glick v. W. Power Sports, Inc., 944 F.3d 714, 717 (8th Cir. 2019). The Court does not decide whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail, but rather whether the plaintiff is entitled to present evidence in support of the claim. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556.

III. Discussion
A. Count III: Violation of the Equal Protection Clause and § 1983 by Bi-State and Brew

Defendants provided no substantive arguments as to the shortcomings of Count III of the Second Amended Complaint, instead hastily asserting that the Court should dismiss it only because “it is a mirror image of Count III of Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint, which was previously dismissed by this Court.” Doc. [44] at 3. After Plaintiff challenged that assertion, see Doc. [49] at 2, Defendants clarified in their Reply that Count III of the Second Amended Complaint “essentially contains the same factual allegations” as Count III of the First Amended Complaint. Doc. [53] at 2 (emphasis in original). The Second Amended Complaint's Count III is therefore insufficient, Defendants reasoned, because the Court, in previously granting Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the First Amended Complaint, already “found these allegations insufficient to allege that Defendant Brew was acting under color of state law when he allegedly engaged in sexual harassment.” Id.

Defendants misunderstand the Court's decision on their first Motions to Dismiss. In Count III of the First Amended Complaint Plaintiff asserted claims for retaliation, discrimination, and harassment under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and § 1983 against all Defendants. Doc. [12] at 10, ¶¶ 83-92. Defendant Brew moved to dismiss Count III of the First Amended Complaint on the ground that Plaintiff failed to allege he was acting under color of...

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