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Lawson v. Speight

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

November 6, 2017

ERIC LAWSON, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff commenced the above-captioned employment discrimination case pro se and is proceeding in forma pauperis (“IFP”). Because he is proceeding IFP, Plaintiff's amended complaint must be screened to protect potential Defendants. Phillips v. Mashburn, 746 F.2d 782, 785 (11th Cir. 1984). Pleadings drafted by pro se litigants must be liberally construed, Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972), but the Court may dismiss a complaint, or any part thereof, that is frivolous or malicious or that fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) & (ii).


         A. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff and Defendants were employees at Medtronic.[1] (Doc. no. 1, pp. 3, 10.)

         Plaintiff had a “playful social relationship” with Defendant Beth Love, team leader at Medtronic. (Id. at 9.) On November 3, 2016, Plaintiff and Ms. Love were “playing together” at work when he “touched her on her arm and she ran.” (Id. at 4, 9.) Defendant Kelly Speight placed Plaintiff on administrative leave. (Id. at 4.) Plaintiff requested “African Americans to be present at their administrative hearings and investigations, ” to which Ms. Speight agreed. (Id.) However, none were present at the hearings and none were involved in any investigation. (Id.) On November 28, 2016, Ms. Speight fired Plaintiff for “violating Medtronic policy and offensive behavior.” (Id. at 9.) Ms. Speight called Plaintiff to tell him he was fired. (Id. at 4.) Defendant David Cadden was present with Ms. Speight at the time of the call and said “I told you” to Plaintiff over the phone. (Id. at 4.) Plaintiff and Mr. Cadden had a dispute about Ms. Love “years ago.” (Id. at 10.) Plaintiff told Ms. Speight that Mr. Cadden was “bias[ed], prejudice[d] and [has] been firing African Americans in the same or similar ways.” (Id. at 5.) Plaintiff was not given the opportunity to defend himself or be present or represented at any “termination meetings.” (Id. at 6.)

         Plaintiff filed a charge with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). However, Plaintiff stated he has not received a right to sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). (Id. at 6.)

         B. DISCUSSION

         1. Legal Standard for Screening

         The amended complaint or any portion thereof may be dismissed if it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, of if it seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune to such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). A claim is frivolous if it “lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989). Moreover, “[f]ailure to state a claim under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is governed by the same standard as dismissal for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).” Wilkerson v. H & S, Inc., 366 F. App'x 49, 51 (11th Cir. 2010) (citing Mitchell v. Farcass, 112 F.3d 1483, 1490 (11th Cir. 1997)).

         To avoid dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the allegations in the complaint must “state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). That is, “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. While Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure does not require detailed factual allegations, “it demands more than an unadorned, the defendant unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A complaint is insufficient if it “offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, '” or if it “tenders ‘naked assertions' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557). In short, the complaint must provide a “‘plain statement' possess[ing] enough heft to ‘sho[w] that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).

         Finally, the court affords a liberal construction to a pro se litigant's pleadings, holding them to a more lenient standard than those drafted by an attorney. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). However, this liberal construction does not mean that the court has a duty to re-write the complaint. Snow v. DirecTV, Inc., 450 F.3d 1314, 1320 (11th Cir. 2006).

         2. Plaintiff Fails to State a Title VII Claim.

         Plaintiff's complaint attempts to assert a Title VII employment discrimination claim against Defendants. (Doc. no. 1, p. 4.) However, Plaintiff conceded the EEOC has not yet issued such a letter with regards to the charge he filed on January 12, 2017. Prior to bringing a claim of employment discrimination under Title VII, a plaintiff is required to exhaust available administrative remedies. Wilkerson v. Grinnell Corp., 270 F.3d 1314, 1317 (11th Cir. 2001). Generally, as an initial step, the aggrieved employee must file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC and receive a right-to-sue letter. Id.; see also 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1) (requiring charges be filed within ninty days of issuance of a right-to-sue letter). The receipt of the right-to-sue letter is not a jurisdictional requirement, but rather a statutory prerequisite subject to equitable defenses. See Zipes v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 455 U.S. 385, 393 (1982) (holding prerequisite of obtaining a right-to-sue letter is subject to waiver, estoppel, and equitable tolling); Forehand v. Fla. State Hosp. at Chattahoochee, 89 F.3d 1562, 1569 (11th Cir. 1996) (“[R]eceipt of a right-to-sue letter is not a jurisdictional prerequisite ...

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