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Hamilton v. City of Philadelphia

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

September 5, 2019

CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, et al., Defendant.


          GERALD J. PAPPERT, J.

         Shawn Hamilton, an African-American woman, works for the City of Philadelphia as a police officer. She sued the City and Philadelphia Police Sergeant Robert Ryan, who is white, for creating a hostile work environment and discriminating against her due to her race and gender. The City and Ryan separately move to dismiss Hamilton's First Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim. The Court grants the City's Motion in full and Ryan's Motion in part, with leave allowing Hamilton one final opportunity to amend her Monell claim against the City and her claims against Ryan in his official capacity.


         Ryan commands the Police Department's recruitment unit, which recruits, hires and promotes police officers. (First Am. Compl. ¶ 9, ECF No. 10.) In 2016, Hamilton interviewed for a position in Ryan's unit. (Id. at ¶ 10.) Hamilton remembers the interview as follows: Rather than ask her questions, Ryan remarked “that he did not need anymore [sic] black females in his unit.” (Id. at ¶ 11.) He also complained about how his predecessor, “a black female, ” had run the unit. (Id.) Ryan then warned Hamilton “that if she had any type of attitude” or failed to recruit at least five new police officers each week, “he would have her kicked out of the department.” (Id. at ¶¶ 12-13.) After these warnings, Ryan opined that all police “shootings involving minorities [were] justified.” (Id. at ¶ 14.) The interview disturbed Hamilton to the extent “that she wrote a memo and sent it to [the] Vice President of [the police union], ” who then gave it to the Police Commissioner. (Id. at ¶¶ 15, 16.) Though the Police Department initiated an internal affairs investigation into Hamilton's claims, to her knowledge, the Department took no action on her complaints. See (id. at ¶ 17.)

         Some six months after her interview, Hamilton joined Ryan's unit. See (id. at ¶ 20.) Hamilton says that she discovered that Ryan had made similar “racially and sexually discriminatory remarks” to other “black and Hispanic officers.” (Id.) She likewise claims that the recruiting quota Ryan had warned her about during the interview did not exist but was merely a way for Ryan “to intimidate her.” (Id. at ¶ 22.) Hamilton adds that, even though several were available, “Ryan refused to give [her] a cubicle” for over a month. (Id. at ¶¶ 23-24.)

         Over time, life under Ryan's command did not improve for Hamilton. See (id. at ¶ 19.) She alleges that Ryan limited her overtime hours while giving those hours to less senior white male officers. See (id. at ¶¶ 26-29.) Ryan also supposedly ordered Hamilton-“as a joke”-to inquire about holding a recruitment event “at the African American Museum, ” (id. at ¶ 31), and sent her to an event in the suburbs without a partner, (id. at ¶ 32.) On top of this, she alleges that Ryan refused to consider her request for vacation time. (Id. at ¶ 33.)

         Eventually, Hamilton sued the City and Ryan in state court. After the City and Ryan removed the suit to federal court, they moved to dismiss Hamilton's complaint. See (Mem. in Supp. of Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 6.) In response, Hamilton amended her initial pleading as a matter of course. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(1).

         In her First Amended Complaint, Hamilton brings three counts against the City and Ryan. See (First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 40-58.) Count I alleges that Ryan created a hostile work environment and discriminated against Hamilton due to her race and gender. See (id. at ¶¶ 40-53.) This conduct, Hamilton says, violated her rights under § 1981 and is actionable through § 1983. See (id. at ¶¶ 41-42.) In Count II, she claims that the City is liable for the harm flowing from Ryan's conduct by developing and maintaining “polices, practices, procedures and customs exhibiting deliberate indifference” to her rights. (Id. at ¶¶ 54-56.) Although Hamilton asserted a standalone hostile-work-environment claim in Count III, she has since withdrawn that claim. See (Omnibus Resp. to Defs.' Mots. to Dismiss p. 15, ECF No. 22.)


         To avoid dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 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 is facially plausible if the plaintiff pleads enough facts for the Court to infer “that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Though this “plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, '” it demands “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         Assessing plausibility under Twombly and Iqbal is a three-step process. See Connelly v. Lane Const. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 787 (3d Cir. 2016). The first step is to “take note of the elements the plaintiff must plead to state a claim.” Id. (alterations omitted) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675). Next, the Court “should identify allegations that, ‘because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.'” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). Finally, for all “well-pleaded factual allegations, the court should assume their veracity, ” draw all reasonable inference from them “and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id. (alterations omitted) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). If the well-pleaded facts do not nudge the “claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, ” the Court must dismiss the complaint. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.


         As explained below, the Court dismisses Hamilton's claims against the City because she fails to plead any factual basis for municipal liability under Monell v. Department of Social Services of the City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978). For the same reason, the Court dismisses the claims against Ryan in his official capacity. But because Hamilton states plausible hostile-work-environment and racial ...

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