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Shouq v. Norbert E. Mitchell Co., Inc.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 30, 2018




         Plaintiff Chaudhry M. Shouq ("Plaintiff") brings this action pro se against Defendant Norbert E. Mitchell Co., Inc. ("Defendant"), his former employer. Plaintiff alleges that, based on his national origin, he was subjected to a hostile work environment, discriminated against, and constructively discharged from his position. Plaintiff brings statutory claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1962, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq. Defendant now moves to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and moves to strike certain portions of the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(f). Plaintiff resists the motions. This Ruling resolves them.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiff, an individual of Pakistani descent, was hired by Defendant in or around October 1999. Complaint, Doc. 1 ¶ 4-5. The terms and conditions of Plaintiff's employment state that the company will not discriminate against any person based on national origin in selection or treatment, nor will the company tolerate any abusive or threatening language, or harassment. Id. ¶ 14. Starting in or around 2004, Plaintiff's supervisor, Henry Stolz, and the assistant supervisor, Joe Ronka, started treating Plaintiff differently than the other employees, who were American. Id. ¶ 6.

         In August 2004, Plaintiff's supervisor forced him to work at a different location. Id. ¶ 7(a). Although he was promised additional money to work there, he never received it. Id. In or around 2005, Plaintiff's supervisor forced him to sign a letter, the effect of which would strip Plaintiff of his managerial position. Id. ¶ 7(b). After Plaintiff confronted the supervisor, the supervisor ripped up the letter and asked Plaintiff not to tell anyone about it. Id.

         In or around 2009, Plaintiff's supervisor and the assistant supervisor forced him to sign a letter regarding a three-day suspension. Id. ¶ 7(c). Plaintiff was told that he was being suspended for opening the store late the previous Sunday, and for writing down the wrong time on the payroll sheet. Id. Plaintiff explained that he had opened the store on time. Id. Plaintiff's account was confirmed with the alarm company, which reported that they had been having issues with their system. Id. After hearing from the alarm company, Plaintiff's supervisors ripped up the three-day suspension letter and left the store. Id.

         In or around December 2015, Ronka presented Plaintiff with a Christmas bonus check that was for less money than Plaintiff had been promised. Id. ¶ 7(d). After asking Ronka about the discrepancy, Ronka yelled at Plaintiff and insulted him, humiliating him in the process. Id. That same year, when the other employees received a 50 cent to one dollar raise, Plaintiff only received a ten cent raise. Id. ¶ 7(e). When he inquired about the raise, Plaintiff was told by Ronka that he was lucky to even receive a ten cent raise. Id. In December 2016, Plaintiff was paid a much smaller Christmas bonus. Id. ¶ 7(f).[2]

         In or around May 2016, Plaintiff received a "written and final reprimand for nothing." Id. ¶ 7(g); see also Doc. 16 at 7.The company had just fired an employee who worked in the afternoons at Plaintiff's location, after determining that the employee was stealing. Id. Plaintiff strongly denied knowing anything about the ongoing thefts at his location but he still received a reprimand. Id.

         On or about December 3, 2016, Plaintiff arrived at work and realized he had forgotten his key to open the store. Id. ¶ 8. Plaintiff notified Ronka that he was going to go back home to look for his key. Id. When Plaintiff got home, he was unable to find the key. Id. Plaintiff returned to the store, and found Ronka waiting for him there. Id. Ronka informed Plaintiff that if he did not find his key, he would be in trouble. Id. ¶ 9. Plaintiff went back home to look for the key, and found it underneath his bed. Id. When Plaintiff returned to work with the key, Ronka started to yell and swear at him. Id. ¶ 10. Ronka told Plaintiff that he was suspended, and threatened to call the police if he did not leave. Id. Plaintiff explained that he was ready to work and the key had been located. Id. In response, Ronka threw Plaintiff's bag of medications onto the floor, along with his blood pressure cuff. Id. Ronka's outburst was captured on the Defendant's surveillance video. Id.

         Two days later, Plaintiff spoke with Andy Mongan, Defendant's Human Resources Officer. Id. ¶ 11. Plaintiff made Mongan aware of the December 3rd incident involving Ronka. Id. Plaintiff told Morgan that Ronka would not have treated an American employee the way he treated Plaintiff. Id. Mongan stated that "Ronka is your boss and he can do anything to you." Id. Dissatisfied with that response, the same day, Plaintiff spoke to the owner of the business, Matt Mitchell. Id. ¶ 12. Mitchell told Plaintiff that he would look into the incident, review the video, and speak to the other supervisors. Id.

         On December 7 or December 8, 2016, Mongan told Plaintiff that Mitchell wanted to see him. Id. ¶ 13. Plaintiff met with Mitchell, who complimented Plaintiff on being a good employee over the past eighteen years. Id. Plaintiff informed Mitchell that the December incident was not the first incident that he had with Ronka. Id.

         Following the December 3, 2016, incident with Ronka, Plaintiff continued to work. However, he experienced stress from the incident and the working environment, and his health deteriorated as a result. Id. ¶ 16;[3] see also Doc. 16 at 2-4. On January 19, 2017, Plaintiff filed Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities ("CHRO") and United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") complaints of harassment and discrimination based on national origin (Pakistan) against Defendant. Id. ¶ 15. Then, on February 13, 2017, Plaintiff was constructively discharged "due to the ongoing harassment and discrimination" he faced. Id. ¶ 17. Plaintiff's position with Defendant at that time was a gas station manager (Defendant is in the heating service business in the Danbury, Connecticut area). On August 1, 2017, Plaintiff filed additional CHRO and EEOC complaints for constructive discharge. Id. ¶ 18.

         "Upon information and belief, no other non-basis employees were subjected to similar harassment and discrimination in the manner that [Plaintiff] was," due to his national origin and ancestry. Id. ¶ 19.


         "On a motion to dismiss, the issue is 'whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims.'" Patane v. Clark, 508 F.3d 106, 111 (2d Cir. 2007) (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1984)). "To 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.

         First, all factual allegations in the complaint must be accepted as true and all reasonable inferences must be drawn in the favor of the non-moving party. See id.; see also Gorman v. Consolidated Edison Corp., 488 F.3d 586, 591-92 (2d Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). The presumption of truth does not extend, however, to "legal conclusions" or "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action supported by mere conclusory statements[.]" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Second, "a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief" will survive a motion to dismiss and "[d]etermining 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." Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679) (quotation marks omitted). "Dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is appropriate when 'it is clear from the face of the complaint, and matters of which the court may take judicial notice, that the plaintiff's claims are barred as a matter of law.'" Associated Fin. Corp. v. Kleckner, 480 Fed.Appx. 89, 90 (2d Cir. 2012) (quoting Conopco, Inc. v. Roll Int'l, 231 F.3d 82, 86 (2d Cir. 2000)).

         This is a pro se complaint. With respect to pro se litigants, it is well-established that "[p]ro se submissions are reviewed with special solicitude, and 'must be construed liberally and interpreted to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.'" Matheson v. Deutsche Bank Nat'l Tr. Co., 706 Fed.Appx. 24, 26 (2d Cir. 2017) (quoting Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006)). See also Sykes v. Bank of Am., 723 F.3d 399, 403 (2d Cir. 2013) (same); Tracy v. Freshwater, 623 F.3d 90, 101-02 (2d Cir. 2010) (discussing special rules of solicitude for pro se litigants); Boykin v. KeyCorp., 521 F.3d 202, 214 (2d Cir. 2008) ("A document filed pro se is to be liberally construed and a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007))); Sealed Plaintiff v. Sealed Defendant, 537 F.3d 185, 191 (2d Cir. 2008) (where the plaintiff proceeds pro se, a court is "obliged to construe his pleadings liberally" (quoting McEachin v. McGuinnis, 357 F.3d 197, 200 (2d Cir. 2004))); Abbas v. Dixon, 480 F.3d 636, 639 (2d Cir. 2007) (in reviewing a pro se complaint, the court "must liberally construe [the] pleadings, and must interpret [the] complaint to raise the strongest arguments it suggests").

         "However inartfully pleaded, a pro se complaint may not be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6) unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of [his] claim which would entitle [him] to relief." Legeno v. Corcoran Grp., 308 Fed.Appx. 495, 496 (2d Cir. 2009) (quotation marks and citation omitted). However, despite being subject to liberal interpretation, a pro se plaintiff's complaint still must "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Mancuso v. Hynes, 379 Fed.Appx. 60, 61 (2d Cir. 2010) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).


         A. Motion to Strike

         Defendant moves to strike two paragraphs of Plaintiff's complaint, and the entirety of the complaint's accompanying exhibits. Doc. 22-1 at 12-17. Defendant contends that paragraphs 11 and 13 of the complaint "refer to conduct and settlement discussions that occurred during the mediation process of an administrative proceeding at the CHRO," and they should therefore be "stricken as immaterial and potentially prejudicial." Id. at 12. Defendant argues that the exhibits attached to Plaintiff's complaint, including medical records and "one document purporting to be a disciplinary notice," should be stricken because the documents do not serve to clarify the pleadings; are not incorporated by reference into the body of the complaint; contain Plaintiff's personal information; and do not fall within the "commonly held definition of a written instrument." Id. at 16-17. Plaintiff argues that his medical exhibits offer proof of Plaintiff's damages resulting from Defendant's harassment, discrimination, and constructive discharge. Doc. 23-1 at 6.

         Rule 12(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that "[t]he court may strike from a pleading an insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter. The court may act: (1) on its own; or (2) on motion made by a party either before responding to the pleading[.]" Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f). Motions to strike are generally "viewed unfavorably and [are] rarely granted." Tucker v. Am. Int'l Grp., Inc., 936 F.Supp.2d 1, 15 (D. Conn. 2013) (quotation marks and citation omitted) (collecting cases); see also Lipsky v. Commonwealth United Corp., 551 F.2d 887, 893 (2d Cir. 1976) ("[T]he courts should not tamper with the pleadings unless there is a strong reason for so doing." (citation omitted)). Ultimately, it is within the district court's discretion to determine whether to grant or deny a motion to strike. See Tucker, 936 F.Supp.2d at 15; Lamoureux v. AnazaoHealth Corp., 250 F.R.D. 100, 102 (D. Conn. 2008).

         To prevail on a motion to strike, the movant must establish that "(1) no evidence in support of the allegations would be admissible; (2) that the allegations have no bearing on the issues in the case; and (3) that to permit the allegations to stand would result in prejudice to the movant."Roe v. City of New York, 151 F.Supp.2d 495, 510 (S.D.N.Y. 2001) (quotation marks and citation omitted); see also Lipsky, 551 F.2d at 893 (stating that "a Rule 12(f) motion to strike allegations claimed to be impertinent or immaterial "will be denied, unless it can be shown that no evidence in support of the allegation would be admissible" (collecting cases)).

Evidentiary questions . . . should especially be avoided at such a preliminary stage of the proceedings. Usually the questions of relevancy and admissibility in general require the context of an ongoing and unfolding trial in which to be properly decided. And ordinarily neither a district court nor an appellate court should decide to strike a portion of the complaint on the ...

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