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Sutton-Reed v. Commonwealth

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

March 30, 2016

JOYCE A. SUTTON-REED, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA, VIRGINIA DEPARTMENT OF ALCOHOL BEVERAGE CONTROL, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION (MOTION TO DISMISS)

Henry E. Hudson, United States District Judge.

THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant Commonwealth of Virginia, Department of Alcohol Beverage Control's ("Defendant" or "ABC") Motion to Dismiss, filed on January 7, 2016 (ECF No. 3). Defendant seeks to dismiss Plaintiff Joyce Sutton-Reed's ("Plaintiff) remaining claims pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.[1] Defendant argues that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction and that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant in part and deny in part Defendant's Motion.

I. Background

On a motion to dismiss, the Court takes the well-pleaded allegations as true and views them in light most favorable to the plaintiff. T.G. Slater & Son, Inc. v. Donald P. and Patricia Brennan LLC, 385 F.3d 836, 841 (4th Cir. 2004). Accordingly, the Court finds as follows:

Plaintiff, an African-American female, worked for Defendant between approximately August 31, 1985, until on or about April 1, 2014. (Compl. ¶ 3, ECF No. 1.) Defendant hired Plaintiff in 1985 as a Special Agent. (Id. ¶ 4.) Her duties included background investigations, undercover work, dissemination of intelligence, arrests, and testifying in court. (Id.) During her tenure, Plaintiff filed at least three other charges with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission ("EEOC") against Defendant for sexual and racial discrimination, one of which resulted in a civil action in this Court. (Id. ¶ 8.)[2]

On May 13, 2013, while driving a state-owned vehicle, Plaintiff received a telephone call that her mother was having a heart attack and emergency personnel were responding to her parents' residence. (Id. ¶ 10.) Because the next highway exit led to her parents' house and because it appeared to be an emergency situation, Plaintiff "slightly deviated from her normal route to check on her mother." (Id.) Upon arrival, Plaintiff determined that she did not need to remain, and she left after approximately five minutes to proceed directly to work. (Id.)

According to Plaintiff, ABC policy allows for personal use of a state vehicle during bona fide emergencies. (Id.) Nevertheless, Plaintiff received a Group II infraction for "improper use of state property" and a three-day suspension for her actions on May 13, 2013. (Id.) According to Plaintiff, Defendant routinely either ignored or handed down minimal punishment for these sorts of infractions when committed by her white and male colleagues. (Id. ¶ 11.)

Upon receiving her Group II infraction, Plaintiff also received a charge for insubordination. (Id. ¶ 13.) This charge stemmed from Plaintiff allegedly running her sister's boyfriend's name through a Virginia State Police database. (Id. ¶¶ 13, 15.) According to Plaintiff, a white female employee ultimately admitted to the wrongdoing. (Id. ¶ 16.) Although the white female employee only received a counseling letter, Plaintiff was docked a month's pay after being accused of that conduct. (Id.)

As explained in her Complaint, Plaintiff also received notice that she was being investigated for improper conduct related to a banquet license event in Portsmouth. (Id.) Plaintiff claims that a white female colleague assigned Plaintiff to investigate a banquet application, which she determined to have been wrongfully submitted. (Id.) Despite this determination, an African-American male colleague directed Plaintiff to grant the license anyway. (Id.) Upon working an investigation at the banquet, ABC and the Portsmouth Sheriffs Office shut down the banquet for licensing violations. (Id.) The applicant's wife then filed a complaint against Plaintiff. (Id.) Plaintiff claims that although both her white and male colleagues participated in the initial investigation, their involvement was concealed. (Id.)

Plaintiff contends that as a result of these events, she determined the harassment and retaliation would not end. (Id. ¶ 26.) On March 31, 2014, Plaintiff submitted her retirement letter to her supervisor. (Id.) The very next day, however, Plaintiff attempted to rescind her retirement. (Id. ¶ 27.) Plaintiff hand-delivered a letter to Human Resources "expressly rescinding her retirement, " and the Benefits Administrator told Plaintiff that rescinding her retirement would not be a problem because Plaintiffs paperwork had not yet been fully processed. (Id. ¶¶ 27-28.) According to Plaintiff, ABC's standard practice allowed for recession of retirement. (Id. ¶ 27.) Although she attempted to rescind her retirement, Defendant refused to allow her to do so. (Id. ¶ 28.)

Throughout her Complaint, Plaintiff also references other instances of allegedly discriminatory conduct in the form of specious investigations and unprofessional comments from colleagues. For example, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant reprimanded her for filing a legitimate complaint about mold in the office. (Id. ¶ 12.) Plaintiff also claims that during her employment, she was "constantly investigated" and "had at least twelve investigations brought against her by ABC." (Id. ¶ 21.)

Plaintiff also pleads that she filed a grievance against ASAC Klepper, a white female, for unprofessional conduct for discussing Plaintiffs personal and professional life in the reception area of the front office. (Id. ¶ 18.) She alleges others made unprofessional comments to her both during meetings in front of other ABC employees and during private conversations. (Id. ¶¶ 22-23.) Plaintiff also contends that during her employment with Defendant, other African-American women were treated differently and unfairly. (Id. ¶ 25.)

On March 31, 2014, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. (Id. ¶ 6.) On September 17, 2015, the EEOC issued to Plaintiff a notice of her right to sue on that charge. (Id.) Plaintiff then timely filed suit in this Court. Defendant now moves to dismiss the remaining claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6).

II. Standard of Review

A motion made pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) challenges the Court's jurisdiction over the subject matter of the complaint. In the context of a Title VII claim, failure to exhaust administrative remedies deprives a federal court of subject matter ...


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