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Jones v. Eastern Oklahoma Radiation Therapy Associates, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

July 10, 2017

CHERYL HARLIN JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
EASTERN OKLAHOMA RADIATION THERAPY ASSOCIATES, LLC, a domestic limited liability company, DARREN CRABTREE, an individual, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN E. DOWDELL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is the Defendants' Combined Motion to Dismiss (the “Motion”) (Doc. 7). For the reasons discussed herein, the Court finds that the Motion should be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff is an African American female who worked for Defendant Eastern Oklahoma Radiation Therapy Associates (“EORTA”), from April 2006 to January 2014. Plaintiff was hired as a Chief Radiation Therapist. In May 2009, plaintiff hired defendant Darren Crabtree (“Mr. Crabtree”) to be a Staff Therapist with EORTA. Plaintiff was responsible for training Mr. Crabtree. Plaintiff alleges that Mr. Crabtree verbally accosted her. Plaintiff raised the issue with the owner of EORTA, but no actions were taken to address Mr. Crabtree's conduct. In 2009, Plaintiff was demoted to the position of Staff Therapist. In 2011, Mr. Crabtree separated from EORTA. He was rehired in 2013 as the Director of Operations. In January 2014, Mr. Crabtree discharged plaintiff due to decreasing patient volume and finances. Plaintiff asserts she was performing her job functions satisfactorily at the time she was discharged. Plaintiff alleges that Mr. Crabtree replaced plaintiff with someone less qualified and less experienced than her. Neither Mr. Crabtree nor plaintiff's replacement are African American.

         Plaintiff timely filed her complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). The EEOC's investigation found probable cause of violations surrounding plaintiff's termination. On April 2, 2015, the EEOC asked EORTA to conciliate the matter, but these efforts failed. The EEOC then issued a “Notice of Right to Sue (Conciliation Failure)” letter to plaintiff on June 18, 2015. Plaintiff retained counsel and filed suit against EORTA in Tulsa County District Court on September 11, 2015. On February 8, 2016, counsel for plaintiff informed plaintiff that it was severing the attorney-client relationship and advised plaintiff to find substitute counsel or proceed pro se.

         Plaintiff retained present counsel and dismissed her state court case without prejudice on March 7, 2016. Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on March 18, 2016, alleging race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. EORTA and Mr. Crabtree (collectively, “the defendants”) seek dismissal under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), asserting that the Complaint was not timely filed and that it fails to state a plausible claim upon which relief can be granted. Defendant EORTA also requests attorney's fees and costs incurred in seeking the dismissal of plaintiff's Title VII claim.

         II. Legal Standard

         In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal motion, the court must determine whether the plaintiff has stated a claim upon which relief may be granted. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require “a short and plain statement of the claim to show that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The complaint must provide “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). The standard does “not require a heightened fact pleading of specifics, but only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, ” and the factual allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. at 555-56, 570 (citations omitted). The Twombly pleading standard is applicable to all civil actions. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 684 (2009). For the purpose of making the dismissal determination, a court must accept all the well-pleaded factual allegations of the complaint as true, even if doubtful, and must construe the allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; Alvarado v. KOB-TV, L.L.C., 493 F.3d 1210, 1215 (10th Cir. 2007).

         III. Plaintiff's Title VII Claim

         A. Timing

         Defendant EORTA argues that plaintiff's title VII claim should be dismissed because it was not filed within ninety days after the EEOC issued the right to sue letter. (Doc. 7 at 4). Specifically, the EEOC issued the right to sue letter on June 18, 2015. (Doc. 2, ¶ 29). Plaintiff filed her Title VII claim 274 days later, on March 18, 2016. Plaintiff responds that the Court should exercise its discretion and find that equitable tolling is proper under the circumstances, namely because plaintiff's state court petition was defective. (Doc. 11 at 4-5).[1]

         A plaintiff is required to bring her Title VII claim within ninety days from the issuance of an EEOC right to sue letter. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1). A motion to dismiss for failure to file a Title VII action within the 90-day period should be considered under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). See Barrett v. Rumsfeld, 158 F. App'x 89, 91 (10th Cir. 2005) (unpublished) (citing Anjelino v. N.Y. Times Co., 200 F.3d 73, 87 (3d Cir. 1999)). “Compliance with the filing requirements of Title VII is not a jurisdictional prerequisite, rather it is a condition precedent to suit that functions like a statute of limitations and is subject to waiver, estoppel, and equitable tolling.” Id. (quoting Million v. Frank, 47 F.3d 385, 389 (10th Cir. 1995)). The Tenth Circuit “has generally recognized equitable tolling of Title VII periods of limitation only if circumstances ‘rise to the level of active deception which might invoke the powers of equity to toll the limitations period.”' Montoya v. Chao, 296 F.3d 952, 957 (10th Cir. 2002) (quoting Cottrell v. Newspaper Agency Corp., 590 F.2d 836, 838-39 (10th Cir. 1979)). The Supreme Court has “noted that ‘federal courts have typically extended equitable relief only sparingly, '” and that it has been allowed

in situations where the claimant has actively pursued [her] judicial remedies by filing a defective pleading during the statutory period, or where the complainant has been induced or tricked by his adversary's misconduct into allowing the filing deadline to pass. We have generally been much less forgiving in receiving late filings ...

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