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Chambers v. York County Prison

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

October 21, 2019

YORK COUNTY PRISON, et al., Defendants.



         Before the court is the motion to dismiss (Doc. 11) filed by Defendants Clair Doll, Mary Sabol, York County Prison (“YCP”), and John Does 1-10 (collectively, “Defendants”). Having reviewed the brief in support of Defendants' motion to dismiss (Doc. 12), the brief in opposition (Doc. 20) filed by Plaintiffs Iris Chambers (“Ms. Chambers”) and Lamar DeShields (“Mr. DeShields”; collectively, “Plaintiffs”), and Defendants' reply (Doc. 21), the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background

         For the purposes of resolving the motion to dismiss, the court will treat as true all well-pleaded allegations in Plaintiffs' amended complaint (Doc. 9) and make all reasonable inferences in favor of Plaintiffs. This is a fairly simple Title VII discrimination case. Plaintiffs have been employees of YCP for almost ten years. They complain that they have received, over the course of their employment- including as late as March of 2019-a pattern of discriminatory treatment, some of which involve conduct that would be uniquely offensive to non-white people, such as: jokes about black people eating watermelon and fried chicken; insults regarding their hair; racist insults directly from their supervisors; and coworkers presenting confederate flags and refusing to take them down. Importantly, Plaintiffs have repeatedly advised their supervisors of these actions, and, instead of addressing them, Plaintiffs' managers have in some ways participated in them and others have taken no efforts to remedy them. Plaintiffs have also received disparate treatment which the white employees have not been subjected to, including: being passed over for promotions in favor of less qualified white candidates; intentionally being locked between buildings; being arbitrarily denied backup; being bullied by coworkers; having their personal information distributed to inmates; and having co-workers encourage inmates to file false complaints against them.

         On May 14, 2018, Ms. Chambers filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). (Doc. 12-1.)[1] It includes complaints that Ms. Chambers has been subjected to bullying and racist comments from coworkers, despite complaining about these things to her employers. (See Id. at 3.) It does not include any complaints regarding Ms. Chambers being passed over for promotions, being assigned to dangerous areas of the prison, or failing to receive backup when requested.

         On May 14, 2018, Mr. DeShields filed a complaint with the EEOC. (Doc. 12-2.) It includes complaints that Mr. DeShields has generally been subjected to racist comments, bullying, exposure to racist imagery, [2] and having his son passed over for a job.[3] (See Id. at p. 3.) It does not include complaints regarding Mr. DeShields being passed over for promotions, assigned to more dangerous parts of the prison, or suspended.

         On December 17, 2018, Plaintiffs brought suit against Defendants, asserting four causes of action: (1) discrimination and retaliation claims under 42 U.S.C. § 2000, et seq., Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; (2) a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 violation; (3) a “CIVIL RIGHTS CONSPIRACY” claim; and (4) a Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”) violation. (Doc. 1.) On February 26, 2019, Defendants filed a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. (Doc. 5.) On April 2, 2019, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint, adding new facts and replacing the conspiracy claim with a 42 U.S.C. § 1981 claim. (Doc. 9.) In response, Defendants filed a new motion to dismiss one week later. (Doc. 11.)

         Defendants move to dismiss on three general grounds: (1) failure to allege sufficient facts; (2) failure to exhaust administrative remedies; and (3) the statute of limitations. Plaintiffs filed a response on May 20, 2019. (Doc. 20.) Defendants filed their reply on June 2, 2019. (Doc. 21.) The issue is thus ripe for review.

         II. Standard of Review

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the plaintiff must allege “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 Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007)). “When reviewing a 12(b)(6) motion, we ‘accept as true all well-pled factual allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from them.'” Estate of Ginzburg by Ermey v. Electrolux Home Prods., Inc., ___ Fed.Appx. ___-, 2019 WL 4187372, at *3 (3d Cir. Sept. 4, 2019) (quoting Taksir v. Vanguard Grp., 903 F.3d 95, 96-97 (3d Cir. 2018)). The facts alleged must be “construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff” In re Ins. Brokerage Antitrust Litig., 618 F.3d 300, 314 (3d Cir. 2010) (internal quotations, brackets, and ellipses omitted). The universe of facts upon which the court may rely includes those facts alleged in the complaint, facts which the court may take judicial notice of, and indisputably authentic documents referred to in the plaintiff's complaint. Hartig Drug Co., Inc. v. Senju Pharm Co., 836 F.3d 261, 268 (3d Cir. 2016).

         The Third Circuit has detailed a three-step process to determine whether a complaint meets the pleading standard. Bistrian v. Levi, 696 F.3d 352 (3d Cir. 2014). First, the court outlines the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim for relief. Id. at 365. Second, the court must “peel away those allegations that are no more than conclusions and thus not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Id. Third, the court “look[s] for well-pled factual allegations, assume[s] their veracity, and then ‘determine[s] whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.'” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). The last step is “a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. In assessing the level of factual details required under Twombly, the Third Circuit has held:

The Supreme Court reaffirmed that Fed.R.Civ.P. 8 requires only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests, and that this standard does not require detailed factual allegations.

Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (internal citations and quotations omitted).

         III. Discussion

         A. Plaintiffs failed to exhaust their administrative remedies regarding their promotions complaints.

         Prior to filing a complaint, a plaintiff alleging discrimination must exhaust his or her administrative remedies by filing a charge with the EEOC. Williams v. E. Orange Cmty. Charter Sch., 396 Fed.Appx. 895, 897 (3d Cir. 2010) (citations omitted). The lawsuit is “limited to claims that are within the scope of the initial administrative charge.” Id. (citing Antol v. Perry, 82 F.3d 1291, 1296 (3d Cir. 1996)). EEOC charges are provided a “fairly liberal construction, ” and “the failure to check a particular box on an EEOC charge . . . is not necessarily indicative of a failure to exhaust the mandatory administrative remedies.” Lowenstein v. Catholic Health E., 820 F.Supp.2d 639, 644 (E.D. Pa. 2011) (quoting Schouten v. CSX Transp., Inc., 58 F.Supp.2d 614, 616 (E.D. Pa. 1999)). “[T]he purpose of the filing requirement is to enable the EEOC to investigate and, if cause is found, to attempt to use informal means to reach a settlement of the dispute.” Anjelino v. N.Y. Times Co., 200 F.3d 73, 94 (3d Cir. 1999) (citing Hicks v. ABT Assocs., Inc., 572 F.2d 960, 963 (3d Cir. 1978)).

         The issue arises when a party brings a claim in court that was not included in a previous EEOC charge. If the plaintiff failed to file any claim with the EEOC, then the court should dismiss the claim without prejudice with leave to file a claim with the EEOC, assuming the statute of limitations has not run. See Wardlaw v. Cityof Phila. Street's Dep't, 378 Fed.Appx. 222, 226 (3d Cir. 2010) (“The District Court [properly] stated that the dismissal of the Title VII claim was without prejudice so that Wardlaw could file an amended claim once she received a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC.”); id. at 224 n.1 (dismissal can effectively be a final order if the statute of limitations has run). If the plaintiff did file a complaint, but omitted certain events that pre-date the EEOC filing, they are barred from later bringing those claims in court. See, e.g., Ford-Greene ...

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