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Lofton v. Fts International Manufacturing, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

August 30, 2017

CHRIS L. LOFTON, Plaintiff,



         Two motions sit before the Court. In one, Defendant asks the Court to dismiss Plaintiff's claims on timeliness grounds. Doc. 20. In the other, Plaintiff moves to strike several of Defendant's affirmative defenses. Doc. 23. Upon review, the Court will GRANT IN PART and DENY IN PART the Motion to Dismiss and GRANT the Motion to Strike.

         I. Background

         This is a racial discrimination case that Plaintiff Chris Lofton brings against his former employer, FTS International Manufacturing, LLC (“FTS”), for hostile work environment, retaliation, and termination. In short, Mr. Lofton, an African American, alleges that he was repeatedly the victim of racially charged remarks and deprived of opportunities for advancement despite his numerous complaints to management.

         The racially charged remarks and discriminatory actions allegedly commenced shortly after FTS hired Mr. Lofton for the daytime shift in October 2011. One of Mr. Lofton's coworkers, Victor Martinez began directing racial jokes and offensive language towards Mr. Lofton. This initial span of allegedly discriminatory treatment could not have lasted long; FTC terminated Mr. Lofton sometime in his first month. That decision, however, was allegedly reversed after Mr. Lofton complained to his district manager about Martinez's racial discrimination. When FTC restored Mr. Lofton's employment, it transferred him to the nightshift, away from Mr. Martinez.

         Fast forward to January 2014. One of Mr. Lofton's white coworkers, Nathan Shively, ascends to supervisor and transfers Martinez to the nightshift. But according to Mr. Lofton, Martinez's transfer, and its accompanying deluge of derogatory remarks, not only affected Mr. Lofton. Other employees, apparently following Martinez's lead, began using racial slurs towards Mr. Lofton. Mr. Lofton allegedly enjoyed a brief respite from his coworkers' behavior when he began working in the oil field in late 2014. Yet by February 2015 Mr. Lofton was back working the nightshift as a “mechanic” with Martinez. The racial slurs apparently continued in February and March 2015 despite Mr. Lofton's repeated complaints to his new supervisor, Rudy Garcia, and Garcia's assurance that he would address the problem. Mr. Lofton alleges Garcia never did so, even after Garcia allegedly witnessed another employee use a racial slur towards him.

         Mr. Lofton then requested a transfer back to the oil field. Management denied his request even though allegedly less qualified white employees were working in the field. This was apparently somewhat emblematic of Mr. Lofton's time at FTS; he argues that the company never offered him the same training opportunities it offered to its white employees.

         Finally, on April 7, 2015, FTS terminated Mr. Lofton after one of his Hispanic coworkers allegedly reported him for sleeping on the job. To no avail, Mr. Lofton explained to FTS management that he had been sleeping in the locker room on the instructions of Garcia, who had apparently told him to nap at work rather than go home sick.

         Mr. Lofton filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on October 29, 2015. After the EEOC issued Mr. Lofton a right to sue letter on December 5, 2016, he brought claims for hostile work environment, retaliation, and termination under the Oklahoma Antidiscrimination Act (OADA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. FTS has moved to dismiss Mr. Lofton's OADA and Title VII claims. The Court addresses these claims before deciding whether to grant Mr. Lofton's Motion to Strike.

         II. Motion to Dismiss

         FTS presses three reasons why Mr. Lofton's OADA and Title VII claims must be dismissed: Mr. Lofton failed to (1) exhaust administrative remedies, (2) comply with the statute of limitations, and (3) plead his allegations with the requisite plausibility.

         A. Standard of Review

         “Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a pleading must contain a ‘short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-78 (2009). “The pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require ‘detailed factual allegations, ' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Id. at 678 (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). There must be “sufficient factual matter, [which if] accepted as true . . . state[s] a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A plausible claim is one that “pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. If the allegations “do not support a legal claim for relief, ” then “as a matter of law” they must be dismissed. Baker v. Publishers Clearing House, 413 F.App'x 85, 87 (10th Cir. 2011).

         The above standard assumes that the Court should analyze Mr. Lofton's Complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim, as FTC asks. At least as it relates to whether Mr. Lofton pled instances of discrimination with specificity, the Court will analyze that issue under 12(b)(6). But as for the matter of whether Mr. Lofton exhausted his administrative remedies by timely filing a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, it is not perfectly clear that the Court should treat FTC's Motion as one under Rule 12(b)(6).

         This confusion stems from ongoing debate in this Circuit about whether exhausting administrative remedies with the EEOC is a jurisdictional requirement analyzed under 12(b)(1) or merely a condition precedent for filing suit decided under Rule 12(b)(6). See Jones v. Standard Consulting, Standard Testing & Eng'g Co., No. CIV-16-1020-R, 2017 WL 1148685, at *1 (W.D. Okla. Mar. 24, 2017) (Russell, J.) (“The Tenth Circuit's position on whether exhaustion is jurisdictional or merely a condition precedent has been in a state of evolution in recent years.”); Jones v. Needham, 856 F.3d 1284, 1289 (10th Cir. 2017) (noting the confusion but clarifying that the Tenth Circuit's “recent cases suggest that exhaustion in this context might be better characterized as a claims-processing obligation”). One district court has distinguished challenges asserting a claimant failed to exhaust his administrative remedies by timely filing an EEOC charge from challenges arguing a claimant did not file a charge at all. See Tolbert v. Ean Servs., LLC, 2016 WL 796096, at *3 (N.D. Okla. Feb. 26, 2016) (“Under Title VII, the filing of an EEOC charge is a jurisdictional requirement, analyzed under Rule 12(b)(1), whereas the timely filing of EEOC charge is a condition precedent to suit, analyzed under Rule 12(b)(6).”).

         In any event, the distinction does not drive the Court's decision in this case. “Whether the exhaustion requirement is characterized as jurisdictional is important only when the defendant has waived or forfeited the issue.” Hung Thai Pham v. James, 630 F.App'x 735, 738 (10th Cir. 2015).[1] Because FTS plainly raises the issue in its Answer, it has not waived the defense.

         B. OADA Claims

         Mr. Lofton brings his state law claims under the OADA, Okla. Stat. tit. 25, § 1302(A). That provision grants a right of action to individuals discriminated against by their employers for “discharg[ing] or otherwise . . . discriminat[ing] against an individual with respect to [their employment] because of, ” race, among other things. Unfortunately for Mr. Lofton, the OADA, specifically § 1502, requires claimants, in order for their petitions to be timely, to “file a complaint with the Oklahoma Human Rights Commission (OHRC) within 180 days after the alleged discriminatory practice occurs.” Forcum v. Via Christi Health Sys., Inc., 137 P.3d 1250, 1253 (Okla.Civ.App. 2006). This he did not do. FTC's last discriminatory action-terminating him-took place on April 7, 2015. The OADA gave ...

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