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Thomas v. Dana Commercial Vehicle Products, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Owensboro Division

April 1, 2014

JEFFRERY THOMAS, Plaintiff,
v.
DANA COMMERCIAL VEHICLE PRODUCTS, LLC D/B/A DANA COMMERCIAL VEHICLE MANUFACTURING, LLC, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JOSEPH H. McKINLEY, Jr., Chief District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on a motion by Defendant, Dana Commercial Vehicle Products, LLC, d/b/a Dana Commercial Vehicle Manufacturing, LLC ("Dana Corporation") to dismiss the Second, Third, and Fourth claims in the Amended Complaint [DN 22]. Fully briefed, this matter is ripe for decision.

I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Upon a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a court "must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to plaintiff, " League of United Latin Am. Citizens v. Bredesen , 500 F.3d 523, 527 (6th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted), "accept all well-pled factual allegations as true[, ]" id., and determine whether the "complaint states a plausible claim for relief[, ]" Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). Under this standard, the plaintiff must provide the grounds for his or her entitlement to relief which "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A plaintiff satisfies this standard only when he or she "pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678. A complaint falls short if it pleads facts "merely consistent with a defendant's liability" or if the alleged facts do not "permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct." Id . at 678, 679. Instead, the allegations must "show[ ] that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Id . at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). It is against this standard that the Court reviews the following facts.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Jeffery Thomas ("Thomas"), was hired by Dana Corporation on June 26, 2011, as a material handler/fork lift operator in Henderson, Kentucky. Thomas is "a person of African American descent" and his supervisors at the Dana Corporation are of "European descent." (Amended Complaint at ¶¶ 6, 10.) On December 23, 2011, Thomas had to leave work due to a medical condition. Thomas worked half of his scheduled work shift that day. Thomas alleges that after returning from a one-month medical leave in 2012, Dana Corporation suspended him for five days pending termination for an "unjustified excuse." Thomas avers that his suspension and termination was later determined to be unjustified and Thomas was returned to work.

On July 2, 2012, Thomas was involved in a forklift accident. Thomas was subjected to a drug screen pursuant to Dana Corporation policy. Thomas was called back to work on July 3, 2012. On July 3, 2012, Thomas injured his back. Thomas alleges that the injury was not reported by Dana Corporation to the proper state authorities. After Thomas's injury, he was taken off work by a treating physician. Thomas returned to work from his medical leave on July 9, 2012. Dana Corporation suspended Thomas for five days for not following safety procedures. Thomas filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on July 10, 2012, in which Thomas asserted a claim of race discrimination.

While on medical leave in October 2012, Thomas was required to call into work. According to Dana Corporation, Thomas was subsequently terminated for providing false information during one of his call-ins. A disciplinary action attached to the original complaint states that on October 19, 2012, Dana Corporation issued a disciplinary action of suspension of 5 days with intent to discharge to Plaintiff for providing the corporation false information. Specifically, the report indicates that Thomas was disciplined for "calling in absent under doctor's care at 3:35 p.m. on Tuesday, October 16, 2012 while incarcerated for Weapon-carry Felon or Prior at 2:31 p.m. according to the Evansville Police Department Arrest Report on the same date." (10-19-2012 Disciplinary Action, DN 1.)

Thomas filed a second charge of discrimination with the EEOC on October 23, 2012, in which Thomas alleged discrimination based on race, disability status, and retaliation. An arbitrator returned Thomas to work. Thomas claims that since his return to work, he has been subjected to more harsh work assignments and is closely monitored at work by his supervisor. Plaintiff asserts that Dana Corporation applied its employment policies and practices differently based on race, disability status, and filing a charge with the EEOC. As a result, Plaintiff filed this action on April 9, 2013, against Dana Corporation, asserting claims of discriminatory treatment based on race and retaliation in violation of Title VII, discriminatory treatment based on race and retaliation in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981, discriminatory treatment based on disability and retaliation in violation of the ADA, and "discriminatory treatment based on race and retaliation in violation of the FMLA." (Amended Complaint ¶ 30.) Defendant filed this motion to dismiss Counts 2, 3, and 4 arguing that (1) Plaintiff, as an at-will employee, did not have a contractual relationship with Dana Corporation to support a claim under § 1981, (2) Plaintiff fails to allege sufficient facts to substantiate his claims under the ADA, and (3) Plaintiff fails to allege sufficient facts to substantiate his claims under the FMLA.

III. DISCUSSION

A. § 1981 Claim

Plaintiff claims that Defendant terminated his employment in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 which states "all persons... shall have the same right... to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property as is enjoyed by white citizens." 42 U.S.C. § 1981(a). For purposes of § 1981, "the term make and enforce contracts' includes the making, performance, modification, and termination of contracts, and the enjoyment of all benefits, privileges, terms, and conditions of the contractual relationship." 42 U.S.C. § 1981(b). Defendant submits that § 1981 is inapplicable to Plaintiff's employment situation.

The district court in Gooden v. Ryan's Restaurant Group, Inc., 2007 WL 855326 (W.D. Ky. March 14, 2007), previously addressed this issue. In Gooden, the plaintiff claimed that the defendant violated § 1981 by deciding to terminate him based on his race and gender. The district court concluded that "§ 1981 only protects persons from discrimination in the formation or enforcement of contracts." Id . at *13 (citing Patterson v. McLean Credit Union , 491 U.S. 164 (1989); Prather v. Dayton Power & Light Co. , 918 F.2d 1255, 1257 (6th Cir.1990); Ang v. Procter & Gamble Co. , 932 F.2d 540, 545 (6th Cir. 1991)).[1] The district court held that

[d]ischarge from employment does not involve the enforcement or formation of a contract. Prather, 918 F.2d [at] 1257. In particular, Plaintiff was an at-will employee of Defendant. "[W]hether an atwill employment relationship constitutes a contract [is a] matter[ ] of state law." Aquino v. Honda of America, Inc. , 158 Fed.Appx. 667, 674 n. 3 (6th Cir. 2005). Under Kentucky law, an at-will employee is not in a contractual relationship with his employer. Nork v. Fetter Printing Co. , 738 S.W.2d 824, 827 (Ky. App.1987). See also Shepherd v. Boysen , 849 F.Supp. 1168 (E.D. Ky. 1994) (holding that a public at-will employee did not have enforceable contract rights ...

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