United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS THE
SECOND AND THIRD COUNTS OF PLAINTIFF'S COMPLAINT
Charles S. Haight, Jr. Senior United States District Judge
Spyros Cope brings this action against his former employer,
Defendant Wal-Mart Stores East, LP ("Wal-Mart"), in
relation to what he alleges was his unlawful termination.
Plaintiff filed the action in Connecticut Superior Court on
September 18, 2015. Defendant thereafter removed the case on
October 20, 2015, invoking this Court's diversity
jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Plaintiff
brings statutory claims under the Connecticut Fair Employment
Practices Act, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46a-60(a)(1) (Count
I), and Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 31-51x and 31-51z
(Count IV). Plaintiff also brings common law claims for
wrongful discharge (Count II) and breach of the implied
covenant of good faith and fair dealing (Count III).
Defendant has moved for partial dismissal seeking to dismiss
Plaintiff's common law claims, Counts II and III. Doc.
12. This Ruling resolves that motion.
a black male, was employed at Wal-Mart's store in
Norwalk, CT from September 2000 until his termination on
April 23, 2014. Compl. ¶¶ 4, 11. Plaintiff was
promoted to an Assistant Manager position in 2007 and was, at
all times, an "exemplary and dedicated employee."
Id. ¶¶ 12, 15. In fact, during the first
thirteen years of his employ at Wal-Mart, Plaintiff had never
received a single poor performance review, nor had he been
warned about any issues as to his job performance.
Id. ¶ 16; see also Id. ¶ 39
("[t]hroughout [Plaintiff's] employment at
[Defendant], he satisfactorily performed all job duties
assigned to him").
changed when, during the latter portion of 2013, Wal-Mart
began to seek changes in the racial composition of the
Norwalk store's staff, of which the majority were black.
Id. ¶ 17. In November 2013, District Manager
La'shion Robinson informed store management that
"not enough white people work at the store."
Id. ¶ 18. Robinson's proposed solution was
that management should make efforts to "hire more white
people." Id. Robinson repeated similar
statements through February 2014 "between ten and twenty
times." Id. ¶ 19. Defendant soon
obliged, firing the black manager of the Norwalk store on or
about November 11, 2013. Id. ¶ 21. In addition,
"two black employees were terminated and two quit
because of the racist remarks." Id. ¶
No white employees were fired during this time. Id.
¶ 36. Further, "[o]n or about December 16, 2013,
the entire remaining management team [at the Norwalk store],
" including Plaintiff, "all of whom were black, was
placed on performance improvement plans." Id.
of the performance improvement plan, Plaintiff was forced to
undergo "coaching" on the manner in which he
performed his duties and managed his employees. Id.
¶¶ 23-24. This was the first time that Plaintiff
received coaching of any kind. Id. ¶¶ 24,
33(ii). Plaintiff lodged complaints as to the coaching
process with regional management, but his coaching only
increased. Id. ¶ 25. This was despite the fact
that Plaintiff "complied with all coaching suggestions
made to him while on the performance review plan, " and
"committed no 'misconduct' related to his
coachings." Id. ¶¶ 33(iv), (v).
However, during a March 22, 2014 performance review,
Plaintiff was told he still needed improvement, and was
ultimately told that he might remain under review through the
end of 2014. Id. ¶¶ 26-28.
Management's critiques of Plaintiff's performance
were not justified. Id. ¶ 29.
April 12, 2014, Plaintiff was involved in an incident at the
Norwalk store. On that day, the store's asset protection
associate told Plaintiff that he was investigating a
potential larceny. Id. ¶ 32. Upon rendering
assistance, Plaintiff recognized the suspect as a persistent
shoplifter, who immediately acknowledged that "I can
steal from this store if I want to!" Id.
¶¶ 32(iii), (iv). Plaintiff told the shoplifter
that police officers were on their way. Id. ¶
32(v). The shoplifter than initiated physical contact with
Plaintiff, who used defensive tactics to detain the
shoplifter and escort him to the store manager's office.
Id. ¶¶ 32(vi)-(vii). The shoplifter
thereafter struck Plaintiff in the face multiple times with a
closed fist and wrestled Plaintiff to the floor. Id.
¶ 32(viii). Ultimately, three customers intervened to
stop the assault. Id.
actions during the April 12, 2014 incident were all
consistent with Defendant's policies and procedures,
which authorize those in Plaintiff's employment position
to use "physical redirection, and restraint" to
detain suspected shoplifters. Id. ¶¶
32(vii), (xvi)-(xix). Following the incident, on the
recommendation of his family physician, Plaintiff requested,
and received, three days off from work. Id. ¶
32(xi). On his return, Plaintiff was "immediately asked
to submit to a drug test . . . [for] the first time in his
career." Id. ¶ 32(xii). The drug test
was negative. Id. ¶ 32(xiii). For his actions,
the shoplifter was charged with assault, breach of peace, and
larceny. Id. ¶ 32(x). Plaintiff was identified
as the victim in the criminal case. Id.
on April 23, 2014, Plaintiff was terminated by Wal-Mart.
Id. ¶ 30. Defendant provided Plaintiff two
causes for his termination. First, Defendant claimed
Plaintiff violated Wal-Mart's Investigation and Detention
of Shoplifters policy through his actions on April 12, 2014.
Id. ¶ 31. In fact, Plaintiff was told by
Wal-Mart's Asset Protection District Manager that
"what he did was just like stealing and that he might as
well have stolen from the store." Id. ¶
32(xv). Plaintiff believes that he was the only employee ever
terminated for violating the Investigation and Detention of
Shoplifters policy during his time of employment at Wal-Mart.
Id. ¶ 38. Second, Defendant claimed
that Plaintiff was terminated for "Misconduct with
Coachings." Id. ¶ 33(i).
core of his complaint, Plaintiff alleges that these
justifications were pretextual, and that race was
Defendant's motivating factor for the adverse employment
action. Id. ¶ 43. Plaintiff also claims that
Defendant's termination was wrongful in that it was in
violation of Connecticut public policies related to crime
victims and safe workplaces.
Standard of Review
survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain
sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a
claim that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft
v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)
("Iqbal") (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp.
v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)
("Twombly")). This pleading standard
creates a "two-pronged approach, " Iqbal,
556 U.S. at 679, based on "[t]wo working principles,
" id. at 678.
although a complaint need not include detailed factual
allegations, it must provide "more than an unadorned,
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. "A pleading that offers
'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not
do.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550
U.S. at 555). "Nor does a complaint suffice if it
tenders 'naked assertion[s]' devoid of 'further
factual enhancement.'"Id. (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557. "Although for the
purposes of a motion to dismiss we must take all of the
factual allegations in the complaint as true, we 'are not
bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a
factual allegation.'" Id. (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. "While legal
conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they
must be supported by factual allegations." Id.
"[w]hen there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a
court should assume their veracity and then determine whether
they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief."
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. This "'facial
plausibility" prong requires the plaintiff to plead
facts "allow[ing] the court to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct
alleged." Id. at 678. Importantly, the
complaint must demonstrate "more than a sheer
possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully."
Id. "[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. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P.
8(a)(2)). "Determining whether a complaint ...