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Caron v. Fedex Freight, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

October 3, 2016

ELAINE M. CARON, Plaintiff,


          PATRICIA A. SULLIVAN United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Elaine Caron alleges that she was discriminated against while working for Defendant FedEx Freight, Inc. (“FedEx”), on account of her gender, age, disability or perceived disability and in retaliation for earlier complaints of discrimination. While Plaintiff worked for FedEx from 1996 until August 14, 2013, most of that time falls into a period that is foreclosed from judicial scrutiny by a binding settlement agreement; because of the settlement, her claims are limited to employment practices that occurred during a brief six-week period in the summer of 2013 after she was reinstated and before she left because of a medical condition that restricted her from working at all. In its second motion to dismiss (ECF No. 20)[1] brought pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), FedEx seeks the dismissal of Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint (“Complaint”) (ECF No. 12), arguing that the facts alleged to have occurred during the short period in issue are insufficient to state a claim for which relief may be granted.

         FedEx's motion has been referred to me for report and recommendation. Based on the determination that Plaintiff's claims have enough heft to give rise to a plausible claim for relief, I recommend that the motion be DENIED.

         I. Background

         When she filed her Complaint, Plaintiff was 58 years old. ECF No. 12 ¶ 11. She had been hired by FedEx in 1996 as a part-time driver and transferred to the freight division as a City Driver in 2007. ECF No. 12 ¶ 12. Since 2007, despite her satisfactory performance, she alleges that she has consistently been subjected to discriminatory treatment. ECF No. 12 ¶ 13.

         Plaintiff's allegations regarding the events prior to the 2013 settlement may be briefly summarized. She claims that younger, male employees were permitted to bid on routes, vehicles and shifts before Plaintiff was allowed to bid, despite her seniority. ECF No. 12 ¶¶ 15-18. After she complained to the human resources department in 2008 about these adverse actions, the treatment got worse. ECF No. 12 ¶¶ 19, 21. She was provided with broken and old equipment, and given particularly onerous tasks. ECF No. 12 ¶ 21. In September 2009, Plaintiff injured her elbow at work and took a medical leave of absence. ECF No. 12 ¶ 22. After she returned to work in April 2010, she bid on and received a Road Driver position, but was assigned the oldest equipment and the least desirable routes. ECF No. 12 ¶¶ 23-24, 26-28. In at least one instance, a coworker referred to her as “bitch.” ECF No. 12 ¶ 28. In June 2010, Plaintiff injured her arm again and went on medical leave. ECF No. 12 ¶ 29. On April 3, 2012, while she was still on medical leave, FedEx terminated her. ECF No. 12 ¶ 31.

         Based on these events, in December 2012, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Rhode Island Commission on Human Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging that she was terminated because of “her sex, age and/or disability.” ECF No. 12 ¶ 32. On February 25, 2013, Plaintiff and FedEx entered into the settlement agreement. The settlement required FedEx to reinstate her with full seniority and to refrain from discriminating against her or retaliating against her for bringing the complaint. ECF No. 12 ¶ 33. At the time of the signing of the settlement agreement, Plaintiff was still on medical leave, recovering from surgery on her arm. ECF No. 12 ¶ 34.

         On June 26, 2013, Plaintiff returned to work on light duty. ECF No. 12 ¶ 35. She was cleared for full duty work on July 24, 2013. ECF No. 12 ¶ 36. After she was reinstated and despite having been cleared to work, Plaintiff alleges that the injury to her arm constituted a disability of which FedEx was aware and/or that FedEx perceived her as being disabled as a result of her arm injury. ECF No. 12 ¶¶ 37-41. Based on her perceived/actual disability, her sex and her age, Plaintiff claims that FedEx resumed the pattern of discriminatory actions against her, now coupled with retaliatory actions based on the prior complaint. ECF No. 12 ¶¶ 42-44. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that her hours were cut; her seniority was ignored; FedEx refused to train her; her schedule and routes were changed at the last minute; she was assigned less desirable routes than her male colleagues; and, on a day when four younger male drivers with less seniority were assigned shifts, she was told not to report due to a lack of work. ECF No. 12 ¶ 43. In one instance when she asked about a route change, her supervisor told her that she was “so f**ked.” Id.

         Less than two months after she was reinstated, on August 14, 2013, Plaintiff again “was medically restricted from working” because of her arm injury; she has not returned to work since. ECF No. 12 ¶ 45. The Complaint does not allege that the work stoppage in August 2013 was caused by an actionable adverse employment action. She filed this lawsuit on January 15, 2016.

         Plaintiff's Complaint sets forth six causes of action: Count I for discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq.; Count II for discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq.; Count III for discrimination and retaliation on account of disability or perceived disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S. § 1201, et seq.; Count IV for discrimination and retaliation based on gender, age and/or disability or perceived disability in violation of the Rhode Island Fair Employment Practices Act, R.I. Gen. Laws § 28-5-1, et seq.; Count V for discrimination and retaliation based on gender, age and/or disability or perceived disability in violation of the Rhode Island Civil Rights Act of 1990, R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-112-1, et seq.; and Count VI for discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Rhode Island Civil Rights of People with Disabilities Act, R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-87-1, et seq. Plaintiff seeks a declaratory judgment that FedEx discriminated against her, a permanent injunction preventing it from discriminating in the future, compensatory and punitive damages, and attorneys' fees. ECF No. 12.

         II. Standard of Review

         Defendant moves to dismiss the claims against it pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must accept as true all allegations in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Aulson v. Blanchard, 83 F.3d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 1996). The United States Supreme Court has recently restated the review standard as follows: “[o]nce a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 546 (2007). Since Twombly, the Supreme Court further refined its requirements in Ashcroft v. Iqbal:

To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. 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. The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.

556 U.S. 662, 663 (2009). In applying this standard to facts as pled in a complaint, the First Circuit recommends what it calls “a two-step pavane.” Rodriguez-Reyes v. Molina-Rodriguez, 711 F.3d 49, 53 (1st. Cir. 2013). The Court must first identify and disregard the complaint's conclusory legal allegations, and then determine whether or ...

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