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DeMoss v. Delaware State University

United States District Court, D. Delaware

September 7, 2017

JEFFREY DEMOSS, Plaintiff,
v.
DELAWARE STATE UNIVERSITY, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

         I. INTRODUCTION

         The 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.

         DSU and 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.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff 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.

         Count I 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.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Rule 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).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         The 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.

         A. Qualified Immunity: Counts I and II

         The 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."[1] 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).

         Under 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 § 1983.

         B. Count I: Equal Protection Under 42 ...


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