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Johnson v. State, Department of Labor

United States District Court, D. Delaware

August 1, 2014



GREGORY M. SLEET, District Judge.


The court now considers defendant's motion to dismiss plaintiffs complaint. For the reasons set forth, defendant's motion shall be granted.


Plaintiff, Sheila Y. Johnson, was employed by defendant, State of Delaware, Department of Labor, from November 2003 until September 2010. (D.I. 2 at 2.) Plaintiff alleges she was terminated based on her race (African American) and defendant's refusal to accommodate her health needs. ( Id. at 2-3.) Her claims are based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000 et seq. as amended, ("Title VII") and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), and request relief in the form of lost wages and punitive damages. ( Id. at 1; D.I. 18 at 1-2.)[1]

Plaintiff filed her administrative claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") in June 2011. (D.I. 2 at 2.) On February 27, 2012, the EEOC issued her a right-to-sue letter. ( Id. at 2, 4.) On May 24, 2012, plaintiff filed this action pro se. ( Id. at 1.) On April 9, 2013, defendant filed its motion to dismiss pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). (D.I. 16.)

Plaintiff's complaint alleges: "Wrongful termination - failure to accommodate obvious disabilities... failure to establish performance plan - failure to provide/allow union representation - discrimination, retaliation for protected activity, providing inadequate training, etc. - failure to acknowledge disabilities." (D.I. 2 at 2). The complaint also alleges plaintiff was discriminated against due to her race and color. ( Id. at 3.) In her response to defendant's motion to dismiss, plaintiff reiterates she was wrongfully terminated because of her race. (D.I. 18 at 1.) She claims defendant advised her termination was because she could not perform the essential functions of an Operations Support Specialist. ( Id. at 1-2.) Plaintiff states she was employed in the same capacity since November 2003 and always received satisfactory or above satisfactory reviews. ( Id. at 2.) From May to August 2009, plaintiff asserts she had no indication that her work performance was inadequate. ( Id. ) Plaintiff further alleges defendant failed to provide the necessary accommodations for her conditions of stress, diabetes, and prior open heart surgery.[2] ( Id. at 1.) She also contends other employees, including one who is also African American, returned from disability leave and unlike plaintiff, were not placed on probation. ( Id. )

Defendant argues plaintiff's complaint should be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) and for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Rule 12(b)(6). (D.I. 16 at 1.) Regarding plaintiff's ADA claim, defendant contends the Eleventh Amendment of the United States Constitution and state sovereign immunity, bar federal courts from hearing lawsuits against a state in the absence of abrogation or consent. (D.I. 17 at 2.) Defendant relies on Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651 (1974), where the Supreme Court held that in the absence of consent, a state is "immune from suits brought in federal court by her own citizens as well as by citizens of another State, " and Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44 (1996), where the Court determined that only with a clear indication of Congress' intent, will the states' immunity be waived. (D.I. 17 at 2-3, quoting Edelman, 415 U.S. at 662-63.) Defendant maintains the complaint fails to allege any conduct in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment which is necessary to formally revoke state sovereign immunity. ( Id. at 3.) Since Delaware's sovereign immunity has not been abrogated, defendant asserts this court is without subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1), and requests plaintiff's ADA claim be dismissed with prejudice. ( Id. ; D.I. 19 at 1.)

Defendant also contends plaintiff's ADA and Title VII claims should be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. (D.I. 17 at 4.) It argues the complaint is merely "labels and conclusory allegations, " with minimal, if any, facts. (D.I. 19 at 1.) Defendant maintains plaintiff's racial discrimination allegations are unsubstantiated because the bulk of her complaint focuses on the alleged failure to accommodate her disability. ( Id. at 2.) Defendant argues plaintiff's complaint undermines her Title VII claim because her single comparator, who is also African American, was treated preferably following disability leave. ( Id. ) Defendant, therefore, requests that plaintiff's Title VII and ADA claims be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6). ( Id. )


1. Rule 12(b)(1) Standard

When jurisdiction is challenged, the party asserting subject matter jurisdiction has the burden of proving its existence. See Carpet Group Int'l v. Oriental Rug Importers Ass'n, Inc., 227 F.3d 62, 69 (3d Cir. 2000). Under FED. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1), the court's jurisdiction may be challenged either facially, that is, based on the legal sufficiency of the claim, or factually, based on the sufficiency of jurisdictional facts. 2 MOORE'S FEDERAL PRACTICE § 12.30[4] (3d ed. 1997). Here, defendant challenges the court's jurisdiction facially. Where there is a facial attack on jurisdiction, the court must accept as true the allegations contained in the complaint. Dismissal for a facial challenge to jurisdiction is "proper only when the claim clearly appears to be immaterial and made solely for the purpose of obtaining jurisdiction or... is wholly insubstantial and frivolous.'" Kehr Packages, Inc. v. Fidelcar, Inc., 926 F.2d 1406, 1408-09 (3d Cir. 1991) (quoting Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 682 (1946)).

2. Rule 12(b)(6) Standard

Pro se complaints, "however inartfully pleaded, " are held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, and the court "has an obligation to construe the complaint liberally." Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); see also Gadson v. City of Wilmington Fire Dept., 478 F.Supp.2d 635, 639 (D. Del. 2007). Pro se complaints may be dismissed for failure to state a claim if it appears "beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle him to relief." Hamilton v. ...

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