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Brown-Eagle v. County of Erie

United States District Court, Third Circuit

October 30, 2013

TECUMSEH BROWN-EAGLE, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF ERIE, PENNSYLVANIA, Defendant.

OPINION

MAURICE B COHILL, Jr., Senior District Judge.

Tecumseh Brown-Eagle commenced this civil rights employment discrimination action against Defendant, the County of Erie, Pennsylvania, on December 19, 2012. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the Complaint, to which Plaintiff responded, in part, by filing a First Amended Complaint on March 13, 2013. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the First Amended Complaint, and in response Plaintiff, in part, sought leave to file a second amended complaint. We granted Plaintiff's motion and a Second Amended Complaint was filed on April 24, 2013.

Defendant then filed a motion to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint, and after initially missing the deadline to file a response, Plaintiff responded to the motion to dismiss on May 28, 2013. For the reasons stated herein we will grant Defendant's motion in part and deny it in part.

I. Relevant Factual Background

The relevant facts as alleged in the Second Amended Complaint are as follows. Plaintiff Tecumseh Brown-Eagle is a non-Caucasian, dark-skinned male. Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 8. Mr. Brown-Eagle is of American Indian heritage, which he sometimes refers to as Native American heritage. Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 8, 12, 14, & 17. Mr. Brown-Eagle participates in Islam, Christian, and Jewish religious services, and refused to categorize himself into a religion. Second Am. Compl. ¶ 16. Although he refused to categorize himself into a single religion, he did engage in the study of the Mound Builders, a group of American Indians who built mounds having religious significance. Second Am. Compl. ¶ 17.

On November 3, 2010, Mr. Brown-Eagle was hired by Defendant as a Caseworker II in the Erie County Office of Children and Youth. Second Am. Compl. ¶ 9. A co-employee of Plaintiff made false allegations concerning Mr. Brown-Eagle relating to Mr. Brown-Eagle's heritage and religion and alleging that Mr. Brown-Eagle engaged in fantasy. Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 11.

Defendant knew, or should have known, that the allegations were false, and further, that upon a proper investigation the allegations would have been found to be false. Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 11. Defendant knew there was no substance to the allegations. Second Am. Compl. ¶ 12. Defendant relied on the false allegations to justify terminating Mr. Brown-Eagle. Second Am. Compl. ¶ 12. Defendant's investigation into the allegations was biased and was a pretext for terminating Mr. Brown-Eagle. Second Am. Compl. ¶ 14.

Defendant unlawfully terminated Mr. Brown-Eagle because he is a dark-skinned male, because he is an American Indian male, and because of his "religious practices". See Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 12 & 16. Defendant does not specifically aver that he was discriminated against on the basis ofrace, color, gender, religion, or national heritage, but instead generically states that the Defendant's actions were in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 20 & 3.

II. Standard of Review

In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted a Court must'" accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.'" Phillips v. County of Allegheny , 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008), quoting Pinker v. Roche Holdings Ltd. , 292 F.3d 361, 374 n. 7 (3d Cir. 2002), and citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 563, n.8 (2007). A valid complaint requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Rule 8 "demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009), citing Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555.

"To survive a motion to dismiss a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678, quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 570. "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." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678, citing Twombly , 550 U.S. at 556. "Factual allegations of a complaint must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555. "This [standard] does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage, ' but instead simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of' the necessary element." Phillips , 515 F.3d at 234, quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 556. Thus, "a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555 (citation omitted).

The Supreme Court in Iqbal explained that although a court must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in a complaint, that requirement does not apply to legal conclusions; therefore, pleadings must include factual allegations to support the legal claims asserted. Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements do not suffice." Id., citing Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555. See also Phillips , 515 F.3d at 232 ("We caution that without some factual allegation in the complaint, a claimant cannot satisfy the requirement that he or she provide not only fair notice, ' but also the grounds' on which the claim rests.") (citing Twombly , 550 U.S. at 556 n. 3 (2007)). Accordingly, to survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must plead "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678.

Finally, if court decides to grant a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the court must next decide whether leave to amend the complaint must be granted. As explained in Phillips, : "We have instructed that if a complaint is vulnerable to 12(b)(6) dismissal, a district court must permit a curative amendment, unless an amendment would be inequitable or futile." 515 F.3d 236, citing Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp. , 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir.2002).

III. Discussion

Defendant moves to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint. Defendant first argues that Plaintiff has failed to state a valid claim for gender discrimination. Defendant further argues that any claim of race discrimination is precluded because Plaintiff failed to assert the claim in his complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Next, Defendant argues that Plaintiff has failed to set forth a valid claim of either National Origin discrimination or of Religious discrimination. Finally, Defendant argues ...


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