United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
ORDER AND REASONS
S. VANCE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court is defendant Louisiana State University's
motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Plaintiff's
complaint contains adequate facts to state a claim under
Title IX for denial of medically necessary maternity leave.
As to that claim, the Court denies the motion.
Plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim for unlawful
termination from the dental program because of pregnancy. The
Court grants the motion with respect to that claim, with
leave to amend.
Title IX case arises out of the alleged wrongful termination
of a dental resident at LSU. The complaint contains the
following factual allegations. The plaintiff, Cynthia Goldin
Muro, was a resident in LSU's School of Dentistry
Prosthodontics Graduate Program. In the fall of 2017, Muro
became pregnant. At four months into her pregnancy, in late
January or early Feburary 2018, she reached out to the
interim program director and the department chair concerning
her rights to maternity leave. She was told that LSU did not
have a student maternity leave policy. In June 2018, LSU
informed Muro that she was to register for classes beginning
in mid-August and should keep up remotely in the
gave birth during the summer of 2018. On August 16, 2018, the
program director emailed Muro and stated: “Extenuating
medical circumstances aside, our agreement in June was that
you would return as a full-time student for one-half of the
Summer semester, while completing didactic assignments at
home[.]” The director also advised Muro that she
was to return as a full-time student on August 27, 2018, or
she would have the option of withdrawal or dismissal from the
returned to the program as a full-time student on August 27,
2018, while suffering from post-partum
depression. In September, she informed the program
director that she was diagnosed with and struggling with
post-partum depression. Around October 12, 2019, the interim
program director referred Muro to the Campus Assistance
Program. In her written referral to the Campus Assistance
Program, the program director stated that Muro “has
difficulty completing assignments, appears very tired, and
reports post-partum depression.” Muro
underwent a Fitness for Duty evaluation and was cleared on
October 29, 2018. Six months later, in April 2019, LSU
terminated Muro from the program.
sued LSU, arguing the school violated Title IX by failing to
provide her with medically necessary maternity leave and
ultimately terminating her from the program. The plaintiff
requests declarative and injunctive relief, including an
order reinstating her as a student in LSU's Dentistry
Program. LSU moved to dismiss Muro's claims
under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that
Muro did not plead sufficient facts to support the elements
of her prima facie case.
considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim
under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must accept all well-pleaded
facts as true and view the facts in the light most favorable
to the plaintiff. See Baker v. Putnal, 75 F.3d 190,
196 (5th Cir. 1996). The Court must resolve doubts as to the
sufficiency of the claim in the plaintiff's favor.
Vulcan Materials Co. v. City of Tehuacana, 238 F.3d
382, 387 (5th Cir. 2001). But to survive a Rule 12(b)(6)
motion, a party must plead “sufficient factual matter,
accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The claim
must be dismissed if there are insufficient factual
allegations to raise the right to relief above the
speculative level, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, or if
it is apparent from the face of the complaint that there is
an insuperable bar to relief, Jones v. Bock, 549
U.S. 199, 215 (2007). The Court is not bound to accept as
true legal conclusions couched as factual allegations.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.
Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court must limit its review to the
contents of the pleadings, including attachments thereto.
Brand Coupon Network, L.L.C. v. Catalina Mktg.
Corp., 748 F.3d 631, 635 (5th Cir. 2014). The Court may
also consider documents attached to a motion to dismiss or an
opposition to that motion when the documents are referred to
in the pleadings and are central to a plaintiff's claims.
parties debate what Muro must plead at this stage to avoid
dismissal for failure to state a claim. As both parties
recognize, courts analyze sex discrimination cases under
Title IX by looking to the body of law developed under Title
VII. See, e.g., Canutillo Indep. Sch. Dist. v.
Leija, 101 F.3d 393, 404 (5th Cir. 1996) (“In
reviewing claims of sexual discrimination brought under Title
IX, whether by students or employees, courts have generally
adopted the same legal standards that are applied to such
claims under Title VII.”). The defendant urges that the
Court apply the McDonnell Douglas framework here,
which requires showing (1) that the plaintiff is a member of
a protected class, (2) that the plaintiff suffered an adverse
action, and (3) that discrimination was a substantial or
motivating factor for the defendant's
actions. See McDonnell Douglas Corp. v.
Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973). But as Muro properly
points out, the Supreme Court has held that in Title VII
cases, a plaintiff need not plead facts sufficient to
establish a prima facie case under the McDonnell
Douglas framework to survive a motion to dismiss.
See Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 511
(2002) (“This Court has never indicated that the
requirements for establishing a prima facie case under
McDonnell Douglas also apply to the pleading
standard that plaintiffs must satisfy in order to survive a
motion to dismiss.”).
plaintiff must do more than merely provide notice of his or
her claim, as Muro suggests. The case Muro relies upon for
this proposition, Swierkiewicz, 534 U.S. 506, was
decided before the Supreme Court clarified the pleading
standard in Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 505 U.S. 544
(2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009).
Although Swierkiewicz's primary holding-that a
plaintiff need not establish a prima facie case under
McDonnell Douglas at the pleading stage-is still
good law, a plaintiff must still plead facts sufficient to
raise the right of relief above a speculative level. See
Twombly, 505 U.S. at 555.
interpreting Swierkiewicz's holding
post-Twombly and Iqbal, the Fifth Circuit
has held that a plaintiff must still “plead sufficient
facts on all of the ultimate elements of a disparate
treatment claim to make [her] case plausible.”
Chhim v. Univ. of Tex. at Austin, 836 F.3d 467, 470
(5th Cir. 2016) (emphasis added) (citing Raj v. La. State
Univ., 714 F.3d 322 331 (5th Cir. 2013)). The Fifth
Circuit has held that the two ultimate elements a plaintiff
must plausibly plead to support a disparate treatment claim
are “(1) an adverse employment action, (2) taken
against plaintiff because of her protected
status.” Cicalese v. Univ. of Tex. Med.
Branch, 924 F.3d 762, 767 (5th Cir. 2019) (internal
limited exceptions not applicable here, Title IX bars sex
discrimination by universities accepting federal funds.
See 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a) (“No person in
the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded
from participation in, be denied benefits of, or be subjected
to discrimination under any educational program or activity
receiving Federal financial assistance . . . .”).
Courts have held that discrimination on the basis of
pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions is a
form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX. See,
e.g., Conley v. Nw. Fla. State Coll., 145 F.Supp.3d
1073, 1076-79 (N.D. Fla. 2015); Bakewell v. Stephen F.
Austin State Uni., 975 F.Supp. 858, 887 n.39 (E.D. Tex.
1996). Put another way, an adverse action taken against a
student on the basis of pregnancy or pregnancy-related
conditions is taken because of her sex.
the Code of Federal Regulations directly addresses the issue
of pregnancy discrimination under Title IX. “A
recipient shall not discriminate against any student, or
exclude any student from its education program . . . on the
basis of such student's pregnancy . . . or recovery
therefrom.” 34 C.F.R. § 106.40(b)(1). Moreover,
when a school does not have a leave policy for its students,
the school “shall treat pregnancy . . . and recovery
therefrom as a justification for a leave of absence for so
long a period of time as is deemed medically necessary by the
student's physician, at the conclusion of which the
student shall be reinstated to the status which she held when
the leave began.” Id. § 106.40(b)(5).
Courts have also found that “protections against
pregnancy discrimination do not end with the pregnancy
itself; pregnancy discrimination also can be based on medical
conditions related to pregnancy.” See ...