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El-Scari v. Comprehensive Mental Health Services

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

October 21, 2019




         Before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's pro se Amended Complaint. (Doc. 28.) For the reasons below, the motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. Specifically, the motion is DENIED as to Plaintiff's Title VII claim against Comprehensive Mental Health Services (“Comprehensive”), but Plaintiff's retaliation claims, her state law claims, and her claims against Julie Pratt and Antonia Wyatt are DISMISSED.

         Background [1]

         Plaintiff alleges race discrimination claims against Comprehensive, who was her employer, and two of Comprehensive's employees (Julie Pratt and Antonia Wyatt). Plaintiff worked directly with Comprehensive's clients as a mental health specialist. One of the clients received services from both Comprehensive and a domestic violence shelter, which had previously allowed Plaintiff to enter its facility. On July 18, 2018, however, Plaintiff was abruptly denied access to the shelter and was asked to leave. Plaintiff tried to sort out the misunderstanding by attempting to contact the shelter's executive director, but she wasn't able to make contact. The police were called. Plaintiff left voluntarily.

         The shelter reported this to Comprehensive, which placed Plaintiff on administrative leave the next day and then fired her the day after that. Plaintiff was later denied unemployment benefits. She alleges that she was treated this way because she is black and points to the fact that a white employee with the same job description and similar prior complaints was allowed to continue working.

         At the time Plaintiff was fired on July 20, 2018, she had a pending Chapter 13 bankruptcy in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Kansas. She immediately told her bankruptcy lawyer about the fact that she was fired and her potential discrimination claims. However, the lawyer did not file an amended Chapter 13 schedule to disclose these claims as potential assets. Rather, on October 2, 2018, Plaintiff filed a notice of voluntary conversion to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which the bankruptcy court sustained the next day. Plaintiff eventually received a Chapter 7 bankruptcy discharge, with no assets distributed to unsecured creditors.

         Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination against Comprehensive with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (“EEOC”). The charge was also dually filed as a complaint with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights (“MCHR”). (Doc. 17-1.) On the EEOC charge form, Plaintiff checked boxes for “retaliation” and “color” discrimination, but she did not check the box for “race” discrimination. (Doc. 6 at 12.) On February 22, 2019, following an investigation, the EEOC sent Plaintiff a letter notifying her that the case was dismissed and that she had a right to sue in court. (Doc. 6 at 11.) On February 28, 2019, the MCHR also sent Plaintiff a “Notice of Termination of Proceedings” stating as follows: “Based on a review of EEOC's investigation summary, the MCHR has decided to adopt the EEOC's findings and terminate its proceedings in this case.” (Doc. 17-1.) The February 28, 2019 letter also stated that Plaintiff had a right to appeal the MCHR's decision to the Circuit Court of Cole County, Missouri, but the notice did not mention any right to file a discrimination lawsuit. (Id.)

         Plaintiff then filed the present lawsuit in this Court, alleging race discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Missouri Human Rights Act (“MHRA”). After this Court granted Defendants' request for a more definite statement on the retaliation claim (Doc. 24), Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint (Doc. 27). Defendants' motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint is now fully briefed and ready for decision. (Doc. 28; Doc. 29; Doc. 30; Doc. 31.)

         Subject-Matter Jurisdiction

         The Court has federal question jurisdiction over the Title VII claims and supplemental jurisdiction over the MHRA claims, which derive from the same “nucleus of operative fact” as the Title VII claims. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1367; Clark v. Iowa State Univ., 643 F.3d 643, 645 (8th Cir. 2011).

         Legal Standard

         To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A claim is plausible if “the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The Court “accept[s] the allegations contained in the complaint as true and draw[s] all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party.” Cole v. Homier Distrib. Co., 599 F.3d 856, 861 (8th Cir. 2010) (quotation marks and citation omitted). Although the Court liberally construes pro se pleadings, a complaint “still must allege sufficient facts to support the claims advanced.” Stone v. Harry, 364 F.3d 912, 914 (8th Cir. 2004). The Court will not “supply additional facts” or “construct a legal theory for plaintiff that assumes facts that have not been pleaded.” Id. (quotation marks and citation omitted).


         Defendants argue that the case should be dismissed for five reasons: (1) the claims against Comprehensive's employees are barred by statutory bans on individual liability; (2) all of Plaintiff's claims are barred by judicial estoppel because she failed to disclose them in bankruptcy; (3) the Amended Complaint fails to state claims for retaliation; (4) Plaintiff never received a right-to-sue letter from the MCHR; and (5) Plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative ...

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