United States District Court, D. Connecticut
ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS THE SECOND
AMENDED COMPLAINT IN PART
CHARLES S. HAIGHT, JR. SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Motion to Dismiss [Doc. 44], Defendant Liberty Bank
("the Bank" or "Defendant") asks the
Court to dismiss the First Count of the Second Amended
Complaint [Doc. 43] filed in this matter by Plaintiff Anthony
Nwachukwu ("Plaintiff). That Count alleges a violation
of 42 U.S.C. § 1981, a civil rights statute which
prohibits racial discrimination in the formation and
enforcement of contracts. Defendant contends that Plaintiff
has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted,
because Plaintiffs § 1981 claim alleges discrimination
based on national origin, which is not a protected category
under § 1981, and that the Court should therefore
dismiss the claim under Federal Rule of Procedure 12(b)(6).
Def Br. 3. Plaintiff has filed an Objection [Doc. 49] to the
instant Motion. This Order will resolve that Motion.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
order to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a
plaintiff must set forth sufficient factual allegations,
which, accepted as true, "state a claim to relief that
is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, (2007)) (internal quotation
marks omitted). In applying this standard, the Court is
guided by "'[t]wo working principles.'"
Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2009)
(quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). First, all factual
allegations in the complaint must be accepted as true and all
reasonable inferences must be drawn in Plaintiffs favor,
although the Court need not accept "legal
conclusions" or similar conclusory statements. See
Id. Second, "[determining whether a complaint
states a plausible claim for relief will... be a
context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to
draw on its judicial experience and common sense" and
only if a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will
it survive a motion to dismiss. Id. (quoting
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679) (internal quotation marks
discussed at greater length in the Court's prior Ruling
[Doc. 42], discrimination claims brought under §1981 are
subject to the burden-shifting framework first established by
McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792
(1973). Applying McDonnell Douglas to a § 1981
claim, a plaintiff establishes a prima facie case of illicit
discrimination if the plaintiff can show (1) that he or she
is a member of a protected racial minority; (2) that the
complained-of discrimination concerned one of the activities
enumerated by § 1981; and (3) "some minimal
evidence suggesting an inference that the [defendant] acted
with discriminatory motivation." Littlejohn v. City
of N.Y., 795 F.3d 297, 307 (2d Cir. 2015). See also
Lauture v. Int'l Bus. Machs. Corp., 216 F.3d 258,
261 (2d Cir. 2000). Those showings, if made, raise a
temporary presumption of discriminatory motivation, which
shifts the burden of production to the defendant to come
forward with a non-invidious justification for the adverse
action. Littlejohn, 795 F.3d at 307. If the
defendant presents evidence for that justification, the
presumption vanishes, and the burden shifts back to
plaintiff, who must demonstrate that the defendant's
proffered reason was not the true, or in any event the sole,
reason for the allegedly discriminatory action, a burden that
"merges with plaintiffs ultimate burden of showing that
the defendant intentionally discriminated against her."
Id. at 307-08.
Doe v. Columbia University, 831 F.3d 46, 56 (2d Cir.
2016), the Second Circuit held that a pleading "is
sufficient with respect to the element of discriminatory
intent" if it "pleads specific facts that support a
minimal plausible inference of such discrimination."
Thus, on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), an
"allegation of facts supporting a minimal plausible
inference of discriminatory intent suffices as to this
element of the claim because this entitles the plaintiff to
the temporary presumption of McDonnell Douglas until
the defendant furnishes its asserted reasons for its actions
against the plaintiff." Doe v. Columbia
University, 831 F.3d 46, 54-55 (2d Cir. 2016).
does not contest Plaintiffs membership in a protected racial
minority group (African-Americans), nor that the complained
of action (closure of Plaintiff s accounts) concerns the
rights protected by § 1981. The sole question now before
the Court, on the instant Rule 12(b)(6) Motion, is whether
Plaintiff has pleaded specific facts that support a
"minimal plausible inference" of racially
discriminatory intent on the part of Defendant Bank as to the
First Count of the Second Amended Complaint
("SAC"). Doe, 831 F.3d at 56.
alleges the following specific facts: (1) That on April 4,
2016, an employee of Defendant Bank inquired as to Plaintiffs
national origin and line of work. SAC, ¶ 21. (2) The
existence of a "widely held belief and unfairly
prejudiced belief that Nigerians were often involved in sham
international banking schemes and illicit activities
involving banking." Id. ¶
26. (3) That the decision to close his accounts was taken on
the same day as Defendant's employee inquired into his
nation of origin. Id. ¶ 27.
(4) That Defendant's Vice President told Plaintiff,
during an April 29, 2016 phone call, "We don't want
money from your type." Id.
Court finds that these four specific factual allegations,
combined with Plaintiffs uncontested membership in a racial
minority group, are sufficient to establish the requisite
"minimal plausible inference" of racially
discriminatory intent. See Doe, 831 F.3d at 56.
counters that, while the facts pleaded may establish an
inference of discriminatory intent as to national
origin, they are insufficient to create an inference of
discriminatory intent as to race, as required to
state a claim under § 1981. This argument is without
merit. As the Supreme Court has held, § 1981
"protects] from discrimination identifiable classes of
persons who are subjected to intentional discrimination
solely because of their ancestry or ethnic
characteristics." Saint Francis Coll. v.
Al-Khazraji, 481 U.S. 604, 613 (1987). Defendant is
correct that allegations of discrimination based upon
national origin alone cannot support a claim under
§ 1981. Id. But what Plaintiff alleges here is
a form of racial discrimination informed by prejudice towards
African-Americans of Nigerian origin. See, e.g., SAC
¶¶ 48-50 ("First Vice President Fujio's
actions were based on invidious racially motivated, national
origin and/or color-based discriminatory animus directed
against African-American people, in particular of Nigerian
deciding, I note that Plaintiffs pleading under § 1981
is markedly analogous to one found sufficient by a district
court in Pennsylvania, where a plaintiff of Indian origin
made a variety of employment discrimination claims, including
one under § 1981. See Gupta v. Sears, Roebuck &
Co., No. CA 07-243, 2007 WL 2253609 (W.D. Pa. Aug. 3,
2007). There, the court denied a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to
dismiss the § 1981 claim, finding that:
Plaintiff has not merely pled that she was discriminated
against based on the fact that she immigrated to the United
States from India, but rather she has also pled that she is a
woman of color and has a noticeable accent. These
characteristics are clearly evidence of her Indian ethnicity.
To the extent that Plaintiff can demonstrate that she was
subjected to intentional discrimination based on the fact
that she was born an Indian, rather than solely on the place
or nation of her origin . . . she will have made out a case
under § 1981.
In this case, the fact that Plaintiff is a native of India is
inextricably tied to physical manifestations of ...