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Cherry v. State ex rel. Department of Human Services

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

September 19, 2017

CHERYL L. CHERRY, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF OKLAHOMA, ex rel. DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN E. DOWDELL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. Plaintiffs Allegations

         In this employment discrimination action, plaintiff asserts several claims against the State of Oklahoma, ex rel. Department of Human Services (DHS), its Director, Edward Lake, and Jina Vietta, who was a supervisor of plaintiff at DHS. DHS and Lake move to dismiss (Doc. 8, 9).[1]The facts set forth herein are alleged in the plaintiffs Petition and are taken as true for purposes of this order.

         Plaintiff, who is an African American woman, began her employment with DHS in 1990 as a Clerk II. She was subsequently promoted to Adult Protective Services Specialist, and later gained supervisory duties over subordinate employees. Her decisions and actions were micromanaged by her supervisor, defendant Jina Vietta. In October 2012, based on allegations that plaintiff had violated policies regarding guardianships, Vietta demoted plaintiff from her supervisory position, and plaintiff was escorted to her desk. Plaintiff alleges that other supervisors, who were Caucasian, committed the same policy violations as plaintiff, but they were not demoted or escorted to their desks. Plaintiff also observed Vietta make untruthful allegations against other African American employees, who were held to a higher standard than Caucasian employees. At some point after the demotion, plaintiff was terminated. "Plaintiff believes that the hostile environment, disparate treatment, demotion and the termination of her employment was based upon her race." (Doc. 2-2 at 3).

         Based on the foregoing factual allegations, plaintiff asserts several claims against the defendants: (1) race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; (2) racial discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1981; (3) retaliation in violation of Title VII; (4) hostile work environment under Title VII; (5) intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED); and (6) violation of plaintiff s equal protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. Defendants DHS and Lake move to dismiss.

         II. Dismissal Standards

         In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court must determine whether plaintiff has stated a claim upon which relief may be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A 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 requires "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). Twombly articulated the pleading standard for all civil actions. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 684 (2009). The 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 claimant. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         The dismissal standard does "not require 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). "Asking for plausible grounds . . . does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage; it simply calls for enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence [supporting the claim]. And, of course, a well-pleaded [pleading] 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.'" Id. at 556. "Once a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint." Id. at 563.

         III. Director Lake

         Director Lake is sued in his individual capacity. All six of plaintiff s claims are asserted against him and will be addressed below.

         A. First, Third, and Fourth Claims: Title VII

         Lake moves to dismiss plaintiffs First, Third, and Fourth Claims against him in his individual capacity under Title VII, because individual capacity suits under Title VII are inappropriate. (Doc. 9 at 6). In response, plaintiff "agrees to dismiss her First, Third, and Fourth Claims for Relief under Title VII against Defendant Lake." (Doc. 13 at 1). Accordingly, Lake's motion to dismiss these claims is granted, and those claims are dismissed.

         B. Fifth Claim: IIED

         Under Oklahoma law, IIED claims are governed by the narrow standards set forth in the Restatement Second of Torts, § 46. Gaylord Entm't Co. v. Thompson, 958 P.2d 128, 149 (Okla. 1998). In Breeden v. League Servs. ...


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