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Vinson v. Macon-Bibb County

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

April 4, 2019

TOYIA VINSON and TRISHA JAN BROWN, Plaintiffs,
v.
MACON-BIBB COUNTY; SAMUEL “WADE” MCCORD, in his individual and official capacity as the Tax Commissioner and former Assistant Tax Commissioner; and THOMAS TEDDERS, in his individual and official capacity as the former Tax Commissioner, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' PARTIAL MOTION TO DISMISS FOR FAILURE TO STATE A CLAIM

          TILMAN E. SELF, III, JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         Plaintiffs Toyia Vinson and Trisha Jan Brown are both African-American employees of the Macon-Bibb County Tax Commissioner's Office. In their Complaint, they assert employment discrimination claims based on race and retaliation against the Macon-Bibb County Tax Commissioner's Office, current Tax Commissioner and former Assistant Tax Commissioner S. Wade McCord, and former Tax Commissioner Thomas Tedders under 42 U.S.C. § 1981[1] and Title VII. After filing their Answer and Amended Answer [Docs. 9, 11], Defendants filed a Partial Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim [Doc. 10].

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The facts of this case are simple, and unless otherwise noted, are taken from Plaintiffs' Complaint and assumed to be true for the purposes for ruling on Defendants' motion.[2] Plaintiff Vinson began her employment with the Macon-Bibb County Tax Commissioner's Office as a Tax Office Clerk Trainee on January 16, 1993, while Plaintiff Brown, however, began her employment as a Tax Clerk Trainee on October 16, 2000. [Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 11-12]. Both Plaintiff Vinson and Plaintiff Brown currently hold the position titles of “Accounting Clerk III.” [Id. at ¶ 13]. In 2014, Tedders posted a hiring notice for the Staff Accountant position. [Id. at ¶ 14]. However, Tedders hired Thelma Bass, a white woman, for the position. [Id. at ¶ 16]. Because Tedders hired Bass, Plaintiffs claim that the tax commissioners, throughout their respective tenures, discriminated against them “by passing over them for a promotion, paying them less than their white [counterparts] for the same work, and discriminately denying them equal pay raises” and also “retaliat[ing] against [them] by changing their job duties” after they “complained to [McCord] about the discrimination.” [Id. at ¶¶ 24-25].

         The Court's succinct factual background encompasses the global issues concerning the partial dismissal motion currently before it. Undoubtedly, there are several additional facts[3] that may be relevant to Plaintiffs' claims in any forthcoming motion for summary judgment. However, given the nature of the issues presented in the current motion, issues involving the specific facts related to the job posting from the Tax Commissioner's Office, the job duties themselves, and Bass's qualifications-which seem to be the crux of Plaintiffs' claims-are, at this time, irrelevant. For purposes of this motion, Plaintiffs have undoubtedly alleged race-centered employment discrimination claims based on failure to promote, unequal pay, discriminatory pay raises, and retaliation. However, the narrow question before the Court on this motion is who can be held liable for those claims and in what capacity.

         DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         Defendants seek to dismiss certain claims against them for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When ruling on a 12(b)(6) motion, district courts must accept the facts set forth in the complaint as true. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 572 (2007). A complaint survives a motion to dismiss only if it alleges sufficient factual matter (accepted as true) that states a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. McCullough v. Finley, 907 F.3d 1324, 1333 (11th Cir. 2018) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009)). In fact, a well-pled complaint “may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable, and that a recovery is very remote and unlikely.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 (citations omitted).

         The issue to be decided when considering a motion to dismiss is not whether the claimant will ultimately prevail, but “whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims.” Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974), overruled on other grounds by Davis v. Scheuer, 468 U.S. 183 (1984). Stated differently, the complaint must allege enough facts “to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence” supporting a claim. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. “Accordingly, the court may dismiss a complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) when, on the basis of a dispositive issue of law, no construction of the factual allegations will support the cause of action.” Marshall Cnty. Bd. of Educ. v. Marshall Cnty. Gas Dist., 992 F.2d 1171, 1174 (11th Cir. 1993). With the foregoing standard in mind, and taking the facts asserted in Plaintiffs' Complaint regarding claims of employment discrimination based on race and retaliation as true, the Court rules on Defendants' Partial Motion to Dismiss.

         B. Defendants' Partial Motion to Dismiss [Doc. 10]

         In its most general sense, the motion before the Court seeks dismissal of all claims asserted against Macon-Bibb County and Tedders. [Doc. 10-1 at p. 1]. McCord, however, only seeks dismissal of claims asserted against him in his individual capacity. [Id.]; see also n.7, infra.

         1. Plaintiffs' Claims Against Macon-Bibb County

         As a preliminary matter, the Court dismisses all claims asserted against Macon-Bibb County. Under Georgia law, it is well-established that employees of constitutionally elected officers of a county are considered employees of the elected officer, not employees of the county. Boswell v. Bramlett, 549 S.E.2d 100, 102 (Ga. 2001). To explain its reasoning in Boswell, the Georgia Supreme Court cited a case from 1979, holding that “a person employed by the Tax Commissioner of Polk County (a constitutionally elected officer of the county) was an employee of the tax commissioner and was therefore not subject to work regulations established by the county governing authority for all employees paid from county funds.” Id. (citing Mobley v. Polk Cnty., 251 S.E.2d 538, 541 (Ga. 1979)).

         Moreover, the Georgia Constitution “distinguishes between county employees and employees of elected officials.” Id. For example, “Article IX, Sec. I, Par. IV, which preserves the distinction between county employees and the employees of elected officials, provides that the General Assembly may authorize the establishment of civil service systems by county governments ‘covering county employees or county employees and employees of elected county officials.'” Id. (emphasis added) (quoting Gwinnett Cnty. v. Yates, 458 S.E.2d 791 (Ga. 1995)). Furthermore, the Georgia Constitution also “limits the power of the county governing authority such that it cannot take action ‘affecting any elective county office . . . .'” Channell v. Houston, 699 S.E.2d 308, 311-12 (Ga. 2010) (quoting Ga. Const. of 1983 art. IX, § II, ¶ I(c)(1)). Because a county does not control elective officers and their offices, Plaintiffs' Complaint fails to identify any factual or legal basis for any relief whatsoever against Macon-Bibb County. Thus, the Court DISMISSES all of Plaintiffs' claims asserted against it. Further, the Court DIRECTS the Clerk of Court to TERMINATE Macon-Bibb County (or as named in Plaintiffs' Complaint: Macon-Bibb County Tax Commissioner's Office) as a party to this lawsuit. See [Doc. 1 at ¶ 1].

         2. Plaintiffs' Title VII Claims Against Defendants McCord and Tedders

         Having dismissed Macon-Bibb County as a party to this lawsuit, the Court next addresses Plaintiffs' conceded claims. Plaintiffs withdrew their Title VII claims brought against Defendants McCord and Tedders in their individual capacities. See Busby v. City of Orlando, 931 F.2d 764, 772 (11th Cir. 1991) (“Individual capacity suits under Title VII are . . . inappropriate. The relief granted under Title VII is against the employer, not individual employees whose actions would constitute a violation of the Act.”); see also [Doc. 15 at p. 6, n.2]. Additionally, Plaintiffs, in their Response to Defendants' motion, admit that their failure-to-promote claims brought under Title VII are time-barred for failure to exhaust administrative remedies through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ...


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