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Demoss v. Delaware State University

United States District Court, D. Delaware

October 12, 2018

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

          Andrew G. Ahern, III, Esquire: Joseph W. Benson, P.A., Wilmington, DE - attorneys for plaintiff

          James Darlington Taylor, Jr., Esquire, Allison Jean McCowan, Esquire, Gerard M. Clodomir, Esquire: Saul Ewing LLP, Wilmington, DE - attorneys for defendants

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NOREIKA, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On August 8, 2016, Plaintiff Jeffrey DeMoss ("Plaintiff or "DeMoss") filed this lawsuit against Delaware State University ("DSU" or "the University") asserting claims for violation of the Equal Protection Clause and racial discrimination in connection with DeMoss's employment and termination of employment with DSU. (D.I. 1). On September 16, 2016, DeMoss filed a First Amended Complaint (D.I. 4), adding several individual University employees as defendants: Irene Chapman-Hawkins ("Hawkins"), Teresa Hardee ("Hardee"), and Harry L. Williams ("Williams") (collectively, "the Individual Defendants"). The First Amended Complaint alleged: (1) claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Individual Defendants for violation of the Equal Protection clause; (2) claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 against the Individual Defendants for racial discrimination; and (3) claims under 42 U.S.C. § 2000d ("Title VI") against DSU for racial discrimination.

         On October 3, 2016, DSU and the Individual Defendants (collectively, "the Defendants") filed a Motion to Dismiss the First Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim. (D.I. 5). On September 7, 2017, the Court granted the motion with leave to amend. (D.I. 16). On October 6, 2017, DeMoss filed a Second Amended Complaint that added certain allegations to the "Facts" section of the Complaint. (D.I. 28 ¶¶ 24, 25, 32, 40, 42, 43-45). On November 3, 2017, Defendants filed the instant Motion to Dismiss the Second Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim. (D.I. 21).

         II. BACKGROUND

         As discussed in the Court's earlier opinion (D.I. 15) and as previously alleged in Plaintiffs Amended Complaint (D.I. 4), DeMoss "is a Caucasian male who was employed by DSU from July 9, 2007 to October 3, 2014, as its Executive Director for Dining and Auxiliary Services." (D.I. 4 ¶ 12; D.I. 18 ¶ 12). Prior to his employment at DSU, DeMoss held similar positions at four different universities for approximately thirty-six years. (D.I. 4 ¶ 13; D.I. 18 ¶ 13). In January 2010, DeMoss was "also named operations director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Center, as an added duty." (D.I. 4 ¶ 18; D.I. 18 ¶ 18). Around the same time, Williams became the tenth President of DSU. (D.I. 4 ¶ 19; D.I. 18 ¶ 19). In the three years of his employment prior to September of 2014, "[DeMoss] received the highest possible scores on his performance evaluations from DSU . . . [and] . . . received the 'Vice President's Award for Excellence' from DSU in September 2013." (D.I. 4 ¶ 20; D.I. 18 ¶ 20).

         In August 2014, DeMoss "began reporting to the new Vice President of Finance, Dr. Teresa Hardee, an African American female in her late 40's." (D.I. 4, ¶21; D.I. 18, ¶ 21). On September 19, 2014, DeMoss was informed by Hawkins, Senior Associate Vice President of Human Resources, that his "employment would be terminated in two weeks, effective October 3, 2014." (D.I. 4 ¶ 23; D.I. 18 ¶ 23). The "stated reason for Plaintiffs termination by the University was that it was part of 'a substantial reorganization effort.'" (D.I. 4 ¶ 25; D.I. 18 ¶ 27). DeMoss asserts that the stated reorganization effort was a "pretext" and "was not in fact occurring and/or did not require the elimination of Plaintiffs position." (D.I. 4 ¶ 26; D.I. 18 ¶ 28). He asserts that his "position continues to this day, and is being performed by African-American women who have received raises to perform said duties." (D.I. 4 ¶ 27; D.I. 18 ¶ 29). He further asserts that DSU offered positions to other African American managers whose positions were eliminated. (D.I. 4 ¶ 38; D.I. 18 ¶ 43). And he asserts that DSU did not give him the same notice of termination it gave to others or follow its "custom and practice ... to only eliminate positions at the end of the academic year." (D.I. 4 ¶¶ 32, 39; D.I. 18 ¶¶ 35, 44). DeMoss asserts that the decision to retain and promote those employees and to terminate his employment without following the customary practice was discriminatory.

         The Court dismissed Counts I and II of the First Amended Complaint, finding that the allegations were insufficient to remove the protection of qualified immunity from the Individual Defendants and insufficient for the Court to reasonably infer that DeMoss was discriminated against because he is White. (D.I. 15 at 4-7). Subjective beliefs, unsupported by factual allegations, cannot give rise to an inference of discrimination. (Id. at 7). The Court also dismissed Count III, finding that Plaintiff had failed to make a plausible showing that the primary purpose of the Federal funding received by DSU was for employment, and thus his Title VI claim was deficient. (Id.).

         In his Second Amended Complaint (D.I. 18), the counts remain the same. Count I alleges an equal protection claim against the Individual Defendants arising under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on race discrimination. Count II alleges a race discrimination claim against the Individual Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Count III alleges a race discrimination claim against the University under Title VI. In addition, Plaintiff added the following new allegations:

24. There was no legitimate reason for Plaintiffs termination, which was motivated by an intent to discriminate against Plaintiff on the basis of his race.
25. As set forth below, race was a motivating factor in Plaintiffs termination.
32. This motive is supported by the fact that other Caucasian employees were treated similarly as Plaintiff, and other African-American employees were treated more favorably.
40. Thus, Defendants complied with University practice with regard to African-American employees, but deviated from said practice when handling the termination of Plaintiff and another Caucasian employee. This departure from typical practice is further evidence of a discriminatory intent.
42. This is further evidence of an intent to discriminate against Plaintiff by removing him and installing ...

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