Stone v. La. Dep't of Revenue, Civil Action No. 12–3022.

Citation996 F.Supp.2d 490
Decision Date12 February 2014
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 12–3022.
CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Louisiana)
PartiesJoanne STONE v. LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE.

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Joanne Stone, Mobile, AL, pro se.

Lance Sterling Guest, Louisiana Department of Justice, New Orleans, LA, for Defendant.

ORDER AND REASONS

KAREN WELLS ROBY, United States Magistrate Judge.

Before the Court is Defendant, the Louisiana Attorney General of the State of Louisiana, through its Department of Revenue's (“Department”) Motion to Dismiss, Alternatively, Motion for Summary Judgment (R. Doc. 30) of Plaintiff, Joanne Stone's (“Stone”) 1 complaint. The Motion is opposed. See R. Doc. 35. A reply to the opposition was also filed. See R. Doc. 39. The underlying motion was noticed for submission on November 13, 2013, and heard on the briefs on that date. See R. Doc. 36.

I. Background

Stone is an African American female, who worked as a Revenue Tax Auditor II of the Department. See R. Doc. 1, pp. 1, 15.2 She alleges that she worked out of the Department's New Orleans, Louisiana office, from July 17, 2001, until August 23, 2010, before transferring to the Department's Houston, Texas office, where she worked until she resigned by letter on March 26, 2012. See R. Doc. 20–4, p. 166; R. Doc. 26–1, p. 73–76; R. Doc. 26–2, p. 91.

Stone originally instituted this action on December 20, 2012, alleging that she was discriminated against pursuant to Title 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985 because her request to telecommute was denied due to her race, as white employees were allowed to telecommute. See R. Doc. 1. Stone alleges that she requested the opportunity to work from home and initially did not receive a response. Eventually though, Stone alleges that she was allowed to telecommute and work from her home in Alabama on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of each week. She alleges that she worked in the New Orleans office on Thursday and Friday of each week.

Stone alleges that she later learned that her employer would prefer to eliminate the position rather than permit her to continue to work in accordance with her telecommuting schedule. She alleges that beginning in November 2009, her supervisor, Vendetta Lockley (“Lockley”), who is also African American, 3 began singling her out and questioning her via email regarding her case chargeable audit hours versus non-audit hours, which were chargeable to the office. Stone construed Lockley's inquiries as harassment, because two days before her inquiry, Lockley sent an email to the group indicating that every employee was on target. See R. Doc. 26–1, p. 19. Stone's complaint alleges that this email was the beginning of what she characterizes as a series of racially discriminatory and harassing behavior by Lockley towards her. See R. Doc. 26, p. 5–8.

Specifically, Stone alleges that Lockley singled her out by not giving her credit for all the audited cases she handled, thereby lowering her production amount; returning her completed audit cases back to her too late to be counted toward the end of the year production number, allegedly making racially derogatory comments about African Americans being lazy and slow, and by giving desk audits which had “lower assets than those assigned to another white employee, Annette Broadway.” See R. Doc. 26, p. 5–8.

Stone complained that the desk audits she received contained fewer assets than desk audits given to her white coworkers, that Lockley accepted audits from white coworkers without reference to any legal basis, and that only her white coworkers were assigned as lead auditor on out of state audits. Id. Stone's complaint also alleges that Lockley's discrimination against her became so intense, that she filed an internal grievance with the Department on May 12, 2010, which was mitigatedbecause the department arranged a transfer for Stone to the Houston, Texas office. Id. at 7.

Stone's transfer was allegedly approved on July 8, 2010, and scheduled to be completed in August 2010. Id. See also R. Doc. 26–2, p. 47. Stone alleges that shortly before her transfer was completed, sometime in July 2010, Lockley accused her of losing a client's “waiver of prescription form,” which was required to be signed and submitted before December 2009. Id. Stone alleges that Lockley's attempt to stop and/or slow down her transfer to Houston and alter her telecommuting privilege by claiming that she did not complete several time-sensitive assignments, constituted a hostile work environment. Id. at 7, 13, 25. Furthermore, Stone alleges that she was humiliated by Lockley, Wayne Lockhart (“Lockhart”), a Revenue Tax Supervisor, and Sikandra Clark (“Clark”), a Computer Audit Specialist Manager, when they publically searched through the files in her office, allegedly looking for the waiver of prescription form. See R. Doc. 26, p. 7, 13.

Stone filed her first charge of discrimination, with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on August 12, 2010, alleging race discrimination and retaliation against the Department for Lockley's discriminatory treatment of Stone, in comparison to Caucasian, Annette Broadway. See R. Doc. 26–2, p. 47–52.4 In addition to her charge, she filed a declaration with the EEOC stating that Lockley harassed her because of her race, by accusing her of losing the prescription document and subjecting her to a humiliating search. Id. Stone also alleged that five other black employees at the Department left because of Lockley's alleged racial harassment. See R. Doc. 26–2, p. 47. She formally amended her charge on December 7, 2010, to include “racial harassment,” which allegedly occurred at the latest date of September 9, 2010. Id.

Stone ultimately completed her transfer to the Houston office sometime in September, 2010, during the pendency of the investigation of the charge with the EEOC. See R. Doc. 26–1, p. 26–28. However, after approximately eight months of working in the Houston office, Stone alleges that her telecommuting work days were reduced from three days to one, in April 2011, which she attributes to the Director, Jay Frost's relationship with her manager Kevin Richard (“Richard”) and old supervisor, Lockley. See R. Doc. 26, p. 10.

Because of the change and reduction of her telecommuting schedule, Stone alleges that on April 5, 2011, she renewed her request to be considered for an out-of-state position in or near Mobile, Alabama. See R. Doc. 26–1, p. 112. She again renewed her request on August 4, 2011, but was denied even though other white employees were allegedly granted the right to telecommute. Id. at 114. Having not received a transfer, on February 29, 2012, Stone sent a formal letter of resignation to Richard stating that her final work day would be March 21, 2012. See R. Doc. 26–1, p. 117. She rescinded this letter on March 7, 2012, stating that she was upset about her work situation because she wanted to be able to work from home during the entire week. See R. Doc. 26–1, p. 116.

However, on March 14–15, 2012, Stone emailed her then supervisor, Elise Thomas (“Thomas”) indicating that she needed several more days of leave because she was not feeling well and needed to go to the doctor. See R. Doc. 35–2, p. 30. Thomas responded that Stone's leave “may” be approved upon her bringing a note from her physician, which would need to be verified by Human Resources. Id. According to Stone, Thomas' email stating that she may be required to have a verified doctors note prior to obtaining leave approval, constituted harassment and a hostile work environment, which ultimately led to Stone's sending of another formal letter of resignation on March 26, 2012, which provided that her final day would be April 9, 2012. See R. Doc. 26–1, p. 115.

On December 12, 2012, Stone filed the instant action, alleging that she was constructively discharged and forced to resign as a result of the Department's refusal to allow her either to (1) maintain her three day a week telecommute from Alabama or (2) assign her to conduct out of state audits. See R. Doc. 26, p. 3, 13–14. She alleges that she suffered emotionally, financially, and sustained damages as a result of the emotional distress and poor references she allegedly received.5

On February 28, 2013, Stone filed a second EEOC charge in which alleged race discrimination, retaliation, constructive discharge, and harassment for the same dates she alleged in the first charge she filed with the EEOC, from the dates of August 25, 2010, through April 30, 2012. See R. Doc. 35–2, p. 27. The EEOC concluded its investigation and issued a Notice of Right to Sue dated June 10, 2013, which stated that the EEOC closed the charge because the “charging party has filed suit in federal court.” See id. at 29.

On September 12, 2013, as directed by this Court,6 Stone filed an amended complaint into the record.7 The crux of her amended complaint appears to be that she was not allowed to telecommute full-time due to her race, and that the Department allegedly threatened to discipline her for “engaging in the EEOC” process by questioning and denying her requests for leave, time off, and to work full-time from home.” See R. Doc. 26–2, p. 59–62.

As to the instant motion, on October 4, 2013, the Department filed a Motion to Dismiss, and Alternatively, Motion for Summary Judgment, seeking to dismiss Stone's complaints for failing to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and/or alternatively as a matter of law pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 56. See R. Doc. 30, p. 1. Specifically, the Department claims that (1) Stone's suit is barred by res judicata, (2) Stone cannot state a prima facie case for any of the Title VII claims she alleges, and (3) Stone's Title VII claims have not been administratively exhausted and/or are prescribed. Id. Stone has opposed the underlying motion. See R. Doc. 35. The Department has filed a reply to Stone's opposition. See R. Doc. 36.

II. Standard of Review

Rule 12(b)(6) provides that a complaint...

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