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Poole v. United States Government Publishing Office

United States District Court, District of Columbia

November 30, 2016

DION POOLE, et al., Plaintiffs,


          JAMES E. BOASBERG United States District Judge.

         Pro se Plaintiffs are sixteen black employees of the United States Government Publishing Office. They allege that after filing race-discrimination complaints with the Equal Opportunity Office, GPO supervisors made racial comments, removed equipment from Plaintiffs' section, and took actions to make their workplace less safe. They thus brought this suit under Title VII alleging both retaliation and a hostile work environment. Defendant now moves to dismiss on a variety of grounds. Because Plaintiffs' allegations are rather vague and imprecise, the Court will grant the Motion, but give them a chance to amend their Complaint to see if they can cure the defects.

         I. Background

         As it must at this stage, the Court treats all of the facts in the Amended Complaint as true. Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000). The Court will a ls o consider the facts set forth in Plaintiffs ' Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss. See Brown v. Whole Foods Mkt. Grp., Inc., 789 F.3d 146, 152 (D.C. Cir. 2015). Plaintiffs here allege two counts, retaliation and hostile work environment. Although the former cites Title IX, see ECF No. 25 (Amended Complaint), ¶ 33, the Court, granting pro se litigants some leeway, see Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007), w ill assume that Plaintiffs intended to invoke Title VII.

         Plaintiffs work in the Digital Print Center (DPC) unit, which is “exclusively African-American.” Am. Compl., ¶ 27. In 2008, they filed EEO complaints in which they alleged that “they were paid less than Caucasian employees of the GPO doing the same work because of their race.” Id., ¶ 21. Because the Administrative Law Judge found that the administrative complaint was an attempt “to lodge a collateral attack on [the collective bargaining process], ” it was dismissed for failure to state a claim. See ECF No. 35, Exh. 1 (EEOC Administrative Judge's Decision, May 20, 2013) at 7.

         Plaintiffs allege that retaliation for filing this administrative complaint began “as soon as [it] was filed.” Am. Compl. at 6. They first allege that Richard Tapella, the former Public Printer, referred to Plaintiffs as “my slaves” and their section as the “poor stepchild.” Id. at 6-7. The Amended Complaint, however, does not mention when or how often these terms were used. Next, Plaintiffs allege that around 2010, two printers - namely, a Xerox iGen color printer and a Canon OCE 800 high-speed printer - were “taken from [P]laintiffs' section and transferred to higher salaried employees.” Id., ¶ 30. Plaintiffs also claim that “[w]hen employees left the section, they were not replaced.” Id., ¶ 3 1. As a result, one operator had to manage “two or three machines simultaneously, ” which Plaintiffs allege is an “unsafe work practice.” Id. They a ls o allege that they we re not paid overtime and were not compensated for the additional work pressure. Id. (It is unclear if Plaintiffs ever pursued these grievances administratively.)

         On June 15, 2015, Plaintiffs filed this action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, which transferred it to this Court on September 29, 2015. See ECF Case 1:16-cv-00494-JEB Document 43 Filed 11/30/16 Page 2 of 7 Nos. 1, 14. Defendants GPO and Davita Vance-Cooks, the current Public Printer, now move to dismiss.

         II. Legal Standard

         In evaluating Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, the Court must “treat the complaint's factual allegations as true . . . and must grant plaintiff ‘the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.'” Sparrow, 216 F.3d at 1113 (quoting Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1979)) (internal citation omitted); see also Jerome Stevens Pharms., Inc. v. FDA, 402 F.3d 1249, 1253 (D.C. Cir. 2005). The Court need not accept as true, however, “a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation, ” nor an inference unsupported by the facts set forth in the Complaint. Trudeau v. Fed. Trade Comm'n, 456 F.3d 178, 193 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting Papasan v . Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of an action where a complaint fails to “state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Although the notice-pleading rules are “not meant to impose a great burden on a plaintiff, ” Dura Pharm., Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 347 (2005), and “detailed factual allegations” are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), “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, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (internal quotation omitted). A plaintiff must put forth “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. Though a plaintiff may survive a 12(b)(6) motion even if “recovery is very remote and unlikely, ” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 (citing Scheuer, 416 U.S. at 236), the facts alleged in the complaint “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. at 555.

         III. Analysis

         Defendants make multiple arguments in its Motion to Dismiss, including ones relating to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8, the Civil Service Reform Act, and the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Act. This Court, however, need only address the simpler question of whether Plaintiffs have sufficiently stated a retaliation or hostile-work-environment claim, and it will look at each count in turn.

         A. Retaliation

         Plaintiffs first allege that GPO supervisors retaliated against them after they filed their EEO complaint. See Am. Compl., ¶ 28. As previously set forth, the alleged retaliatory acts include purportedly racial comments (“my slaves, ” “poor stepchild”), the removal of printers from their section, a failure to fill vacant ...

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