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Butler v. Adecco USA, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

May 24, 2016

DEBORAH A. BUTLER, Plaintiff,
v.
ADECCO USA INC., SUN LIFE FINANCIAL U.S. SERVICES COMPANY INC., and DIANE M. BASSETT, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS’ MOTIONS TO DISMISS (DOCKET NOS. 33 AND 35)

          TIMOTHY S. HILLMAN DISTRICT JUDGE

         Deborah Butler brought this employment discrimination action against Adecco USA, Inc. (Adecco), Sun Life Financial (U.S.) Services Company, Inc. (Sun Life), and Diane Bassett after she was terminated from a temporary employment position, allegedly because of her age and race. All Defendants move to dismiss. I find that Plaintiff has alleged plausible claims of discrimination but has failed to allege a plausible claim of defamation. For the reasons set forth below, Bassett and Sun Life’s motion to dismiss (Docket No. 33) is granted in part and denied in part. Adecco’s motion to dismiss (Docket No. 35) is denied.

         Background

         The following facts are taken from Plaintiff’s amended complaint (the complaint) and assumed true for the purposes of this motion. Deborah Butler (Plaintiff) is an African-American female of Native American Indian descent, who is at least forty years old. She holds two law degrees, has passed the Pennsylvania bar examination, and holds a GE Six Sigma Quality Control Green Belt certification. In 2000, Plaintiff registered with Adecco, which is a temporary employment agency. Between 2008 and June of 2012, Adecco assigned Butler periodic temporary job assignments with various employers in the Massachusetts area. One of these assignments was with Sun Life in 2009.

         Plaintiff was given another assignment with Sun Life in 2012. On or about August 20, 2012, Adecco employee Matthew Clayman emailed Butler to confirm a two-month “Underwriting Administrative” assignment. Plaintiff reported to the job assignment, where she was joined by five other temporary staff members. She was immediately separated from these other staff members and assigned to Diane Bassett, who was Sun Life’s Senior Manager of Stop Loss Underwriting. Cassandra Callow, who was a nineteen-year-old Sun Life employee, began to train Butler. Butler considered Callow’s training to be substandard. Among other problems, many of Butler’s questions went unanswered. Callow also told Butler that she and Bassett were friends and that they carpooled to work. During her four days of training, Butler took initiative and drafted a decision tree detailing the steps to completing her tasks as part of the “Renewal Team.” She left the decision tree on her desk on the evening of Thursday, August 30, 2012.

         That evening, she received a call from Clayman, instructing her not to return to her assignment at Sun Life. Also on August 30, 2012, Bassett sent an email to Clayman, with another Sun Life employee, James Moriarty, cc’ed. This email contained Bassett’s statement that “it is too time consuming to train her [Butler] for this process.” (Docket No. 34-1 at 1.) The process was the “renewal process, ” which was Butler’s assignment, and which Butler describes in the complaint as “entering data relating to Sun Life customers.” (Docket No. 25 at ¶ 18.) Clayman emailed Butler apologizing for the news that she had been terminated, stating “we will find something new to transition you into.” (Docket No. 25 at ¶ 20.) No such assignment at Sun Life has occurred. Butler alleges that, because of Bassett’s email, she was unable to secure any subsequent temporary assignments from Adecco until May of 2013.

         On June 24, 2013, Butler filed an administrative complaint in a dual filing with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), asserting discrimination based on age and race.[1] On August 21, 2015, Butler received a Dismissal and Notice of Appeal letter from the MCAD, stating that the “Investigation reveals that Sun Life replaced Complainant with Mr. Drop, a current temp who had been fully trained and working for Sun Life for a month prior to Complainant’s hire.” (Docket No. 25 at ¶ 30.) This MCAD letter also stated that “Adecco continues to give complainant temporary assignments.” (Docket No. 25 at ¶ 31.) However, Butler alleges that she has not received a work assignment from Adecco since March 30, 2014. Butler pursued an appeal of the MCAD’s initial determination, but the appeal was later dismissed because she brought the instant suit during its pendency.

         Butler initiated this lawsuit, pro se, in state court on August 28, 2015. The case was removed to this Court, and she filed her amended complaint on November 18, 2015. The complaint contains the following counts: race discrimination in violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151B (count I); age discrimination in violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151B (count II); race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000c et seq. (count III); age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. § 621 (count IV); and defamation (count V). Butler seeks compensatory and punitive damages. All defendants have moved to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Sun Life and Bassett filed a joint motion, and Adecco filed separately.

         Standard of Review

         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)).

         It is a “context-specific task” to determine “whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief, ” one that “requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009) (internal citations omitted). “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not ‘show[n]’-that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Id. (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). On the other hand, a court may not disregard properly pled factual allegations, “even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. 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).

         Discussion

         A. Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies under Title VII

         All three Defendants argue that Plaintiff has failed to exhaust her administrative remedies as required by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII).[2] Under Title VII, an aggrieved individual is not permitted to bring suit in federal court until he or she receives a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC. 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000e-5(f)(1). In her initial filings, Plaintiff did not include this letter or allege that she had received one. However, she has since submitted a letter from the EEOC, giving her notice that the EEOC ...


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