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Mercedes v. Holder

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

July 1, 2014

RAYMOND MERCEDES, Plaintiff,
v.
ERIC HOLDER, Attorney General, United States Department of Justice, Defendant.

ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS (DOC. NO. 34)

LEO T. SOROKIN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Raymond Mercedes, a Black Hispanic male from the Dominican Republic, is an employee of the Federal Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") assigned to the Federal Medical Center Devens ("FMC Devens"). Mercedes has sued the United States Attorney General, claiming he was discriminated against at work on account of his race and nationality, and that he was subject to retaliation after complaining about such discrimination, all in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.[1] Doc. No. 1.[2] The Attorney General has moved for judgment on the pleadings. Doc. Nos. 34, 35. Mercedes has opposed the motion, Doc. Nos. 36, 37, and the Court heard oral argument on June 24, 2014, Doc. No. 42.[3] For the reasons that follow, the Attorney General's motion is ALLOWED.

I. LEGAL STANDARD

The legal principles guiding federal courts in resolving motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) and motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) are essentially the same. Curran v. Cousins , 509 F.3d 36, 43-44 (1st Cir. 2007); Lexington Luminance LLC v. Amazon.com, Inc., No. 12-12216, 2014 WL 1092871, at *2 (D. Mass. Mar. 18, 2014). Both types of motions call for "an assessment of the merits of the case at an embryonic stage, " R.G. Fin. Corp. v. Vergara-Nunez , 446 F.3d 178, 182 (1st Cir. 2006), and require the Court to "view the facts contained in the pleadings in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion - here, the plaintiff - and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor, " Curran , 509 F.3d at 43; accord Lexington Luminance, 2014 WL 1092871, at *2.

The Court may consider documents beyond the pleadings if their authenticity is not disputed, they are central to the plaintiff's claims, or they are referred to in the complaint. See Curran , 509 F.3d at 44 (quoting Watterson v. Page , 987 F.2d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 1993)). To survive either motion, the complaint "must contain factual allegations that raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true.'" Perez-Acevedo v. Rivero-Cubano , 520 F.3d 26, 29 (1st Cir. 2008) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). This standard, however, requires the plaintiff to offer "more than labels and conclusions, " and more than "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Bell Atl. Corp. , 550 U.S. at 555. The complaint "must provide fair notice to the defendants and state a facially plausible legal claim." Ocasio-Hernandez v. Fortuño-Burset , 640 F.3d 1, 12 (1st Cir. 2011).

A discrimination claim under Title VII can be based on allegations of discrete discriminatory acts or on treatment which constitutes a hostile work environment. To establish a prima facie case of discrimination arising from discrete acts, a plaintiff must allege membership in a protected class, that he performed his job at an adequate level, and that he suffered an adverse employment action. See Conward v. Cambridge Sch. Comm. , 171 F.3d 12, 19 (1st Cir. 1999); Espinal v. Nat'l Grid NE Holdings 2, LLC , 794 F.Supp.2d 285, 292 (D. Mass. 2011). "An adverse employment action is one that affects employment or alters the conditions of the workplace, and typically involves discrete changes in the terms of employment, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing significant change in benefits." Morales-Vallellanes v. Potter , 605 F.3d 27, 35 (1st Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks, alterations, and citations omitted). It "must be more disruptive than a mere inconvenience or an alteration of job responsibilities." Marrero v. Goya of P.R., Inc. , 304 F.3d 7, 23 (1st Cir. 2002).

To state a hostile work environment claim, the plaintiff must allege objectively offensive discriminatory conduct so severe or pervasive that it unreasonably interfered with his working environment. Rosario v. Dep't of Army , 607 F.3d 241, 246 (1st Cir. 2010). Such "conduct must be extreme [enough] to amount to a change in the terms and conditions of employment." Faragher v. City of Boca Raton , 524 U.S. 775, 788 (1998). Title VII is not "a general civility code for the American workplace." Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Servs., Inc. , 523 U.S. 75, 80 (1998). It "does not prohibit all verbal or physical harassment in the workplace; it is directed only at discriminat[ion]... because of... [race, color, ... or national origin].'" Id . (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1)).

A plaintiff claiming retaliation in violation of Title VII must allege that he "engaged in protected conduct, " "was subject to an adverse employment action, " and that "a causal connection existed" between his conduct and the action. Colon v. Tracey , 717 F.3d 43, 49 (1st Cir. 2013). For these purposes, a materially adverse employment action is something that likely would deter a reasonable worker from complaining of discrimination. Id.

II. RELEVANT FACTS

In keeping with the principles set forth above, the following facts are taken from the complaint and the portions of the administrative record referenced therein and submitted by the parties.[4]

Mercedes has worked for the BOP for nearly twenty years. Doc. No. 1 at ¶ 41. He is a Senior Officer Specialist and has worked at FMC Devens for nearly nine years. Id . at ¶ 42; Doc. No. 35-1 at 1. During that time, Mercedes has filed multiple discrimination complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), including one related to the claims in this lawsuit. Doc. No. 1 at ¶¶ 8, 43-44.

In this action, Mercedes alleges discrimination based on race and national origin, as well as retaliation for his previous EEOC complaints. See id. at ¶¶ 25, 39, 50, 51. His claims arise from three categories of alleged events: 1) temporary shift reassignments; 2) denial of opportunities to review performance evaluations; and 3) various forms of retaliation for his previous claims of discrimination. Id .; see Doc. No. 37 at 2-4.

A. Reassignments

Although he alleges he was reassigned "three times within five months, " Doc. No. 1 at ¶ 11, Mercedes describes the circumstances of only one reassignment - from perimeter patrol to the control center for one shift on April 24, 2010, id. at ¶ 12; Doc. No. 35-1 at 3. According to Mercedes, he was reassigned without advance notice, "had not been trained to work" in the control center, and lacked a necessary security password to enter information in the control center's computer system. Doc. No. 1 at ¶¶ 12-13. He claims the reassignment decision was made on April 18, 2010, providing ...


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