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Notariano v. Tangipahoa Parish School Board

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

January 2, 2019

KIM NOTARIANO
v.
TANGIPAHOA PARISH SCHOOL BOARD, ET AL.

         SECTION: “H”

          ORDER AND REASONS

          JANE TRICHE MILAZZO, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court are Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's state law and federal conspiracy claims (Doc. 77) and Motions to Dismiss on Qualified Immunity by Defendants Ossie Mark Kolwe (Doc. 78) and Walter Daniels (Doc. 79). For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's state law and federal conspiracy claims is GRANTED IN PART, and Defendants' Motions to Dismiss on Qualified Immunity are GRANTED IN PART.

         BACKGROUND

         This employment discrimination and retaliation suit arises out of Defendant Tangipahoa Parish School Board's (the “Board”) decision not to hire Plaintiff Kim Notariano as the Board's Director of Transportation on two separate occasions. Notariano, a 56-year-old white woman, alleges that the Defendants discriminated against her in violation of state and federal law on the basis of race, age, and sex when she was denied the position in 2016. She further alleges that the Defendants continued to discriminate against her and retaliated against her for filing this suit when she was again denied the position in 2018.

         This Court already detailed the background of this lawsuit in previous Orders and Reasons.[1] For purposes of this Order and Reasons, it is worth noting again that this litigation arose in the context of the desegregation order that another section of this Court continues to enforce against the Board.[2]

         On May 17, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Third Supplemental and Amended Complaint (“Third Amended Complaint”).[3] The remaining Defendants in this suit-the Board, Kolwe, and Daniels-moved to dismiss Plaintiff's Louisiana employment discrimination claims and her federal conspiracy claims on May 30, 2018. On the same day, Defendants Kolwe and Daniels moved to dismiss Plaintiff's claims against them individually on qualified immunity grounds.[4]Plaintiff opposes all three Motions to Dismiss.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must plead enough facts to “state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.”[5] A claim is “plausible on its face” when the pleaded facts allow the court to “draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”[6] A court must accept the complaint's factual allegations as true and must “draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor.”[7] The Court need not, however, accept as true legal conclusions couched as factual allegations.[8] To be legally sufficient, a complaint must establish more than a “sheer possibility” that the plaintiff's claims are true.[9] If it is apparent from the face of the complaint that an insurmountable bar to relief exists and the plaintiff is not entitled to relief, the court must dismiss the claim.[10]

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         This Court will first address Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's state discrimination and federal conspiracy claims before analyzing their Motions to Dismiss on qualified immunity.

         I. Louisiana Discrimination Claims

         Louisiana's Employment Discrimination Law provides that employers shall not refuse to hire a person on the basis of race, age, or sex.[11] The Law further provides,

A plaintiff who believes he or she has been discriminated against, and who intends to pursue court action shall give the person who has allegedly discriminated written notice of this fact at least thirty days before initiating court action, shall detail the alleged discrimination, and both parties shall make a good faith effort to resolve the dispute prior to initiating court action.[12]

         Failure to comply with the statute's pre-suit notice requirements may result in dismissal without prejudice.[13]

         Some courts have held that the statute requires a plaintiff to provide a defendant with notice of an intent to sue.[14] Other courts, however, have held that conduct by a plaintiff that puts a defendant on notice of alleged discrimination in writing may satisfy the statute's notice requirement even if a plaintiff does not provide explicit notice of an intent to sue.[15] For example, in Madden v. JP Morgan Chase & Co., a court in Louisiana's Western District held that a complaint describing alleged discrimination filed by a plaintiff with her employer satisfied the statute's pre-suit notice requirements.[16] The court in Madden reasoned that “the most logical understanding of the statute is that it requires a plaintiff to give notice of the fact the plaintiff believes he or she has been discriminated against, then detail that discrimination.”[17]

         Here, like in Madden, Plaintiff alleges that she filed a grievance with the Board regarding the Board's alleged discrimination against her more than 30 days before she filed suit in December 2016.[18] Plaintiff also filed a formal EEOC charge against the Board in June 2016 alleging race, sex, and age discrimination.[19] Courts have held that EEOC charges may satisfy the statute's pre-suit notice requirements if they contain the same allegations as a (M.D. La. 2007); Smith v. Diamond Offshore Mgmt. Co., No. 03-2024, 2003 WL 23095586, at *4 (E.D. La. Dec. 23, 2003). plaintiff's complaint.[20] That is what happened here. This Court finds that Defendants had notice of Plaintiff's claims more than 30 days before she filed suit. Therefore, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss her claims under Louisiana's Employment and Discrimination Law is denied.

         II. Federal Conspiracy Claims

         42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) prohibits state officials from conspiring to violate the constitutional rights of another person. The Fifth Circuit, however, has held that as a matter of law a school board and its employees cannot conspire because they constitute the same legal entity.[21]

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Kolwe and Daniels conspired to violate her rights by intentionally discriminating against her and preventing her from being hired as the Board's Director of Transportation. She argues that the jurisprudence barring conspiracy claims only applies to conspiracies between a Board and a member of a school board, not claims of a conspiracy among the individual members of a Board. Plaintiff's argument, however, is unavailing.

         In Hull v. Cuyahoga Valley Joint Vocational School District Board of Education, the Sixth Circuit held that a school board's superintendent and two other board employees constituted “members of the same collective entity” and thus could not conspire as a matter of law because they were not legally separate people.[22] In Hilliard v. Ferguson, the Fifth Circuit cited to the Sixth Circuit's decision in Hull and adopted the same rule even though the court in Hilliard applied the rule to claims of a conspiracy between a school board and a superintendent rather than claims of a conspiracy among individuals.[23]Importantly, the court in Hilliard held that “a school board and its employees constitute a single legal entity which is incapable of conspiring with itself for the purposes of § 1985(3).”[24] Therefore, for the purposes of this suit, Kolwe and Daniels constituted a single legal entity and thus could not conspire as a matter of federal law. Furthermore, because Plaintiff's ...


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