United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Monroe Division
THELMA N. COON
RICHLAND PARISH TAX COMMISSION, ET AL.
HORNSBY MAGISTRATE JUDGE
ELIZABETH ERNY FOOTE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court is a motion to dismiss filed by Defendants Richland
Parish Tax Commission (the “Commission”),
Richland Parish (the “Parish”), and Debra Cooper
“Defendants”). [Record Document 21]. For the
reasons given below, the motion is GRANTED IN
PART and DENIED IN PART. The motion
is DENIED as to Plaintiff's claims
against the Commission raised under the Age Discrimination in
Employment Act (“ADEA”), but
GRANTED as to all other claims.
Thelma Coon (“Coon”) worked for the Commission as
a bookkeeper; Cooper, the Commission's administrator,
supervised Coon. [Record Documents 1 at 1, 4-5 and 1-2 at 4].
In 2015, Coon was injured in an accident at her jobsite; she
ultimately required bilateral knee replacement. [Record
Document 1 at 3]. She initially received workers'
compensation benefits, but these were stopped in March 2016.
[Id.]. Coon alleges that she was then demoted to
part-time status, resulting in the loss of her health
insurance benefits. [Id. at 2]. At the same time, a
new employee was hired to take over some of the duties that
she was unable to perform in her reduced hours. [Id.
at 4-5]. After losing her benefits, Coon retired. [Record
Document 1-2 at 6]. She alleges that she was discriminated
against based on race in violation of Title VII, age in
violation of the ADEA, and disability in violation of the
Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). [Record
Document 1 at 1]. Specifically, she alleges that she was
subjected to “retaliation [and] harassment” and
ultimately forced into early retirement. [Id. at 1,
6]. After the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
(“EEOC”) issued a right to sue letter, [Record
Document 1-2 at 6], Coon filed the instant suit, [Record
their motion, Defendants argue that Coon was never employed
by the Parish, that the Commission had too few employees to
be subject to Title VII, the ADEA, or the ADA, and that none
of these statutes provide a cause of action against an
individual supervisor. [Record Document 21]. They further
argue that Coon failed to establish a prima facie case under
any of these statutes. [Record Document 21-1 at 5-7]. Coon
did not file an opposition within the time allotted. After
reviewing the materials attached to Defendants' motion,
this Court determined that to grant the motion on grounds
related to the number of employees would require considering
materials outside of the pleadings. [Record Document 23]. To
facilitate this process, the Court noticed its intention to
convert Defendants' 12(b)(6) motion to a motion for
summary judgment on two issues: the identity of Coon's
employer and the number of employees at the Commission.
[Id.]. The Court then granted Coon additional time
to file an opposition. [Id.].
opposition, Coon points out that the Commission is run by a
board composed of nine members, each representing one
political subdivision located within Richland Parish. [Record
Documents 24 at 3 and 24-1 at 1-2]. She argues that this
structure means that employees of the Commission are also
employees of each of these political subdivisions. [Record
Document 24 at 5]. Coon also asserts in a conclusory fashion
that Cooper is individually liable because she was the
Commission's administrator and that Coon does not have to
establish a prima facie case at the motion-to-dismiss stage.
[Id. at 5-8]. Defendants have filed a reply. [Record
Motion to Dismiss
Standard of Review
order to survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a
complaint must “state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “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.”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). In determining
whether a complaint states a plausible claim, a court must
construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff, see In re Great Lakes Dredge & Dock
Co., 624 F.3d 201, 210 (5th Cir. 2010), and accept as
true all well-pleaded factual allegations, see
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; In re Katrina Canal
Breaches Litig., 495 F.3d 191, 205 (5th Cir. 2009).
However, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a
cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do
not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Thus, this Court does not
have to accept as true “conclusory allegations,
unwarranted factual inferences, or legal conclusions.”
Plotkin v. IP Axess Inc., 407 F.3d 690, 696 (5th
Cir. 2005) (citing Southland Sec. Corp. v. INSpire
Ins. Sols, Inc., 365 F.3d 353, 361 (5th Cir. 2004)).
the ADEA, it is “unlawful for an employer . . . to
discharge any individual or otherwise discriminate against
any individual with respect to his compensation, terms,
conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such
individual's age.” 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1). To
prevail, a plaintiff must establish “that age was the
‘but-for' cause of the challenged employer
decision.” Moss v. BMC Software, Inc., 610
F.3d 917, 922 (5th Cir. 2010) (quoting Gross v. FBL Fin.
Servs., Inc., 557 U.S. 167, 178 (2009)). A
plaintiff's evidence may be direct or circumstantial.
Jackson v. Cal-Western Packaging Corp., 602 F.3d
374, 377 (5th Cir. 2010) (citing Sandstad v. CB Richard
Ellis, Inc., 309 F.3d 893, 896 (5th Cir. 2002)).
survive summary judgment in a circumstantial-evidence case,
an ADEA plaintiff must, at minimum, establish a prima facie
case under the familiar McDonnell Douglas framework.
Id. at 378; see McDonnell Douglas Corp. v.
Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-05 (1973). This framework is
not mandatory at the motion-to-dismiss stage.
Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 515
(2002). Nevertheless, “[a]llegations related to that
prima facie inquiry may . . . be helpful in satisfying the
general Iqbal plausibility standard.”
Haskett v. Cont'l Land Res., LLC, 668 Fed.Appx.
133, 134 (5th Cir. 2016) (per curiam) (citing Leal v.
McHugh, 731 F.3d 405, 413 (5th Cir. 2013); Flores v.
Select Energy Servs., LLC, 486 Fed.Appx. 429, 432 (5th
Cir. 2012)). The prima facie case in the ADEA context
requires a plaintiff alleging unlawful termination to
show that “(1) [s]he was discharged; (2) [s]he was
qualified for the position; (3) [s]he was within the
protected class at the time of discharge; and (4) [s]he was
either i) replaced by someone outside the protected class,
ii) replaced by someone younger, or iii) otherwise discharged
because of h[er] age.”
Rachid v. Jack In The Box, Inc., 376 F.3d 305, 309
(5th Cir. 2004) (quoting Palasota v. Haggar
Clothing Co., 342 F.3d 569, 576 (5th Cir. 2003)). An
employee's resignation may satisfy the discharge
requirement if she was constructively discharged-i.e.,
“the employer made the employee's working
conditions so intolerable that a reasonable employee would
[have] fe[lt] compelled to resign.” Brown v. Bunge
Corp., 207 F.3d 776, 782 (5th Cir. 2000) (quoting
Barrow v. New Orleans Steamship Ass'n, 10 F.3d
292, 297 (5th Cir. 1994)). To survive summary judgment on a
hostile work environment claim, a plaintiff must show that
1) [s]he was over the age of 40; (2) [she] was subjected to
harassment, either through words or actions, based on age;
(3) the nature of the harassment was such that it created an
objectively intimidating, hostile, or offensive work
environment; and (4) there exists some basis for liability on
the part of the employer.
Dediol v. Best Chevrolet, Inc., 655 F.3d 435, 441
(5th Cir. 2011) (citing Crawford v. Medina Gen.
Hosp., 96 F.3d 830, 834-35 (6th Cir. 1996)). Finally,
the prima facie case for retaliation requires a showing that
“(1) that [the plaintiff] engaged in a protected
activity, (2) that there was an adverse employment action, [.
. .] (3) that a causal link existed between the protected
activity and the adverse employment action;” and (4)
that she was qualified for her position. Wooten v.
McDonald Transit Assocs., Inc., 788 F.3d 490, 496-97
(5th Cir. 2015) (quoting Holtzclaw v. DSC
Commc'ns Corp. 255 F.3d 254, 259 (5th Cir.
makes only two factual allegations related to
In her EEOC charge, Coon listed her age as 62. [Record
Document 1-2 at 4]. In a letter to the EEOC investigator, she
describes a meeting where the Commission's attorney
stated that “he had a medial meniscus tear surgery, and
he was back at work the next day.” [Record Document 1
at 4]. Coon then relates, “I took offense to that
comment because Mr. Doughty is younger than I am, and I
stated to him that we all don't heal the same way.”
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is only a “low
threshold.” Wooten, 788 F.3d at 498. The most
instructive precedent is Wooten v. McDonald ...