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Hills v. Laship, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

December 20, 2017

JESSE HILLS, JR., ET AL.
v.
LASHIP, L.L.C., ET AL.

          SECTION "S" (3)

          ORDER

          DANIEL E. KNOWLES, III UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         On December 13, 2017, Defendant's Second Rule 12(b)(6) Partial Motion to Dismiss [Doc. #100] came on for oral hearing before the undersigned. Present were Charles Stiegler on behalf of plaintiffs and David Korn on behalf of defendant. Having reviewed the pleadings and the case law, the Court rules as follows.

         I. Background

         The complaints allege as follows. At all times relevant, plaintiffs were employees of defendant LaShip, L.L.C. (“defendant” or “LaShip”). They allege that they were all discharged from their employment on or about March 3, 2015. All plaintiffs are African-American. All of the plaintiffs suffered discriminatory treatment and retaliation for reporting of the same. They contend that they worked in a racially-hostile environment. The complaint details the specific acts of discrimination to which plaintiffs were subjected. As examples, LaShip allegedly tolerated frequent depictions of nooses, at least two instances of a noose suspended in plaintiffs' work area, allowed the use of racist commentary, forced African-Americans to use dirty, inferior bathrooms, deprived African-Americans of access to ice water to which white employees were permitted access, subjected African-Americans to lower wages than similarly-situated white employees, failed to promote African-American employees, and allowed a mock lynching by supervisors dressed as members of the Ku Klux Klan.

         Plaintiffs thus sued LaShip alleging: 1) Discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1981; 2) Section 1981 Retaliation; 3) Discrimination under Title VII Of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; 4) Title VII Retaliation; 5) State-law Discrimination; 6) Family and Medical Leave Act Violations; 7) State-law Retaliation; and 8) Negligent Hiring, Retention, and Supervision. Plaintiffs also sued Abbie Champagne, an employee of LaShip, alleging: 1) a violation of criminal statute La. Rev. Stat. § 14:45(A)(1); and 2) a violation of criminal statute La. Rev. Stat. § 14:107.2(A).

         Since the filing of the initial complaint, this case has seen a tumultuous procedural history. Attorneys have withdrawn, and new attorneys have twice enrolled in the case, which was first deconsolidated and then reconsolidated. [Doc. #98]. The Court dismissed one of the plaintiffs - Kareem Stewart -for failure to prosecute. [Doc. #88]. The Court also dismissed defendant Abbie Champagne after plaintiffs failed to list him in their second amended complaint. [Doc. #98]. Plaintiff Joe Williams now proceeds pro se, [Doc. #97], but four of the plaintiffs - Jesse Hills, Jr., Frederic Mosley, Darrl Robert, and Eugene Watson - have retained new counsel.

         In the newest version of the lawsuit, after the grant of the second amended complaint, [Doc. #98], the four represented plaintiffs allege the following: (1) race and color discrimination pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981; (2) retaliation pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981; (3) race and color discrimination pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; (4) retaliation pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; (5) race and color discrimination pursuant to Louisiana state law; and (6) retaliation pursuant to Louisiana state law. Plaintiff Mosley also alleges a claim against LaShip for respondeat superior under Louisiana state law.

         II. The Parties' Arguments

         A. The Motion to Dismiss

         Defendant first argues that plaintiffs Frederic Mosley and Jesse Hills have failed to exhaust their retaliation claims under Title VII. Pointing to their EEOC charges, defendant notes that neither plaintiff pleads retaliation nor did they check the box for retaliation. Defendant thus contends that they are precluded from raising retaliation claims because their lawsuit is limited to the scope of the EEOC investigation.

         Defendant next argues that Mosley's and Hills' claims for retaliation under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and Louisiana state law also fail because they have not alleged that either plaintiff filed any complaint with defendant for which they were retaliated against. Defendant maintains that there are no allegations that either Mosley or Hills engaged in any protected activity. Outlining the facts underlying both plaintiffs' claims, defendant contends that neither plaintiff alleges that he made a complaint or voiced any objections to defendant's actions.

         B. Plaintiffs' Opposition

         Plaintiffs contend that the Fifth Circuit construes an EEOC charge broadly and reads it in terms of the administrative EEOC investigations that can reasonably be expected to grow out of the charge of discrimination. Plaintiffs admit that neither Mosley nor Hills checked the box for retaliation but argue that an investigation into retaliation reasonably grew out of their charges of discrimination. Plaintiffs contend that all four charges by the represented plaintiffs arose out of the same events and were investigated by the same EEOC investigator, Ligita Landry. Plaintiffs argue that because the other two plaintiffs, Eugene Watson and Darrl Robert, checked the box for retaliation, Landry must have investigated it. Plaintiffs note that neither Mosley nor Hills were represented at the time that they filed the EEOC charges, and the Fifth Circuit has noted that unrepresented plaintiffs need not dot every “i” and cross every “t.” With regard to the second argument, plaintiffs note that the complaint explicitly details the attack on Mosley by Abbie Champagne and other employees. The ...


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