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Wyatt v. Steidel

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

August 12, 2014

Percy L. WYATT, Plaintiff,


JOHN A. GIBNEY, Jr., District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on the defendant's motion to dismiss the plaintiff's second amended complaint ("Complaint.") (Dk. No. 13.) The plaintiff, Percy Wyatt, filed suit against Robert Steidel, the Director of the City of Richmond's Department of Public Utilities. Steidel now moves to dismiss the suit for failure to state a claim. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).

Wyatt makes four claims against the defendant. Count I involves a claim of race discrimination in violation of Title VII. Count II alleges a Title VII gender discrimination claim. Count III deals with alleged age discrimination in violation of the Virginia Human Rights Act. Lastly, Count IV claims gender discrimination in violation of the Equal Pay Act. The Court GRANTS the defendant's motion to dismiss Counts I, II, and III, and DENIES the motion as to Count IV.

I. Facts[1]

Wyatt works for the City of Richmond's Department of Public Utilities. In 2013, the Department promoted him to a position as a Program Manager in its Wastewater Division. Before the promotion took effect, the plaintiff and his supervisor, Howard Glenn, negotiated his new pay, initially agreeing to an annual salary of $72, 000. The following day, however, Willie Horton, the Deputy Director of the Public Utilities Department, told Wyatt that the City needed to renegotiate his salary. After some additional discussion, Wyatt accepted a new salary of $70, 000. Horton then sent the salary request to Steidel for final approval. Steidel does not appear to have ever formally approved the plaintiff's salary.

Nearly three weeks later, Janine Wyatt[2], another Program Manager in the Public Utilities Department and Wyatt's former supervisor, sent an email to Steidel complaining that the Department had devalued her position by promoting several employees, including the plaintiff. She also requested a "salary review to correct any deficiency" if the newly-promoted Program Managers made more money than she did. Part of Janine Wyatt's concern stemmed from the fact that her salary played a large role in determining her upcoming retirement payments.

Several days later, Steidel forwarded Janine Wyatt's e-mail to Horton with instructions to renegotiate the salaries being offered to the plaintiff and Darryl Rivers, another recently-promoted Program Manager. Horton subsequently told Wyatt that the City could only offer him a maximum salary of $60, 715.20. He justified the change by saying that the plaintiff could not receive more than a 10% increase. The plaintiff unsuccessfuly complained about the reduced salary to both Steidel and Glenn, before eventually accepting the position at the offered salary.

II. Discussion

i. Title VII Race Discrimination

In Count I, Wyatt alleges that Steidel racially discriminated against him by denying him the same pay as fellow Program Manager Janine Wyatt. Taking into account the liberal pleading standard afforded to pro se plaintiffs, the Court assumes that Wyatt intended to charge Steidel in his official capacity because Title VII does not allow for personal liability. Lissau v. S. Food Serv., Inc., 159 F.3d 177, 180 (4th Cir. 1998). Only employers-not supervisors-may be held liable under Title VII. Baird ex rel. Baird v. Rose, 192 F.3d 462, 473 (4th Cir. 1999). Suing an individual in his official capacity, though, is essentially the same as suing the entity for which he works. Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25 (1991).

a. Timing of the Complaint.

After a plaintiff receives a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC, he has 90 days to file a complaint in federal court. 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000e-5(f)(1). Courts strictly adhere to the 90-day filing deadline, although exceptions exist for equitable tolling, waiver, and estoppel. Lewis v. Norfolk S. Corp., 271 F.Supp.2d 807, 811 (E.D. Va. 2003) (citing Zipes v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 455 U.S. 385, 392-93 (1982)). Courts "treat pro se civil rights plaintiffs with heightened solicitude, such that technical pleading requirements will not prevent the plaintiffs claim from being considered." Terry v. E.E.O.C., 21 F.Supp.2d 566, 568 (E.D. Va. 1998). Pro se status and the filing of a petition to proceed in forma pauperis have been widely recognized as reasons to allow equitable tolling. Dempsey v. Harrison, 387 F.Supp.2d 558, 561 (E.D. N.C. 2005); Druitt v. Coll. of William & Mary, Williamsburg Area Transp. Co., 4:04-CV-00128, 2005 WL 3845103, at *5-6 (E.D. Va. Feb. 23, 2005).

The EEOC mailed Wyatt its decision and right-to-sue letter on November 1, 2013. (Dk. No. 10, ex. G.) Wyatt says he received the EEOC's letter on November 1, 2013, a fact that is clearly incorrect. In an email, though, he mentions receiving the letter on November 4, 2013. Assuming he received the letter on November 4, 2013, [3] Wyatt had until February 3, 2014 to file a complaint. On January 30, 2014, Wyatt tried to file a complaint along with a motion to proceed in forma pauperis. (Dk. No. 1.) The Court denied the motion on February 4, 2014. (Dk. No. 2.) Wyatt thereupon filed a second complaint on February 7, 2014. (Dk. No. 3.) Wyatt initially filed a complaint within the 90-day deadline, but the court's denial of his in forma pauperis motion caused him to file an acceptable ...

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