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Redmon v. YMCA of Metropolitan Washington

United States District Court, District of Columbia

October 24, 2019

JOE REDMON, Plaintiff,
v.
YMCA OF METROPOLITAN WASHINGTON, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          CARL J. NICHOLS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Joe Redmon was a male supervisory lifeguard for Defendant YMCA of Metropolitan Washington, where he had worked for several years. See generally Am. Compl., Dkt. 11. But after receiving anonymous complaints of sexual harassment by one or more of the female lifeguards Redmon supervised, the YMCA suspended and then terminated him. Id. ¶¶ 24-25. Redmon alleges that the termination was pretextual and that he was in fact terminated on the basis of his sex in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Am. Compl. ¶¶ 39-51. The YMCA argues that the Amended Complaint fails to state a claim. See generally Def.'s Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss Pl.'s Am. Compl., Dkt. 12-1 (“Mot.”). The Court agrees and grants the YMCA's Motion to Dismiss.

         I. Background

         On a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court must accept well pleaded facts in the Amended Complaint as true. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Redmon was a long-time YMCA lifeguard and had recently been promoted to the position of “Aquatic Coordinator.” Am. Compl. ¶¶ 14, 17. In his new job, he supervised several junior lifeguards of both sexes. Id. ¶¶ 16, 20. By his own estimation, Redmon “was a stellar employee who was a highly skilled lifeguard, supervisor, swim instructor and coach.” Id. ¶ 17. Among his other duties, Redmon regularly counseled and disciplined lifeguards, including issuing formal disciplinary reports. Id. ¶ 32. On at least one prior occasion, a female subordinate fabricated a sexual harassment claim against Redmon in retaliation for his role in disciplining her, but he was later exonerated. Id. ¶¶ 31-32.

         Redmon alleges that, despite his supervisory responsibilities, he was just another lifeguard and engaged in regular social interactions, including jokes and banter of a sexual nature, with his fellow lifeguards. Id. ¶ 19. That changed on April 30, 2018, when his employer confronted him with allegations of sexual harassment reported by an anonymous female lifeguard. Id. ¶ 18. Redmon asserts that he has no knowledge of the purported incident because the YMCA refused to inform him of when it occurred, who was there, or what Redmon or others may have said. Id. ¶¶ 21-23, 26, 29, 38. Redmon nevertheless denied any misconduct, but the YMCA placed him on immediate administrative leave pending an investigation. Id. ¶¶ 23-24.

         Four days later, the YMCA terminated Redmon's employment without further investigation or explanation. Id. ¶ 25, 27. Redmon alleges that the YMCA made no attempt to learn his account of the incident or determine the allegations' credibility and that it had no formal policy for handling sexual harassment complaints. Id. ¶¶ 27-30. As far as Redmon knows, no other employee (male or female) was ever disciplined for participating in the sexual banter Redmon believes formed the basis for the harassment complaint against him. Id. ¶¶ 21, 37-38.

         Redmon filed a complaint with the EEOC within a month of the incident, alleging, among other claims, discrimination on the basis of national origin in violation of Title VII. Id. ¶ 10. The EEOC issued a “right to sue” letter on September 6, 2018, and Redmon timely filed this suit on December 6, 2018. Compl., Dkt. 1. Redmon amended his theory of the case between the EEOC proceeding and this action, dropping his other claims and alleging only discrimination on the basis of sex.[1] See Compl. ¶¶ 29-41, Am. Compl. ¶¶ 39-51. Following an initial motion to dismiss, Redmon amended his Complaint on March 4, 2019, which the YMCA moved to dismiss on March 25, 2019.

         II. Legal Standard

         “A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain . . . a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Although the Court accepts all well pleaded facts in the Amended Complaint as true, “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. “While a complaint . . . does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. at 554-55 (internal quotations omitted). The claim to relief must be “plausible on its face, ” enough to “nudge[ the] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Id. at 570.

         Redmon's briefing in opposition to the Motion to Dismiss misapprehends this standard. He cites repeatedly to the “no set of facts” language contained in Conley v. Gibson and its progeny. See Pl.'s Mem. in Opp. to Mot. to Dismiss Pl.'s Am. Compl., Dkt. 13 at 4 (“Opp.”) (citing Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957) (“[A] complaint should not be dismissed . . . unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.”)); see also Id. (citing Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984) (holding dismissal is proper “only if it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations”)). But Conley “described the breadth of opportunity to prove what an adequate complaint claims, not the minimum standard of adequate pleading to govern a complaint's survival.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563. The “no set of facts” phrase “is best forgotten as an incomplete, negative gloss on an accepted pleading standard: once a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint.” Id. Therefore, to survive the Motion to Dismiss, Redmon must allege sufficient facts for the Court to determine that his suspension and termination were at least plausibly caused by the YMCA discriminating against him because he is a man and not because of some other legitimate reason.

         III. Analysis

         To state a claim for sex discrimination under Title VII, Redmon must allege that “(1) he is a member of a protected class, (2) he suffered an adverse employment action, and (3) the unfavorable action gives rise to an inference of discrimination (that is, an inference that his employer took the action because of his membership in the protected class).” Forkkio v. Powell, 306 F.3d 1127, 1130 (D.C. Cir. 2002). The YMCA concedes the first two points, but it disputes that Redmon has plausibly alleged any illegal discrimination.

         “The burden of showing a prima facie case at the pleading stage is not onerous.” Easaw v. Newport, 253 F.Supp.3d 22, 26 (D.D.C. 2017) (internal quotation omitted). Redmon can raise an inference of discrimination in one of two ways. He can show either (1) that he “was treated differently from similarly situated employees who are not part of the protected class” or (2) that his termination “[was] not attributable to the two . . . common legitimate reasons for discharge: performance below the employer's legitimate expectations or the elimination of the plaintiff's position altogether.” George v. Leavitt, 407 F.3d 405, 412 (D.C. Cir. 2005).

         Redmon opts for the former method, alleging disparate treatment. He points to the purported incident of sexual harassment and alleges that it was merely one instance of a longstanding practice of sexual banter among colleagues. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 18-19. The YMCA had never disciplined anyone for such behavior, he argues, but it suddenly singled him out, suspended him, and terminated him without investigation based on a single, unsubstantiated allegation. Id. ¶¶ 21-22, 33-34. In Redmon's view, many employees, particularly female lifeguards, participated in the same conduct for which he was punished, but none suffered any adverse consequences. Id. ΒΆΒΆ 21, 35, 38. Rather than consider the possibility that the instant allegation was yet another false accusation in retaliation for Redmon's disciplinary activities, the YMCA took the subordinate's word at face value, discredited ...


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