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Alvarez v. Lakeland Area Mass Transit District

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

August 30, 2019




         This matter is before the Court on consideration of Defendant Lakeland Area Mass. Transit District's Motion to Dismiss the Second Amended Complaint (Doc. # 30), filed on July 25, 2019. Plaintiff Brenda Alvarez filed a response in opposition on August 21, 2019. (Doc. # 35). For the reasons that follow, the Motion is denied.

         I. Background

         Alvarez worked for the District as a senior financial reporting analyst from May 31, 2016, to October 20, 2017. (Doc. # 29 at 2). She “is a member of protected classes due to her gender (female), her age (over 40), and because she reported [the District's] unlawful employment activities and was subject to retaliation thereafter.” (Id. at 1). Alvarez insists she was a satisfactory employee. (Id. at 2). Alvarez alleges that “[t]he disparate treatment and retaliation came at the hands of specifically, but not limited to, David Persaud, [the District's] chief financial officer (‘CFO'); Steven Schaible, [the District's] human resources (‘HR') director; and Tom Phillips, [the District's] executive director.” (Id.).

         Persaud - Alvarez's supervisor - “demeaned and ridiculed [her] repeatedly and publicly in multiple staff meetings, and in the presence of [her] professional colleagues, ” allegedly because of Alvarez's gender and age. (Id.). Persaud “micro-manage[d], intimidate[d] and bull[ied]” Alvarez; for example, he “glared menacingly and excessively at [Alvarez] when in proximity to her.” (Id. at 3). He also “sent [Alvarez] harassing email communications and interfered with [her] work-related discussions with others in the workplace.” (Id.). The Complaint also alleges that Persaud treated various male or younger female employees better than he treated Alvarez, even when those other employees did not perform satisfactorily. (Id. at 3-5).

         So, in July 2017, Alvarez made a formal complaint to Phillips in which she “addressed the targeted mistreatment Plaintiff experienced due to Persaud's gender-based and age-based animus, and to Persaud's inappropriate, improper, and illegal actions and work-place conduct.” (Id. at 5). The next day, Alvarez met with Schaible - the HR director - to discuss her formal complaint against Persaud. (Id.).

         But “Persaud's hostile, improper and illegal conduct toward [Alvarez] continued and intensified, causing [her] to suffer severe anxiety and emotional distress.” (Id.). Alvarez believes “Persaud's amplified post-complaint hostile conduct toward [her] was in retaliation for [her] complaint and was intended to force [her] to resign.” (Id.). When Alvarez did not resign, “Persaud simply excluded [her] from staff and grant meetings, thereby interfering with [Alvarez's] ability to competently and successfully perform the essential duties and functions of her position, ” and committed other allegedly retaliatory conduct. (Id.).

         Additionally, according to the Second Amended Complaint, the District's human resources department and internal equal employment investigator failed to properly investigate Alvarez's formal complaint against Persaud. (Id. at 6). Schaiable then “directed negative written evaluations of [Alvarez's] job performance.” (Id.). Alvarez was also “denied a promised increase in compensation, ” allegedly “in retaliation for making the complaints.” (Id.).

         Alvarez's health began to suffer as a result of the discriminatory and retaliatory actions she faced. (Id.). She was required “to submit leave requests for physician and other health care related appointments.” (Id.). Alvarez “was the only salaried employee required to submit leave requests for these type [of] appointments.” (Id.).

         In September 2017, Alvarez “submitted documentation for the second time notifying Schaible that she was filing for Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) benefits.” (Id. at 7). Alvarez “had already requested FMLA leave and provided notice and documentation to Schaible; however, upon information and belief, Schaible denied receiving the submission of Plaintiff's first set of FMLA documentation.” (Id.). Schaible later contacted Alvarez on October 13, 2017, “threaten[ing] to terminate [her] if she failed to provide additional documentation regarding her FMLA request by October 20, 2017.” (Id.). But Alvarez had already “submitted all of the documents she was provided to submit which were supported by the proper signatures and information.” (Id.).

         Because of Schaible's demand for further paperwork, Alvarez quit, which she claims was a constructive termination. (Id.). According to her, “[n]o reasonable person would have remained in that work environment under these circumstances.” (Id.). Alvarez's replacement was a 41-year-old woman. (Id.).

         Alvarez initiated this action in state court on January 15, 2019. (Doc. # 4-1). The District removed the case to this Court on April 30, 2019. (Doc. # 4). When the District moved to dismiss the Complaint (Doc. # 6), Alvarez filed an Amended Complaint. (Doc. # 16). Then, the District moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint, (Doc. # 21), and the Court dismissed the Amended Complaint as a shotgun complaint on July 3, 2019. (Doc. # 28).

         With the Court's leave, Alvarez filed the Second Amended Complaint on July 11, 2019. (Doc. # 29). The Second Amended Complaint contains twelve counts: Count I for “Gender-Based Disparate Treatment” under Title VII; Count II for “Gender-Based Disparate Treatment” under Florida's Civil Rights Act (FCRA); Count III for “Age-Based Disparate Treatment” under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA); Count IV for “Age-Based Disparate Treatment” under the FCRA; Count V for “Constructive Discharge” under Title VII; Count VI for “Constructive Discharge” under the ADEA; Count VII for “Constructive Discharge” under the FCRA; Count VIII for “Retaliation” under Title VII; Count IX for “Retaliation” under the ADEA; Count X for “Retaliation” under the FCRA; Count XI for “FMLA Interference”; and Count XII for “FMLA Retaliation.” (Id.).

         The District now moves to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint. (Doc. # 30). Alvarez has responded (Doc. # 35), and the Motion is ripe for review.

         II. Legal Standard

         On a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), this Court accepts as true all the allegations in the complaint and construes them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Jackson v. Bellsouth Telecomms., 372 F.3d 1250, 1262 (11th Cir. 2004). Further, the Court favors the plaintiff with all reasonable inferences from the allegations in the complaint. Stephens v. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 901 F.2d 1571, 1573 (11th Cir. 1990). But,

[w]hile a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.

Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)(internal citations omitted). 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). “The scope of review must be limited to the four corners of the complaint” and attached ...

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