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Rhodes v. Scottsdale Community College

United States District Court, D. Arizona

December 23, 2019

James Rhodes, Plaintiff,
Scottsdale Community College, et al., Defendants.



         Pending before the Court is Defendant Scottsdale Community College's Partial Motion to Dismiss First Amended Complaint (“Motion”). (Doc. 36.) Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint (“FAC”) alleges discrimination based on age and race; retaliation; hostile work environment; and a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendant asks the Court to dismiss Plaintiff's discrimination and hostile work environment claims. Furthermore, Defendant asks the Court to dismiss Plaintiff's § 1983 claim, and Plaintiff responded consenting to dismissal. For the reasons stated herein, the Court will require Defendant to answer Plaintiff's age discrimination and retaliation claims, but dismisses the racial discrimination, § 1983, and hostile work environment claims.

         I. Factual Summary

         Plaintiffs FAC alleges that he was a Caucasian, Adjunct Culinary Arts Instructor employed by Defendant. When Plaintiff learned of two job openings for Front of House Manager and Executive Chef, he spoke to his supervisor-an African American man-about applying for the positions. The supervisor told Plaintiff he was “too old” and “too fat” to get the jobs. Despite the discouragement, Plaintiff applied and was asked to interview with the hiring board. Before the interview, Plaintiff's supervisor sent an email to the board indicating that Plaintiff had not properly cleaned the kitchen after a class. The supervisor later rescinded this statement, but only to Plaintiff; he did not inform the board that his allegations were false.

         Plaintiff was not selected for either position; the positions were given to two African American males under the age of 40. Plaintiff alleges these individuals were less qualified for the position than Plaintiff.

         Plaintiff then complained to Human Resources about the supervisor's statements. After the complaint, Plaintiff (1) received another false review from his supervisor, (2) had one class cancelled, and (3) had one class given to another instructor. With no classes remaining, Defendant did not renew its employment contract with Plaintiff.

         II. Standard of Review

         A motion under 12(b)(6) must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). While Rule 8 does not require detailed factual allegations, “it demands more than an unadorned, the defendant unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “[A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Id. (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (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. The complaint must contain more than “a statement of facts that merely creates a suspicion [of] a legally cognizable right of action.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Meaning, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id.

         “Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief [is] . . . a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. So, although a plaintiff's specific factual allegations may be consistent with a constitutional claim, a court must assess whether there are other “more likely explanations” for a defendant's conduct. Id. at 681.

         If the plaintiff “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, ” the District Court must dismiss the claim. 28 U.S.C. §1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). But, a “complaint [filed by a pro se litigant] ‘must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'” Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (per curiam)). Dismissal is appropriate if the complaint's deficiencies cannot be cured by amendment; but if the pleading can be remedied through the addition of facts, the claimant should be granted an opportunity to amend a complaint prior to final dismissal. Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1127-29 (9th Cir. 2000). However, repeated failure to cure deficiencies may affect whether the court should grant leave to amend yet again. Moore v. Kayport Package Exp., Inc., 885 F.2d 531, 538 (9th Cir. 1989). In fact, the Court's discretion to deny leave to amend is particularly broad where a plaintiff has previously been permitted to amend his complaint. Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe v. United States, 90 F.3d 351, 355 (9th Cir. 1996); see Bonin v. Calderon, 59 F.3d 815, 845 (9th Cir. 1995) (“[A] district court does not abuse its discretion in denying a motion to amend where the movant presents no new facts but only new theories and provides no satisfactory explanation for his failure to fully develop his contentions originally.”).

         III. Racial Discrimination Claim

         Defendant's Motion claims that Plaintiff's alleged facts fail to demonstrate that racial animus motivated the employment decision. In addition, Defendant argues, Plaintiff has only made conclusory statements that the individuals hired were similarly situated to Plaintiff.

         A complaint of racial discrimination in employment must plead facts demonstrating “(1) he was a member of a protected class, (2) he was qualified for the position he sought . . ., (3) he suffered an adverse employment action, such as termination, demotion, or denial of an available job, and (4) some other circumstance suggests discriminatory motive.” Pinder v. Emp't Dev. Dep't., 227 F.Supp.3d 1123, 1137 (E.D. Cal. 2017) (citing Peterson v. Hewlett-Packard Co. 358 F.3d 599, 603 (9th Cir. 2004) (finding discrimination claim must be “more than purely conclusory allegations of alleged discrimination, with no concrete, relevant particulars.” (internal citation and quotation marks omitted)). While a claimant need not establish a prima facie case of discrimination to withstand a motion to dismiss, he must meet the minimal pleading standards set forth in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 510-11 (2002); see also Al-Kidd v. Ashcroft, 580 F.3d 949, 976 (9th Cir. 2009), rev'd on other grounds sub nom., Ashcroft v. Al-Kidd, 131 S.Ct. 2074 (2011) (noting that Twombly reaffirmed the pleading requirement for discrimination claims as stated in Swierkiewicz). “The issue [on a motion to dismiss] is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims.” Id. So, at this stage, a claimant's allegations need only “nudge . . . the claim across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Al-Kidd, 580 F.3d at 976.

         Plaintiffs racial discrimination allegations, however, do not cross this line. Plaintiff alleges only that two African American men were hired instead of him and that his supervisor was also African American. The basic fact that all three individuals were African American does not, in and of itself, suggest racial bias. There is no direct evidence of racial animus. While the supervisor said Plaintiff was “too old” and “too fat” to get the jobs, he made no comment about Plaintiff's race. Moreover, the proffered circumstantial evidence-that both supervisor and the hired employees were African American-is a barren, conclusory allegation that does not lead a reasonable fact finder to connect the hiring decision to racial animus. There are no operative facts suggesting that either the supervisor or the hiring board made its employment determination based on Plaintiffs race. Plaintiff's allegations simply do not raise the claim above the speculative level, and do not provide the minimal ...

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