United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
BESSIE J. HALL,
DENISE EVANS, ET AL., Section:
JAY C. ZAINEY, District Judge.
The following motion is before the Court: Motion to Dismiss (Rec. Doc. 18) filed by defendants Denise Evans and the State of Louisiana, through the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services. Plaintiff Bessie Hall, pro se and proceeding in forma pauperis, opposes the motion. The motion is before the Court on the briefs without oral argument.
Plaintiff Bessie Hall filed this action alleging that the defendants terminated her employment unjustly by discriminating against her on the basis of race, did not properly account for her leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and did not otherwise properly account or compensate her for leave, back-pay, pay raises, or worker's compensation. Plaintiff asserts claims under federal law seeking to recover any damages available, break-downs of her leave accrual, reinstatement to her position and the opportunity to apply for disability retirement, and readjusted payments, based on expected raises, back-pay, and worker's compensation.
The following factual allegations, accepted as true for purposes of this motion, are taken from Plaintiff's Amended Complaint. Plaintiff held a position as Social Services Analyst Supervisor with the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services ("the Department"). On July 13, 2012, Plaintiff sustained an injury while working that did not allow her to return to work. Plaintiff received a non-disciplinary notice of proposed removal on August, 30, 2013, signed by Denise Evans ("Evans"), the proper authority for such matters. Plaintiff responded to this notice, but the Department via Evans subsequently notified her of its decision to remove her effective September 25, 2013. Plaintiff abandoned the appeal hearing upon being told that its scope was limited to the technical application of the rule resulting in her removal - an issue Plaintiff does not dispute.
Instead, Plaintiff argues that the Department failed to follow its own policies in finalizing her removal and that other individuals who are similarly situated have been treated more favorably. Namely, she argues that others in a similar position to her and also retaining fewer than eight hours of sick leave did not receive notices of proposed removal. She additionally claims that her leave under the FMLA was not properly calculated (which triggered the rule for her dismissal). She argues that Evans used these administrative means to replace her with one of Evans' friends who wanted Plaintiff's particular position.
Plaintiff filed the original complaint on April 9, 2014. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on July 10, 2014. The Court granted the motion in part, denied the motion in part, and gave Plaintiff leave to amend her complaint. More specifically, the Court granted the motion as to claims brought under the ADA and the FMLA, except for Plaintiff's claim for reinstatement under the FMLA against Evans in her official capacity. The Court denied the motion without prejudice as to Plaintiff's claims against Evans in her individual capacity for violation of Plaintiff's equal protection and due process rights via § 1983 and for conspiracy to violate Plaintiff's equal protection rights via § 1985. The Court gave Plaintiff leave to amend her Complaint "as to the claims brought via § 1983 and § 1985 against Evans in her individual capacity" and ruled that "Defendant[s] will then have the opportunity [upon Plaintiff's amendment] to answer or to move to dismiss those claims." See Order of October 8, 2014 (Rec. Doc. 13, at 10). Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on November 7, 2014. Defendants subsequently filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) as to Plaintiff's claims brought via § 1983 and § 1985 on December 30, 2014.
III. STANDARD of REVIEW
In the context of a motion to dismiss the Court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Lormand v. U.S. Unwired, Inc., 565 F.3d 228, 232 (5th Cir. 2009) (citing Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308 (2007); Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974); Lovick v. Ritemoney, Ltd., 378 F.3d 433, 437 (5th Cir. 2004)). However, the foregoing tenet is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice. Id. (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550, U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).
The central issue in a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss is whether, in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the complaint states a valid claim for relief. Gentilello v. Rege, 627 F.3d 540, 544 (5th Cir. 2010) (quoting Doe v. MySpace, Inc., 528 F.3d 413, 418 (5th Cir. 2008)). To avoid dismissal, a plaintiff must plead sufficient facts to "state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face." Id. (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. The Court does not accept as true "conclusory allegations, unwarranted factual inferences, or legal conclusions." Id. (quoting Plotkin v. IP Axess, Inc., 407 F.3d 690, 696 (5th Cir. 2005)). Legal conclusions must be supported by factual allegations. Id. (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950).
Defendants present several arguments in support of their motion to dismiss. First, Defendants have raised the defense of qualified immunity. They argue that Plaintiff has only made conclusory statements as to any actions taken by Evans and that these are insufficient to show a violation of a clearly established right or otherwise overcome the affirmative defense of qualified immunity. Second, Defendants argue that to whatever extent Plaintiff's claims are based on a failure to follow departmental policies, such a claim is not within the jurisdiction of this Court. Third, Defendants argue that Plaintiff has received procedural due process through the notice of removal and being informed of her right to appeal. Fourth, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's examples of others being treated under a different standard are distinguishable as they are not similarly situated individuals. Fifth, Defendants argue that Plaintiff has not pleaded sufficient facts to show the involvement of more than one individual entering into a conspiracy agreement - a necessary element of a § 1985 claim. Sixth, Defendants argue that all of the claims under §§ 1983 and 1985 should be dismissed since Title VII provides the exclusive remedy under Plaintiff's allegations.
a. Equal Protection Claim against Evans in Her Individual Capacity
The analysis of an intentional employment discrimination claim under § 1983 mirrors that of a parallel action under Title VII. Lauderdale v. TX. Dept. of Crim. Justice, 512 F.3d 157, 166 (5th Cir. 2007). To establish a prima facie case of intentional discrimination, a plaintiff must allege that she is (1) a member of a protected group; (2) was qualified for the position at issue; (3) was discharged or suffered some adverse employment action by the employer; and (4) was replaced by someone outside [her] protected group or was treated less favorably than other similarly situated employees outside the protected group. Fahim v. Marriott Hotel Srvcs., 551 F.3d 344, 350 (5th Cir. 2008). Once a prima facie case has been stated, the burden then shifts to the defendant to offer a legitimate reason for the termination. Id. at 349 (citing Burrell v. Dr. Pepper/Seven Up Bottling Group, Inc., 482 F.3d ...