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Edwards v. Par Electrical Contractors, Inc.

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

July 1, 2019

ERIC EDWARDS, Plaintiff,
v.
PAR ELECTRICAL CONTRACTORS, INC., and INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF ELECTRICAL WORKERS, LOCAL NO. 53, Defendants.

          ORDER AND OPINION GRANTING DEFENDANT LOCAL 53'S MOTION TO DISMISS

          BETH PHILLIPS, CHIEF JUDGE

         Plaintiff Eric Edwards (“Edwards”) filed this suit for race discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment against his former employer, PAR Electrical Contractors, Inc. (“PAR”) and his labor organization, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local No. 53 (“Local 53”). Now pending is Local 53's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 11), which argues that Edwards failed to allege facts sufficient to state any cause of action against Local 53. As explained below, the motion is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The First Amended Complaint (“Amended Complaint”) alleges the following facts, all of which are construed in the light most favorable to Edwards and deemed as true for purposes of this Order.[1] PAR is headquartered in Kansas City and is a nationwide electrical contractor that specializes in outside electrical work. (Doc. 8, ¶¶ 12, 14.) PAR handles all aspects of constructing and maintaining power lines in and around the Kansas City metropolitan area. (Id., ¶ 13.)

         Local 53 is a labor organization that serves approximately 2, 500 outside construction line workers in the Kansas City metropolitan area. (Id., ¶ 15.) In the Kansas City area, all PAR construction line workers are also members of Local 53. (Id., ¶ 16.) Additionally, Local 53's executive board is comprised of PAR employees and managers. (Id., ¶ 17.)

         During the relevant time period, Edwards, who is African-American, was a member and apprentice of Local 53. (Id., ¶ 18.) In or around October 2016, Edwards became employed by PAR. (Id.) Edwards's primary job duties included repairing and maintaining underground and above-ground power lines belonging to Kansas City Power & Light. (Id., ¶ 19.)

         In approximately August 2017, Edwards was preparing for his shift and overheard the phone of Richard Summers ring through his truck speakers. (Id., ¶ 20.) Summers is a PAR supervisor and member of Local 53. (Id., ¶¶ 20-21.) Summers answered the phone and the caller screamed through the speakers “What's up Nigger? What cha doing?” (Id., ¶ 20.) Summers then looked at Edwards and laughed. (Id., ¶ 21.)

         Also in August 2017, a large team of electricians including Edwards travelled to Dallas, Texas, in response to hurricane Harvey. (Id., ¶ 22.) When they arrived in Dallas, a group of electricians, including Edwards, huddled around the caravan and began drinking beer. (Id., ¶ 23.) Edwards immediately became the center of attention when his co-workers, supervisors, and managers made jokes and comments about his race and color of his skin. (Id., ¶ 24.)

         Approximately four days into the hurricane Harvey job, Kevin Boogar told Edwards during lunch that “the mosquitos love that dark skin, that shit tastes like chocolate I bet.” (Id., ¶ 28.) Boogar is a member of Local 53. (Id., ¶ 38.) Edwards's manager/superintendent at PAR, Eric Younghans, was sitting next to Boogar but did not take any action and did not appear to be bothered by the derogatory comment. (Id., ¶ 29.) Younghans also sits on Local 53's executive board. (Id.)

         Edwards reported race-related issues to a different PAR manager, Jason Stephens. (Id., ¶ 30.) After making the report, Edwards was ostracized by the other electricians. (Id., ¶ 31.) Edwards requested a crew change, but did not receive a change until after he had endured another three weeks of Summers repeatedly using the n-word. (Id., ¶ 32.) Edwards was finally transferred to Florida to work in the aftermath of hurricane Irma. (Id.)

         Although Edwards was assigned to a different crew, Summers was still responsible for evaluating his work performance during the response to hurricanes Harvey and Irma. (Id., ¶ 33.) Summers gave Edwards an “Unsatisfactory” review for August and September 2017. (Id., ¶ 34.) This was the first time Edwards had received a negative review. (Id.) In addition to the negative review, Edwards continued to hear other electricians use the n-word and other racial remarks. (Id., ¶¶ 35-38.)

         In or around March 2018, Robert Frazee terminated Edwards's employment at PAR. (Id., ¶ 39.)[2] Frazee also sits on Local 53's executive board. (Id.) After his termination from PAR, Edwards alleges that he “has continued to experience discrimination by Local 53 executive officers and members as well as at other places of employment consisting of Local 53 members.” (Id., ¶ 44.) The Amended Complaint does not provide any further information about this alleged post-employment discrimination. Edwards also summarily alleges that Local 53 refused to refer him for employment opportunities at Magun Boring and Black and McDonald “because of his race and his opposition to racial discrimination.” (Id., ¶ 43.)[3]

         On January 11, 2019, Edwards filed this lawsuit against PAR and Local 53. The Amended Complaint asserts the following causes of action against both Defendants: (1) race discrimination in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act (“MHRA”), Title VII, and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Counts I, IV, VII); (2) retaliation in violation of the MHRA, Title VII, and § 1981 (Counts II, V, and VIII); and (3) hostile work environment in violation of the MHRA, Title VII, and § 1981 (Counts III, VI, and IX). PAR filed an Answer, and Local 53 filed the pending motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Local 53 primarily argues that any discrimination occurred at PAR, and that the Amended Complaint does not adequately allege that Local 53, as an organization, engaged in actionable conduct. Edwards contends that each claim is adequately stated against Local 53. The parties' arguments are addressed below.

         II. DISCUSSION

         When considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court “must accept as true all of the complaint's factual allegations and view them in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff[ ].” Stodghill v. Wellston Sch. Dist., 512 F.3d 472, 476 (8th Cir. 2008). In Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), the Supreme Court explained that:

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. A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. 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. at 678 (quotations and citations omitted). In addition, “the 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.” Id.

         A. Counts I, IV, and VII-Race Discrimination

          Counts I, IV, and VII assert race discrimination claims against Local 53 under Title VII, § 1981, and the MHRA. Title VII applies to labor organizations, and makes it unlawful:

(1) to exclude or to expel from its membership, or otherwise to discriminate against, any individual because ...

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