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Blakes v. Gruenberg

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

July 29, 2016

GYBRILLA B. BLAKES, Plaintiff,
v.
MARTIN J. GRUENBERG, Chairman, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          GERALD BRUCE LEE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant, Martin J. Gruenberg, Chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation ("FDIC")'s Motion to Dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. 8). This case concerns Plaintiff Gybrilla B. Blakes' employment discrimination suit brought against Defendant, alleging race discrimination, sex discrimination, and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (Doc. 1). Defendant asserts that res judicata bars this action because this Court dismissed Plaintiffs initial lawsuit against the FDIC. See Blakes v. Gruenberg, No. 1:14-cv-l6522015, WL 9274919 (E.D. Va. Dec. 18, 2015). In the alternative, Defendant argues that Plaintiff's Complaint should be dismissed for failure to state a claim because it fails to raise a plausible inference of discrimination or retaliation. (Doc. 8 at 2).

         There are two issues before the Court. The first issue is whether res judicata applies to this action given that this Court dismissed Plaintiffs initial lawsuit against the FDIC on December 18, 2015. The second issue is whether this Court should dismiss Plaintiffs Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under her race discrimination, sex discrimination, and retaliation claims.

         The Court DENIES Defendant's Motion to Dismiss for two reasons. First, res judicata does not apply because although there was a final judgment on the merits in the prior suit and the parties in the present litigation are the same, the claims presented in Plaintiffs current action are not identical to the claims asserted in the earlier dispute.

         Second, the Court denies Defendant's Motion to Dismiss because Plaintiffs Complaint includes a short and plain statement of the claims showing that Plaintiff is entitled to relief, satisfying the pleading requirement. In the alternative, although Plaintiff is not required to prove a prima facie case for race and sex discrimination as well as retaliation, Plaintiff pleads sufficient facts to establish the prima facie elements for each claim.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises from Plaintiffs race discrimination, sex discrimination, and retaliation claims against FDIC, her current employer. (Doc. 1 at 4). Plaintiff has been a Lead Personnel Security Specialist in the FDIC since January 19, 2010. Id. On December 5, 2014, Plaintiff filed a Complaint ("Blakes I") in this Court against Defendant Martin J. Gruenberg, Chairman of the FDIC, alleging that Defendant violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by discriminating against Plaintiff on the basis of her race (African American) and her sex (female). Id. at 8. Plaintiff additionally argued that Defendant retaliated against her for filing two complaints[1] with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). Id. at 5, 10.

         Plaintiffs allegations in Blakes I were based on an annual Performance Management and Recognition (PMR) evaluation that Defendant issued on December 14, 2013 ("2013 PMR"). (Doc. 8-1 at 9). In her 2013 PMR, Plaintiff received an overall performance rating of "III, " job standards rating of "3, " and a behavioral standards rating of "Appropriate." Id. at 8. Plaintiff claims that her 2013 PMR was discriminatory under Title VII. Id. Plaintiff further alleges that she was discriminated against because on April 9, 2013, Plaintiffs supervisor removed her from a budget meeting and prevented her from attending other budget meetings, hindering Plaintiffs ability to perform her job duties. (Doc. 15-1 at 17). Plaintiff also argues that she was prohibited from conducting briefings, conducting tabletop exercises, and overseeing her unit, all of which took place before her 2014 PMR. (Doc. at 18, 19).

         Following Plaintiffs second EEO complaint and 2013 PMR, the FDIC issued a Final Agency Decision ("FAD") on August 28, 2014, denying the claims asserted in Plaintiffs second EEO complaint. Id. at 4. Plaintiff subsequently filed Blakes I. However, this Court granted Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment on December 18, 2015 for two reasons. Blakes v. Gruenberg, 2015 WL 9274919 at 17. First, Plaintiffs claims were time barred because Plaintiff filed her Complaint after the ninety-day statutory limitations period had expired.[2] Id. Second, Plaintiffs claims did not merit equitable tolling because she neither was induced or tricked by the FDIC's misconduct into filing her Complaint after the limitations period and Plaintiff had not demonstrated an extraordinary circumstance that prevented her from timely filing her Complaint. Id

         Plaintiffs instant action ("Blakes II") arises from an annual Performance and Recognition (PMR) evaluation, which Defendant issued on November 18, 2014 ("2014 PMR"). (Doc. 1 at 11). Plaintiff again received an overall performance rating of "III, " job standards rating of "3, " and a behavioral standards rating of "Appropriate" in her 2014 PMR. Id. On November 19, 2014, Plaintiff again contacted an EEO Counselor and reported that she was discriminated against when she was given a rating of III on her 2014 PMR. Id. at 10. Plaintiff then filed her third formal complaint with the EEO on April 8, 2015. Id. Subsequently, the FDIC issued a FAD on January 5, 2016, finding no discrimination on the merits of the Plaintiffs third EEO complaint. (Doc. 1 at 3; Doc. 22-1 at 3). On March 7, 2016, Plaintiff timely filed this suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e)-16(c), [3] alleging that Defendant violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for race and sex discrimination, as well as retaliation. (Doc. 1).

         Aside from relying on two different PMR evaluations, Plaintiff largely restates the same facts in Blakes II as she did in Blakes I. (Doc. 8-2 at 2). In both suits, Plaintiff asserts that she was discriminated and retaliated against when she was removed from a monthly budget meeting on April 9, 2013, and informed that another employee would attend the meeting in her place. (Doc. 1 at 6). Furthermore, Plaintiff reached out to the Ethics Office concerning her complaint that "a team member" might have been having sexual encounters in the office. Id. Plaintiff alleges that her supervisor, Mr. Bell, was furious when he found out that Plaintiff spoke to someone from the FDIC's ethics office. Id. Plaintiff also contends that she was not allowed to travel to site visits, conduct briefings, participate in tabletop exercises, or oversee her unit. (Doc. 15-1 at 18). Finally, Plaintiff alleges she was discriminated against when she was issued a Letter of Reprimand on March 14, 2013, for improper conduct, which led Plaintiffs supervisor to propose that she receive seven calendar days without pay suspension for the alleged improper conduct. Id. Upper management, however, denied the proposed Letter of Reprimand. Id.

         Plaintiff is currently employed with the FDIC and alleges the various discrimination and retaliation actions are ongoing. Id. at 17, 18. In the present suit, Plaintiff alleges that the Defendant violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for race discrimination, sex discrimination, and retaliation. (Doc. 1).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) enables a defendant to move for dismissal by challenging the sufficiency of the plaintiff's complaint. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion should be granted where the plaintiff has failed to "state a plausible claim for relief." Walters v. McMahen, 684 F.3d 435, 439 (4th Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009)). To be facially plausible, a claim must contain "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Clatterbuck v. City of Charlottesville, 708 F.3d 549, 554 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).

         To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a complaint must contain sufficient factual allegations which, if taken as true, "raise a right to relief above the speculative level" and "nudg[e] [the] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible." Vitol, S.A. v. Primerose Shipping Co., 708 F.3d 527, 543 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting Bell Atl Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 570 (2007)). The requirement for plausibility does not mandate a showing of probability but merely that there is more than a possibility of the defendant's unlawful acts. Francis v. Giacomelli 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Or. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). As a result, a complaint must contain more than "naked assertions" and "unadorned conclusory allegations, " requiring some "factual enhancement" in order to be sufficient. Id. (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678)

         A court's Rule 12(b)(6) review involves separating factual allegations from legal conclusions. Burnette v. Fahey, 687 F.3d 171, 180 (4th Cir. 2012). In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must give all reasonable inferences to the plaintiff and accept all factual allegations as true. E.I du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 440 (4th Cir. 2011). Though a court must accept the truthfulness of all factual allegations, it does not have to accept the veracity of bare legal conclusions. Burnette, 687 F.3d at 180 (citing Aziz v. Alcolac, Inc., 658 F.3d 388, 391 (4th Cir. 2011)).

         A court must grant a Rule 12(b)(6) motion when a complaint fails to provide sufficient nonconclusory factual allegations to allow the court to draw the reasonable inference of the defendant's liability. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d at 196-97 (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79, and Gooden v. Howard Cnty., Md, 954 F.2d 960, 969-70 (4th Cir. 1992) (en banc)). In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court may consider exhibits or documents attached to the complaint "so long as they are integral to the complaint and authentic." Sec'y of State for Defence v. Trimble Navigation Ltd., 484 F.3d 700, 705 (4th Cir. 2007). The court may also consider documents "attached to the motion to dismiss, so long as they are integral to the complaint and authentic." Philips v. Pitt Cnty. Mem'l Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009) (citing Blankenship v. Manchin, 471 F.3d 523, 526 n.l (4th Cir. 2006)).

         III. ANALYSIS

         The Court DENIES Defendant's Motion to Dismiss for two reasons. First, res judicata does not bar the present Complaint because the claims presented in Plaintiffs current action are not identical to the claims asserted in the earlier dispute.

         Second, the Court denies Defendant's Motion to Dismiss because Plaintiffs Complaint includes a short and plain statement of the claims showing that Plaintiff is entitled to relief, satisfying the pleading requirement. In the alternative, although Plaintiff is not required to state a prima facie case for race and sex discrimination as well as retaliation in a Complaint, Plaintiff pleads sufficient facts to establish the prima facie elements for each claim.

         A. Plaintiffs Complaint is Not Barred by Res Judicata

         Despite the Court's dismissal based on untimeliness of Plaintiff s Complaint, res judicata does not apply to Plaintiffs current action. A party invoking res judicata must establish three elements: "(1) a final judgment on the merits in a prior suit, (2) an identity of the cause of action in both the earlier and the later suit, and (3) an identity of parties or their privies in the two suits." Meekins v. United Transp. Union,946 F.2d 1054, 1057 (4th Cir. 1991). Defendant fails to ...


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