United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin
DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART MOTION TO
WILLIAM C. GRIESBACH, CHIEF JUDGE
nineteen American Black Muslims of Somali national origin,
brought this suit against Defendant Ariens Company, alleging
race, national origin, and religious discrimination,
retaliation, and a hostile work environment, in violation of
Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2OOOe et seq., and race
discrimination, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Now
before the court is Ariens' motion for partial dismissal
pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure. ECF No. 12. Ariens contends that Plaintiffs have
failed to state a claim under either Title VII or Section
1981 for discrimination on account of their race, national
origin or ethnic background, and seeks dismissal of their
complaint as to those claims. For the reasons explained
below, Ariens' motion will be granted in part.
12(b)(6) Motion To Dismiss and Rule 8 Pleading
12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the legal sufficiency of a
pleading. Szabo v. Bridgeport Machines, Inc., 249
F.3d 672, 675 (7th Cir. 2001). To state a cognizable claim
under the federal notice pleading system, the plaintiff is
required to provide a "short and plain statement of the
claim showing that [he] is entitled to relief."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The complaint must contain sufficient
factual matter "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
Twombly, the Court rejected the liberal pleading
standard of Conley v. Gibson, under which a
complaint was not to be dismissed for failure to state a
claim "unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff
can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would
entitle him to relief." Twombly, 550 U.S. at
561-62 (quoting Conley, 355 U.S. 41, 45-6 (1957)).
Rather than requiring the defendant to show at the pleading
stage that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts to support
his claim, Twombly held that to survive a Rule
12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must allege
"enough facts to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face." Id. at 570. In so
ruling, the Court expressed concern over the cost of
discovery, particularly in complex anti-trust litigation of
the kind presented in Twombly itself. The Court
rejected the view that judicial supervision of the discovery
process and the availability of summary judgment could
effectively curb discovery abuse and expense. Id. at
559-60 ("It is no answer to say that a claim just shy of
a plausible entitlement to relief can, if groundless, be
weeded out early in the discovery process through careful
case management, . . . given the common lament that the
success of judicial supervision in checking discovery abuse
has been on the modest side. See, e.g., Easterbrook,
Discovery as Abuse, 69 B.U. L. Rev. 635, 638 (1989)
('Judges can do little about impositional discovery when
parties control the legal claims to be presented and conduct
the discovery themselves'). And it is self-evident that
the problem of discovery abuse cannot be solved by careful
scrutiny of evidence at the summary judgment stage, much less
lucid instructions to juries . . . .") (internal
quotations and citations omitted). Based upon these
considerations, the Court concluded that "[w]hile a
complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does
not need detailed factual allegations, ... a plaintiffs
obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his '
entitle[ment] to relief requires more than labels and
conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a
cause of action will not do." Id. at 555
(internal citations omitted).
Iqbal, a civil rights action, the Court made clear
that the pleading standard it had announced in
Twombly was not confined to complaints asserting
anti-trust claims but was grounded in the language of Rule
8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure: "Our
decision in Twombly expounded the pleading standard
for 'all civil actions' . . . and it applies to
antitrust and discrimination suits alike." 556 U.S. at
also highlighted "two working principles"
underlying Twombly. Id. at 678. First, the Court
noted that the rule requiring the court to accept as true all
of the allegations of the complaint did not apply to legal
conclusions: "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a
cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do
not suffice." Id. Though it acknowledged that
"Rule 8 marks a notable and generous departure from the
hypertechnical, code-pleading regime of a prior era, "
the Court emphasized that "it does not unlock the doors
of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than
conclusions." Id. at 678-79. The second
Twombly principle the Court highlighted in
Iqbal is that "only a complaint that states a
plausible claim for relief survives a motion to
dismiss." Id. at 679. "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.'" Id.
(quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). The Court
emphasized that determining whether a complaint states a
plausible claim for relief is a "context-specific task
that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial
experience and common sense." Id. While
"not akin to a probability requirement, " the
standard requires "more than a sheer possibility that
the defendant acted unlawfully." Id. at 678.
are the principles that must govern the determination of
Ariens' motion to dismiss.
of First Amended Complaint
to the First Amended Complaint (FAC), Plaintiffs are all
"American Black Muslims of Somali national origin,
" who are either currently employed by Ariens or were
employed at the time in question. FAC, ECF No. 11, at
¶¶ 11-29, 35. Ariens is described simply as a
"for-profit corporation" located in Brillion,
Wisconsin, and an employer within the meaning of Title VII.
Id. ¶ 30. By way of background, however, the
court notes that Ariens is a manufacturer of lawn mowers,
snow blowers and other machines. ARIENS,
https://www.ariens.com/en-us (last visited June 13,
2018). In any event, the FAC alleges that, as practicing
Muslims and in accordance with their sincerely-held religious
beliefs, each Plaintiff performs a prayer ritual five times a
day. These prayer rituals take about five minutes and must be
performed during prescribed time frames that vary depending
upon the position of the sun. Some of the prayer times occur
while Plaintiffs are at work. Id. ¶¶
time they were hired, Plaintiffs requested religious
accommodations to allow them to take short breaks during
their shifts to perform their daily prayer rituals.
Ariens' management assured Plaintiffs that it would
provide an accommodation that would allow them short breaks
if a prescribed prayer time should fall during their shift.
Initially, Ariens did in fact provide the accommodation, and
Plaintiffs, two at a time, would take short breaks to perform
the ritual. This accommodation was in line with the
company-wide policy of allowing employees to take short
breaks for a variety of purposes, including to use the
restroom, smoke, make a phone call, or purchase a snack.
Id. ¶¶ 37-42. Plaintiffs allege that the
religious accommodation worked smoothly and caused no
problems or burdens to the operation of Ariens' business.
Id. ¶¶ 43-44.
in December 2015, Ariens' management team held a meeting
with all of the Somali Muslim employees, including
Plaintiffs, and announced that their religious accommodation
would be revoked, effective January 25, 2016. Some of the
Somali Muslims, including some Plaintiffs, expressed concern
that Ariens' scheduled breaks did not coincide with the
times in which they needed to say their prayers. All of the
Somali Muslim workers, including Plaintiffs, walked out of
the meeting and did not return to work that day in protest of
the upcoming change. Some of the workers, including some
Plaintiffs, resigned in protest of the revocation of their
religious accommodation. Id. ¶¶ 47-52.
that date and January 25, 2016, Ariens' management met
with the Somali Muslims several additional times. At each
meeting, management encouraged the employees to voluntarily
resign and later explained that they risked being terminated
if they continued to take prayer breaks after the
accommodation was revoked. Management also informed the
Somali Muslims that if they resigned, they could seek
unemployment benefits. Instructions on how to apply for such
benefits were provided, both in English and in the Somali
language. Id. ¶¶ 52-64.
this encouragement, some of the Somali Muslims did not resign
and continued to work even after the accommodation was
revoked on January 25, 2016. Many sought and received verbal
permission from their supervisor to perform the prayer
ritual. When they returned to their work station, however,
they discovered a written warning which threatened
disciplinary actions for taking a break in violation of
Ariens' new policy. Ariens' management also moved the
Somali Muslims into one area to monitor them and ensure they
were not requesting bathroom breaks to say their prayers.
Again, Ariens' management advised the Somali Muslims to
voluntarily resign or they would continue to receive warning
slips until a disciplinary action was taken against them.
Id. ¶¶ 66-69.
February 1, 2016, Ariens' Manufacturing Leader told
several Somali Muslim employees, including seven of the
Plaintiffs, to sign a document acknowledging they were
violating company policy and that they may be fired if they
continued to request the religious accommodation. All of the
employees, including the seven Plaintiffs, refused to sign.
Later that day, the Manufacturing Leader met with these
employees, accused them of being "troublemakers, "
and terminated them all. Those Plaintiffs who remained
employed continued to request permission to perform their
prayer ritual and continued to receive verbal or written
warnings until their employment was terminated. Id.
on these background factual allegations, the amended
complaint asserts four separate claims or counts. Count I
asserts a claim of "Discrimination in Violation of Title
VII." Count II asserts a claim for "Retaliation in
Violation of Title VII." Count III asserts a claim of
"Hostile Work Environment in Violation of Title
VII." Finally, Count IV (misnumbered V) asserts a claim
for "Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981(c)." It is
to the race and national origin components of ...