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Payne v. Salazar

June 22, 2009

CASSANDRA M. PAYNE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
KEN SALAZAR, SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Colleen Kollar-kotelly United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Cassandra M. Payne, an employee of the Department of the Interior, brings the instant lawsuit against Defendant Ken Salazar in his official capacity as Secretary of the Department of the Interior,*fn1 alleging retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Currently pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. After a searching review of the parties' briefing, the relevant case law and statutes, as well as the entire record herein, the Court shall GRANT Defendant's Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), for the reasons that follow.

I. BACKGROUND

According to Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, she is employed as a Maintenance Worker, WG-6, at the Department of the Interior ("Agency"). First Amended Complaint, Docket No. [8], ¶ 3 (hereinafter, "Am. Compl.").*fn2 She has worked for the Agency since 1978. Id. From approximately April 1984 until June 2000, Plaintiff was assigned to work as a tractor operator at Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C. Id. In June of 2000, she suffered a near fatal allergic reaction to a bee sting while at work; she was able to return to work at the Agency, but was removed from all outside duties. Id. She was re-assigned to work at the Rock Creek Nature Center (hereinafter "Nature Center").*fn3 Id. ¶¶ 3-4. Plaintiff states that she was never given a job description of the new position, but was told that her job including cleaning the building. Id. ¶ 4.

Prior to her assignment to the Nature Center, Plaintiff had worked Monday through Friday as a tractor operator and was able to attend church and Bible study on the weekends. Id. ¶ 5. When she began working at the Nature Center, however, she was required to work Saturdays and Sundays. See id. Plaintiff asked her supervisor, Dwight Madison, if she could have the weekends off so that she could attend a Bible college on Saturdays and attend church services on Sundays. Id. ¶ 6. According to Plaintiff, Mr. Madison refused the request and informed Plaintiff that he had been told by his Assistant Superintendent and Superintendent that Plaintiff could not be allowed to have weekends off because all front line interpretive staff assigned to the Nature Center-which included Plaintiff-must work Wednesday through Sunday. Id. On several other occasions between June 2000 and May 2004, Plaintiff repeated her request to Madison and others for time off on Saturdays and Sundays so that she could attend Bible college and church services. Id. ¶¶ 7-11. Each time she was refused. Id.

In September of 2004, Plaintiff filed an Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") Complaint alleging that she had been discriminated against on the basis of religion by her employer, the Agency. Id. ¶ 11. At some later unspecified time, Plaintiff also added a claim for retaliation to her EEO Complaint. See id. ¶ 18. Plaintiff's EEO Complaint proceeded to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), and an Administrative Judge issued a final decision finding that (1) the Agency had discriminated against Plaintiff based on religion, but that (2) the Agency had not retaliated against Plaintiff based on her protected EEO activity. Id. ¶ 17. In October of 2007, the Administrative Judge entered an order of damages against the Agency, which the Agency paid to Plaintiff in December of 2007. Id. ¶ 18.

Plaintiff filed the instant action on January 1, 2008. Plaintiff's original Complaint alleged a single count of retaliation in violation of Title VII. See Complaint, Docket No. [1]. As is apparent from review of Plaintiff's Complaint, her claim for retaliation is identical to-and based on the same facts as-the claim for retaliation that was asserted in her EEO Complaint and ruled upon by the Administrative Judge. See generally id. Plaintiff thereafter amended her Complaint on July 7, 2008 to add an allegation that she was retaliated against in January of 2008 (i.e., after the EEOC decision was rendered in October 2007) when the Agency refused to assign her to a light duty work position after she returned from an extended medical leave of absence. See Am. Compl. ¶ 19.*fn4

Defendant filed the instant Motion to Dismiss on September 25, 2008, arguing that Plaintiff's Amended Complaint must be dismissed for, inter alia, failure to state a claim under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 12(b)(1).*fn5 See Def.'s MTD, Docket No. [11]. Specifically, Defendant sets forth two principal arguments. First, to the extent Plaintiff's retaliation claim is identical to and based on the same allegations asserted in her EEO Complaint, Defendant contends that the claim must be dismissed because a complainant may not seek review of only a portion of an EEOC decision-here, the Administrative Judge's finding that there was no retaliation. Def.'s MTD at 5-7; Def.'s Reply at 3-5. Second, to the extent Plaintiff asserts additional allegations of retaliation that were not included in the original EEO Complaint, such allegations must be dismissed because Plaintiff has failed to exhaust her administrative remedies. See Def.'s MTD at 5, n. 1; Def.'s Reply at 2, n. 2. Plaintiff subsequently filed her opposition, see Pl.'s Opp'n, Docket No. [16], and Defendant its reply, see Def.'s Reply, Docket No. [17]. Accordingly, as briefing on Defendant's motion is complete, the case is now ripe for resolution.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a complaint contain "'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)); accord Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (per curiam). Although "detailed factual allegations" are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, to provide the "grounds" of "entitle[ment] to relief," a plaintiff must furnish "more than labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Id. at 1964-65; see also Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). Instead, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. "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." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, __ U.S. __, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

In evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the court must construe the complaint in a light most favorable to the plaintiff and must accept as true all reasonable factual inferences drawn from well-pleaded factual allegations. In re United Mine Workers of Am. Employee Benefit Plans Litig., 854 F. Supp. 914, 915 (D.D.C. 1994); see also Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1979) ("The complaint must be 'liberally construed in favor of the plaintiff,' who must be granted the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged."). However, as the Supreme Court recently made clear, a plaintiff must provide more than just "a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950. Where the well-pleaded facts set forth in the complaint do not permit a court, drawing on its judicial experience and common sense, to infer more than the "mere possibility of misconduct," the complaint has not shown that the pleader is entitled to relief. Id. at 1950.

III. DISCUSSION

As explained above, Plaintiff's Amended Complaint asserts that the Agency retaliated against Plaintiff for her participation in protected EEO activity. The Court first considers Plaintiff's claim to the extent it is based on the same allegations asserted in her EEO Complaint, before then turning to consider Plaintiff's allegations (not included in her original EEO Complaint) that she was retaliated against in January of 2008.

A. Plaintiff's Retaliation Claim Must be Dismissed to the Extent it is Based on the Same Allegations ...


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