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Tate v. Home Depot

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Danville Division

January 4, 2017

LATOYA A. TATE, Plaintiff,
THE HOME DEPOT, ET. AL, Defendants.


          Hon. Jackson L. Kiser Senior United States District Judge.

         On May 18, 2016, LaToya Tate (“Plaintiff”) filed the present action against The Home Depot, Brett Newman, and Sarah Motley (“Defendants”). Plaintiff alleges that she was subjected to unlawful retaliation and discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”). Defendants have each filed a Motion to Dismiss for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). [ECF Nos. 10, 14, 20.] The matter was fully briefed, and the parties appeared before me on December 15, 2016. For the reasons stated below, I will deny The Home Depot's Motion, and I will grant the motions filed by Newman and Motley.


         On or around October 28, 2011, Plaintiff was first hired as a part-time cashier at The Home Depot in Danville, Virginia. (Brett Newman Br. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss, at 1, Aug. 31, 2016 [ECF No. 11] (hereinafter “Newman Br.”).) Plaintiff was eventually promoted to a full-time sales position in the paint department. (Id.) According to Plaintiff, she filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (“EEOC”) on May 26, 2014 (“the First Charge”).[1] (Resp. to Order, at 3-11, Dec. 12, 2016 [ECF No. 36].) The First Charge alleged that The Home Depot perpetuated a “racially hostile work environment, ” and that the store's management had done little to address complaints made by Plaintiff and others regarding her coworkers' use of racially insensitive language in the workplace. (Resp. to Order, at 7-8.) She also alleged that she was denied a promotion due to her race. (Id. at 8.)

         Plaintiff also alleges that her supervisors retaliated against her for filing the First Charge. She alleges that Newman, the Store Manager, “[s]ingled [Plaintiff] out to clean floors and other departments that were already clean.” (Compl. ¶ 9B.) Further, Motley, a Department Supervisor, “[s]ubjected [Plaintiff] to maintaining a work log that no one else in the department was required to use, ” and Plaintiff “began to receive write-ups that were unfair and untrue.” (Id. at ¶¶ 9B-9C.)

         On November 6, 2014, The Home Depot terminated Plaintiff's employment. (Compl. ¶ 3.) According to Plaintiff, she was told that her termination was due to “[i]nsubordinate conduct towards management.” (Compl. ¶ 9C.) She then filed another EEOC charge on January 15, 2015 (“the Second Charge”).[2] (Resp. to Order, at 12-15.) On both charges, the EEOC's investigation was inconclusive, and Plaintiff was issued two notices of right to sue on February 18, 2016. (Notices of Right to Sue, February 18, 2016 [ECF No. 2-1].)

         Three 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss are before the Court. Motley and Newman have each moved to dismiss the claims against them on the basis that Title VII does not authorize suits against supervisors in their individual capacity. In the alternative, they argue that Plaintiff's Complaint fails to meet the pleading standards under Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). (See generally Sarah Motley Br. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss, Sept. 15, 2016 [ECF No. 15].) The Home Depot also filed a Motion to Dismiss under 12(b)(6), arguing that Plaintiff has (1) failed to exhaust her administrative remedies, and (2) failed to meet the pleading standards of Rule 8(a). (See The Home Depot Br. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss, Oct. 21, 2016 [ECF No. 21] (hereinafter “The Home Depot Br.”).) Plaintiff filed three responses to each of Defendants' Motions [ECF Nos. 18, 19, 28]. Motley and The Home Depot each filed a Reply to Plaintiff's Responses. [ECF No. 22, 30].


         As an initial matter, pro se complaints are held to “less stringent standards than the formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)).

         Pleadings must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). To survive a Motion to Dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. In determining facial plausibility, the court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true. Id. The complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief” and sufficient “[f]actual allegations . . . to raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . .” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal quotation marks omitted). Therefore, the complaint must “allege facts sufficient to state all the elements of [the] claim.” Bass v. E.I. Dupont de Nemours & Co., 324 F.3d 761, 765 (4th Cir. 2003). Although “a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, ” a pleading that merely offers “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.


         A. The Court's Consideration of Plaintiff's EEOC Charges

         In ruling on a 12(b)(6) motion, a court generally cannot consider evidence outside of the pleadings without converting the motion into one for summary judgment. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d). There is, however, an exception for materials which are explicitly referenced and relied upon by a plaintiff in her complaint. See Gibbons v. Chas H. Sells, Inc., No. 5:09-cv-448-F, 2010 WL 4695516, at *4 (E.D. N.C. Oct. 22, 2010); Beam v. Agape Mgmt. Servs., Inc., No. 3:08-3445-CMC-PJG, 2009 WL 2476629, at *6 (D.S.C. Aug 11, 2009) (holding that an EEOC Charge of Discrimination can be considered in ruling on a defendant's 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss). In her Complaint, Plaintiff explicitly refers to both charges that she filed with the EEOC, and attached the relevant right to sue notices. (See Notices of Right to Sue, February 18, 2016 [ECF No. 2- 1].) In response to this Court's Order, Plaintiff filed the actual charges. (See generally Resp. to Order [ECF No. 36].) Therefore, it is appropriate to consider the contents of Plaintiff's charges before the EEOC given that they form the basis for her action.

         B.Individual Liability of Motley ...

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