Nelson v. Special Admin. Bd. of the St. Louis Pub. Sch., Case No. 4:11CV00904 AGF.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Missouri)
Writing for the CourtAUDREY G. FLEISSIG
Citation873 F.Supp.2d 1104
PartiesCheryl M. NELSON, Plaintiff, v. The SPECIAL ADMINISTRATIVE BOARD OF the ST. LOUIS PUBLIC SCHOOLS, et al., Defendants.
Docket NumberCase No. 4:11CV00904 AGF.
Decision Date04 June 2012


Eric E. Vickers, Eric Vickers and Associates, Clayton, MO, for Plaintiff.

Anne R. Kerns, Vincent D. Reese, Lewis Rice, St. Louis, MO, for Defendants.


AUDREY G. FLEISSIG, District Judge.

Plaintiff Cheryl Nelson brings this action against Defendants Kelvin Adams, Rick Sullivan, and the Special Administrative Board (“the School Board) 1 of the St. Louis Public Schools (“SLPS”), charging race discrimination, retaliation, and various constitutional and statutory violations arising out of her employment with the SLPS. Presently before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss Counts I, II, IV, VI, and VII of Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). At the request of the parties, the Court heard oral argument on the motion. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion is denied with respect to Count VI, and granted with respect to Counts I, II, IV and VII.


In her Second Amended Complaint Plaintiff alleges the following:

Since 1997, Plaintiff, an African American woman, has been employed in various capacities in the federally funded SLPS Community Education Program (CEP). Since 2009 she has held the position of Community Collaborative Specialist (CCS) and is presently employed by the SLPS.

Defendant Rick Sullivan is the chief executive officer of the School Board and has overall responsibility for the operation of the School Board, which in turn oversees the operations of the SLPS including the execution and enforcement of its policies. Defendant Kelvin Adams is the superintendent of the SLPS, reports to Sullivan, and is responsible for day-to-day management of the SLPS including the execution of SLPS policies.

On or about September 22, 2008, Plaintiff sent a letter to the President of the Saint Louis City Board of Aldermen (the Board of Aldermen) charging her supervisor, John Windom, with sexual discrimination. (Doc. No. 1–1, attached to Plaintiff's original Complaint). The President of the Board of Aldermen forwarded the letter to Rick Sullivan and to the School Board.

On or about September 26, 2008, Plaintiff received a letter from John Wright, who was the Superintendent of the SLPS at that time, acknowledging receipt of her complaint and assuring Plaintiff that it would be taken “very seriously.” (Second Amended Complaint, Doc. No. 48, ¶ 8.) On October 31, 2008, Plaintiff sent a sixteen page letter to the President of the Board of Aldermen and to Sullivan, Adams, and the School Board alleging sexual discrimination by Windom. In the letter, Plaintiff stated that “Mr. Windom's combined actions are biased and violates [sic] equal employment opportunities and discriminates against me as a woman.” (Doc. No. 48 ¶ 9.)

Outgoing Superintendent Wright responded to Plaintiff's letter and invited her to further discuss her complaints. She declined to do so, stating that Wright, as a friend of Windom, would be biased against her. Plaintiff requested that the incoming superintendent, Kelvin Adams, address her complaint. (Doc. No. 48 ¶ 10.) On November 12, 2008, Wright sent Plaintiff a letter stating: [y]our behavior has led me to one conclusion and that is your complaint bears no truth and you have only ill intentions. Please be mindful of the fact that if you are guilty of making false accusations against Mr. Windom you could place your employment at risk and a liable [sic] suit from Mr. Windom.” (Doc. No. 48 ¶ 10; Doc. No. 52–1.)

On December 26, 2008, the Director of Human Resources for the SLPS advised Plaintiff that she was aware of her complaint and criticized her for communicating the complaint to the Board of Aldermen. In Plaintiff's May 12, 2009 performance evaluation, Windom recommended termination 2 because Plaintiff “sent a letter outside the [SLPS'] grievance procedure regarding her negative view of [his] behavior.” (Doc. No. 48 ¶ 12.) Plaintiff asserts that Defendants failed to further investigate her complaint or issue a determination with respect to it.

Fifteen months later, on August 27, 2010, Plaintiff, while performing her duties as a CCS at the Ford Elementary School, was approached by Saint Louis City police officers, restrained and charged with a criminal offense. School security personnel forcibly escorted Plaintiff from the building in view of persons residing in the neighborhood served by the school. The police officers advised Plaintiff that she was being arrested and charged with criminal behavior on the basis of an allegation by the SLPS. After her arrest, Plaintiff was placed on administrative leave and given a three-day suspension. “Police and prosecuting authorities” determined that there were no grounds to pursue the charges against her. (Doc. No. 48 ¶ 15.)

After the filing of this lawsuit, Plaintiff obtained records indicating that a white, female co-worker who holds the same position and title as she, has received since 2008 an annual salary at least $20,000 greater than Plaintiff's salary. Plaintiff amended her complaint to allege that Defendants paid her a lower salary or failed to increase her salary, in retaliation for Plaintiff's filing of discrimination charges.

Plaintiff initially filed this action in the Circuit Court for the City of Saint Louis on April 15, 2011. On April 18, 2011, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights alleging retaliation and sex, race, disability, and age discrimination and referencing her complaint in the lawsuit filed in the Circuit Court for the City of Saint Louis as the factual basis for her charge.3 (Doc. No. 9–2.) The April 18, 2011 charge asserts a continuing violation and lists the last date of discrimination as February 22, 2011. Defendants removed the suit to this Court on May 19, 2011. On August 9, 2011, Plaintiff filed another charge of discrimination, this time with the EEOC, alleging race discrimination, retaliation, and equal pay violations and referencing the allegations in her complaint related to the pay inequity. (Doc. No. 52–3.) A right to sue letter issued on November 4, 2011.

On the basis of the foregoing allegations, Plaintiff asserts: in Count I, that Defendants deprived her of her due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983; in Count II, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, that Defendants retaliated against her in violation of her rights under the First Amendment for pursuing her grievance against the SLPS; in Count III, intentional discrimination on the basis of race in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981; in Count IV, that Defendants, the recipients of federal funds, discriminated against her on the basis of race in the distribution of those funds in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2000d–1, (Title VI); in Count V, discrimination on the basis of race in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e (Title VII); in Count VI, that Defendants retaliated against her for exercising her rights under Title VII; and in Count VII, that Defendants violated her rights under 29 U.S.C. § 206(d) (“the Equal Pay Act) by paying her less than a similarly situated white female employee.4

Legal Standard: Motion to Dismiss

To survive a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, which if accepted as true, ‘state[s] a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’ Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). In her complaint, a plaintiff “must include sufficient factual information to provide the ‘grounds' on which the claim rests, and to raise a right to relief above a speculative level.” Schaaf v. Residential Funding Corp., 517 F.3d 544, 549 (8th Cir.2008) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 & n. 3, 127 S.Ct. 1955). This obligation requires a plaintiff to plead “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955. Rather, the complaint “must contain either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements necessary to sustain recovery under some viable legal theory.” Id. at 562, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (quotation omitted).

In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept the allegations contained in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Eckert v. Titan Tire Corp., 514 F.3d 801, 806 (8th Cir.2008) (citing Luney v. SGS Auto. Servs., Inc., 432 F.3d 866, 867 (8th Cir.2005)). Materials attached to the complaint as exhibits may be considered in construing the sufficiency of the complaint. Droney v. Fitch, No.4:10–CV–114 CAS, 2011 WL 890704, at *2 (E.D.Mo. Mar. 14, 2011) (citing Morton v. Becker, 793 F.2d 185, 187 (8th Cir.1986)). In addition, although ‘matters outside the pleading may not be considered in deciding a Rule 12 motion to dismiss, documents necessarily embraced by the complaint are not matters outside the pleading.’ Ashanti v. City of Golden Valley, 666 F.3d 1148, 1150–51(8th Cir.2012) (quoting Enervations, Inc. v. Minn. Mining & Mfg. Co., 380 F.3d 1066, 1069 (8th Cir.2004) (quotations omitted)). Documents necessarily embraced by the pleadings include those “documents whose contents are alleged in a complaint and whose authenticity no party questions, but which are not physically attached to the pleading.” Ashanti, 666 F.3d at 1151 (quoting Kushner v. Beverly Enters., Inc., 317 F.3d 820, 831 (8th Cir.2003) (citation omitted)).

Due Process Violations

In Count I Plaintiff asserts that Defendants violated § 1983, depriving her of her...

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