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Belcher v. Springfield College

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

January 16, 2018



          J. P. Stadtmueller, U.S. District Judge.

         This case concerns claims of unlawful discrimination and retaliation brought by Alice Belcher (“Belcher”) against her former employer, Springfield College (“Springfield”). Before the Court are two related motions: Springfield's motion for partial dismissal of the first amended complaint, (Docket #20), and Belcher's motion for leave to file a second amended complaint, (Docket #27). The motions are fully briefed and, for the reasons stated below, both will be denied in large measure.

         1. LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for dismissal of complaints which fail to state a viable claim for relief. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). To state a claim, a complaint must provide “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). In other words, the complaint must give “fair notice of what the. . .claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). The allegations must “plausibly suggest that the plaintiff has a right to relief, raising that possibility above a speculative level[.]” Kubiak v. City of Chicago, 810 F.3d 476, 480 (7th Cir. 2016) (citation omitted). In reviewing the complaint, the Court is required to “accept as true all of the well-pleaded facts in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.” Id. at 480-81.

         2. RELEVANT FACTS

         The following facts are drawn from the first amended complaint, which is presently the operative complaint in this case.

         Belcher, an African-American female who is over forty years old, began working for Springfield in May 2012 as an adjunct instructor at the school's Milwaukee campus. She received “consistent” assignments to teach classes within her expertise (their frequency is not given) until Antonio Guajardo (“Guajardo”) was hired as the dean of Springfield's Milwaukee campus. (Docket #17 ¶ 11). Once he took over, there was a “consistent decline” in the number of classes offered to Belcher to teach. Id. She claims that “[m]ore and more of the contracts were being offered to individuals outside Plaintiff's protected classes.” Id.

         In March 2015, Guajardo offered Belcher the Early Childhood Education class to teach in fall of that year. In June, Belcher applied for the position of adjunct lecturer for the newly created Early Childhood Education program at Springfield. In August, she was denied that promotion in favor of a less-qualified, younger Latino male. Indeed, she says that she was not even allowed to interview for the position in favor of three other candidates, all of whom were less qualified than her.

         Belcher filed her first charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on March 23, 2016, alleging workplace discrimination based on race, sex, and age relating to the denial of the promotion. (Docket #22-1 at 1). On July 27, allegedly in retaliation for filing the charge, Springfield no longer allowed Belcher to teach a class on domestic violence which she had previously taught. Consequently, on September 6, she filed a second EEOC charge, this time for retaliation for engaging in protected activity under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (Docket #22-2 at 5). The basis for her claim was that she “was advised that [she] no longer qualified to teach a domestic violence course that [she] had previously taught.” Id.

         Next, on August 2, 2017 Springfield “terminated” Belcher's employment by “informing her that they would not be giving her any more teaching assignments.” (Docket #17 ¶ 19). Belcher does not describe the nature of this communication or its precise contents in the complaint, although she states in her brief on the motion to dismiss that this was an email. (Docket #28 at 3). On October 23, she filed a third charge of discrimination, alleging race, sex, and age discrimination, as well as retaliation based on the two prior EEOC charges. (Docket #22-5 at 1). Belcher stated in the charge that “[s]ince January 2017, I have inquired about Adjunct Instructor work. However, I have not been given any [such] work.” Id.

         In the first amended complaint, Belcher asserts five counts for relief. First is a claim for racial discrimination in violation of Title VII, premised on both the denial of the promotion to adjunct lecturer and her termination. Second, she asserts an identical claim under Title VII but on a theory of sex discrimination. Similarly, the third count alleges age discrimination, in violation of the ADEA, grounded in the same facts. Belcher's fourth count alleges retaliation for engaging in protected activity, in violation of Title VII, based on “subjecting her to increased scrutiny, singling her out for selective and unwarranted discipline, [] denying Plaintiff promotional opportunities, . . .[and] ultimately terminat[ing] Plaintiff's employment in retaliation for Plaintiff exercising her rights to complain about the illegal employment practices of Defendant.” Id. ¶ 39. Finally, in Count V Belcher claims that Springfield violated the Civil Rights Act of 1991, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, by subjecting her to disparate employment expectations and discipline, denying her a promotion, and terminating her, all because of her race.

         3. ANALYSIS

         As the Court noted above, two competing motions are now before it. Because of the nature of the disposition of each, it will be most efficient for the Court to first address Springfield's motion for partial dismissal, then Belcher's motion to file a second amended complaint.

         3.1 Partial ...

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