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Pruitt v. Hazelwood Training Facility

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

October 15, 2018




         Plaintiff Lorena Pruitt, proceeding pro se, brings this employment-discrimination action against Defendants Hazelwood Training Facility, Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS), [1] Jay Klein, Beth Feddersen, Sueellen White, and Tarron Ray.[2] (D.N. 23; see also D.N. 1) In her amended complaint, Pruitt asserts claims for discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation based on race and gender under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act; retaliation under 42 U.S.C. § 1981; and disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). (D.N. 23, PageID # 174) Defendants Hazelwood, CHFS, Klein, Feddersen, and White have filed joint motions to dismiss all claims either for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) or for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). (D.N. 17; D.N. 24) For the reasons explained below, the motions to dismiss will be granted.


         The following facts are set out in the amended complaint and accepted as true for purposes of the present motions. See Directv, Inc. v. Treesh, 487 F.3d 471, 476 (6th Cir. 2007). Pruitt worked for the CHFS at its Hazelwood Training Facility in Louisville, Kentucky, from 2009 to 2016. (D.N. 23, PageID # 168) On October 18, 2015, Pruitt suffered a slip-and-fall accident and used her FMLA time to heal. (Id.) Her doctor released her to return to work on December 1, 2015. (Id.) But in November 2015, Pruitt was involved in a head-on car collision, which exacerbated her slip-and-fall injuries. (Id., PageID # 168-69) She received a “partial work release” from her doctor stating that she could continue to work with certain accommodations. (Id., PageID # 169)

         Pruitt submitted the work release to Tarron Ray, Hazelwood's human resources manager, and he provided Pruitt with an accommodation form to complete. (Id.) Ray immediately told Pruitt, however, that “he would not provide her [with] any accommodations and that she was wasting her time filling [the form] out.” (Id.) Nonetheless, Pruitt filled out the form and returned it to Ray. (Id.) Ray called Pruitt the next day, reiterating that he did not “have any accommodations” for her. (Id.) Pruitt then contacted Cathy Cox, the CHFS's human resources director, and asked her to speak with Ray. (Id.) Cox called Ray, inquiring as to why he had refused Pruitt an opportunity to work with accommodations. (Id.) Immediately after that phone call, Ray called Pruitt, asserting that he “[ran] th[e] building” and “[would] let work who [he] want[ed] to [let] work.” (Id.) Pruitt called Cox to inform her that she wanted to file a grievance against Ray, and Cox instructed her to follow the chain of command. (Id.)

         In accordance with Cox's instruction, Pruitt contacted Sueellen White, the director of Hazelwood. (Id.) White told Pruitt that she was “not allowed to take [Pruitt's] grievance” until Pruitt talked with Ray directly. (Id.) White then placed a three-way call in a purported attempt to include Ray, but Ray was never reached. (Id.) Pruitt later learned that White and Ray were relatives and that White had instructed Ray not to take the call. (Id., PageID # 170) As a result, Pruitt never had the opportunity to file her grievance. (Id.) Further, Ray directed security not to allow Pruitt back into the building. (Id.)

         Despite Pruitt's request to continue working with accommodations, Hazelwood placed Pruitt on one year of unpaid medical leave. (Id.) Pruitt became homeless and destitute. (Id.) When she went to the unemployment office to file for unemployment benefits, she was told that she was not entitled to benefits because she was still employed by Hazelwood. (Id.) Pruitt applied for benefits again and was told that she had been fired for missing too many days of work. (Id., PageID # 170) Pruitt appealed the denial of unemployment benefits, and an investigation revealed that Hazelwood and Ray had wrongfully terminated her. (Id., PageID # 170-71) Pruitt received unemployment benefits based upon the result of the investigation. (Id., PageID # 171)

         After her termination and receipt of unemployment benefits, Pruitt found out that she was still considered to be employed by Defendants. (Id.) Pruitt was told to either resign or face termination. (Id.) She resigned in November 2016. (Id.) Pruitt filed charges of discrimination with the EEOC, and the EEOC subsequently issued Pruitt a right-to-sue letter. (Id., PageID # 171-72)

         Pruitt originally filed her complaint on a court-approved form, asserting discrimination claims based on gender and disability. (D.N. 1, PageID # 25-26) Defendants Hazelwood, CHFS, Klein, Feddersen, and White filed a motion to dismiss all claims against them for lack of subject- matter jurisdiction or failure to state a claim. (D.N. 17) After that motion was fully briefed (see D.N. 21; D.N. 22), Pruitt filed an amended complaint.[3] (D.N. 23) In the amended complaint, Pruitt asserted claims for discrimination based on race and gender under Title VII, hostile work environment on the basis of race and gender under Title VII, retaliation under Title VII, retaliation under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and disability discrimination under the ADA. (D.N. 23, PageID # 174) Defendants then filed another motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), incorporating the arguments they made in their earlier motion and arguing that Pruitt's new race-discrimination and retaliation claims also fail. (D.N. 24)


         The Sixth Circuit has recognized that motions to dismiss under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) are distinct and involve different standards. See Mooneyham v. Equifax Info. Servs., LLC, 99 F.Supp.3d 720, 722 (W.D. Ky. 2015) (citing RMI Titanium Co. v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 78 F.3d 1125, 1134 (6th Cir. 1996)).

         Hazelwood, the CHFS, and the individual defendants sued in their official capacities argue that they are entitled to sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. (D.N. 17, PageID # 108-110; D.N. 24, PageID # 192-93, 201-03) Sovereign immunity may “serve as a basis for a [Rule] 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.” Mooneyham, 99 F.Supp.3d at 722 (citation omitted). “‘[W]hile the Eleventh Amendment is jurisdictional in the sense that it is a limitation on the federal court's judicial power,' the defense ‘is not coextensive with the limitations on judicial power in Article III.'” Id. at 722-23 (quoting Nair v. Oakland Cty. Cmty. Mental Health Auth., 443 F.3d 469, 474 (6th Cir. 2006)). For instance, a state may waive Eleventh Amendment immunity. Nair, 443 F.3d at 474. And “[u]nlike subject-matter jurisdiction, ‘the entity asserting Eleventh Amendment immunity has the burden to show that it is entitled to immunity.'” Mooneyham, 99 F.Supp.3d at 723 (quoting Nair, 443 F.3d at 474).

         Defendants also argue that all of Pruitt's claims must be dismissed for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). (D.N. 17, PageID # 104-07, 110-16; D.N. 24, PageID # 191-97, 199-201, 203-05) To survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, “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) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is plausible on its face “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. Factual allegations are essential; “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice, ” and the Court need not accept such statements as true. Id. A complaint whose “well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct” does not satisfy the pleading requirements of Rule 8 and will not withstand a motion to dismiss. Id. at 679.

         Pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). Yet “the lenient treatment generally accorded to pro se litigants has limits.” Pilgrim v. Littlefield, 92 F.3d 413, 416 (6th Cir. 1996). For example, “the less stringent standard for pro se plaintiffs does not compel the courts to conjure up unpleaded facts to support conclusory allegations.” Leisure v. Hogan, 21 Fed.Appx. 277, 278 (6th Cir. 2001). Additionally, the Court cannot “create a claim which [the plaintiff] has not spelled out in his pleading.” Clark v. Nat'l Travelers Life Ins. Co., 518 F.2d 1167, 1169 (6th Cir. 1975). A pro se complaint must still “contain either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements to sustain a recovery under some viable legal theory.” Scheid v. Fanny Farmer Candy Shops, Inc., 859 F.2d 434, 436-37 (6th Cir. 1988) (citation omitted). Ultimately, “[t]he Court's duty to construe a pro se complaint liberally does not absolve a plaintiff of the duty to comply with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure by providing each defendant with fair notice of the basis of the claim.” Jones v. Cabinet for Families & Children, No. 3:07-CV-11-S, 2007 WL 2462184, at *4 (W.D. Ky. Aug. 29, 2007) (citing Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 514 (2002)).

         A. Claims Against ...

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