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Martin v. United States Employment Opportunity Commission

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

February 24, 2014

ROWLAND J. MARTIN, Plaintiff,
v.
U.S. EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, et al., Defendants

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ROWLAND J. MARTIN, Plaintiff, Pro se, San Antonio, TX.

For U.S. EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Defendant: Wenqiong Fu, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Civil Division, Washington, DC.

CLAUDETTE YARBROUGH, In her official capacity as CEO, Superintendent and Principal of Youth Empowerment Services, Inc., doing business as HIGGS CARTER KING GIFTED AND TALENTED ACADEMY, Defendant, Pro se.

YOUTH EMPOWERMENT SERVICES, INC., doing business as HIGGS CARTER KING GIFTED AND TALENTED ACADEMY, Defendant, Pro se.

For G& A PARTNERS, INC., Defendant: Steven E. Kaplan, LEAD ATTORNEY, LITTLER MENDELSON, P.C., Washington, DC.

For TALX, INC., Defendant: Steven E. Kaplan, LITTLER MENDELSON, P.C., Washington, DC.

OPINION

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MEMORANDUM OPINION

KETANJI BROWN JACKSON, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Rowland J. Martin (" Martin" or " Plaintiff" ) has brought this case challenging the termination of his employment as a teacher at a charter school in San Antonio, Texas, following an altercation with a student. Martin, a black male, alleges that he was fired due to his race and gender, and his complaint asserts a variety of claims against a number of different defendants. Specifically, Martin has sued the operator of the school at which he worked (Youth Empowerment Services (" YES" )), the CEO of YES (Claudette Yarbrough (" Yarbrough" )), and a staffing agency YES used (G& A Partners, Inc. (" G& A" )). Against those three defendants, Martin alleges employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2000e-17, and common law breach of contract. Martin also brings claims under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (" FCRA" ), 15 U.S.C. § 1681-1681x, and under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against G& A and TALX, Inc. (" TALX" ), a company that provides employment registry services, based on his assertion that G& A reported the circumstances of Martin's firing to TALX, and TALX in turn reported that information to the Texas Workforce Commission. Martin additionally asserts three claims against the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (" EEOC" ) based on allegations that that agency made errors in handling his discrimination case, and he asks the Court to issue both (1) a writ of mandamus directing the EEOC to reconsider his claim, and (2) a declaration that the EEOC's actions violated the First Amendment and the " standards and limitations" clause found in 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-12(a). Martin also alleges that the EEOC responded improperly to a Freedom of Information Act (" FOIA" ) request that he submitted to that agency seeking documents related to the handling of his case.

Before the Court at present is a plethora of motions from the parties, many of which are duplicates. Of particular note are the EEOC's original and supplemental motions requesting the dismissal of Martin's non-FOIA claims against it for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and the entry of summary judgment in its favor on Martin's FOIA claim. (ECF Nos. 20, 37.) Also noteworthy are the original and supplemental motions that Defendants G& A and TALX have filed seeking to dismiss the case on grounds of improper venue or, in the alternative, to transfer the case to the Western District of Texas - San Antonio Division. (ECF Nos. 9, 35 (G& A); 13, 36 (TALX).)

Upon careful consideration of the various motions and associated submissions from the parties, the entire record, and the applicable law, and for the reasons discussed below, the Court GRANTS the EEOC's motion to dismiss the non-FOIA

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claims against it and ENTERS SUMMARY JUDGMENT in favor of the EEOC on the FOIA claim. The Court also GRANTS Defendants G& A and TALX's motions to dismiss or transfer, and accordingly TRANSFERS the remaining claims, including those against defendants YES and Yarbrough, to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas -- San Antonio Division. In light of this disposition, the Court DENIES without prejudice all other pending motions in the case, so that the parties may re-file them, if they so desire, after the case is transferred. A separate order consistent with this opinion will follow.

I. BACKGROUND FACTS

On August 18, 2010, YES hired Martin to teach at Higgs Carter King Gifted and Talented Academy (" Higgs Academy" ), a charter school in San Antonio, Texas, that YES operates. (Complaint (" Compl." ), ECF No. 1, ¶ ¶ 5, 17.) Martin additionally entered into an employment contract with G& A, a business that is headquartered in Houston and that provided staffing for the school. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 6, 70.) Martin was hired with the title of " Director of Staff," but allegedly was never given a specific position description and was assigned to classroom teaching duties. ( Id. ¶ 14.) Martin alleges that white employees hired with similar " director" -level job titles were given position descriptions and were assigned duties within that description. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 17-18.)

The complaint asserts that this disparate treatment led to strained relations between Martin and his supervisors, and that " the situation boiled over" on November 9, 2010. ( Id. ¶ 19.) On that day, Martin was involved in a classroom incident in which a student allegedly insulted Martin and in response Martin physically removed the student from his classroom. ( Id. ) Martin claims that his conduct conformed to school policies, but two days later, on November 11, 2010, defendant Yarbrough fired him. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 20, 22.) Martin alleges that this decision was the result of gender and racial discrimination. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 45-46.)

According to the complaint, at some point thereafter (between mid-December of 2010 and early January of 2011), G& A reported the circumstances of Martin's firing to TALX, an organization that the complaint alternately identifies as a credit reporting agency and an employment registry and data bank. (Compl. ¶ 27.) TALX has its headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri, and conducts operations in San Antonio. ( Id. ¶ 7.) Martin alleges that TALX communicated the information it had received from G& A to the Texas Workforce Commission (the " Workforce Commission" ), resulting in Martin's having difficulty claiming unemployment benefits. ( Id. ¶ 28.)

In May of 2011, Martin filed a charge with the Workforce Commission, alleging that he had faced discriminatory terms of employment from August to November of 2010, during his employment with YES. ( Id. ¶ 9.) On or about March 30, 2012, the Workforce Commission transferred its investigation to the EEOC at Martin's request. ( Id. ¶ 35.) On April 30, 2012, the San Antonio field office of the EEOC issued Martin a right-to-sue notice. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 10, 35.)

On May 10, 2012, shortly after receiving his right-to-sue notice, Martin submitted a FOIA request to the EEOC's San Antonio field office, requesting 10 categories of documents related to his case. ( Id. ¶ 11, Ex. J.) The EEOC office granted in part and denied in part Martin's request on June 7, 2012. ( Id. ) Martin appealed the partial denial to EEOC's office of legal counsel in Washington, D.C., and his appeal was denied on July 30, 2012. (Plaintiff's

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Supplemental Complaint (" Supp. Compl." ), ECF No. 4, at 2.)

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

A. Martin's Original and First Supplemental Complaints

On July 30, 2012, Martin filed his first complaint in this court, alleging eight claims against YES, Yarbrough, G& A, TALX, and the EEOC. ( See generally Compl.) Martin filed a supplemental complaint on December 12, 2012, adding a FOIA claim pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552. ( See generally Supp. Compl.) Significantly, neither of Martin's complaints specifically identifies which of the claims are alleged against which defendants. However, the specific allegations underlying each of Martin's claims reveals the defendants against which Martin directs each claim.

To begin with, Martin asserts three claims against the EEOC. In the " First Claim For Relief" in Martin's initial complaint,[1] Martin asks the Court to issue a writ of mandamus to compel the EEOC to investigate his discrimination charge further.[2](Compl. ¶ ¶ 47-53.) Second, in the Eighth Claim of the initial complaint, Martin asks the Court to issue a declaration that his EEOC charge was speech that the First Amendment protects, and that the EEOC's investigation was improper insofar as it violated the " standards and limitations" clause found in 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-12(a). ( Id. ¶ ¶ 80-82, 89-90.)[3] Both the First Claim and the Eighth Claim are based on Martin's allegations that, in investigating his charge, the EEOC looked only at his claim of racial discrimination, while failing to consider an additional claim of gender discrimination that Martin maintains was included in the charge. ( Id. ¶ 51.) According to Martin, the EEOC disposed of his charge in a manner contrary to an administrative policy prohibiting such " claim splitting," which the EEOC articulated in a recently decided administrative appeal, Macy v. Holder, EEOC Appeal No. 0120120821, 2012 WL 1435995 (E.E.O.C. Apr. 20, 2012). ( Id. ¶ ¶ 51, 81.) Thus, Martin seeks to have the agency re-investigate his charge in a manner consistent with the holding in Macy.

The third claim that Martin directs at the EEOC--which he refers to as the Ninth Claim of his complaint--is contained in a three-page document that Martin has labeled " Plaintiff's Supplemental Complaint." Martin alleges that the EEOC failed to comply adequately with his FOIA request for documents related to its investigation of his charge. (Supp. Compl. at 1-3.)[4] While not a model of clarity, Martin's supplemental complaint makes it sufficiently clear that his Ninth Claim contests the EEOC's use of FOIA Exemption 5, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(5), in withholding certain material otherwise responsive to these requests. ( Id. at 2.)

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As for his remaining claims, Martin has withdrawn one, and appears to assert each of the other claims against various combinations of the remaining defendants.[5] The Third Claim of the original complaint alleges a " malicious and reckless disregard of the Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment rights" (Compl. ¶ 58), and seeks injunctive and declaratory relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, based upon G& A's reporting of Martin's termination to TALX and TALX's subsequent publishing of that information (Compl. ¶ 59-61); accordingly, this claim appears to be asserted against only those two defendants. Similarly, Martin's Fourth Claim implicates both G& A and TALX insofar as it alleges that these two companies violated the FCRA when they reported and published inaccurate information regarding Martin's discharge. (Compl. ¶ ¶ 63-67.) The Fifth Claim of Martin's original complaint alleges breach of contract based on the theory that, by firing Martin for discriminatory reasons, Martin's employers breached his employment contract. Because this claim necessarily implicates only those defendants who played a part in Martin's hiring and employment, Martin apparently asserts the Fifth Claim against Yarbrough, YES, and G& A. (Compl. ¶ ¶ 68-73.) Similarly, the Sixth Claim alleges employment discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which again is relevant to those defendants who played a part in Martin's discharge; namely, Yarbrough, YES, and G& A. (Compl. ¶ ¶ 74-76.) Finally, Martin styles the Seventh Claim of his complaint as one for " damages" against the " corporate defendants," which accordingly implicates YES, G& A, and TALX, as those are the defendants Martin has identified as corporations. (Compl. ¶ ¶ 5-7, 77-79.)

B. Defendants' Responses To Martin's Initial Complaints

The various defendants have taken different tacks in responding to Martin's original and supplemental complaints. Defendant EEOC filed a motion to dismiss the non-FOIA claims against it (the complaint's First and Eighth Claims) under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), arguing that Martin has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted against the EEOC in its enforcement capacity. (EEOC Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative for Summary Judgment (" EEOC Br." ), ECF No. 20, at 14-20.)[6] The EEOC also moved for summary judgment on Martin's FOIA claim (which, as noted, was added via Martin's supplemental complaint as ...


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