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Hetherson v. Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security

Superior Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

May 12, 2016

Karen Hetherson
v.
Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security et al No. 134063

          May 17, 2016, Filed

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

          Robert L. Ullmann, Justice

         Defendants Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (" EOPSS"), Massachusetts Department of Correction (" DOC"), and individual defendants Luis Spencer, Robert Murphy and Andrea Cabral (the " Individual Defendants") moved to dismiss all counts of the Complaint filed by the plaintiff, Karen Hetherson (" Hetherson"). The Court held a hearing on May 5, 2016. For the below reasons, the defendants' motion is ALLOWED in part and DENIED in part.

         DISCUSSION

         A. The Legal Standard

          A motion to dismiss, " argues that the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Jarosz v. Palmer, 436 Mass. 526, 529, 766 N.E.2d 482 (2002), quoting J.W. Smith & H.B. Zobel, Rules Practice s. 12.16 (1974). In considering such a motion, the Court takes as true the allegations of the complaint, as well as such inferences as may be drawn from them in favor of the non-moving party. Nader v. Citron, 372 Mass. 96, 98, 360 N.E.2d 870 (1977). However, the court disregards legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations. Schaer v. Brandeis Univ., 432 Mass. 474, 477, 735 N.E.2d 373 (2000). To survive the motion, the complaint must contain " allegations plausibly suggesting (not merely consistent with)" an entitlement to relief and " must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Iannacchino v. Ford Motor Co., 451 Mass. 623, 636, 888 N.E.2d 879 (2008), quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 557, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). A " formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         B. Application of the Legal Standard

         Count 1: Employment Discrimination in Violation of G.L.c. 151B, § 4

         The Complaint sufficiently alleges that Hetherson's employers, EOPSS and DOC, [1] terminated her for failing to discipline certain correction officers, while not terminating men who were in a comparable position to discipline those same correction officers, and that the reason for the employers' decision to terminate her was gender discrimination. Therefore, dismissal of this Count must be DENIED as to EOPSS and DOC.

         The liability of non-employers under G.L.c. 151B, § 4, however, is limited to subsections 4(4), claims of retaliation, 4(4A), claims of coercive interference with the exercise of protected rights, and 4(5), aiding and abetting. If Hetherson wishes to proceed against any of the Individual Defendants under Count 1, she must move for leave to file an Amended Complaint setting forth the one or more subsections that each defendant allegedly violated, and enough specificity to raise her right to relief above a speculative level. See Iannacchino, 451 Mass. at 636. Therefore, Count 1 is DISMISSED as to the Individual Defendants, but without prejudice to plaintiff's right to seek leave to file an Amended Complaint.

         Count 2: Violation of Federal Civil Rights Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983

         EOPSS and DOC moved to dismiss this count, but defendants' brief argues for dismissal only in favor of the Individual Defendants. See Def. Br. at 7-9. In any event, dismissal against EOPSS and DOC must be DENIED on this count for the reasons set forth above with regard to Count 1, because " the four elements necessary to establish a prima facie case for an equal protection claim filed pursuant to § 1983 are substantially the same as the requirements necessary to establish an employment discrimination claim pursuant to G.L.c. 151B." Beal v. Board of Selectmen of Hingham, 419 Mass. 535, 546, 646 N.E.2d 131 (1995).

         As for the Individual Defendants, based on Beal and this Court's ruling on Count 1, Count 2 must be DISMISSED, without prejudice to plaintiff's right to seek to file an Amended Complaint with enough specificity to raise the right to relief above a speculative level.

         Count 3: Violation of State Civil Rights Under G.L.c. 12, ...


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