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Barot v. Aldon Management

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 31, 2019

CONSTANTE P. BAROT et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
ALDON MANAGEMENT, Defendant.

          ORDER

          TIMOTHY J. KELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiffs Constante and Dolores Barot, proceeding pro se, sued Defendant Aldon Management (“Aldon”) in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. They assert a scattershot array of claims under federal and District of Columbia law stemming from Constante Barot's employment as a custodian at a building managed by Aldon, and their tenancy in employee housing related to that employment. See ECF No. 1-2 at 7-16 (“Compl.”). Specifically, they appear to bring claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination and Employment Act (ADEA), the Fair Housing Act, the District of Columbia Human Rights Act (DCHRA), and several provisions of District of Columbia landlord-tenant law. See Id. at 16. Aldon removed the case to this Court, ECF No. 1, and moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim, ECF No. 12. For the reasons explained below, Aldon's motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

         * * *

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) “tests whether a plaintiff has properly stated a claim.” BEG Invs., LLC v. Alberti, 85 F.Supp.3d 13, 24 (D.D.C. 2015). “A court considering such a motion presumes that the complaint's factual allegations are true and construes them liberally in the plaintiff's favor.” Id. Nonetheless, the complaint must set forth enough facts to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements . . . do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “[A]lthough a pro se complaint ‘must be construed liberally, the complaint must still present a claim on which the Court can grant relief.'” Untalasco v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 249 F.Supp.3d 318, 322 (D.D.C. 2017) (quoting Budik v. Dartmouth-Hitchcock Med. Ctr., 937 F.Supp.2d 5, 11 (D.D.C. 2013)). “A court considering a pro se plaintiff's complaint should look to ‘all filings, including filings responsive to a motion to dismiss,' to discern whether the plaintiff has ‘nudged [her] claim[s] across the line from conceivable to plausible.'” Mehrbach v. Citibank, N.A., 316 F.Supp.3d 264, 268 (D.D.C. 2018) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted) (first quoting Brown v. Whole Foods Mkt. Grp., Inc., 789 F.3d 146, 152 (D.C. Cir. 2015); then quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).

         * * *

         Aldon moves to dismiss each of the identifiable claims in the complaint for failure to state a claim. The Court considers each claim in turn.

         Title VII of the Civil Rights Act

         Aldon first asserts that Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim for employment discrimination based on national origin under Title VII because they have not alleged that “[Aldon's] decisions with regard to employment (or housing as a condition of employment) were made with any discriminatory intent or animus, or that a discriminatory motive was even at play.” MTD at 6. But Aldon far overstates the requirements to sufficiently plead a claim of discrimination under Title VII. “To state a prima facie case of discrimination, a plaintiff must allege that she is part of a protected class under Title VII, she suffered a cognizable adverse employment action, and the action gives rise to an inference of discrimination.” Walker v. Johnson, 798 F.3d 1085, 1091 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (emphasis added). Aldon does not dispute the first two requirements. And Plaintiffs have, though barely, “plead[ed] sufficient facts, if accepted as true, to [at least] create a plausible inference of discrimination.” Thomas v. Wash. Metro. Area Transit Auth., 305 F.Supp.3d 77, 86 (D.D.C. 2018).

         In their complaint, they allege that Aldon, on account of Plaintiffs' Filipino national origin, provided them with living quarters in the building where Constante Barot worked-a condition of each custodian's employment-that were smaller and otherwise inferior to his “American” counterparts. See Compl. ¶¶ 1, 22, 29-30. They allege that these “similarly situated co-employee[s]” were given “real two bedroom apartments while Plaintiffs were provided a DIFFERENT TYPE” where the “[second] Bedroom was illegaly [sic] constructed from part of the Laundry Room.” Id. ¶¶ 29-30. And they further allege that their “discounted rent is higher than [Barot's] American and younger counterpart whose apartment unit is a regular two bedroom apartment.” Id. ¶ 36; see also ECF No. 1-2 at 74-78 (lease addendums for Constante Barot and a non-Filipino custodian in another of Aldon's buildings). Those allegations are sufficient to create a plausible inference that Aldon's actions were discriminatorily motivated and thereby “raise [Plaintiffs'] right to relief above the speculative level, '” all that is required at this stage. Brown v. Sessions, 774 F.3d 1016, 1023 (D.C. Cir. 2014) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         The Age Discrimination in Employment Act

         For similar reasons, Plaintiffs' claim of age discrimination under the ADEA also survives Aldon's motion to dismiss. Aldon argues that Plaintiffs' complaint “contains no mention of how [Aldon's] alleged conduct constitutes age discrimination” and “[n]o allegations [that] are ever tied to any adverse actions of which Plaintiffs complain.” MTD at 6. But again, Aldon demands too much of the complaint. As with a claim of national-origin discrimination under Title VII, the “essential elements” of an age discrimination claim are that “the plaintiff suffered an adverse employment action . . . because of the plaintiff's . . . age.” Baloch v. Kempthorne, 550 F.3d 1191, 1196 (D.C. Cir. 2008). Plaintiffs, noting that Constante Barot is 67 years old, allege that Aldon provided Plaintiffs with inferior living quarters on account of his age. See Compl. ¶¶ 3, 22, 29, 36. They note that Constante Barot is the “oldest among his counterparts, ” who each allegedly were provided superior housing arrangements, and in at least one case at a lower rent, and that this disparate treatment was due to his comparatively older age. See ECF No. 14 (“Opp'n”) at 7; Compl. ¶ 36. Though admittedly minimal, those allegations, particularly “when considered through the liberal lens afforded pro se filings, ” Fennel v. AARP, 770 F.Supp.2d 118, 131 (D.D.C. 2011), are sufficient to plausibly allege an inference of age discrimination.

         Housing Discrimination Claims

         Aldon argues that Plaintiffs' claims under the Fair Housing Act and the DCHRA for housing discrimination on the basis of their national origin should be dismissed for the same deficiencies it identified with Plaintiffs' Title VII claims. See MTD at 10-12 & n.5. As with a claim for employment discrimination, to state a claim for disparate treatment under the Fair Housing Act on the basis of race, the plaintiff must allege “that the defendant intentionally discriminated against [him] on the basis of [his national origin].” 2922 Sherman Ave. Tenants' Ass'n v. District of Columbia, 444 F.3d 673, 682 (D.C. Cir. 2006).[1] For the reasons already explained, however, Plaintiffs' allegations that Aldon discriminated against him on account of his national origin just barely pass muster.

         Nonetheless, Aldon alternatively argues that Plaintiffs' Fair Housing Act claim fails as a matter of law because Plaintiffs only allege “post-acquisition housing discrimination, ” which, it contends, 42 U.S.C. § 3604(b) of the Act does not prohibit. See Id. at 12-13. While some courts have found that § 3604(b) does not extend to discriminatory conduct interfering with an individual's use of property after the property was leased or sold, see, e.g., Halprin v. Prairie Single Family Homes of Dearborn Park Ass'n,388 F.3d 327, 329 (7th Cir. 2004); see also Clifton Terrace Assocs., Ltd. v. United Techs. Corp.,929 F.2d 714, 719 (D.C. Cir. 1991) (finding that the Fair Housing Act “reach[es] only discrimination that adversely affects the availability of housing, ” and not “matter[s] of habitability”), the Court need not address the scope of § 3604(b) here. Plaintiffs have alleged in their complaint that Aldon discriminated against them in the provision of housing; specifically, they allege that Plaintiffs were provided with inferior housing on account of their national origin when Constante Barot was hired as a custodian. See Compl. ¶ 22 (“[Aldon] provided Plaintiffs a DIFFERENT APARTMENT UNIT than ...


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