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Williamson v. State ex rel. Board of Regents of University of Oklahoma

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

December 4, 2019

DIERDRE WILLIAMSON, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF OKLAHOMA ex rel. BOARD OF REGENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA, Defendant.

          ORDER

          CHARLES B. GOODWIN, United States District Judge.

         Now before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 8). Plaintiff has responded in opposition (Doc. No. 10), and Defendant has replied (Doc. No. 11). Having reviewed the parties' submissions and the relevant record, the Court makes its determination.

         STANDARD OF DECISION

         In analyzing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court “accept[s] as true all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint and view[s] them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Burnett v. Mortg. Elec. Registration Sys., Inc., 706 F.3d 1231, 1235 (10th Cir. 2013). A complaint fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted when it lacks factual allegations sufficient “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (footnote and citations omitted); see also Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242, 1247 (10th Cir. 2008) (“[T]o withstand a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain enough allegations of fact to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” (internal quotation marks omitted)). Bare legal conclusions in a complaint are not entitled to the assumption of truth; “they must be supported by factual allegations” to state a claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009).

         DISCUSSION

         In its Motion, Defendant seeks dismissal of all claims raised in the Second Amended Petition, including age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), pay discrimination in violation of the Equal Pay Act (“EPA”), race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), and retaliation in violation of Title VII. See Second Am. Pet. (Doc. No. 1-13) at 4-6.[1] In her Response, Plaintiff “withdraws”[2] all of these claims except for her race discrimination claim brought under Title VII.[3] See Pl.'s Resp. at 1. Defendant raises two grounds for dismissal of the remaining claim: (1) the claim is untimely, and (2) the factual allegations fail to plausibly show discriminatory intent.

         I. Whether Plaintiff's Race Discrimination Claim Is Timely

         A plaintiff claiming employment discrimination under Title VII must file a complaint within 90 days of receipt of a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1). Though Plaintiff's original state-court petition was filed within the 90-day period, Defendant argues that the race discrimination claim contained in her Second Amended Petition was not alleged in the original petition and does not relate back to the original petition under Rule 15(c)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Def.'s Mot. at 19-21. Plaintiff does not dispute that the race discrimination claim was filed beyond the 90-day deadline but argues that Rule 15(c) prevents the statute of limitations from barring her claim. See Pl.'s Resp. at 4.

         Rule 15(c) provides that “[a]n amendment to a pleading relates back to the date of the original pleading when . . . the amendment asserts a claim or defense that arose out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence set out-or attempted to be set out-in the original pleading.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c)(1)(B). Rule 15(c) functions in “limited circumstances” to “save[] an otherwise untimely amendment by deeming it to ‘relate back' to the conduct alleged in the timely original complaint.” Hernandez v. Valley View Hosp. Ass'n, 684 F.3d 950, 961 (10th Cir. 2012). The Supreme Court has stated that the purpose of the relation-back doctrine is “to balance the interests of the defendant protected by the statute of limitations with the preference expressed in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in general, and Rule 15 in particular, for resolving disputes on their merits.” Krupski v. Costa Crociere S. p. A., 560 U.S. 538, 550 (2010). “The rationale of Rule 15(c) is that a party who has been notified of litigation concerning a particular occurrence has been given all the notice that statutes of limitations were intended to provide.” Baldwin Cty. Welcome Ctr. v. Brown, 466 U.S. 147, 149 n.3 (1984). Thus, “relation back is improper when the amended claim ‘asserts a new ground for relief supported by facts that differ in both time and type from those the original pleading set forth.'” Hernandez, 684 F.3d at 962 (quoting Mayle v. Felix, 545 U.S. 644, 650 (2005)).

         Upon review, the Court finds that the facts alleged in the original petition and the Second Amended Petition are nearly identical. Plaintiff predicates her race discrimination claim on Defendant's alleged “refusal to accommodate and/or issue qualifying benefits or pay, ” Second Am. Pet. at 5, and allegations of Defendant's refusal to accommodate or issue qualifying benefits are present in both pleadings. Defendant argues that Plaintiff's race discrimination claim should not relate back because “[r]ace . . . discrimination (if pled properly) would include conduct by [Defendant] separate and distinct from conduct amounting to disability discrimination for failure to provide reasonable accommodations.” Def.'s Mot. at 21. This argument, however, improperly inserts considerations relevant to Rule 12(b)(6) into the Rule 15(c) analysis, and the Court addresses those considerations below.

         Accordingly, the Court finds that Plaintiff's race discrimination claim relates back to the original petition as the claim is based on factual allegations that are neither new nor discrete from the facts she originally pled. See Hernandez, 684 F.3d at 962.

         II. Whether Plaintiff's Factual Allegations Plausibly Show Race Discrimination

         As an alternative basis for dismissal, Defendant argues that dismissal is required because Plaintiff's factual allegations “fail to establish the necessary causation required for her to show [that Defendant] discriminated against her based upon her race.” Def.'s Mot. at 14-16 (arguing that Plaintiff's factual allegations do not “raise a plausible inference that the alleged disparate treatment was a product of discriminatory intent based on her race”).

         “Title VII makes it unlawful ‘to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.'” Khalik v. United Air Lines, 671 F.3d 1188, 1192 (10th Cir. 2012) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1)). A plaintiff may prove a Title VII violation “either by direct evidence of discrimination or by following the burden-shifting framework of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, [411 U.S. 792 (1973)].” Id. Under the McDonnell Douglas framework, the Plaintiff first bears the burden of establishing a prima facie case of discrimination; the burden then “shifts to the defendant to produce a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment action.” Id. “If ...


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