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Britton v. Government of the Dist. of Columbia

January 23, 2007

PATRICIA B. BRITTON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GOVERNMENT OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard W. Roberts United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Patricia B. Britton brought this action alleging that the Government of the District of Columbia (the "District") fired her because she is a woman, and that her termination constituted a breach of confidentiality and violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-17 (2000); the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983; the Civil Rights Act of 1866; the Bill of Rights; the U.S. Constitution; and D.C. Department of Corrections Order 3310.2. The District has moved to dismiss the complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), claiming that it fails to state a claim for which relief can be granted. Because Britton is neither required to make out a prima facie case of discrimination at the pleading stage under Title VII nor subject to heightened pleading standards under § 1983, the District's motion to dismiss with regard to Britton's claim of gender discrimination will be denied. Because Britton fails to state a claim for improper termination, breach of confidentiality, or violations of the other constitutional and statutory provisions, the District's motion to dismiss will be granted as to those claims.

BACKGROUND

Britton was employed by the D.C. Department of Corrections (the "Department") for approximately 19 years. (Compl. ¶ 9.) She served as the Acting Director of the Department from May 11, 2001 through May 21, 2001. (Compl. ¶ 10.) On May 17, 2001, middle school students toured the Department's Central Detention Facility ("CDF"). During the tour, several of the students were subjected to a strip-search. (Compl. ¶ 14.) As a result of the incident, six male employees were allowed to resign or were placed on administrative leave. (Compl. ¶ 36.) Britton was terminated on May 29, 2001 without a hearing or prior notice. (Compl. ¶ 34.) The District has moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim as to each of the allegations.*fn1

DISCUSSION

A motion to dismiss should not be granted "unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of [her] claim which would entitle [her] to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). The complaint must be construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and "the court must assume the truth of all well-pleaded allegations." Warren v. Dist. of Columbia, 353 F.3d 36, 39 (D.C. Cir. 2004). "However, the court need not accept inferences drawn by plaintiff[] if such inferences are unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint. Nor must the court accept legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations." Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994). If a plaintiff fails to allege sufficient facts to support a claim, that claim must be dismissed. Rodriguez v. Nat'l Ctr. for Missing & Exploited Children, Civil Action No. 03-120, 2005 WL 736526, at *6 (D.D.C. Mar. 31, 2005).

I. GENDER DISCRIMINATION

A. Title VII Claim

The District moves to dismiss Britton's Title VII claim on the ground that Britton has not made a prima facie case of employment discrimination. While a plaintiff has the burden of establishing a prima facie case of discrimination at trial, McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), the prima facie case requirement is "an evidentiary standard, not a pleading requirement" to be adhered to in the complaint. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema, 534 U.S. 506, 510, 512 (2002) (stating that "[g]iven that the prima facie case operates as a flexible evidentiary standard, it should not be transposed into a rigid pleading standard for discrimination cases"). In Sparrow v. United Air Lines, 216 F.3d 1111 (D.C. Cir. 2000), the D.C. Circuit held that to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a plaintiff alleging employment discrimination need not plead a prima facie case of discrimination. "'Because racial discrimination in employment is 'a claim upon which relief can be granted,' . . . 'I was turned down for a job because of my race' is all a complaint has to say.'" Id. at 1115 (quoting Bennett v. Schmidt, 153 F.3d 516, 518 (7th Cir. 1998)). Under Rule 8, a plaintiff's complaint alleging employment discrimination must contain "only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Swierkiewicz, 534 U.S. at 512 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)).

In her complaint, Britton states that she is female and that she "was the only employee and only female terminated due to the incident." (Compl. ¶ 37.) Britton has made out the requisite showing for Title VII purposes to survive a motion to dismiss. The District's motion to dismiss as to Britton's claim of gender discrimination in violation of Title VII will be denied.

B. Section 1983 Claim

Britton also brings her gender discrimination claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming municipal liability presumably for violation of her statutory right under Title VII to be free from sex discrimination in employment. Section 1983 provides a remedy for the "deprivation of 'rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws' of the United States." Gonzaga Univ. v. Doe, 536 U.S. 273, 283 (2002). "To determine whether the complaint adequately alleges a claim of municipal liability, a two-step inquiry is involved: 'First, the court must determine whether the complaint states a claim for a predicate constitutional violation [or violation of a statutory right].*fn2 Second, if so, then the court must determine whether the complaint states a claim that a custom or policy of the municipality caused the violation.'" Mitchell v. Yates, 402 F. Supp. 2d 222, 231 (D.D.C. 2005) (quoting Baker v. Dist. of Columbia, 326 F.3d 1302, 1306 (D.C. Cir. 2003)). A municipality cannot be held liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on a theory of respondeat superior liability. Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 691-94 (1978). However, under the second prong of the municipal liability test, a plaintiff must allege, through an "affirmative link," that the municipal policy or custom was the "moving force" behind the violation. Baker, 326 F.3d at 1306.

The District moves to dismiss the complaint because Britton alleges that the District had of policy of favoring male employees in all employment actions "without citing a single regulation, departmental order, policy statement, or post order for factual support." (Def.'s Mem of P. & A. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss ("Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss") at 7.) However, the D.C. Circuit does not require heightened pleading standards for § 1983 claims and specifically rejected the notion that a plaintiff must "identify a specific custom, policy statement, or procedure" at the pleading stage. Atchinson v. Dist. of Columbia, 73 F.3d 418, 422 (D.C. Cir. 1996).*fn3 A plaintiff claiming a violation of § 1983 need only "'give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests,' not . . . state in detail the facts underlying the complaint." Atchinson, 73 F.3d at 421 (quoting Conley, 355 U.S. at 47); see also Leatherman v. Tarrant Cty. Narcotics Intelligence and Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163 (1993) (no heightened pleading standard in cases alleging municipal liability). Britton has alleged that the District "[b]y settled usage and a policy of many years' standing . . . has had a policy of favoring male employees and not favoring female employees in hiring, working conditions, promotions, and firing" which motivated her termination. (Compl. Ct. I ¶ 40.) As to the second prong of the municipal liability test, Britton has met her burden of satisfying the pleading requirements of Rule 8.

Britton has also pled a predicate statutory violation to meet the first prong of the test. Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of their gender in the terms and conditions of their employment. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1); Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White, 126 S.Ct. 2405, 2408 (2006). Britton's allegations that similarly situated males were not treated the same as she was gives rise to a reasonable inference that illegal gender-based distinctions were at play in her termination. ...


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