Echols v. Ga. Piedmont Tech. Coll.

Decision Date22 January 2021
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION FILE NO. 1:20-cv-02794-TWT-AJB
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Georgia

Presently before the Court is a motion to partially dismiss the complaint, filed by defendants Georgia Piedmont Technical College ("GPTC"), The Technical College System of Georgia ("TCSG"), Greg Dozier, and Tavarez Holston (collectively, "Defendants"), pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. [Doc. 4]. For the reasons set forth below, the undersigned RECOMMENDS that the motion be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART; that the question of whether the state of Georgia has waived sovereign immunity to claims asserted under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 ("ADEA"), as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., be CERTIFIED to the Supreme Court of Georgia; and that Plaintiff be GRANTED LEAVE to amend the complaint to assert her due-process and equal-protection claims under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution via 42 U.S.C. § 1983.


A motion to dismiss filed under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure may assert either a factual attack or a facial attack to subject-matter jurisdiction. McElmurray v. Consol. Gov't of Augusta-Richmond Cnty., 501 F.3d 1244, 1251 (11th Cir. 2007); Lawrence v. Dunbar, 919 F.2d 1525, 1528-29 (11th Cir. 1990). A factual attack challenges "the existence of subject matter jurisdiction in fact, irrespective of the pleadings, and matters outside the pleadings, such as testimony and affidavits, are considered." Lawrence, 919 F.2d at 1529 (internal punctuation marks omitted). In contrast, in a facial attack, the court examines whether the complaint has sufficiently alleged subject matter jurisdiction. Sinaltrainal v. Coca-Cola Co., 578 F.3d 1252, 1260 (11th Cir. 2009), abrogated on other grounds by Mohamad v. Palestinian Auth.,566 U.S. 449, 452-53 & n.2 (2012). When considering a facial challenge made in a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, the court construes the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and accepts as true all well-pleaded facts alleged in the complaint. McElmurray, 501 F.3d at 1251 (noting that in a Rule 12(b)(1) facial challenge, a plaintiff has "safeguards similar to those retained when a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim is raised").

A court will grant a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss if the complaint "fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Under Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint states a claim when it contains, inter alia, "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). To avoid dismissal 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.' " Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). In other words, plaintiffs are required to make factual allegations that are "enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Complaints must "contain either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements necessary to sustain a recovery under some viable legal theory." Fin. Sec. Assurance, Inc. v. Stephens, Inc., 500 F.3d 1276,1282-83 (11th Cir. 2007) (per curiam) (internal quotation marks omitted). A complaint also may be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) when, on the basis of a dispositive issue of law, no construction of the factual allegations will support the cause of action. Marshall Cnty. Bd. of Educ. v. Marshall Cnty. Gas Dist., 992 F.2d 1171, 1174 (11th Cir. 1993).


Plaintiff Jacquelyn Echols, Ph. D., is an African-American woman over the age of sixty who has worked as a college educator for many years. [Doc. 1-1 ¶¶ 6, 7, 17]. In January 2013, Plaintiff was hired to administer GPTC's adult-education program. [Id. ¶ 6]. GPTC is an educational institution that is part of TCSG. [Id. ¶¶ 2, 3]. Presently, Mr. Dozier is the commissioner of TCSG, and Mr. Holston is the president of GPTC. [Id. ¶¶ 4, 5]. GPTC's adult-education program is funded primarily through federal grants. [Id. ¶ 8].

On May 30, 2018, Plaintiff received a letter from the interim president of GPTC stating that her position had been eliminated due to a reduction in force and that her employment would be terminated effective July 1, 2018. [Id. ¶¶ 13, 14]. Ten days later, Plaintiff filed a complaint with the commissioner of TCSG, arguing that the budget shortfall did not affect the adult-education program because it was separately funded and that her termination was in fact a result of unlawfuldiscrimination based on her age and race. [Id. ¶ 20]. The internal complaint was subsequently denied. [Id.].

In June 2018, Plaintiff learned that GPTC was seeking to fill her old position. [Id. ¶ 21]. Plaintiff applied for the position, but it was instead awarded to a white woman who was under the age of forty, had no experience in adult education, and had not held an administrative position overseeing an adult-education program. [Id. ¶¶ 17, 22].

In August 2018, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). [Id. ¶ 23]. She amended her EEOC charge in October 2018, when she learned that the person selected for her former position was white, and not African-American, as she had been told. [Id.]. On January 24, 2020, Plaintiff received a notice of right to sue from the EEOC. [Id. ¶ 24].

After receiving the notice of right to sue, Plaintiff filed suit in the Superior Court of DeKalb County, Georgia, on March 20, 2020, asserting claims against GPTC, TCSG, Mr. Dozier, in his official capacity, and Mr. Holston, in his official capacity. [Doc. 1-1]. In Count I, Plaintiff asserts claims for age-based discrimination in violation of the ADEA and in violation of the Age Discrimination Act of 1975 ("Age Discrimination Act"), as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 6101, et seq.[Id. at 6-7]. In Count II, she asserts claims for race-based discrimination in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VI"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000d, et seq.; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.; and 42 U.S.C. § 1981, asserted via 42 U.S.C. § 1983. [Id. at 8-9]. In Count III, she asserts claims for violations of the due-process clause of the Constitution of the State of Georgia, Ga. Const. art. I., § 1, ¶ I, [id. at 9-10], and in Count IV, she asserts claims for violations of the equal-protection clause of the Constitution of the State of Georgia, Ga. Const. art. I., § 1, ¶ II, [id. at 11-12]. Defendants removed the matter to this Court on July 2, 2020. [Doc. 1].

On July 9, 2020, Defendants filed the motion to partially dismiss that is presently before the Court. [Doc. 4]. Plaintiff filed a response brief in opposition to the motion, [Doc. 10], and Defendants filed a reply brief in support of the motion, [Doc. 14]. The Court held oral argument on the motion on January 11, 2021. [Doc. 32]. With briefing now complete, the undersigned submits this Report and Recommendation ("R&R") for the District Judge's consideration.


Defendants argue that except for the Title VII claims asserted against TCSG, all of Plaintiff's claims are subject to dismissal. [Doc. 4 at 3]. Specifically, they argue that GPTC should be dismissed from the action because it is not a legal entitysubject to suit; that the ADEA claims are barred by sovereign immunity; that the Age Discrimination Act and Title VI claims should be dismissed because the respective Acts do not provide causes of action for employment-related claims; that the § 1981 claims asserted via § 1983 are barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity; that the due-process and equal-protection claims are barred by sovereign immunity; and that the Title VII claims asserted against Mr. Dozier and Mr. Holston should be dismissed as redundant with the claims asserted against Plaintiff's employer. [Id. at 3-4 & 14 n.3]. The Court addresses the arguments below, in logical order.

A. Abandoned Claims

In her response brief, Plaintiff did not argue against Defendants' contentions regarding GPTC's amenability to suit, the claims asserted under the Age Discrimination Act, the Title VI claims, the Title VII claims brought against Mr. Dozier and Mr. Holston, or the claims for monetary recovery asserted under § 1983. [See generally Doc. 10]. She also expressly abandoned the due-process and equal protection claims she asserted under the Georgia constitution. [Id. at 4]. At oral argument, Plaintiff also expressly abandoned the claims against GPTC, (Tr. at 17:00-18:03); the claims asserted under the Age Discrimination Act, (id. at 18:05-18:26); the claims asserted under Title VI, (id. at 18:32-19:02); theTitle VII claims asserted against Mr. Dozier and Mr. Holston, (id. at 19:04-19:34); and the claims asserted under the constitution of the state of Georgia, (id. at 21:12-21:27).1

Because Plaintiff expressly abandoned the claims, the undersigned RECOMMENDS that the District Judge GRANT Defendants' motion to dismiss the claims asserted against GPTC, the claims asserted under the Age Discrimination Act, the claims asserted under Title VI, the Title VII claims asserted against Mr. Dozier and Mr. Holston, and the claims asserted under the constitution of the state of Georgia, and that he DROP GPTC as a party to this lawsuit.

B. Waiver of Eleventh Amendment Immunity

As noted above, Defendants argue that as state entities, they...

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