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Smith v. Brown

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

January 4, 2017

VERONICA SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
DEFABRIEN BROWN, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Thomas B. Russell, Senior Judge United States District Court

         Veronica Smith filed this action against her employer, Huhtamaki, Inc., and Defabrien Brown, a fellow employee, alleging claims for sexual harassment under the Kentucky Civil Rights Act, invasion of privacy, and negligent retention. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), Huhtamaki, Inc. moves to dismiss Smith's common-law claims, while Brown moves to dismiss Smith's action against him entirely. Although Smith's sexual-harassment claim against Huhtamaki, Inc. is plausible, the remainder of her claims are not. Therefore, Huhtamaki, Inc.'s Partial Motion to Dismiss, [R. 9], and Defabrien Brown's Motion to Dismiss, [R. 11], are GRANTED.

         I.

         A.

         For the past two years, Veronica Smith has worked as a custodian engineer and janitor at Huhtamaki, Inc. [R. 1-1 at 3, ¶ 2 (Complaint).] As alleged in the complaint, Defabrien Brown, a “roll tender” in Huhtamaki, Inc.'s Flexo Department, started making unwanted and unwarranted advances toward Smith in April 2015 and has persisted undaunted since. [Id., ¶ 6.] In detail, he has grabbed Smith's “buttocks and lower extremities, ” has physically and verbally threatened her, and has continued that behavior “despite being rebuffed, ” [id.], causing Smith to suffer “embarrassment” and “feelings of isolation, ” [id. at 4, ¶ 9]. Smith reported Brown to Huhtamaki, Inc., but Huhtamaki, Inc. has taken no corrective action. [Id., ¶¶ 12-13.]

         B.

         Accordingly, Smith filed this action against Huhtamaki, Inc. and Brown, bringing a sexual harassment claim under the Kentucky Civil Rights Act, Ky. Rev. Stat. §§ 344.010-.500, as well as common-law claims for invasion of privacy and negligent retention. [Id. at 3-5, ¶¶ 5-14.] She seeks compensatory and punitive damages. [Id. at 5.] Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), Huhtamaki, Inc. and Brown move to dismiss the bulk of that action. [See R. 9 at 1 (Huhtamaki, Inc.'s Partial Motion to Dismiss); R. 11 at 1 (Brown's Motion to Dismiss).]

         II.

         A complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). In order to survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a party must “plead enough ‘factual matter' to raise a ‘plausible' inference of wrongdoing.” 16630 Southfield Ltd. P'ship v. Flagstar Bank, F.S.B., 727 F.3d 502, 504 (6th Cir. 2013) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). A claim becomes plausible “when the plaintiff 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 (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)). Should the well-pleaded facts support no “more than the mere possibility of misconduct, ” then dismissal is warranted. Id. at 679. The Court may grant a motion to dismiss “only if, after drawing all reasonable inferences from the allegations in the complaint in favor of the plaintiff, the complaint still fails to allege a plausible theory of relief.” Garceau v. City of Flint, 572 F. App'x 369, 371 (6th Cir. 2014) (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 677-79).

         III.

         Huhtamaki, Inc. moves to dismiss Smith's common-law claims, [see R. 9 at 1], while Brown moves to dismiss Smith's claims against him entirely, [see R. 11 at 1]. Although a month late, Smith opposes Brown's request, but makes no response to Huhtamaki's motion. [See R. 12 at 1 (Response to Brown's Motion to Dismiss).] Ultimately, while Smith's claim under the KCRA is plausible as to Huhtamaki, Inc., the remainder of her claims are not.

         A.

         1.

         To begin, Smith has not plausibly alleged a claim for sexual harassment against Brown. [See R. 1-1 at 3, ¶¶ 5-9.] The Kentucky Civil Rights Act makes it unlawful for an “employer” to discriminate against any individual because of his or her sex. See Ky. Rev. Stat. § 344.040(1). It has long been established, however, that individual “agents or supervisors who do not otherwise qualify as employers cannot be held personally liable in their individual capacities” under the KCRA. Conner v. Patton, 133 S.W.3d 491, 493 (Ky. Ct. App. 2004); accord Wathen v. Gen. Elec. Co., 115 F.3d 400, 405 (6th Cir. 1997). Here, Brown does not come under the KCRA's definition of ...


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