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Johnston v. Ellicot Fire Protection District

United States District Court, D. Colorado

December 12, 2016

JORDAN JOHNSTON and BRITTANY LALONDE, Plaintiffs,
v.
ELLICOT FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT, TAMMY ESPINOZA - GONZALEZ, in both her personal and official capacity as a member of the board of directors of the District, DAVID HENLEY, in both his personal and official capacity as a member of the board of directors of the District, ELLICOT VOLUNTEER FIRE DEPARTMENT, and MICHAEL HENLEY, in both his personal and official capacity as an employee of the District and officer of the department, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

          CHRISTINE M. ARGUELLO United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on a Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants Ellicott Fire Protection District (“EFPD”), Tammy Espinoza-Gonzalez, David Henley, Ellicott Volunteer Fire Department (“the Fire Department”), Nellie Roop, [1] and Michael Henley. (Doc. # 30.) On September 8, 2016, Plaintiff filed a response to Defendant's motion. (Doc. # 39.) On September 23, 2016, Defendants filed a reply. (Doc. # 48.) For reasons addressed below, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendants' Motion to Dismiss.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs Jordan Johnston and Brittany LaLonde filed an Amended Complaint and Jury Demand on July 8, 2016, alleging claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2(a)(1), 2000e-3(a), and a state law claim for extreme and outrageous conduct. (Doc. # 26.) Plaintiffs' claims arise from their status as volunteers with the Fire Department and EFPD, and are asserted against the EFPD (a special district and political subdivision of Colorado), EFPD Board of Directors Members Tammy Espinoza-Gonzalez and David Henley, the Fire Department (an unincorporated nonprofit association), and the Fire Department Captain Michael Henley. (Id. at 1, 3-4.)

         Plaintiffs allege that on June 11, 2014, they brought complaints regarding Michael Henley to the then-Chief of the Fire Department and the EFPD's Board of Directors. (Id. at 4 ¶ 21.) Dissatisfied with the response to their complaints, Plaintiffs sought legal counsel and filed separate charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). (Id. at 5 ¶ 25.) On December 11, 2015, after requesting a Right to Sue, Plaintiffs received a Notice of Right to Sue from the EEOC and filed the instant case. (Id. at 5 ¶ 26.)

         Plaintiff LaLonde alleges that Michael Henley engaged her in “unwelcome... offensive sexual advances” periodically throughout 2012 and toward the end of 2014. (Id. at 11-13 ¶¶ 59-77.) She further alleges that the EFPD maintained a hostile work environment, which included alleged “sexting” incidents, comments about the Fire Department members' cognitive abilities, suspensions “for reporting illicit behavior, ” withholding personal protective equipment, and intimidation. (Id. at 14 ¶¶ 82-83, 87.) Both Plaintiffs allege that, after they reported Michael Henley's actions to the Fire Department and EFPD's Board of Directors, the EFPD and the Fire Department retaliated against them by suspending them pending an investigation. (Id. at 18, 20-21 ¶¶ 107, 124.) Plaintiffs allege that they were prevented from attending an Emergency Medical Technician Course sponsored by EFPD during the time of their suspension. (Id. at 19 ¶¶ 111-14.) After they were reinstated in August 2014, Plaintiffs claim that their colleagues “shunned” them. (Id. at 20 ¶¶ 119-20.) Plaintiffs allege that their suspensions continued in effect after they were reinstated, because there were delays in returning personal protective equipment that was necessary for them to have in order to safely perform their duties. (Id. at 20 ¶¶ 121-22.) Finally, Plaintiffs allege that Michael Henley demonstrated “malicious behavior directed against the Plaintiffs, ” including assigning Plaintiff Johnston to a fire where he “narrowly escaped serious injury or death.” (Id. at 21 ¶¶ 126-27.)

         Plaintiffs assert the following claims: (I) Title VII quid pro quo sexual harassment by Plaintiff LaLonde against Defendants Michael Henley, the Fire Department, and EFPD; (II) Title VII hostile work environment sexual harassment by Plaintiff LaLonde against Defendants Michael Henley, the Fire Department, and EFPD; (III) Title VII retaliation by both Plaintiffs against all Defendants; and (IV) a state law claim for extreme and outrageous conduct by both Plaintiffs against Defendant Michael Henley. (Doc. # 26.)

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides that a defendant may move to dismiss a claim for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). “The court's function on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is not to weigh potential evidence that the parties might present at trial, but to assess whether the plaintiff's complaint alone is legally sufficient to state a claim for which relief may be granted.” Dubbs v. Head Start, Inc., 336 F.3d 1194, 1201 (10th Cir. 2003) (citations and quotations omitted).

         “A court reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint presumes all of plaintiff's factual allegations are true and construes them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1108 (10th Cir. 1991). “To survive a 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) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Plausibility, in the context of a motion to dismiss, means that the plaintiffs have pled facts which allow “the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. The Iqbal evaluation is a two-step analysis. First, the court identifies “the allegations in the complaint that are not entitled to the assumption of truth, ” that is, those allegations that are legal conclusion, bare assertions, or merely conclusory. Id. at 679- 81. Second, the Court considers the factual allegations “to determine if they plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief.” Id. at 681. If the allegations state a plausible claim for relief, such claim survives the motion to dismiss. Id. at 679.

         The court need not accept conclusory allegations without supporting factual averments. Southern Disposal, Inc. v. Tex. Waste, 161 F.3d 1259, 1262 (10th Cir. 1998). “[T]he tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Moreover, “[a] pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.' Nor does the complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Id. (citation omitted). “Where a complaint pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of ‘entitlement to relief.'” Id. (citation omitted).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Title VII Claims Against Individual Defendants

         Plaintiffs have stipulated to a dismissal of claims (I), (II), and (III) against the individual Defendants in both their individual and official capacities. (Doc. # 39 at 1-2.) Accordingly, the Court dismisses claims (I), (II), and (III) against Defendant Michael Henley, and ...


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