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Poirier v. Massachusetts Department of Corrections

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

February 4, 2016




Melissa J. Poirier (Plaintiff), pro se, brought this lawsuit against her former employer, the Massachusetts Department of Corrections (DOC or Defendant), alleging gender discrimination. The DOC moves to dismiss, on the grounds that Plaintiff’s claims are untimely and barred by the doctrine of claim preclusion. For the reasons set forth below, the DOC’s motion (Docket No. 14) is denied.


The following facts are taken from Plaintiff’s pro se complaint. Plaintiff was employed by the DOC as a Correction Officer for approximately fifteen years. She was terminated in 2005 for violating two of the DOC’s Rules and Regulations Governing All Employees. Specifically, Rule 8(c), which prohibits consorting with inmates and former inmates without approval from the Superintendent; and Rule 19(c), which requires compliance with “questions or interrogatories” relating to the conduct of inmates or staff. (Docket No. 18-1 at 54.) Plaintiff claims that male employees have violated these same rules with impunity, and that she was terminated because she is female.

In April of 2004, Plaintiff faxed a letter to her Superintendent, notifying that she would be in personal contact with a former inmate. In July of 2004, Plaintiff wrote a letter to the Superintendent, requesting permission for the former inmate to move in with her. Plaintiff did not receive a response. In late August of 2004, the Interim Acting Superintendent “detached” Plaintiff with pay pending investigation. Plaintiff appeared at the DOC headquarters for an investigative interview in September of 2004, and she told the interviewers that she was in contact with a former inmate. Plaintiff was not advised of the allegations against her and was not advised that she had violated any rules.

In late September of 2004, the Commissioner of the DOC denied Plaintiff’s request to cohabit with the former inmate but did not direct Plaintiff to cease all contact. In January of 2005, Plaintiff participated in a second investigative interview, after which her status was changed to detachment without pay. In late January of 2005, the DOC notified Plaintiff in writing of the allegations against her; specifically, violations of Rules 8(c) and 19(c).[1] In April of 2005, Plaintiff attended a Commissioner’s Hearing relating to these charges.[2] On August 11, 2005, Plaintiff was terminated for “conduct unbecoming a correction officer, ” namely, “knowingly associate[ing] with a former inmate, while off-duty, ” and “fail[ing] to cooperate in the [DOC’s] investigation concerning these allegations”-violations of Rules 8(c) and 19(c). (Docket No. 18-1 at 76.) According to Plaintiff, the DOC continues to employ male officers who have violated these same rules.

Plaintiff contends that the DOC did not comply with its own Investigations Policy by failing to explain the allegations against her, failing to obtain a written statement from her, not allowing her to record the investigatory interviews, and not allowing her to have an attorney present during the interviews. She also asserts that the investigation was conducted unfairly because the DOC neither inquired about the nature of her relationship with the former inmate nor advised her to cease contact with this inmate. She also contends that the DOC intentionally removed the April 2004 letter (notifying the Superintendent of her contact with the former inmate) from her file.

In January of 2010, four and a half years after her termination, Plaintiff was told by another correction officer, Officer McLaughlin, that he had been personally involved with a former inmate, had notified and met with the Superintendent, and that no adverse action had been taken against him. In fact, the DOC had advised him in writing that he could continue his contact with this former inmate. Less than one month after receiving this information, Plaintiff filed a gender discrimination complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD). In November of 2013, the MCAD notified Plaintiff of a “Lack of Probable Cause, ” on the ground that Plaintiff was not similarly situated with the comparators she had used to support her claims of gender discrimination. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) also reviewed her complaint and adopted the MCAD’s findings. Plaintiff disagrees with these findings and lists in her complaint five male officers, in addition to Officer McLaughlin, who had personal contact with former inmates and were not terminated.

Plaintiff filed the instant complaint on August 1, 2014, alleging gender discrimination and seeking reinstatement, retroactive pay, and the opportunity to retire immediately.[3] The DOC has moved to dismiss the action.

Standard of Review

The DOC has asserted two grounds for its motion to dismiss: claim preclusion and untimeliness. Although the DOC has not cited to any Rule of Civil Procedure, the above-stated affirmative defenses may be appropriately considered under Rule 12(b)(6). See Santana-Castro v. Toledo-Davila, 579 F.3d 109, 113-14 (1st Cir. 2009); In re Colonial Mortgage Bankers Corp., 324 F.3d 12, 16 (1st Cir. 2003).

To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must allege “a plausible entitlement to relief.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 559 (2007). Although detailed factual allegations are not necessary to survive a motion to dismiss, the standard “requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. at 555. In evaluating a motion to dismiss, the court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff’s favor. Langadinos v. American Airlines, Inc., 199 F.3d 68, 68 (1st Cir. 2000). In addition to the complaint, the court may consider “documents the authenticity of which are not disputed by the parties; . . . documents central to plaintiffs’ claim; [and] documents sufficiently referred to in the complaint.” Curran v. Cousins, 509 F.3d 36, 44 (1st Cir. 2007) (quoting Watterson v. Page, 987 F.2d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 1993)).

When a plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the plaintiff’s complaint and other filings are “liberally construed.” Erikson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (per curiam) (citation omitted) (“a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers”). However, “pro se status does not insulate a party from complying with procedural and substantive law.” Ahmed v. Rosenblatt, 118 F.3d 886, 890 (1st Cir. 1997).

In order for an affirmative defense to be adjudicated on a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, two conditions must be satisfied. See In re Colonial Mortgage Bankers Corp., 324 F.3d at 16. First, “the facts that establish the defense must be definitively ascertainable from the allegations of the complaint, the documents (if any) incorporated therein, matters of public record, and other matters of which the court may take judicial notice.” Id. Second, ...

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