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Tallevast v. City of St. Louis

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

January 3, 2020

LEONARD C. TALLEVAST, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF ST. LOUIS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          AUDREY G. FLEISSIG, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the motion (ECF No. 6) of Defendant City of St. Louis (the “City”) to dismiss Plaintiff Leonard Tallevast's complaint. Plaintiff asserts claims of race discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 253, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant the motion.

         BACKGROUND

         Taken as true for the purpose of this motion, Plaintiff alleges the following facts. Plaintiff, a white male, was employed as a park ranger in the City police department's Park Rangers Division, beginning on May 14, 2014. On the morning of June 14, 2018, a black, female co-worker addressed Plaintiff at work by saying, “Fuck you, Leo! You're an Old White Motherfucker!” ECF No. 1, Compl. ¶ 30. Sergeant Kenneth Haynes, a park ranger supervisor, witnessed this encounter and instructed Plaintiff to “just walk away from it.” Id. ¶ 32. Plaintiff also immediately informed his direct supervisor, Sergeant John Garrett, of the incident, and the next day, Garrett informed Plaintiff not to speak with the coworker.

         At work on the morning of July 3, 2018, a black, male co-worker called Plaintiff a “fucking liar”; challenged Plaintiff to fight him; and said to Plaintiff, “Kiss my ass, better yet, kiss my black ass!” Id. ¶¶ 42-46. Shortly after this encounter, Garrett approached Plaintiff and told Plaintiff that he (Garrett) had witnessed the incident, but Garrett did not take any further action.

         The same day, July 3, 2018, Plaintiff reported both of the above-described incidents to the Deputy Commander of the Ranger Division, Sergeant Brandt Flowers. Plaintiff alleges that as a result of these two incidents and his supervisors' failure to discipline the coworkers or otherwise correct the issue, Plaintiff was “constructively discharged on or about July 5, 2018.” Id. ¶ 12.[1]

         Plaintiff filed suit on July 29, 2019, after filing a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and receiving a notice of right to sue. Plaintiff asserts claims under Title VII for race discrimination on a constructive-discharge theory (Count I); retaliation in the form of a constructive discharge as a result of Plaintiff's complaints about his co-workers (Count II); and hostile work environment (Count III).

         The City seeks dismissal of all counts for failure to state a claim. The City contends that Plaintiff has not pled sufficient facts to demonstrate that he acted reasonably in resigning his employment after the two incidents described above, or that he gave his employer an opportunity to correct the problem, so as to support a claim of constructive discharge. The City likewise argues that the facts as alleged fail to demonstrate conduct severe or pervasive enough to constitute a hostile work environment.

         Plaintiff opposes the motion to dismiss and argues that he has pled sufficient facts to state claims of constructive discharge and hostile work environment in violation of Title VII. Alternatively, Plaintiff seeks leave to amend his complaint, but he does not attach a proposed amended complaint or suggest how he might cure any pleading deficiency.

         DISCUSSION

         To survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff's claims must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). The reviewing court accepts the plaintiff's factual allegations as true and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Torti v. Hoag, 868 F.3d 666, 671 (8th Cir. 2017). But “[c]ourts are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation, and factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id.

         Any claim of discrimination or retaliation under Title VII first requires a plaintiff to identify an adverse employment action. Blake v. MJ Optical, Inc., 870 F.3d 820, 826 (8th Cir. 2017). A plaintiff relying on a constructive-discharge theory to prove this element “shoulders a substantial burden.” Blake v. MJ Optical, Inc., 870 F.3d 820, 826 (8th Cir. 2017).

         “The constructive-discharge doctrine contemplates a situation in which an employer discriminates against an employee to the point such that his working conditions become so intolerable that a reasonable person in the employee's position would have felt compelled to resign.” Green v. Brennan, 136 S.Ct. 1769, 1776-77 (2016) (citation omitted). “When the employee resigns in the face of such circumstances, Title VII treats that resignation as tantamount to an actual discharge.” Id. Moreover, the employee must show that the “employer deliberately created intolerable working conditions with the intention of forcing [him] to quit, ” and that he gave his employer a “reasonable chance to work out a problem” before quitting. Blake, 870 F.3d at 826.

         Likewise, harassment is only actionable under Title VII as a hostile work environment if it is so “severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim's employment and create an abusive working environment.” Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. v. Nat'l Labor Relations Bd., 866 F.3d 885, 892 (8th Cir. 2017). And when the alleged harasser is a non-supervisor, the plaintiff must also prove the employer knew or should have known about the ...


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