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Nigel Leblanc, et al v. Delaware County Board of Prison Inspectors

July 13, 2011

NIGEL LEBLANC, ET AL.,
PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DELAWARE COUNTY BOARD OF PRISON INSPECTORS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Pratter, J.

MEMORANDUM

INTRODUCTION

Nigel LeBlanc, Eugene Briggs and Zayid Bolds have sued their former employer, Community Education Centers ("CEC"), in an Amended Complaint, claiming that they were each terminated from their positions as correctional officers at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility ("the Facility") as a result of their religious beliefs, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Plaintiffs have also sued the Delaware County Board of Prison Inspectors ("the Board"), which is responsible for management of the Facility, and which hired CEC to provide basic services therein, under the same two statutes.

The Court dismissed the Plaintiffs' initial Title VII claims against the Board on the ground that the Complaint failed to allege facts sufficient to support the Plaintiffs' conclusory allegation that the Board qualified as their joint employer. The Board has now moved to dismiss the Title VII claims in the Amended Complaint on the same basis, and has moved to dismiss the Plaintiffs' § 1983 claims on the ground that the Amended Complaint fails to identify any illegal policy or custom. For the reasons set forth below, the Board's Motion to Dismiss will be denied in part and granted in part.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

For the purposes of a motion to dismiss, facts alleged in the Complaint are considered to be true. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-556 (2007). On that basis, the facts are as follows.

In 1996, the Board hired a firm called the GEO Group to perform a variety of basic services at the Facility. Between 2000 and 2004, the GEO Group hired each of the Plaintiffs to serve as a correction officer at the Facility. While so employed, each Plaintiff became a follower of the Rastafari movement. As adherents of the movement, the Plaintiffs, who are male, believed themselves compelled, as an article of religious faith, to stop shaving their facial hair and to wear their head hair in long dreadlocks.*fn1 The Plaintiffs assert, however, that they wore their long hair in neat buns on the back of their heads, and that it did not touch the collars of their uniforms.

The Plaintiffs allege that as a result of their decision to conform with this perceived religious mandate, they were subjected to "harassment" by their GEO Group superiors between September of 2006 and December of 2008. For example, Mr. LeBlanc claims that the Facility's chief of security and warden threatened him with disciplinary action if he refused to cut his hair, and that he was transferred from a preferred to a disfavored work assignment. Messrs. Briggs and Bolds also claim that they were ordered to cut their hair during this time. None of the three Plaintiffs was ever formally disciplined by the GEO Group.

On January 1, 2009, the GEO Group's management contract expired, and the Board replaced the GEO Group with CEC. The terms of the Board's contract with CEC were in all relevant respects identical to its contract with the GEO Group. As part of this transition, CEC took on many of the GEO Group's employees in the Facility, including the Plaintiffs.

Plaintiffs allege that the same day CEC assumed management of the Facility, an unnamed agent of CEC issued Messrs. Bolds and Briggs a one-day deadline, until Friday, January 2, to shave their beards, and a four-day deadline, until Monday, January 5, to cut their hair. On January 5, both men had shaved their beards, but neither had cut his hair. They were summoned to the office of Mario Colucci, the Facility's chief of security, a CEC employee who had worked in the same capacity under the GEO Group. Messrs. Bolds and Briggs allege that Mr. Colucci informed them that they were suspended from work until they cut their hair. Mr. LeBlanc, who had been away on vacation when the shave and cut deadlines were issued, returned to work at the Facility on January 5, and claims that he then was also told not to return to work until he had shaved his beard and cut his hair.

On January 8, 2009, the Plaintiffs met, seriatim, with the Facility's warden, Frank Green, an employee of CEC. Mr. Colucci, along with a CEC human resources employee named Debbie Winager, and a union representative were also present at these meetings. The Plaintiffs assert that during their meetings with Warden Green, they each explained -- as indeed they claim to have done on many earlier occasions -- the religious significance of their dreadlocks and beards. Nevertheless, each of the Plaintiffs was terminated from their employment, ostensibly for failing to comply with a provision of CEC's employee handbook that requires the following of all CEC employees at secure facilities:

(1) Hair shall be neatly combed and clean at all times.

(2) Hair length shall not extend beyond ...


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