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Griffiths v. City of Tucson

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

May 24, 2013

SHAROLYNN L. GRIFFITHS, a single woman, Plaintiff,
CITY OF TUCSON, a municipal corporation of the State of Arizona, Defendant.


CINDY K. JORGENSON, District Judge.

Pending before this Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 9). Plaintiff filed a Response on January 14, 2013. (Doc. 14). In it, Plaintiff withdrew one of her claims and pled in the alternative for leave to amend Plaintiff's Complaint if Defendant's Motion is granted. Defendant filed its Reply on February 6, 2013. (Doc. 19).

Although Defendant has requested oral argument, the Court finds this matter appropriate for decision without oral argument. See LRCiv. 7.2(f); 27A Fed.Proc., L.Ed. § 62:367 ("A district court generally is not required to hold a hearing or oral argument before ruling on a motion."). As such, Defendant's request for oral argument is denied. After reviewing the moving, opposing, and replying papers, for reasons set forth below, the Court grants Defendant's Motion to Dismiss and grants Plaintiff's request for Leave to Amend Complaint.

Background [1]

On June 4, 2012, Plaintiff Sharolynn Griffiths filed a complaint containing two counts against her employer, the City of Tucson (the "City"), alleging claims of sexual harassment and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. In Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss she withdrew her claim for retaliation. (Doc. 14).

Plaintiff began work as a law clerk for the City of Tucson Public Defender Office on or about December 17, 2007. In or about August 2009, she was promoted to Assistant Public Defender in that office. Plaintiff alleges that beginning in or about November 2009 through October 2010, an unnamed City Court judge whom she appeared in front of "subjected her to pervasive and egregious sexual harassment on a daily basis, including, without limitation, sexually explicit emails and text messages, verbal comments, and physical conduct." The judge warned the Plaintiff that rejecting his advances would not be good for Plaintiff's career and reminded Plaintiff about his role in her performance evaluations. The Plaintiff did not welcome the judge's conduct, "and made clear that it was unwelcome, but the judge continued his harassment." After the Plaintiff once again rejected the judge's advances, the judge publicly chastised, berated, and humiliated Plaintiff in open court without cause on or about October 14, 2010.

Plaintiff further alleges that upon information and belief the unnamed judge had made similar, inappropriate advances toward other females before he had pursued the Plaintiff. Plaintiff believes the City was aware of these prior incidents but failed to take actions to address the judge's conduct, and that this failure to act demonstrates a ratification of the judge's harassment by the City.

Plaintiff timely filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Arizona Civil Rights Division, which was dual-filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). The EEOC has issued a notice of right to sue to Plaintiff.

Plaintiff claims Defendant unlawfully discriminated against her under Title VII by subjecting her to severe or pervasive conduct that was subjectively and objectively offensive and changed the terms and conditions of her employment and created a hostile work environment. The City knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to take prompt and effective action to prevent the conduct. Plaintiff has suffered damages, including, without limitation, pain and suffering, emotional distress, mental anguish, and loss of enjoyment of life as a result of the alleged discrimination.

Motion to Dismiss

On December 14, 2012, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss alleging Plaintiff failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant Fed.R.Civ.P. Rules 8(a) and 12(b)(6). Defendant contends that Plaintiff has failed to allege sufficient facts showing she was subjected to unwelcome verbal or physical conduct because of her sex and that it was severe or pervasive enough that it altered the conditions of her employment and created an abusive work environment. Further, Defendant argues the facts plead do not demonstrate a reason the City knew or should have known of the alleged previous harassment and therefore there are no grounds for vicarious liability upon the Defendant.

Legal Standard

A pleading must contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief[.]" Rule 8(a), Fed.R.Civ.P. While Rule 8 does not demand detailed factual allegations, "it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. Neither do mere assertions devoid of any factual enhancement. Id. A court does not have to accept as true, legal conclusions unsupported by factual allegations. Id.

"[A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id at 678. (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). A claim is 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." Id. "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief ...

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