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Rogers v. Shinseki

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Augusta Division

November 4, 2014

JOSEPHINE D. ROGERS, Plaintiff,
v.
ERIC K. SHINSEKI, Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs, Defendant.

ORDER

J. RANDAL HALL, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 46.) In this action, Plaintiff Josephine D. Rogers, a former registered dietician at the Department of Veterans Affairs ("VA") Medical Center in Augusta, Georgia, alleges her supervisors harassed her and retaliated against her on the basis of race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.

On March 18, 2014, the Court granted Ms. Rogers leave to file an amended complaint. Ms. Rogers timely filed her amended complaint on April 25, 2014 (Doc. 41), to which Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss in lieu of an answer (Doc. 46). Ms. Rogers did not respond to Defendant's motion within fourteen days and thus, pursuant to this Court's Local Rules, the Court could have deemed the motion unopposed. L.R. 7.5, SDGa. Recognizing, however, that Ms. Rogers is proceeding pro se and did file a Motion for Default Judgment within the fourteen-day window, the Court issued an Order on October 8, 2014 granting Ms. Rogers ten additional days in which to respond to the instant motion to dismiss.[1] In a timely, one-page filing, Ms. Rogers has responded that "[a]ll parties are aware that Plaintiff has not been privy to the content of the Motion to Dismiss, " and she cites two articles from The Augusta Chronicle, published in July, that report on the prevalence of retaliation complaints across the country at VA facilities. (Doc. 54.) She cites no other facts relevant to the claims set forth in her Amended Complaint and no legal authority in opposition to Defendant's motion.

The Court again finds Ms. Rogers' filing fails to address the merits of the motion presently before the Court, but the Court is not inclined to continue granting Ms. Rogers second and third opportunities given her persistent confusion about the duties of litigants before this Court and Defendant's consistent flexibility in response.[2] Indeed, although plaintiffs who act pro se are "held to a less stringent standard" than attorneys and their pleadings "will, therefore, be liberally construed, " those same plaintiffs have "no license to harass others, clog the judicial machinery with meritless litigation, and abuse already overloaded court dockets." Tannenbaum v. United States , 148 F.3d 1262, 1263 (11th Cir. 1998); Patterson v. Aiken , 841 F.2d 386, 387 (11th Cir. 1988) (internal quotation marks omitted). But in consideration of Ms. Rogers' pro se status and this Court's strong policy of determining cases on the merits, the Court proceeds to evaluate Defendant's motion for dismissal in the context of Ms. Rogers' two claims: retaliation and constructive discharge.

I. LEGAL STANDARD

The Court must construe the pleadings of a complaint broadly and in the light most favorable to the plaintiff in reviewing a motion to dismiss. Watts v. Fla. Int'l Univ. , 495 F.3d 1289, 1295 (11th Cir. 2007). At this stage, the Court tests for legal sufficiency, not whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail on the merits. Scheuer v. Rhodes , 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). Although a plaintiff is not required to provide "detailed factual allegations" to survive a motion to dismiss, the "obligation to provide the grounds' of his entitle[ment] to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Simply put, the court need not accept the complaint's legal conclusions as true, only its well-pled facts. Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009).

As the Court previously noted, when plaintiffs act pro se, the pleadings are "held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by attorneys and will, therefore, be liberally construed." Tannenbaum v. United States , 148 F.3d 1262, 1263 (11th Cir. 1998). "This leniency, however, does not require or allow courts to rewrite an otherwise deficient pleading in order to sustain an action." Thomas v. Pentagon Fed. Credit Union , 393 F.Appx. 635, 637 (11th Cir. 2010).

II. DISCUSSION

The Court previously outlined the facts of this case in thorough form in its March 18, 2014 Order. (Doc. 38 at 1-6.) A liberal reading of the Amended Complaint reveals two claims: (1) retaliation and (2) constructive discharge. The Court addresses each in turn.

A. Ms. Rogers' Direct Retaliation Claims

To state a claim for retaliation under Title VII, the plaintiff must first establish a prima facie case. Olmstead v. Taco Bell Corp. , 141 F.3d 1457, 1460 (11th Cir. 1998). If this prima facie case is met, a presumption of retaliation arises and the burden shifts to the defendant to "proffer a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for the adverse employment action." Id . If the defendant sets forth such a reason, the presumption disappears and the plaintiff must show that the reasons stated were merely a pretext. Id .; Masso v. Miami-Dade Cnty. , 465 F.Supp.2d 1260, 1265 (S.D. Fla. 2006).

"A prima facie case of retaliation contains three elements: first, the plaintiff engaged in statutorily protected conduct; second, the plaintiff suffered an adverse employment action; and finally, the adverse action was causally related to the protected expression.'" Williams v. Motorola, Inc. , 303 F.3d 1284, 1291 (11th Cir. 2002) (quoting Farley v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. , 197 F.3d 1322, 1336 (11th Cir. 1999)). In determining whether activity is statutorily protected, the Supreme Court and Eleventh Circuit have recognized two categories of activity: "An employee is protected from discrimination if (1) he has opposed any practice made an unlawful employment practice by this subchapter' (the opposition clause) or (2) he has made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under this subchapter' (the participation clause)." Clover v. Total Sys. Servs., Inc. , 176 F.3d 1346, 1350 (11th Cir. 1999) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a)).

When proceeding under the opposition clause, a plaintiff need not prove the underlying discrimination claim, but must demonstrate "a good faith, reasonable belief that the employer was engaged in unlawful employment practices." Weeks v. Harden Mfg. Corp. , 291 F.3d 1307, 1311 (11th Cir. 2002) (internal quotation marks omitted).

It is critical to emphasize that a plaintiff's burden under this standard has both a subjective and an objective component. A plaintiff must not only show that [s]he subjectively (that is, in good faith) believed that [her] employer was engaged in unlawful employment practices, but also that [her] ...

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