United States District Court, D. Delaware
Plaintiff Jeffrey DeMoss ("DeMoss") filed this
lawsuit against the Delaware State University
("DSU"), and several individual University
employees: Irene Chapman-Hawkins ("Hawkins"),
Teresa Hardee ("Hardee"), and Harry L. Williams
("Williams") (collectively, "Individual
Defendants"), on August 8, 2016. - (D.I. 1.) DeMoss
filed an Amended Complaint on September 16, 2016. The
Complaint raises a number of claims relating to DeMoss's
employment and termination of employment with DS
U.Specifically, DeMoss alleges (1) violation of the right to
be free from race discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1983,
against Individual Defendants; (2) racial discrimination in
violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 against Individual
Defendants; and (3) racial discrimination in violation of 42
U.S.C. § 2000d ("Title VI") against DSU.
the Individual Defendants (collectively, the
"Defendants") filed a Motion to Dismiss the Amended
Complaint for failure to state a claim on October 3, 2016.
(D.I. 5.) For the reasons stated below, the court will grant
Defendants' motion to dismiss.
Jeffrey DeMoss, a White male, began his employment with DSU
on July 9, 2007, working primarily as its Executive Director
for Dining and Auxiliary Services. (D.I. 4, ¶ 12.) Prior
to his employment at DSU, DeMoss held similar positions at
four different Universities over the course of thirty-six
years. (Id. ¶ 13.) In January 2010, DeMoss was
named the Operations Director of the Martin Luther King Jr.
student center as an added duty. (Id. ¶ 18.)
Around the same time, Harry Lee Williams became the tenth
President of DSU. (iii.'¶ 19.) In August 2014,
DeMoss began reporting to the new Vice President of Finance,
Hardee, an African American female in her late 40's.
(Id. ¶ 21.) On September 19, 2014, DeMoss was
informed by Senior Associate Vice President of Human
Resources, Hawkins that his current employment with DSU was
to be terminated in two weeks due to a substantial
reorganization effort by DSU. (Id. ¶ 23, 25.)
DeMoss had previously received the highest possible
performance evaluations from DSU during the last three years
of his employment and the "Vice President's Award
for Excellence." (Id. ¶ 20.) DeMoss
asserts in his Amended Complaint that DSU retained three
significantly younger African American females, holding
similar positions as DeMoss and also promoted them to the
same type of position DeMoss had held. (Id. ¶
37.) DeMoss stated that the decision to retain and promote
those employees and terminate his employment was
"racially discriminatory." Id.
of DeMoss's complaint alleges violation of the Equal
Protection Clause under the Fourteenth Amendment under 42
U.S.C. § 1983. Count II alleges racial discrimination in
violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 against Individual
Defendants. DeMoss contends that DSU's decision to
terminate his employment, while retaining and promoting
similarly situated African American women, was racially
discriminatory. Finally, Count III alleges racial
discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 2000d
("Title VI") against DSU. DeMoss contends that he
was racially discriminated against and that the "primary
purpose" of federal funding DSU receives has been to
provide employment and a non-discriminatory community of
students, faculty, and employees.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for
dismissal where the Plaintiff "fail[s] to state a claim
upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(b)(6). In considering a motion to dismiss, the court
"accept[s] all factual allegations as true, construe[s]
the complaint in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff,
and determine[s] whether, under any reasonable reading of the
complaint, the Plaintiff may be entitled to relief."
Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233
(3d Cir. 2008). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of
a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements,
" are inadequate to state a claim. Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The issue for the court
is "not whether the Plaintiff will ultimately prevail,
but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to
support the claims." Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416
U.S. 232, 236 (1974). As such, the touchstone of the pleading
standard is plausibility. Bistrian v. Levi, 696 F.3d
352 365 (3d Cir. 2012). Plaintiffs must provide sufficient
factual allegations "to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face." Bell Ail. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). "Determining
whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will
... be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing
court to draw on its judicial experience and common
sense." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (2009).
Defendants argue that DeMoss's Amended Complaint seeks to
improperly bring a Title VII claim against DSU, and that each
of DeMoss's three Counts should be dismissed for failure
to state a claim, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). The court
examines each of DeMoss's claims in turn.
Qualified Immunity: Counts I and II
doctrine of qualified immunity "protects government
officials from liability for civil damages insofar as their
conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or
constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have
known." Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223,
(2009). "[Q]ualified immunity is an immunity from suit,
rather than a mere defense to liability." Hubbard v.
Taylor, 399 F.3d 150, 167 (3d Cir. 2005). To determine
whether qualified immunity applies the court asks two
questions: "(1) whether the Plaintiff has alleged the
violation of an actual constitutional right, and if so, (2)
whether the right was clearly established at the time of the
alleged violation." Broclcstedt v. Sussex Cty.
Council, 771 F.Supp.2d 348, 355 (2011). The right
Plaintiff alleges the official to have violated must have
been "clearly established" in a
"particularized" sense. Abdul-Akbar v.
Watson, 4 F.3d 195, 202 (3d Cir. 1993) (citing
Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640 (1987)). A
right is clearly established when "[t]he contours of the
right [are] sufficiently clear that a reasonable official
would understand that what he is doing violates that
right." Id. Qualified immunity, thus, protects
government officials from liability for "mere mistakes
in judgment, whether the mistake is one of fact or one of
law." Butz v. Economou, 438 U.S. 478, 479,
(1978). The court decides whether the facts alleged, taken in
light most favorable to the party asserting injury, show a
violation of a constitutional right and whether that right is
clearly established. Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194,
201, 121 (2001).
the first prong of the qualified immunity analysis, the
Plaintiff has alleged a § 1983 claim, which only needs
to satisfy the notice pleading standard of Rule 8(a).
Thomas v. Independence Tp., 463 F.3d 285, 295 (3d
Or. 2006). The Equal Protection Clause "prohibits
selective enforcement of the law based on considerations such
as race." Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806,
813 (1996); Village of Willowbrook v. Olech, 528
U.S. 562, 564 (2000). Here the Complaint simply alleges that
DeMoss was terminated on the basis of race as part of a
substantial reorganization. The Complaint does not support
the claim that Individual Defendants intentionally terminated
DeMoss based on his race. Therefore, the termination of
DeMoss alone is insufficient to remove the protection of
qualified immunity from Individual Defendants under §
Count I: Equal Protection Under 42 ...