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Curry v. Lou Rippner, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

May 8, 2015

ANNETTE CURRY,
v.
LOU RIPPNER, INC., Section

ORDER

NANNETTE JOLIVETTE BROWN, District Judge.

Before the Court is Defendant Lou Rippner, Inc. d/b/a Lou Rippner's Compass Furniture's ("Defendant") "Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)."[1] Having considered the motion, the memoranda in support and in opposition, the record, and the applicable law, the Court will grant the motion.

I. Background

Curry, an African American woman, brings claims of sexual harassment and race discrimination against Defendant, her former employer.[2] In her complaint, Curry alleges that on several occasions, a co-employee made unwanted and sexually suggestive remarks toward her.[3] Curry alleges that she reported these remarks to management, but no action was taken and no investigation was conducted.[4] According to the complaint, on July 30, 2012, the same co-employee "ran his fingers through petitioner's hair while at work on the sales floor. Petitioner asked him to stop, but he attempted this action again."[5] Curry alleges that she again complained to management, but that no action was taken against the co-worker.[6] According to the complaint, "the employer advised Curry that we can't have you people doing these things in our store, ' and subsequently terminated Curry's employment."[7] Curry alleges that "the actions of defendant" constitute sexual harassment and racial discrimination.[8]

Curry filed the complaint in this lawsuit on August 20, 2014.[9] Defendant filed the pending motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim on November 19, 2014.[10] Curry filed a memorandum in opposition on December 3, 2014, [11] and Defendant filed a reply memorandum on December 9, 2014.[12]

II. Parties' Arguments

A. Defendant's Arguments in Support of Dismissal

Defendant first argues that Curry's complaint fails to support a claim of race discrimination because Curry fails to allege how her race played a role in the decision to terminate her employment.[13] According to Defendant, Curry cannot merely invoke her race and automatically be entitled to pursue relief. Rather, Defendant argues, she must allege facts demonstrating that race was the reason for Defendant's actions.[14] Defendant contends that Curry may attempt to argue that the employer's alleged statement "we can't have you people doing these things in our store" is evidence of discrimination.[15] However, according to Defendant, the phrase "you people" is not inherently a racially-motivated statement and, moreover, a stray remark or isolated comment does not create an inference of racial discrimination.[16] Defendant argues that Curry's subjective belief of discrimination, however genuine, cannot be the basis of judicial relief.[17]

Next, Defendant argues that the allegations in the complaint do not support a claim for sexual harassment because, to establish a prima facie case of sexual harassment under Title VII, a plaintiff must establish that (1) she belongs to a protected group; (2) she was subjected to unwelcome harassment; (3) the harassment complained of was based on a prohibited ground; (4) the harassment complained of affected a term, condition, or privilege of employment; and (5) the employer knew or should have known of the harassment in question and failed to take prompt remedial action.[18] According to Defendant, Curry cannot satisfy the fourth prong of the prima facie test because the incidents alleged in the complaint do not "rise to the necessary level of severity or pervasiveness."[19] Defendant cites Alaniz v. Zamora-Quezada to support its argument that Curry's allegations of "few suggestive remarks and one incident of hair-touching do not suggest a workplace permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult that were sufficiently severe or pervasive to have altered the conditions of the Plaintiff's employment."[20] Defendant contends that the allegations stated in the complaint constitute simple teasing, offhand comments, and isolated incidents, which did not affect a term, condition, or privilege of Curry's employment.[21] Defendant avers that Curry failed to provide any details or information about the alleged "sexually suggestive" remarks, and that Curry's allegation that a co-worker ran his fingers through her hair is a "single, relatively minor act" that is insufficient to support a hostile environment claim.[22] Defendant cites several cases to support this argument, including Chelette v. State Farm Mut. Auto. ins. Co ., wherein, according to Defendant, the court found that despite "egregious allegations of harassment and offensive touching" by the plaintiff's male supervisor, the plaintiff failed to make out a prima facie case of sexual harassment."[23]

Defendant additionally avers that allowing Curry leave to amend her complaint to allege race discrimination would be futile because "the other employee was also African American."[24] Similarly, Defendant argues that Curry could not amend her complaint to allege a prima facie case of sexual harassment because "[d]uring [Defendant's] investigation of her allegations of sexual harassment, Plaintiff could only identify just one alleged remark by the co-worker, which concerned an alleged comment by him that he was going to take a picture of Plaintiff from behind."[25]

B. Curry's Arguments in Opposition to Dismissal

In response, Curry argues that her complaint "states adequate information to place defendant on notice of the causes of action as well as the nature and character of the events leading up to these claims and therefore compels denial of this motion."[26] Curry restates the facts alleged in her complaint, and adds that "because of inaction by management at Compass called [sic] the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's office. An outstanding warrant for the arrest of the co-worker remains in place."[27]

C. Defendant's Arguments in Further Support

Defendant argues, first, that Curry's memorandum in opposition to the pending motion should not be considered because it was filed less than eight days before the noticed submission date of the motion, in violation of Local Rule 7.5.[28] Next, Defendant argues that Curry cites no law to support her position and presents insufficient argument based on conclusory statements.[29] With respect to Curry's race discrimination allegation, Defendant contends that a plaintiff cannot merely invoke her race in the course of a claim's narrative and automatically be entitled to pursue relief.[30] Defendant reavers that the term "you people" does not constitute a ...


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