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Ollie v. University of Connecticut

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

February 4, 2019

KEVIN OLLIE Plaintiff,
v.
UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION RE: THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS [ECF NO. 18]

          KARI A. DOOLEY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This action arises out of the events that unfolded following the termination of plaintiff Kevin Ollie (“Ollie”) as the head coach of the men's basketball team at the defendant University of Connecticut (“UConn”). Ollie brings discrimination claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) as well as the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act (“CFEPA”). He seeks preliminary injunctive relief and other equitable relief. By a motion dated December 27, 2018, UConn seeks dismissal of this action pursuant to Rule 12 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, failure to State a claim for which relief may be granted, and failure to join a necessary party. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants UConn's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.[1]

         Factual Allegations and Procedural Posture

         For purposes of this motion, the Court accepts the allegations in the Complaint as true and they are set forth as follows. Ollie was formerly employed as the head coach of the UConn men's basketball team. (Compl. at ¶ 8.) On March 10, 2018, Ollie was informed that he was being terminated. (Id. at ¶ 9.) On May 10, 2018, Ollie's union, the UConn Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (the “Union”), sent a letter to the president of UConn, in which it “raised issues of discrimination on [Ollie's] behalf.” (Id. at ¶ 12.) On June 19, 2018, the president of UConn upheld Ollie's termination. (Id. at ¶ 15.) Thereafter, the Union filed a grievance on Ollie's behalf claiming that UConn terminated him without just cause in violation of the Union's collective bargaining agreement (the “CBA”). (Id. at ¶ 20.) The Union is currently arbitrating that grievance pursuant to Section 10 of the CBA. (Id. at ¶ 21.)

         While the Union and UConn moved forward with the arbitration, Ollie sought to preserve his ability to pursue discrimination claims under the CFEPA and Title VII in an administrative or judicial forum. Because the CFEPA and Title VII have relatively short limitations periods - 180 days and 300 days, respectively - Ollie was concerned that the deadline for filing his discrimination claims would pass before the arbitration concluded. (Id. at ¶ 32.); see also Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46a-82(f) (“one hundred and eighty days after the alleged act of discrimination”); 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1) (“three hundred days after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred”). Ollie was also concerned, however, that UConn would terminate the arbitration pursuant to the election-of-remedies provision in the CBA if he filed a discrimination claim with either the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (“CHRO”) or the United States Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (“EEOC”) prior to the conclusion of the arbitration. (Compl. at ¶ 34.) The election-of-remedies provision, set forth in Section 10.3 of the CBA, states:

If prior to seeking resolution of a dispute by filing a grievance under this contract, or while the grievance proceeding is in progress, a member seeks to resolve the matter in any other forum, whether administrative or judicial, the [UConn] Board [of Trustees] shall have no obligation to entertain or proceed with this grievance procedure.

(Id. at ¶ 19.)

         Accordingly, prior to filing a claim with the CHRO or EEOC, Ollie asked UConn, through counsel, whether it would agree not to invoke Section 10.3 if he filed a discrimination claim. (Id. at ¶¶ 34, 36.) Alternatively, he proposed entering into a tolling agreement concerning these claims. (Id. at ¶ 38.) UConn responded that it was “not willing to waive 10.3” and that it did not agree to the terms of Ollie's proposed tolling agreement.[2] (See id. at ¶¶ 40, 43.)

         On December 17, 2018, Ollie instituted this action against UConn. Based upon the allegations set forth above, Ollie asserts that UConn has violated the CFEPA and Title VII in two ways. First, he alleges that, by refusing to agree that it will not invoke Section 10.3, UConn is, in effect, unlawfully “asserting the right to refuse to proceed with the grievance-arbitration process under the collective bargaining agreement if [Ollie] exercises his rights to file discrimination claims in an administrative agency or in a judicial forum.” (Id. at ¶¶ 56, 72.) Second, Ollie alleges that by refusing to agree to his proposed tolling agreement, UConn is attempting to deter him from exercising his rights under the CFEPA and Title VII until the limitations period has lapsed. (Id. at ¶¶ 57-58, 73-74.) Ollie alleges that he has been harmed by this illegal conduct because, absent judicial intervention, he will lose either (a) his contractual right to arbitrate his grievance under the CBA upon filing a claim with the CHRO or EEOC or (b) his statutory rights under the CFEPA and Title VII due to the passage of the limitations period. (Id. at ¶¶ 60-61, 76-77.)

         With the Complaint, Ollie filed an ex parte request for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction prohibiting UConn from invoking Section 10.3 if he files a claim with the CHRO or EEOC. He also sought (and still seeks) an order prospectively equitably tolling the applicable statute of limitations for his discrimination claims under the CFEPA and Title VII and equitably estopping UConn from asserting a statute of limitations defense to those claims. (See id., Prayer for Relief, at ¶¶ 1-2.) The Court denied the request for a temporary restraining order under Rule 65(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure but convened a hearing on the request for a preliminary injunction on December 28, 2018. Prior to the hearing, UConn filed the instant motion to dismiss challenging, inter alia, this Court's subject matter jurisdiction on the ground that the claims asserted herein are not ripe for adjudication.

         Standard of Review

         Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. Therefore, this Court must assure itself that it has subject matter jurisdiction as a threshold matter before proceeding to the merits of any case. Wynn v. AC Rochester, 273 F.3d 153, 157 (2d Cir. 2001). “A case is properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) when the district court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate it.” Makarova v. United States, 201 F.3d 110, 113 (2d Cir. 2000). Ripeness, the issue raised by UConn, is a component of Article III standing; Nat'l Org. for Marriage, Inc. v. Walsh, 714 F.3d 682, 688 (2d Cir. 2013); which in turn is an essential component of subject matter jurisdiction; Mahon v. Ticor Title Ins. Co., 683 F.3d 59, 62 (2d Cir. 2012) (“If plaintiffs lack Article III standing, a court has no subject matter jurisdiction to hear their claim.” [internal quotation marks omitted]). A plaintiff who seeks to invoke the authority of the court bears the burden of establishing the court's subject matter jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence. Makarova, 201 F.3d at 113.

         When a defendant raises a challenge to subject matter jurisdiction based on the allegations in the complaint, as UConn has, “the plaintiff has no evidentiary burden” and the court must ordinarily decide the issue based solely on the allegations in the complaint and the exhibits attached thereto. Carter v. HealthPort Techs., LLC, 822 F.3d 47, 56 (2d Cir. 2016). The complaint in this case, however, references and relies upon a series of e-mails between counsel for both parties. The e-mails were not attached to the complaint but were appended to Ollie's subsequent pleadings, including his memorandum in opposition to the instant motion to dismiss. The e-mails include Ollie's request that UConn either waive Section 10.3 if he files a claim with the EEOC or CHRO, or, alternatively, enter into a tolling agreement with respect to his discrimination claims. The emails also include UConn's response to these inquiries. Neither party has raised any challenge to the authenticity of the e-mails or objected to the Court's consideration of them. Indeed, both parties have relied upon the e-mails in their arguments regarding the motion to dismiss. In addition, the Court concludes that the communications reflected in the e-mails are “integral” to the complaint and may be fairly considered on a motion to dismiss even though they are not attached to the complaint. See Goel v. Bunge, Ltd., 820 F.3d 554, 559 (2d Cir. 2016) (discussing standard for consideration of documents that are “integral” to the complaint at the motion to dismiss stage).

         Legal ...


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