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Halcomb v. Black Mountain Resources, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky

April 17, 2015

BILLY J. HALCOMB, Plaintiff,
v.
BLACK MOUNTAIN RESOURCES, LLC and ALPHA NATURAL RESOURCES, INC., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

DAVID L. BUNNING, District Judge.

In this sexual harassment case, Plaintiff Billy J. Halcomb brings a Title VII hostilework-environment claim, as well as state-law claims for assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) against his former employers, Defendant Black Mountain Resources, LLC and Defendant Alpha Natural Resources, Inc. Black Mountain and Alpha have filed a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss. Because the facts in the Amended Complaint (Doc. # 28) make it plausible that Black Mountain and Alpha are liable under Title VII, but do not lead to a reasonable inference that they are vicariously liable for the state-law claims, their Rule 12(b)(6) motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On August 26, 2014, the Court granted Black Mountain and Alpha's Rule 12(b)(6) motion because Halcomb's original complaint failed to allege that they were his employers. (Doc. # 18 at 5). Halcomb then filed a Motion to Amend Judgment (Doc. # 19) and Motion for Leave to Amend Complaint (Doc. # 21). The Court granted both motions, holding that the amended complaint cured the defect in the original complaint insofar as it alleged a plausible employer-employee relationship. (Doc. # 27). A year having passed since Black Mountain and Alpha filed their motion to dismiss, the Court ordered the parties to file supplement briefs on those grounds for dismissal the Court did not previously address. Id. The matter is now fully briefed and ripe for review. (Docs. # 5, 14, 15, 30, 31, 38, 39).

Because this case is before the Court on a motion to dismiss, the following facts are taken from Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Doc. # 28) and accepted as true. Hill v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mich., 409 F.3d 710, 716 (6th Cir. 2005). Plaintiff Billy J. Halcomb is a coal miner. (Doc. # 28 at ¶ 3). At all relevant times, he worked at the Panther and Stillhouse mines in Harlan County, Kentucky, which were operated by Defendant Black Mountain Resources, LLC. Id. at ¶¶ 3, 6. Black Mountain is a subsidiary of Defendant Alpha Natural Resources, Inc. Id. at ¶ 4. Halcomb obtained his job at the mines by filling out an application at Black Mountain's office. Id. at ¶ 7. Alpha's address appeared on Halcomb's paychecks, its name in the employer space of his benefits documents, and its logo in his employee handbook. Id. at ¶¶ 8, 9.

Halcomb alleges that from February to May 2012, two supervisors at the Panther mine, Ben Adams and Justin Adams, "engaged in a constant, pervasive pattern of abusive and demeaning sexual conduct... directed at [him]." Id. at ¶ 12. This conduct included "the rough and unwanted sexual grabbing of [his] genitals" and "crude, vulgar sexual language." Id. at ¶¶ 12, 13. He suggests that during this period other hourly employees of Black Mountain and Alpha also engaged in "unwanted and inappropriate sexual conduct directed at [him], including sexual grabbing and vulgar sexual language." Id. at ¶ 14.

In June 2012, Halcomb complained about the conduct to Black Mountain and Alpha management, but according to Halcomb, they conducted only a "superficial investigation." Id. at ¶ 15. Afterwards, Black Mountain's personnel director, Rick Raleigh, transferred Halcomb to a different mine. Id. at ¶ 16. Halcomb was apparently then transferred a second time, and the following day, Black Mountain and Alpha held a sexual harassment workshop at Black Mountain's office in Benham, Kentucky. Id. at ¶ 17. Although all the others miners were told that they had to attend, Raleigh told Halcomb that he was not allowed to be at the meeting. Id. It is Halcomb's position that Black Mountain and Alpha did not "satisfactorily resolve[]" his complaints. Id. at ¶ 18.

Halcomb eventually filed a sex discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Id. at ¶ 18; Ex. D. The EEOC determined that there was evidence that Halcomb was subjected to a hostile work environment, and after conciliation efforts failed, issued Halcomb a right to sue notice. Id. at ¶ ¶ 19, 20; Exs. E, F. Halcomb then filed this suit, alleging that as a result of the harassment he has been diagnosed with major depressive and post traumatic stress disorder. Id. at ¶ 21.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Standard of review

To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The plausibility standard is met when the facts in the complaint allow "the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. The complaint need not contain "detailed factual allegations, " but must contain more than mere "labels and conclusions." Id. Put another way, the "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).

B. Title VII hostile work environment

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it unlawful for an employer "to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's... sex." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Title VII recognizes hostile-work-environment claims based on sexual harassment when a plaintiff proves five elements: (1) he is a member of a protected class; (2) he was subjected to unwelcome sexual harassment; (3) the harassment was based on his sex; (4) the harassment created a hostile work environment; and (5) the employer is liable. Randolph v. Ohio Dep't of Youth Servs., 453 F.3d 724, 733 ...


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