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Bradford v. City of Kansas City

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

May 16, 2017

Martha Bradford, Plaintiff,
City of Kansas City, Missouri, Defendant.


          Fernando J. Gaitan, Jr. United States District Judge

         Pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 21).

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Martha Bradford initially brought a two-count complaint against the city of Kansas City, Missouri. Doc. No. 1, filed on March 31, 2016. Count one alleged 42 U.S.C. § 1983 retaliation. Count three alleged 42 U.S.C. § 1983 violation of the right to freedom of association, due process of law and equal protection under the First and Fourteenth amendments of the U.S. Constitution. On June 3, 2016, defendant moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. On November 16, 2016, before the motion to dismiss was ruled, plaintiff filed a motion to amend her complaint. On January 12, 2017, the Court granted plaintiff's motion for leave to amend complaint, making the motion to dismiss moot. On January 23, 2017, plaintiff filed her amended complaint (Doc. No. 20). Plaintiff's amended complaint contains three counts: (1) Race-based hostile work environment; (2) 42 U.S.C. § 1983 - violation of the right to freedom of association; due process of law and equal protection of the laws under the first and fourteenth amendments of the U.S. Constitution; and (3) 42 U.S.C. § 1983 retaliation.

         Plaintiff alleges that she is an African American woman formerly employed with the City of Kansas City, Water Services Department. Plaintiff asserts that the “Defendant City of Kansas City has exclusive responsibility for establishing and implementing appropriate policy, procedure, custom and practice for its employees including human resources policies and practices for the City of Kansas City, Missouri, and for ensuring those policies, procedures, customs and practices are followed by its employees.” Doc. No. 20 ¶ 9.

         In 2009, plaintiff alleges she and other African-American employees in the Water Services Department began receiving threatening messages at work through the mail. Plaintiff alleges that the incidents were reported to her immediate supervisor, Curtis Braden, who forwarded them to human resources. Plaintiff alleges that human resources did not follow up with her.

         Plaintiff alleges that she was suspended in 2011 after she had inquired about the status of the investigation. Plaintiff alleges she also was reprimanded for talking with her co-workers about alleged discrimination, and she and other African American co-workers were banned from speaking about the incident in the workplace. Plaintiff asserts that she was engaging in protected speech because “the inquiry was about harassment which occurred in Defendant's place of employment and which was authorized by Defendant's human resources policy, custom.” Doc. No. 20, ¶ 20. She asserts her free speech rights outweighed defendant's rights of promoting efficient public service. Plaintiff alleges that because of the hostilities in the Water Services Department, plaintiff suffered a nervous breakdown and took early retirement.

         Plaintiff alleges that “Defendant is the final arbiter, decision-maker and supervisor of a policy, custom and practice which was callous, reckless, and deliberately indifferent to the United States Constitutional rights of Plaintiff because Defendant was complicit in the illegal act of punishing African-Americans whenever African-Americans utilized Defendant's established human resources policy, custom to complain about discriminatory conduct through speech. The Defendant through its established policy and or custom of tacit indifference to African-Americans routinely punished African-Americans for complaining of harassment”. Doc. No. 20, ¶ 26. As examples, plaintiff asserts that “defendant” punished non-parties Beverly Rogers, Deborah Hendrix, Tina Williams, Rhonda Sutton, and LaJoyce Riley.[1] Id Plaintiff asserts that “defendant” allowed a policy or custom or routine discrimination of its African-American employees.

         With respect to Count I, plaintiff pleads that she was subject to racial harassment in that based upon her race she was not allowed to associate, and she was punished when she used defendant's human resources “policy, custom to inquire about what investigations” were being conducted. Doc. No. 20, ¶¶ 31-32. She asserts “Defendant's policy, custom of systematic indifference to its African-American employees . . . was the precise reason why Defendant suspended the Plaintiff . . .” Id ¶ 34. Plaintiff states “The pattern of looking the other way when African-Americans filed complaints is a well entrenched policy, custom of Defendant.” Id ¶ 35.

         With respect to Count II, plaintiff asserts that, “In accordance with Defendant's policy, custom as described [above], Defendant's policy, a custom of chilling the speech of African-American employees intimidating them by ignoring complaints of harassment coupled with punishment, Defendant similarly punished Plaintiff by suspending her.” Id ¶ 43. Plaintiff also asserts that defendant was acting “under color of law and the established policy, custom of curtailing the speech rights of African-Americans to deliberately conceal racial animus . . .” Id. ¶ 44.

         In Count III, plaintiff alleges, “Defendant in the same manner it treated Beverly Rogers, Deborah Hendrix, Tina Williams, Rhonda Sutton, and LaJocye [sic] Riley, policy/custom devised by Defendant where in routinely ignores complaints of discrimination by African-Americans coupled with retaliatory acts of reprimands, suspensions, and firings; continued its policy/custom by ignoring Plaintiff's complaint and suspended her.” Id. ¶ 50. Plaintiff states that “Defendant had knowledge of its illegal conduct if due diligence was exercised and had the power to prevent the commission of any further wrong but instead intentionally and, [sic] knowingly, and with deliberate indifference to the plight and rights of Plaintiff retaliated by suspending plaintiff.” Id. ¶ 52.

         Defendant again filed a motion to dismiss (Doc. No. 21, filed on February 6, 2017). Defendant asserts that plaintiff has failed to plead a causal connection between a municipal policy or custom and the alleged constitutional deprivations.

         II. Standard

         When ruling a motion to dismiss, the court must accept plaintiff's factual allegations as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Patterson Oil Co. v. VeriFone, Inc., No. 2:15-cv-4089, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 141635, at *9 (W.D. Mo. Oct. 19, 2015) (citing Schaaf v. Residential Funding Corp., 517 F.3d 544, 549 (8th Cir. 2008)). A pleading 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). “The pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require ‘detailed factual allegations, ' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, (2007)). In order for a claim 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 ...

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