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Crawford v. Barr

United States District Court, District of Columbia

December 4, 2019

MARK CRAWFORD, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
WILLIAM P. BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JAMES E. BOASBERG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiffs -- four black Criminal Investigators at the Department of Justice -- bring this suit alleging racial discrimination in their employment. Specifically, they believe that they are being undercompensated relative to their white peers. Yet, as currently framed, their Complaint is rather opaque, and its jumble of facts and theories falls short of stating any viable claim. Plaintiffs, however, in F. Scott Fitzgerald's words, should not “confuse a single failure with a final defeat.” Tender is the Night 157 (Wordsworth ed. 1995). To provide them sufficient opportunity to state their case, the Court will dismiss the Complaint without prejudice, but will refrain from jettisoning the entire suit, a disposition that will allow them to file an amended (and clearer) Complaint if they so desire.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         Plaintiffs are four black men and women employed as Criminal Investigators by the Superior Court Division of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington, D.C. See ECF No. 35 (First Amended Complaint), ¶¶ 13-17. Like all federal employees, they are compensated pursuant to a graded scale. All CIs in the Superior Court Division are paid at the grade level denominated “GS-12, ” while those in the District Court Division are paid at the higher-salaried “GS-13” level. Id., ¶ 18. It is not clear from Plaintiffs' Complaint whether all the Superior Court Investigators are black or whether all their counterparts in the District Court Division are white. Plaintiffs do nonetheless assert that the pay disparity results from DOJ's racial animus. Id., ¶¶ 9, 22, 24.

         B. Procedural History

         In October of 2015, Plaintiffs filed a formal discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in which they alleged that they were being “paid . . . less than similarly-situated Caucasian employees.” Id., ¶¶ 10, 13. They subsequently decided to terminate that administrative process in favor of pursuing this theory in federal court. Id., ¶ 11. They filed their initial lawsuit in this Court on April 30, 2017, asserting that DOJ had discriminated against them in violation of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. See ECF No. 1 (Pl. Complaint), ¶ 7. In the ensuing years, the parties pursued mediation but failed to resolve their dispute. See ECF No. 27 (Joint Status Report of March 4, 2019) at 1. Meanwhile, in February 2019, Plaintiffs filed a second substantially similar lawsuit in this Court. See Crawford v. Barr, No. 19-440 (D.D.C. Feb. 21, 2019).

         After Defendant moved for judgment on the pleadings in the current case, Plaintiffs sought, with Defendant's consent, to amend their Complaint. See ECF Nos. 29 (Def. MJP), 34 (Pl. MTA). In moving to amend, Plaintiffs agreed to voluntarily dismiss the 2019 case, conceding that it was duplicative of their 2017 salvo. See Pl. MTA, ¶ 6. The Amended Complaint lists four counts, which could be liberally construed as alleging claims of discrimination, retaliation, and a retaliatory hostile work environment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The 2019 case having been folded into its 2017 counterpart, DOJ now moves to dismiss all claims against it under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). It also moves to strike certain allegations in the Amended Complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f).

         II. Legal Standard

         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 “detailed factual allegations” are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, Bell Atlantic 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, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

         In evaluating Defendant's 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 v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (citation omitted) (quoting Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1979) (citing Leatherman v. Tarrant Cty. Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164 (1993)). 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. FTC, 456 F.3d 178, 193 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)).

         Additionally, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f), a court may strike from a pleading any “insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter.” “A motion to strike is a ‘drastic remedy that courts disfavor,' and trial judges have discretion to either grant or deny such motion.” Bey v. Washington Metro. Area Transit Auth., 341 F.Supp.3d 1, 11 (D.D.C. 2018) (alterations omitted) (quoting Riddick v. Holland, 134 F.Supp.3d 281, 285 (D.D.C. 2015)).

         III. Analysis

         In seeking dismissal here, DOJ argues that each of the four counts listed in Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint does not state a plausible claim for relief. Defendant also moves to strike certain allegations in the Complaint on the ground that they relate scandalous hearsay allegations about a DOJ employee. The Court first considers ...


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