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Mayes v. Reuter

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

May 17, 2018

MICHAEL REUTER, et al., Defendants.



         In November 2014, defendant Michael Reuter was elected Clerk of the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Missouri in a partisan election. At the time of the election, plaintiff Rochelle Marie Mayes was working at the court as a courtroom clerk to Judge Darrell Missey. Reuter ran as a Republican; Mayes had supported her coworker and Reuter's Democratic competitor, Jeanette McKee, in McKee's failed run for Clerk of Court.

         Two years later, Mayes, who is African-American, was replaced as courtroom clerk for Judge Missey by a Caucasian woman. Mayes alleges that during the ten months following, coworkers Katrina Lingenfelter and Ashley Scrivner filed false workplace reports about her, she was passed over for promotion, and eventually she was terminated by Reuter in October 2017. Mayes brings this action against Lingenfelter, Scrivner, Reuter, and the State of Missouri under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Missouri Human Rights Act, Mo. Rev. Stat. § 213.010 et seq., and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. for political and racial discrimination and retaliation.

         Now pending before me are motions to dismiss filed by all defendants, seeking dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), Fed. R. Civ. P., of all counts against them. Because I find that Mayes's complaint contains insufficient factual support for most of its allegations, defendants' motions to dismiss will be granted, except as to the racial discrimination claims brought against the State of Missouri.[1]

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Rochelle Mayes began her employment as a Deputy Clerk with the Circuit Court in Jefferson County, Missouri in 2000. She was promoted to a level III Deputy Clerk and assigned to Judge Darrell Missey's courtroom in 2007. Mayes was the first African-American clerk to work at the court.

         In November 2014, Republican Michael Reuter defeated Democrat Jeanette McKee for the elected position of Clerk of the Jefferson County Circuit Court.[2] Democrat Mayes had publicly supported her coworker, Deputy Clerk McKee, in her failed campaign for Clerk of Court.

         When Reuter took office in January 2015, Mayes was still working as the courtroom clerk for Judge Missey. Mayes alleges that she had a very good relationship with Judge Missey until September 2016 when Missey was elected to be the Presiding Judge of the court for the term starting January 1, 2017. Traditionally, when a judge was elected as Presiding Judge, his courtroom clerk would become the Secretary to the Presiding Judge and receive a $200 per month pay increase. However, after being elected, Judge Missey informed Mayes that he might move her to a different courtroom clerk position for another judge. But when the other judge requested to meet with Mayes about the position, Mayes refused because of a health problem she was experiencing at work that day.

         On November 30, 2016, Judge Missey confronted Mayes about her refusal to meet with the other judge. At that meeting, Mayes told Missey that she believed he was replacing her as his courtroom clerk because she is African-American. Following the meeting, fellow Deputy Clerk and defendant, Ashley Scrivner, submitted a complaint about Mayes to Reuter. Although Scrivner was not in the meeting with Missey and Mayes, she claimed that she was nearby and had heard Mayes yelling and cursing at Judge Missey. Mayes denies raising her voice in the meeting and alleges Scrivner's report is false.

         On December 1, 2016, the day after the meeting with Missey, Mayes was informed by Reuter and her supervisor that she had been removed as courtroom clerk for Judge Missey. She was reassigned to a pool of Deputy Clerks in the juvenile division. Mayes filed a grievance concerning her removal as courtroom clerk. Reuter denied the grievance based on a state law that permits judges to select their own courtroom clerks. Around the same time as the grievance denial, Reuter demoted Mayes from Deputy Clerk level III to level II, stating that she no longer qualified as level III because she was not a courtroom clerk. Mayes alleges that this is false.

         Defendant Katrina Lingenfelter was appointed by Judge Missey as his new courtroom clerk and Secretary to the Presiding Judge. Mayes and Lingenfelter had a friendly relationship until Lingenfelter was appointed as Missey's courtroom clerk. Mayes alleges that Lingenfelter “is Caucasian, slim, blonde and younger than [Mayes], but is not as efficient, experienced or competent.” ECF No. 1 at ¶ 77.

         On December 26, 2016, Mayes filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Her charge was brought against Judge Missey and Reuter, claiming discrimination based on “1. OBESITY, 2. DISABILITY - (OSETO-ARTHRITIS), 3. RACE & 4. AGE.” ECF No. 1-1 at 3. In her letter to the EEOC, Mayes described the events leading up to her demotion from Missey's courtroom clerk and from a Deputy Clerk level III to II. On September 29, 2017, the EEOC issued her a right-to-sue letter.

         On April 25, 2017, Mayes filed a complaint with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights (MCHR). On the charge document, she checked the boxes for discrimination based on race, retaliation, age, and disability. The MCHR charge contains the same narrative of facts as the EEOC charge, naming both Missey and Reuter. On November 20, 2017, the Missouri Commission issued Mayes a right-to-sue letter.

         Between December 2016 and October 2017, Mayes continued to work at the court in the pool of juvenile division Deputy Clerks. She alleges that she was mostly ignored by her coworkers. Courtroom clerk and backup courtroom clerk positions opened up during this period, but Mayes was not considered for the positions and less-experienced clerks were appointed to them.

         In August, September, and October 2017, Mayes alleges that Lingenfelter submitted three false reports about Mayes's workplace behavior. In two of the reports, Lingenfelter accused Mayes of calling her a “bitch.” In the third report, Lingenfelter claims Mayes hit the back of her knee with her lunchbox and then elbowed her in the back. Two of these three false reports were submitted to Reuter.

         On October 6, 2017, Reuter issued Mayes a notice of “Intent to Terminate” employment because of “recent actions taken by [Mayes] toward other coworkers as well as your supervisor.” Because Mayes's request for a pre-termination hearing was not postmarked by the effective date of the dismissal, Reuter issued a “Final Letter of Termination” on October 16, 2017. Mayes's appeals of the termination to Judge Missey and the Circuit Court Budget Committee were denied. There is no allegation that Mayes filed second charges with the EEOC or MCHR regarding her termination.[3]

         Mayes's complaint seeks relief on seven counts: three 42 U.S.C. § 1983 counts for political discrimination, retaliation for political activity, and equal protection based on race; two Missouri Human Rights Act counts for racial discrimination and retaliation; and two Title VII counts for racial discrimination and retaliation. All seven counts are brought against the three individual defendants: Lingenfelter, Scrivner, and Reuter. The MHRA and Title VII counts are also brought against the State of Missouri.

         Defendants seek dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), Fed. R. Civ. P., of all counts. Defendants argue Mayes has failed to exhaust her administrative remedies because the charges she filed did not encompass all the claims made in the lawsuit, failed to plead sufficient facts of their personal involvement, and failed to state sufficient allegations to support her claims for relief, including a conspiracy claim. Defendants also claim they are protected by qualified immunity, quasi-judicial immunity, and official immunity. Mayes concedes that the four MHRA and Title VII claims should be dismissed against defendants Lingenfelter and Scrivner, but she opposes dismissal of the other claims.

         II. Motion to Dismiss Standard

         The purpose of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) is to test the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When considering a 12(b)(6) motion, the court assumes the factual allegations of a complaint are true and construes them in favor of the plaintiff. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 326-27 (1989). However, the court need not accept as true merely conclusory allegations, Hanten v. Sch. Dist. of Riverview Gardens, 183 F.3d 799, 805 (8th Cir. 1999), or legal conclusions drawn by the plaintiff from the facts pled. Westcott v. City of Omaha, 901 F.2d 1486, 1488 (8th Cir. 1990).

         Rule 8(a)(2), Fed. R. Civ. P., provides that a complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” In Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, the Supreme Court clarified that Rule 8(a)(2) requires complaints to contain “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007); accord Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009). Specifically, to survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain enough factual allegations, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief “that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.

         III. Counts I & II: §1983 Political Discrimination and Retaliation

         For a public employee, §1983 “imposes liability for certain actions taken ‘under color of' law that deprive a person ‘of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States.' ” Magee v. Trustees of Hamline Univ., Minn., 747 F.3d 532, 535 (8th Cir. 2014) (quoting Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, 931 (1982)). A claim of political discrimination is based on an employee's status or affiliation, while a claim of political retaliation is based on her speech or conduct. Wagner v. Jones, 664 F.3d 259, 269 (8th Cir. 2011). The tests for each claim are similar in that both require a plaintiff to make a prima facie showing that she suffered an adverse employment action and that the plaintiff's political beliefs or affiliation (in a political discrimination claim), or activity (in a retaliation claim), was a substantial or motivating factor in the employer's decision to take the adverse employment action. Id. at 270. Substantial or motivating factors can be shown through either direct or indirect evidence. Id. at 271.

         Mayes alleges that the three individual defendants conspired together to discriminate against her based on her political affiliation as a Democrat and in retaliation for her support of Democrat McKee in the 2014 election for Clerk of Court. Mayes's complaint does not allege that Lingenfelter or Scrivner are politically adverse to Mayes, that they were aware that Mayes supported a Democrat in the 2014 election, or that they themselves did not also support Democrat McKee in that election. Mayes alleges that the political animosity started with the November 2014 election but she admits that she had a good relationship with Lingenfelter for the two years following the election, until Lingenfelter was appointed to replace her. Neither fellow Deputy Clerk Lingenfelter nor Scrivner had the authority or power to make any adverse employment decision affecting Mayes's employment. Her only factual accusations against Lingenfelter and Scrivner involve the filing of false reports. However, the complaint contains no facts that could support a finding that political affiliation or ...

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