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Williams v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

October 10, 2019

Pamela Williams, Plaintiff,
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Defendant.


          Robert N. Scola, Jr. United States District Judge

         This case is an offshoot of the underlying complaint addressed by the United States Supreme Court in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 564 U.S. 338 (2011). In Dukes, the Supreme Court reversed the certification of a nationwide class of female Wal-Mart employees claiming gender discrimination. The Plaintiff here, Pamela Williams, after again seeking relief through a regional class action and then as a member of a 33-plaintiff complaint, now seeks redress individually. In her amended complaint (Am. Compl., ECF No. 3), Williams lodges two counts under Title VII regarding her compensation and promotion opportunities: in count one she alleges disparate treatment and in count two she alleges disparate impact. Walmart contends Williams does not plead specific, individualized facts showing that she, herself, was discriminated against, either through disparate treatment or impact; and Williams fails to establish standing. After careful review, the Court agrees that Williams fails to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) with respect to her disparate impact claims as well as her disparate treatment claim regarding promotions. However, the Court finds she has indeed stated a claim for disparate treatment with respect to her pay claim. The Court thus grants in part and denies in part Wal-Mart's motion to dismiss (ECF No. 7).

         1. Background[1]

         When Williams joined Walmart in 2000, in its store number 0725, she had “experience as a manager with GE Capital and Golf and Tennis Resorts.” (Am. Compl. at ¶ 121.) She began working at Walmart on a part-time basis while continuing a position as an accounting manager with a travel company. (Id.) At some point, also in 2000, Williams took a part-time position in the store's bakery while she began school to get a business degree. (Id. at ¶ 122.) Thereafter, when she began attending school in the daytime, she transferred to a full-time night position in the store's cash office. (Id. at ¶ 123.)

         While employed, Williams told an assistant store manager, “Tammy, ” that she was interested in Walmart's assistant manager training program. (Id. at ¶ 124.) Tammy advised her that, to qualify for the program, she had to have a two-year college degree for management-which Williams did not yet have. (Id.) Williams was also told that she would have to travel, relocate, and give up her $1.00 pay differential. (Id.) In sum, Williams says, she was discouraged from seeking the position. (Id.) Throughout her tenure she sought additional promotions, including a support manager position, but was continually denied any opportunities to advance. (Id. at ¶ 127.)

         Later in her employment, Williams was told, as company policy, she would lose her $1.00 pay differential when she transferred to the day shift. (Id. at ¶ 125.) Afterwards, however, she found out that her male counterpart had been permitted to switch to a day shift without losing his differential. (Id.) When she complained about this, Williams was told, “that was the deal we made with him.” (Id.) She subsequently learned that that same male employee got a raise. (Id. at ¶ 126.) But when she asked for a raise herself, her request was denied and she was told that her male counterpart had a “family to raise.” (Id.) She was also advised that the company had reached its quarterly merit-raise quota. (Id.) Williams believes she was paid less than other similarly situated men within her region. (Id. at ¶ 129.)

         Eventually Williams left Walmart, in 2003, when she realized there were no opportunities for women to advance within the company. (Id. at ¶ 128.)

         Williams also provides an additional twenty-five pages of background information regarding Walmart's organizational structure, the roles various salaried positions played in the organization regarding compensation and promotion decisions, and a number of policies and practices that guided these decisions. (E.g., id. at ¶¶ 37-70, 74-99.) She additionally relays a statistical analysis that indicates that, at some point (she does not specify when), 85 to 90 percent of the stores in Walmart region 10-Williams's region-“show disparate pay that is lower for women as compared to similarly situated men.” (Id. at ¶ 71.) Williams also sets forth facts showing that Walmart's management team was aware that, on average, female employees were paid less than men and many female employees experienced other disparities. (Id. at ¶¶ 72, 107-119). And she further maintains that female Walmart employees are less likely than their male counterparts to receive promotions to management positions (id. at ¶ 83) and must wait significantly longer for promotions despite having equal or better qualifications (id. at ¶¶ 83-84). Williams also lists nineteen incidents, occurring at other stores in her region, where other women experienced gender-based discrimination. (Id. at ¶¶ 100-01.)

         2. Legal Standard

         When considering a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court must accept all the complaint's allegations as true, construing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Pielage v. McConnell, 516 F.3d 1282, 1284 (11th Cir. 2008). A pleading must only contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the legal sufficiency of a complaint. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). In assessing the legal sufficiency of a complaint's allegations, the Court is bound to apply the pleading standard articulated in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). That is, the complaint “must . . . contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Am. Dental Ass'n v. Cigna Corp., 605 F.3d 1283, 1289 (11th Cir. 2010) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “Dismissal is therefore permitted when on the basis of a dispositive issue of law, no construction of the factual allegations will support the cause of action.” Glover v. Liggett Grp., Inc., 459 F.3d 1304, 1308 (11th Cir. 2006) (internal quotations omitted) (citing Marshall Cnty. Bd. of Educ. v. Marshall Cnty. Gas Dist., 992 F.2d 1171, 1174 (11th Cir. 1993). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id.

         3. Discussion

         A. Williams fails to sufficiently allege that Walmart intentionally discriminated against her with respect to her promotion opportunities but succeeds in stating a claim for discriminatory pay disparity.

         Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, it is unlawful for an employer “to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's . . . sex.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). “[C]omplaints alleging discrimination . . . must meet the ‘plausibility standard' of Twombly and Iqbal.” Henderson v. JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A., 436 Fed. App'x 935, 937 (11th Cir. 2011). Thus, Williams's complaint must contain “sufficient factual matter” to support a reasonable inference that Walmart engaged in intentional gender discrimination against her in relation to her compensation and denial of promotions. Henderson, 436 Fed. App'x at 937. There are any number of ways Williams can do this, including “alleging facts showing that similarly-situated [male employees] were offered more favorable [employment] terms, ” id., or direct evidence of discrimination, Wilson v. B/E Aerospace, Inc., 376 F.3d 1079, 1085 (11th Cir. 2004). After careful review, the Court agrees with Walmart that Williams has not set forth sufficient factual allegations that would demonstrate, either directly or circumstantially, that she personally suffered any adverse consequences with respect to her promotion opportunities. On the hand, however, the Court finds Williams has succeeded in setting forth sufficient factual support to carry her past dismissal on her compensation claim.

         Williams challenges Walmart's motion to dismiss by relying on Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N. A., 534 U.S. 506 (2002) and at the same time insisting she has met Twombly's plausibility standards by pleading “enough fact to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence” of the defendant's liability. (Pl.'s Resp., ECF No. 14, 12 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).) While the Court agrees that Swierkiewicz supports Williams's position that she need not set forth evidence establishing a prima facie case under the McDonnell framework[2] in order to survive dismissal, the Court nonetheless disagrees that that case absolves her from alleging actual facts that support her claim of gender discrimination. See Pouyeh v. UAB Dept. of Ophthalmology, 625 Fed. App'x 495, 497 (11th Cir. 2015) (holding that a complaint must contain factual allegations demonstrating, either directly or circumstantially, that a defendant's actions were discriminatory); Henderson, 436 Fed. App'x at 938 (requiring a plaintiff to plead facts that “raise[] a plausible inference that [the defendant] discriminated against [the plaintiff]”). Ultimately, with one exception, Williams's allegations do not survive dismissal.

         For example, in support of her insistence that she has set forth sufficient facts, Williams first points to her allegation that “she sought management level opportunities but was only offered hourly positions while she saw men with less tenure than her promoted over her.” (Pl.'s Resp. at 16.) Indeed, in her complaint, Williams specifically says she “expressed interest in the Assistant Manager training program” and sought to be promoted to a support manager position. (Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 124, 127.) And while she says “[s]he was discouraged from seeking [advancement]” (id. at ¶ 124), nothing about these allegations depicts, or even implies, any actual discriminatory intent. Nor does her complaint even set forth facts, with respect to her promotion claim, that Williams sought a specific promotion into an open or available position or that she was even qualified for such a promotion. Her further assertion that she was “denied promotional opportunities” for four categories of various manager positions does not fill these gaps, especially since she describes these positions, or their “position equivalent, ” in only the vaguest of terms. (Am. Compl. at ¶ 106.a.ii.) Lastly, her allegation that “there were no opportunities at Wal-Mart for women to move up” (id. at ¶ 128), also fails to supply any actual facts showing discriminatory intent. Nothing set forth in any of these allegations would enable the Court to reasonably infer that Walmart's decision not to promote Williams was due to discriminatory animus. See Veale v. Florida Dept. of Health, 2:13-CV-77-FTM-38UAM, 2013 WL 5703577, at *5 (M.D. Fla. July 29, 2013) (requiring “allegations of specific facts to explain how the disparate treatment occurred” in order to properly plead Title VII discrimination).

         Next, many of Williams's disparate-pay treatment allegations also fail to set forth sufficient factual allegations. For example, Williams's assertion that she “believes she was paid less than other similarly situated men during her employment within Region 10” is also insufficient. This allegation is nothing but a “[t]hreadbare recital[] of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, ” and therefore “do[es] not suffice.” Watts v. Ford Motor Co., 519 Fed. App'x 584, 586 (11th Cir. 2013) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). And while the Court agrees with Williams that “[s]he is not required to lay out every single detail of her employment in her Complaint” (Pl.'s Resp. at 13), she must nonetheless provide at least some “nonconclusory descriptions of specific, discrete facts of the who, what, when, and where variety” that plausibly show she is actually entitled to relief. Watts, 519 Fed. App'x at 587 (quoting Feliciano v. City of Miami Beach,707 F.3d 1244, 1253 (11th Cir. 2013)). It is not enough, as ...

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