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DeMoss v. Chapman-Hawkins

United States District Court, D. Delaware

April 9, 2019

JEFFREY DEMOSS, Plaintiff,
v.
IRENE CHAPMAN-HAWKINS, in her individual capacity, TERESA HARDEE, in her individual capacity, and HARRY L. WILLIAMS, in his individual capacity, Defendants.

          Andrew G. Ahern, III, Joseph W. Benson, P.A., Wilmington, DE; Mark Frost, Ryan Lockman, Mark B. Frost & Associates, Philadelphia, PA - attorneys for plaintiff

          James Darlington Taylor, Jr., Jessica M. Jones, Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP, Wilmington, DE - attorneys for defendants

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NOREIKA, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Presently before the Court are the objections of Defendants, Irene Chapman-Hawkins, Teresa Hardee, and Harry L. Williams, (collectively, “Defendants”) (D.I. 47) to Magistrate Judge Thynge's March 7, 2019 Report and Recommendation (D.I. 45, “the Report”). The Report recommended that the Court deny Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiffs Third Amended Complaint (“Amended Complaint”) (D.I. 34). The Court has reviewed the Report (D.I. 45), Defendants' objections (D.I. 47), and Plaintiffs response thereto (D.I. 48), and the Court has considered de novo the objected-to portions of the Report and the relevant portions of Defendants' motion to dismiss, and Plaintiffs response to the motion (see D.I. 35, 40, 42). For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' objections are OVERRULED, the Report is ADOPTED, and Defendants' motion to dismiss is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The background of this case has been discussed at length in the Court's earlier opinions (D.I. 15, 30) and the Report (D.I. 45). As alleged in Plaintiffs Complaints, Jeffrey DeMoss (“Plaintiff or “DeMoss”) “is a Caucasian male who was employed by [Delaware State University (“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; D.I. 32 ¶ 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; D.I. 32 ¶ 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; D.I. 32 ¶ 18). Around the same time, Harry L. Williams (“Williams”) became the tenth President of DSU. (D.I. 4 ¶ 19; D.I. 18 ¶ 19; D.I. 32 ¶ 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; D.I. 32 ¶ 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; D.I. 32 ¶ 21). On September 19, 2014, DeMoss was informed by Irene Chapman-Hawkins (“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; D.I. 32 ¶ 23). The “stated reason for Plaintiff's termination by the University was that it was part of ‘a substantial reorganization effort.'” (D.I. 4 ¶ 25; D.I. 18 ¶ 27; D.I. 32 ¶ 33). DeMoss asserts that the stated reorganization effort was a “pretext” and “was not in fact occurring and/or did not require the elimination of Plaintiff's position.” (D.I. 4 ¶ 26; D.I. 18 ¶ 28; D.I. 32 ¶ 34). 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; D.I. 32 ¶ 35). He further asserts that DSU offered positions within the University to other African American managers whose positions were eliminated. (D.I. 4 ¶ 38; D.I. 18 ¶ 43; D.I. 32 ¶ 49). 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; D.I. 32 ¶¶ 41, 50). 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 Hawkins, Hardee, and Williams (“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 remained the same, but Plaintiff added new factual allegations. Count I alleged an equal protection claim against the Individual Defendants arising under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on race discrimination. Count II alleged a race discrimination claim against the Individual Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Count III alleged a race discrimination claim against DSU under Title VI. As with the First Amended Complaint, the Court dismissed Counts I and II of the Second 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. 30 at 7-9). The Court also dismissed Count III, finding that Plaintiff had again 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 Third Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleged a single claim for violation of his Equal Protection rights under 42 U.S.C. §1983 against the current Defendants. Plaintiff added six paragraphs to the “Facts” section in an attempt to provide support to his previously pleaded allegations. (D.I. 32, ¶¶ 27-32). For example, Plaintiff alleged that shortly before his termination, he was driving with Amir Mohammadi (“Mohammadi”), Executive Vice President for Finance, who received a phone call from Williams. (D.I. 32, ¶¶ 14, 27). Mohammadi placed the call on speaker, and Plaintiff alleges that he heard Williams refer to Plaintiff as a “white fat fuck.” (D.I. 32, ¶ 27). Plaintiff also contends that on a separate occasion, Williams commented that Plaintiff “doesn't get along with black people.” (D.I. 32, ¶ 28). Plaintiff alleges these references to his race evidence a motivating factor for his termination. (D.I. 32, ¶ 29).

         In his Third Amended Complaint, Plaintiff also contends that after his termination, Mohammadi told him that his termination was motivated by race, and that Defendants wanted an African-American in his position. (D.I. 32, ¶ 30). Additionally, Plaintiff alleges that a DSU Board Member, Jose Echiverri, told plaintiff, “it seems like the white people are being let go.” (D.I. 32, ¶ 31). Plaintiff alleges this comment not only referred to him, but other Caucasian employees who were abruptly terminated and replaced by African-American employees. (D.I. 32, ¶ 32).

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         In ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court must accept all well-pleaded factual allegations as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 229 (3d Cir. 2010); see also Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232-33 (3d Cir. 2008). “To survive a motion to dismiss, [however, ] a civil plaintiff must allege facts that ‘raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).'” Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is appropriate if a complaint does not contain “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570)); see also Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). A claim is facially plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The Court is not obligated to accept as true “bald assertions” or “unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences.” Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997) Schuylkill Energy Res., Inc. v. Pennsylvania Power & Light Co., 113 F.3d 405, 417 (3d Cir. 1997). Instead, “[t]he complaint must state enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of [each] necessary element” of a plaintiff's claim. Wilkerson v. New Media Tech. Charter Sch. Inc., 522 F.3d 315, 321 (3d Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         III. ...


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