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Pedrioli v. Barry University, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division

May 15, 2018




         This cause is before the Court on Defendant Barry University, Inc.'s Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint or, in the Alternative, for a More Definite Statement (Doc. 41), filed March 9, 2018. Plaintiff responded in opposition on March 26, 2018. (Doc. 46). Upon consideration, Defendant's motion is due to be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         In this employment discrimination case, Plaintiff alleges that he was unlawfully terminated from his professorship at Barry School of Law (“Law School”). Plaintiff claims that in the female dominated environment at the Law School, his female supervisor, Dean Leticia Diaz (“Dean Diaz”): (1) said she preferred working with women; (2) often commented that she did not want men in certain departments and positions; and (3) subjected Plaintiff to more rigorous review than his female counterparts. (Doc. 38, ¶¶ 9- 14 (“Amended Complaint”)). After receiving a single negative performance review, Dean Diaz concluded that Plaintiff was “not a good fit” and terminated him. (Id. at ¶¶ 18-19). Citing his superlative employment record and contributions to the Law School, Plaintiff maintains that the negative performance review and the attendant reasoning were proffered to conceal Dean Diaz's animus and the true basis for Plaintiff's dismissal- because he is a male. (Id. ¶¶ 20-28).

         Following his termination, Plaintiff initiated this action alleging that Defendant terminated him on the basis of his gender in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e (“Title VII”), and the Florida Civil Rights Act (“FCRA”). (See Doc. 1 (“Initial Complaint”)). In his Initial Complaint, Plaintiff asserted several theories of liability in each count, including disparate treatment, hostile work environment and retaliatory discharge. (Id.). Finding it deficient, the Court dismissed the initial complaint and granted Plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint. (Doc. 35). Plaintiff did so. In his Amended Complaint, he again asserts multiple theories of liability in two counts: Count I alleging Title VII violations; and Count II advancing FCRA violations. (See Doc. 38). In each Count, Plaintiff alleges that he was “subjected to discrimination, unequal treatment, and an offensive and hostile work environment.” (Id. ¶¶ 34, 36).

         Defendant moves to dismiss the Amended Complaint, arguing that the Amended Complaint, like its predecessor, fails to state a claim for hostile work environment and retaliation.[2] (Doc. 41). Plaintiff opposes (Doc. 46), and the matter is now ripe.


         A complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(1). Thus, in order to survive a motion to dismiss made pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the complaint “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is plausible on its face when the plaintiff “pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id.

         Though a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, mere legal conclusions or recitation of the elements of a claim are not enough. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Moreover, courts are “not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). “While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Courts must also view the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and must resolve any doubts as to the sufficiency of the complaint in the plaintiff's favor. Hunnings v. Texaco, Inc., 29 F.3d 1480, 1483 (11th Cir. 1994) (per curiam). In sum, courts must (1) ignore conclusory allegations, bald legal assertions, and formulaic recitations of the elements of a claim; (2) accept well-pled factual allegations as true; and (3) view well-pled allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.


         Defendant moves to dismiss Plaintiff's hostile work environment and retaliation claims. (Doc. 41, pp. 6-11). Further, Defendant moves to dismiss the Amended Complaint for improperly combining multiple claims into each count. (Id. at pp. 5-6). In the alternative, Defendant moves for a more definite statement. (Id. at pp. 11-12).

         A. Hostile Work Environment Claims

         Plaintiff bases his Title VII and FCRA claims, in part, on a hostile work environment theory.[3] Under this theory, a plaintiff “must allege, and ultimately prove, discriminatory behavior ‘sufficiently severe to alter the conditions of his employment.'” Short v. Immokalee Water & Sewer Dist., 165 F.Supp.3d 1129, 1141 (M.D. Fla. 2016) (alteration accepted) (quoting Pa. State Police v. Suders, 542 U.S. 129, 133 (2004)). Plaintiff must allege that: (1) he belongs to a protected group; (2) he has been subject to unwelcome harassment; (3) the harassment was based on his membership in the protected group; (4) the harassment was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the terms and conditions of employment and create a discriminatorily abusive working environment; and (5) the employer is responsible for the harassment under either vicarious or direct liability. Id. In regards to the “severe or pervasive” element, the Eleventh Circuit has stated:

To be actionable, this behavior must result in both an environment that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive and an environment that the victim subjectively perceives to be abusive. In evaluating the objective severity of the alleged hostile work environment, we consider (1) the frequency of the conduct; (2) the severity of the conduct; (3) whether the conduct is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and (4) whether the conduct unreasonably interferes with the employee's job performance. But Title VII is not a general civility code; ordinary tribulations of the workplace, such as sporadic use of abusive language, gender-related jokes, and occasional teasing cannot form the basis of a claim for actionable harassment or hostile work environment. Instead, conduct must ...

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