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Flint v. Action Personnel, Inc.

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

December 19, 2013

SANDY G. FLINT, Plaintiff,
v.
ACTION PERSONNEL, INC., and ELIZABETH ARDEN, INC., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Hon. James C. Turk, Senior United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Sandy G. Flint (“Plaintiff” or “Flint”)filed a pro se complaint in this action naming both Action Personnel, Inc. (“Action”) and Elizabeth Arden, Inc. (“Elizabeth Arden”) as Defendants. In her civil cover sheet where it directs the filer to list the cause of action, she states that she is asserting claims under “Title VII The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act” and also states that she is asserting a retaliation claim for complaining about harassment. ECF No. 3-2 at 1. Based on the civil cover sheet and the allegations in her complaint, the Court construes her Complaint as asserting claims of sexual harassment and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e (“Title VII”), as well as a claim under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000ff-1 (“GINA”).

Both Defendants filed motions to dismiss, which are pending before the Court and addressed herein. For the reason set forth herein, Action’s motion to dismiss, ECF No. 18, is GRANTED, and Elizabeth Arden’s Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 13, is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

I. Procedural Background

Before addressing the merits of the motions pending before the Court, the Court turns briefly to the procedural background of this case. Specifically, after each Defendant filed its motion to dismiss, Plaintiff was given the proper Roseboro[1] notice explaining that she needed to respond to the motion. She was further warned that if she did not “file some response within the twenty-one (21) day period, the Court may dismiss the case for failure to prosecute.” ECF No. 16. The 21-day period for responding to the Elizabeth Arden motion would have expired on October 30, 2013. On October 29, 2013, Flint filed a motion for extension of time to file a response to the motion to dismiss. ECF No. 21. The Court granted the extension, giving her until November 29, 2013 to file her response. ECF No. 22. The Court again informed her that if she did not file some response on or before that date, it might dismiss the case for failure to prosecute. Id.

Although it was not docketed until after the December 16, 2013 hearing, the Court received a letter from Flint on or about November 25, 2013, before the November 29, 2013 deadline. In that letter, which the Clerk has docketed as a motion for extension of time, Flint stated that she did not want to have her case closed, but wanted to “continue forward based upon [her] complaint.” She stated that she has “not lost interest and [is] working hard to prepare [her]self for a hearing in front of you” and that such a hearing “would also give [her] the chance to explain [her] case directly to you and the defendant.” ECF No. 24.[2] In response, the Court scheduled a conference for December 16, 2013, which was held and at which Flint appeared.

As is evident from the foregoing, although Ms. Flint has not filed a written response to either motion, she has repeatedly (and in compliance with the deadlines set forth by the Court, at least as to Elizabeth Arden’s motion to dismiss), reiterated her interest in responding to the motions to dismiss. Additionally, at the hearing held before the Court on December 16, 2013, she articulated her opposition to the motions and has continued to prosecute her case in that sense. Thus, the Court will not dismiss the action for failure to prosecute, but will instead address the motions to dismiss on their merits.

II. Action Personnel, Inc.’s Motion to Dismiss

Action seeks dismissal as to all claims asserted against it on the grounds that both Title VII and GINA require that Flint exhaust her administrative remedies prior to filing suit in federal court. As Action properly notes, plaintiffs are required to exhaust administrative remedies, by filing a timely charge of discrimination with the EEOC, before bringing suit in federal court. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e5(f)(1); Jones v. Calvert Grp., Ltd., 551 F.3d 297, 300 (4th Cir. 2009). Exhaustion serves the dual “purposes of notice and conciliation.” Chako v. Patuxent Inst., 429 F.3d 505, 510 (4th Cir. 2005). Indeed, exhaustion “gives the employer an initial opportunity to voluntarily and independently investigate and resolve the alleged discriminatory actions” as well as “initiat[ing] agency-monitored settlement, the primary way that claims of discrimination are resolved.” Id. Thus, in order to assert claims against Action in this case, Flint was required to name it as a respondent in her EEOC charge. See Causey v. Balog, 162 F.3d 795, 800 (4th Cir. 1998); see also Hill v. Augusta Cnty. School Bd., 2009 WL 1065515, at *2 n.3 (W.D. Va. April 17, 2009) (citing Causey for the proposition that “plaintiffs alleging discrimination may sue only the parties named in their underlying EEOC charge”); Westbrook v. North Carolina A & T State Univ., 2013 WL 3766083, at *3 (M.D. N.C. 2013) (plaintiff failed to exhaust administrative remedies against individual defendants because they were not named in the charge as respondents).

In determining whether claims have been properly exhausted the Court looks to the contents of the EEOC charge. Bryant v. Bell Atlantic Md., Inc., 288 F.3d 124, 132 (4th Cir. 2002) (citing Smith v. First Union Nat’l Bank, 202 F.3d 234, 237 (4th Cir. 2000)) (“The EEOC charge defines the scope of the plaintiff's right to institute a civil suit.”). Specifically, “the scope of the civil action is confined … by the scope of the administrative investigation that can reasonably be expected to follow the charge of discrimination.” Id. (quoting Chisholm v. United States Postal Serv., 665 F.2d 482, 491 (4th Cir. 1981)).

In this case, Flint attached to her Complaint a copy of her right-to-sue notice from the EEOC, and her Complaint appears to have been timely filed within the period allowed.[3] See ECF No. 3-1. The right-to-sue notice reflects that Susan North, counsel for Elizabeth Arden, was also sent a copy. The charge of discrimination, however, has not been filed by any party. Action states that it was not named in the charge, however, and Plaintiff admitted at the hearing that the charge did not identify Action as her employer.[4] Thus, Flint failed to properly exhaust her administrative remedies against Action and this Court does not have jurisdiction over her claims against Action. Action’s motion to dismiss, ECF No. 18, is therefore GRANTED and all claims against Action Personnel, Inc. are hereby DISMISSED.

III. Elizabeth Arden’s Motion to Dismiss

Elizabeth Arden seeks dismissal on four different grounds. The Court addresses first the argument that Flint has failed to exhaust her administrative remedies under the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (“GINA”) and then turns to ...


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