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Keaton v. Department of Rehabilitation Services

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 2, 2018



          Michael P. Shea, U.S.D.J.

         Plaintiff Antoinette H. Keaton filed this action against Defendants the State of Connecticut Department of Rehabilitation Services (“DORS”), David Johnson, and Lynn Frith, after she was denied a promotion to the position of Senior Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor. Defendants move to dismiss the complaint, which sets forth claims for deprivation of Keaton's rights by each Defendant, respectively, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Counts One, Three, and Five) and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Counts Two, Four, and Six) based on theories of retaliation, discriminatory failure to promote, and hostile work environment. (ECF No. 1-1.) Keaton seeks compensatory and punitive damages and an order placing Keaton in the position of Senior Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, among other relief.

         Because this case is duplicative of another action Keaton has filed, which remains pending in this Court, I GRANT the motion to dismiss.

         I. Background

         The complaint alleges that Keaton, an African-American woman, was subject to a “continuous course of discriminatory conduct” while employed at DORS, “including the denial of a promotion to the position of Senior Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor.” (ECF No. 1-1 ¶¶ 1, 4.) The allegations in the complaint are virtually identical to those set forth in another case pending before me, Keaton v. DORS, No. 3:16-CV-1810 (MPS) (hereinafter Keaton I). I therefore assume familiarity with the underlying facts as set forth in the Court's ruling on the motion to dismiss in Keaton I (No. 16-CV-1810, ECF No. 61), and recount only those additional facts that are relevant to the instant motion.

         On October 5, 2016, Plaintiff filed Keaton I against DORS, Johnson, and Frith, asserting claims of failure to promote, harassment, retaliation, and hostile work environment, in violation of state law and Title VII, arising out of her employment relationship with DORS. (Keaton I, ECF No. 1-1.). Keaton later filed an amended complaint in that case, but the amended complaint named only “the State of Connecticut” as a defendant. (Keaton I, ECF No. 29.) As a result, Keaton was provided seven days within which she could file a new amended complaint naming other defendants. The order warned that if she failed to file such an amended complaint, the Court would terminate the other parties named in the original complaint, but omitted from the caption in the amended complaint. (Keaton I, ECF No. 30.) Keaton failed to file an amended complaint within the time allotted, after which the Court, pursuant to its prior order, terminated DORS, Frith, and Johnson as defendants.

         After the seven-day window had closed, in contravention of the Court's order, Keaton filed a new amended complaint, again naming the State of Connecticut, DORS, Frith, and Johnson as defendants. (Keaton I, ECF No. 33.) During a telephonic status conference, the parties agreed that the proper organizational defendant was DORS, and the Court reinstated DORS as a defendant and terminated the State of Connecticut. The Court also clarified that the amended complaint Keaton filed after the close of the seven-day window, naming Frith and Johnson as defendants in addition to DORS, was not the operative complaint, and ordered that document stricken. (Keaton I, ECF No. 35.)

         After previously moving to dismiss the prior version of the complaint, DORS filed an amended motion to dismiss the operative complaint in Keaton I. (Keaton I, ECF No. 36.) Keaton failed to respond timely to the amended motion to dismiss, despite being granted an extension of time to do so. (Keaton I, ECF No. 41.) The Court ordered Plaintiff to show cause why sanctions should not be imposed for repeated failure to comply with court-ordered deadlines. (Id.) The Court ultimately declined to impose sanctions but warned that repeated failures to comply with Court orders would be considered in deciding whether to impose sanctions in the future, in the event of other missed deadlines. (Keaton I, ECF No. 46.)

         After briefing was completed on the motion to dismiss, and based on Plaintiff's representations that she could re-plead sufficient facts to address the defects discussed in DORS's motion, the Court allowed Keaton one final opportunity to amend her complaint. (Keaton I, ECF No. 49.) Keaton filed a Second Amended Complaint-one day after the deadline provided- naming only DORS as a defendant. (Keaton I, ECF No. 50.) On June 30, 2017, DORS renewed its motion to dismiss with respect to the Second Amended Complaint. (Keaton I, ECF No. 54.) That motion was fully briefed on August 11, 2017. (Keaton I, ECF No. 58.)

         Meanwhile, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit in state court on July 31, 2017, alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and § 1983 against Defendants DORS, Johnson, and Frith arising out of her employment at DORS. (ECF No. 1-1.) Specifically, Keaton alleges that she was denied a promotion to the position of Senior Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, suffered adverse employment actions in retaliation for speaking out about DORS's treatment of minority employees, and experienced a hostile work environment while employed at DORS. (ECF No. 1-1).

         The Court granted in part and denied in part the motion to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint in Keaton I. (Keaton I, ECF No. 61.) I dismissed Keaton's claim that DORS discriminated against her in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981, as I found that the Eleventh Amendment barred the Court from exercising jurisdiction over that claim. I found that Keaton failed to state a claim for hostile work environment under Title VII, and dismissed that claim. I also dismissed Keaton's claim for punitive damages. I denied the motion to dismiss, however, with respect to Keaton's failure-to-promote and retaliation claims against DORS. (Id.) Discovery is ongoing in Keaton I as to those claims.

         Before me is Defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint in this action. Defendants argue that this lawsuit is entirely duplicative of Keaton I, and that Keaton filed this lawsuit in an attempt to avoid the Court's orders in her first lawsuit. Defendants raise several other arguments on the merits in support of the motion to dismiss: that Keaton's claims against DORS are barred by the Eleventh Amendment; that Keaton's Section 1981 claims fail because there is no private cause of action against state actors under that statute; that Keaton may not enforce Title VII or the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act (“CFEPA”) through Section 1983; that Keaton's claims are time-barred; that Frith and Johnson are entitled to qualified immunity; and that Keaton fails to state a plausible claim for relief. Because I find that this case must be dismissed as duplicative of Keaton's first-filed suit, I need not reach these other arguments.

         II. Discussion

         Plaintiff does not appear to dispute that this case is duplicative of Keaton I. Rather, she argues that if the Court finds that it is duplicative, the Court should exercise its discretion to consolidate the two actions or stay this action. (See ECF No. 28 at 5.) I agree with Defendants ...

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