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Nazinitsky v. Integris Baptist Medical Center, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

May 13, 2019




         Before this Court is Defendant INTEGRIS Baptist Medical Center, Inc.'s Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 6). The matter is fully briefed and at issue. See Docs. 6, 9-10. For the reasons stated herein, the Court DENIES Defendant's motion.

         I. Background

         The Court takes as true all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint and views them in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. See Burnett v. Mortg. Elec. Registration Sys., Inc., 706 F.3d 1231, 1235 (10th Cir. 2013). Plaintiff Allison Nazinitsky brings claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Equal Pay Act (“EPA”), 29 U.S.C. § 206(d)(1). See Doc. 1, at 3-5. Plaintiff is a board-certified physician of internal medicine and infectious disease, and she was hired by Defendant in this capacity in 2015. Id. at 2.[1] While employed with Defendant, Plaintiff was paid less than her male counterparts for substantially similar work; specifically, a male transplant nephrologist and a male medical director each received salaries falling within the ninety-ninth percentile of compensation for their positions, while Plaintiff's salary fell within the twenty-fifth percentile for her position. Id. at 2-3. Moreover, she was not provided adequate support staff, including no secretarial, nursing, or medical assistance, during her employment with Defendant. Id. at 3. Plaintiff complained about this mistreatment, but Defendant did not address her concerns. Id. After an accusation of inappropriate conduct was lodged against Plaintiff-which she asserts was false and retaliatory-she was constructively discharged on May 17, 2017. Id. at 2-3.

         Based on these allegations, Plaintiff brings charges of discriminatory and retaliatory discharge, unequal pay, and a hostile work environment-all in violation of Title VII- and unequal pay in violation of the EPA. Id. at 3-5. Defendant moves to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). See Doc. 6.

         II. Legal Standards for a Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss

         A legally-sufficient complaint must include “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a).[2] In operation, the rule requires that a complaint contain “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face'” to survive a motion to dismiss. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). This standard “is ‘a middle ground between heightened fact pleading . . . and allowing complaints that are no more than labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.'” Khalik v. United Air Lines, 671 F.3d 1188, 1191 (10th Cir. 2012) (quoting Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242, 1247 (10th Cir. 2008)). That is, the plaintiff's complaint “need only give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Id. at 1192 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). While assessing plausibility is “a context-specific task . . . requir[ing] . . . court[s] to draw on [their] judicial experience and common sense, ” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679, complaints “‘plead[ing] factual content that allows the court to . . . reasonabl[y] infer[] that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged'” are facially plausible. See S.E.C. v. Shields, 744 F.3d 633, 640 (10th Cir. 2014) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).

         III. Discussion

         Defendant makes three arguments in favor of dismissal: Plaintiff (1) fails to plead sufficient factual content to indicate whether her Title VII claims are timely, (2) failed to exhaust her hostile work environment claim, and (3) fails to plausibly state an EPA claim. See Doc. 6. These arguments are unavailing.

         (1) Defendant's Exhaustion-Related Arguments

         Defendant's first two arguments center on whether Plaintiff timely and properly exhausted her Title VII claims. Doc. 6, at 1-7. Failure to exhaust is an affirmative defense. Lincoln v. BNSF Ry. Co., 900 F.3d 1166, 1185 (10th Cir. 2018). Consequently, Defendant may raise it on a motion for dismiss if the “grounds for the defense appear on the face of the complaint.” Cirocco v. McMahon, No. 18-1096, ___ Fed.Appx. ___, 2019 WL 1594778, *3 (10th Cir. April 15, 2019); cf. Sierra Club v. Okla. Gas & Elec. Co., 816 F.3d 666, 671 (10th Cir. 2016) (“A statute of limitations defense may be appropriately resolved on a Rule 12(b) motion when the dates given in the complaint make clear that the right sued upon has been extinguished.” (internal quotation marks, citation, and brackets omitted)).

         “An employee wishing to challenge an employment practice under Title VII must first ‘file' a ‘charge' of discrimination with the EEOC.” Montes v. Vail Clinic, Inc., 497 F.3d 1160, 1163 (10th Cir. 2007) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1)). “A plaintiff normally may not bring a Title VII action based upon claims that were not part of a timely-filed EEOC charge for which the plaintiff has received a right-to-sue letter.” Foster v. Ruhrpumpen, Inc., 365 F.3d 1191, 1194 (10th Cir. 2004) (internal quotation marks, citation, and brackets omitted). The EEOC charge must be filed within a specific time period-for Plaintiff, 300 days-after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1); see also Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 109 (2002).

         When the charge-filing clock begins to run depends on the type of unlawful employment practice being alleged. For “discrete retaliatory or discriminatory act[s], ” such as “termination, failure to promote, denial of transfer, or refusal to hire, ” a plaintiff must file a charge covering these acts within 300 days of the date upon which they happened. Morgan, 536 U.S. at 110, 114; see also Martinez v. Potter, 347 F.3d 1208, 1210 (10th Cir. 2003) (“[E]ach discrete [discriminatory or retaliatory] incident . . . constitutes its own unlawful employment practice for which administrative remedies must be exhausted.” (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)). Title VII hostile work environment and disparate pay claims operate differently. For hostile work environment claims, “[i]t does not matter . . . that some of the component acts of the hostile work environment fall outside the statutory time period” so long as “an act contributing to the claim occurs within the filing period.” Morgan, 536 U.S. at 117. Similarly, the time period for filing an EEOC charge alleging disparate pay resets with “each paycheck affected by a discriminatory decision.” Groesch v. City of Springfield, 635 F.3d 1020, 1024 (7th Cir. 2011); see also 24 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(3) (“[A]n unlawful employment practice occurs, with respect to discrimination in compensation . . . when an individual is affected by application of a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice, including each time wages, benefits, or other compensation is paid . . . .”); Salemi v. Colo. Pub. Emps.' Ret. Ass'n, 747 Fed.Appx. 675, 689 n.7 (10th Cir. 2018) (noting that “Congress, by way of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act . . . apparently subject[ed] claims based on disparate pay to the continuing violation theory for purposes of exhaustion . . . ”).

         Defendant first argues that Plaintiff's complaint lacks “specific time-references or dates for the acts alleged or for the asserted bases of gender discrimination and retaliation.” Doc. 6, at 1-2. Because Plaintiff “asserts [only] a very broad and general time frame” in her complaint, says Defendant, her Title VII claims are improperly pled and subject to dismissal. Id. 2, 6. The Court is not convinced by this argument. To begin, the parties seem to agree on the 300-day period applicable here: as Plaintiff filed her EEOC charge on March 6, 2018, she could pursue claims relating to acts occurring as early as May 10, 2017, 300 days prior to the charge filing date. See Doc. 6, at 5-6; Doc. 9, at 4; see also Doc. 10, at 1. Moreover, Defendant's assertion that “Plaintiff does not provide a date reference for . . . alleged acts of discrimination or retaliation” is inaccurate. Plaintiff states that her employment with Defendant ended on May 17, 2017, the day she was constructively discharged. See Doc. 1, at 2-4. Plaintiff also asserts that her May 17, 2017, discharge was, in addition to being discriminatory, retaliatory. See id. at 4-5. By Defendant's own admission, claims arising from this discharge would be timely exhausted because they fell within the 300-day period running from May 10, 2017, to March 6, 2018. Likewise, as Plaintiff avers that she suffered wage discrimination and ...

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