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Hardaway v. Hartford Public Works Department

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

January 12, 2018

CURTIS HARDAWAY, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
HARTFORD PUBLIC WORKS DEPARTMENT, Defendant-Appellee.

          Submitted: October 13, 2017

         Appeal from the August 31, 2016 judgment of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut (Hall, C.J.; Merriam, M.J.) dismissing Hardaway's third amended complaint. Because the district court erred in holding that administrative exhaustion must be pleaded in the complaint, we reverse and remand for further proceedings. Reversed.

          CURTIS HARDAWAY, pro se, Windsor, C.T.

          JONATHAN H. BEAMON, Senior Assistant Corporation Counsel, Hartford, CT for Defendant-Appellee.

          Before: WINTER, CALABRESI, and POOLER, Circuit Judges.

          POOLER, Circuit Judge:

         Plaintiff-Appellant Curtis Hardaway, proceeding pro se, appeals from the August 31, 2016 judgment sua sponte dismissing his third amended complaint against the City of Hartford, the Hartford Department of Public Works (the "Department"), and five Doe defendants. Hardaway, an African American and former employee of the Department, alleged that he was subjected to discrimination and retaliation after he filed complaints against the Department with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA"). As relevant here, the district court dismissed Hardaway's Title VII claims and a state law claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress because Hardaway failed to plead facts relating to administrative exhaustion.[1]

         Because we hold that administrative exhaustion under Title VII is an affirmative defense, we reverse the district court's judgment as to Counts I, III and V of the third amended complaint, and remand for further proceedings.

         BACKGROUND

         Hardaway worked for the Department of Public Works for over 20 years. In 2011, he noticed worsening safety violations by the Department. In late 2013, after being placed in a "dangerous life and death hazardous working environment, " Hardaway photographed the safety violations. Third Amended Complaint at ¶¶ 11-12, ECF No. 26, Hardaway v. Hartford Public Works Dep't, No. 16-cv-00115 (D. Conn. July 18, 2016). When he showed his white supervisor the photographs, the supervisor told Hardaway to get back to work. According to Hardaway, his supervisor would not have treated him that way were he white. Further, his "[w]hite coworkers [were] not forced to work in the dangerous working environment." Id. at ¶ 24.

          Following his supervisor's inaction, Hardaway filed a complaint with OSHA regarding his working conditions. Thereafter, he was threatened, harassed, and intimidated. He was identified as a "troublemaker, " called "bitch, gay, a person that will complain to OSHA, " and told to "'play ball' and stop asking safety questions." Id. at ¶ 13. Additionally, he was denied overtime and suspended because of his OSHA complaint. In August 2014, a white supervisor told Hardaway that if he stopped reporting safety violations, his demotion would "go away" and his overtime would be "reinstated." Id. at ¶ 14. Hardaway then filed another complaint with OSHA, asserting discrimination and retaliation because of his prior OSHA complaint. In February 2015, he was told to "stop acting like a bitch running to OSHA like a little girl" and that if he stopped reporting safety violations "everything [would] go back to normal." Id. at ¶ 15. He filed another complaint with OSHA and was fired three months later. According to Hardaway, he would not have been fired were he white.

         Hardaway brought suit on January 26, 2016, alleging discrimination and retaliation claims. On August 31, 2016, the district court sua sponte dismissed Hardaway's third amended complaint, adopting the recommended ruling of the magistrate judge. The district court reasoned that Hardaway had pled sufficient facts to support Title VII claims of employment discrimination and a hostile work environment, but those claims nonetheless were not viable because Hardaway failed to plead facts relating to administrative exhaustion with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). The district court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress.

         DISCUSSION

         We review de novo a district court's sua sponte dismissal under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). Giano v. Goord, 250 F.3d 146, 149-150 (2d Cir. 2001), abrogated on other grounds by Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516 (2002). To avoid dismissal, a complaint must plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). "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." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). We afford a pro se litigant "special solicitude" by interpreting a ...


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