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Massaquoi v. 20 Maitland Street Operations LLC

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

November 28, 2018

Brown Massaquoi
v.
20 Maitland Street Operations LLC et al.

          ORDER

          Landya McCafferty United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Brown Massaquoi brings suit against his former employer 20 Maitland Street Operations LLC, d/b/a Harris Hill Center, (“Harris Hill”) and its affiliate Genesis Healthcare LLC (“Genesis”), alleging race, color, and national origin discrimination and retaliation claims under both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) and the New Hampshire Law Against Discrimination, N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. (“RSA”) 354-A, (Count I) and a defamation claim (Count II). Massaquoi alleges that defendants discriminated against him while he was employed at Harris Hill and ultimately terminated him because he is a “Black, African American from Liberia.” He also alleges that defendants subsequently defamed him and retaliated against him for filing a complaint about the alleged discrimination.

         Before the court is defendants' motion to dismiss Count I to the extent it is based on claims of national origin discrimination and retaliation (doc. no. 16). Defendants' motion rests on one argument: Massaquoi failed to exhaust his administrative remedies for those two claims because he did not report either in an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) charge.[1]

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must accept the factual allegations in the complaint as true, construe reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor, and determine whether the factual allegations in the complaint set forth a plausible claim upon which relief may be granted. Medina-Velazquez v. Hernandez-Gregorat, 767 F.3d 103, 108 (1st Cir. 2014). A claim is facially plausible “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). A “plaintiff who does not plausibly allege that she successfully exhausted administrative remedies cannot state a claim under Title VII . . . and her claims [are] therefore . . . subject to dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6).” Harris v. Bd. of Trs. Univ. of Ala., 846 F.Supp.2d 1223, 1237 (N.D. Ala. 2012); see also Mercado v. Ritz-Carlton San Juan Hotel, Spa & Casino, 410 F.3d 41, 46 n.6 (1st Cir. 2005).

         With their motion to dismiss, defendants submit a copy of Massaquoi's EEOC charge (doc. no. 16-2). When the moving party presents matters outside the pleadings to support a motion to dismiss, the court must either exclude those matters or convert the motion to one for summary judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). An exception to Rule 12(d) exists “for documents the authenticity of which [is] not disputed by the parties; for official public records; for documents central to the plaintiffs' claim; or for documents sufficiently referred to in the complaint.” Rivera v. Centro Medico de Turabo, Inc., 575 F.3d 10, 15 (1st Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Because Massaquoi's EEOC charge is central to Massaqoui's claims and neither party disputes its authenticity, the court may consider it without converting the motion to one for summary judgment.

         BACKGROUND

         The following facts are taken from Massaquoi's complaint (doc. no. 14) and, where specifically noted, his EEOC charge. Massaquoi is an African American from Liberia. He is a licensed nursing assistant who began employment at Harris Hill on January 14, 2014. Massaquoi alleges that his supervisors at Harris Hill treated him differently than his white co-workers. Throughout his employment, they gave him more difficult work assignments, did not give him necessary assistance when he requested it, and failed to investigate complaints he brought to them. At some point, certain residents complained to one of Massaquoi's superiors, Linda Janowicz, that they “did not want African Americans or other minorities caring for them.” Rather than address the racism, Janowicz accommodated the residents and advised Massaquoi that he should not enter their rooms.

         In addition, Janowicz accused Massaquoi of abusing residents on five separate occasions. Company policy required an investigation into allegations of resident abuse, including a written statement from the accused employee and suspension of the employee for the duration of the investigation. After each of the first four accusations, Massaquoi was permitted to give a written statement and, after investigation, each was determined to be without merit.

         Janowicz made the fifth accusation against Massaquoi at a meeting on June 15, 2015. Contrary to Harris Hill's policy, Janowicz took no statement from Massaquoi and terminated him immediately. After Massaquoi's termination, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (“DHHS”) investigated the fifth accusation and concluded it was “unfounded.” Despite this finding, Harris Hill did not offer Massaquoi reemployment.

         In response to his termination, Massaquoi, acting pro se, filed an EEOC charge with the New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights (“NHCHR”) under both Title VII and RSA 354-A on August 26, 2015. The EEOC charge form includes a section with checkboxes for complainants to indicate the categories of discrimination they are challenging, [2] and a section for complainants to provide a written statement of their allegations.

         Defendants point to two aspects of Massaquoi's EEOC charge material to their exhaustion argument. First, Massaquoi did not check the boxes for either national origin discrimination or retaliation; he checked only the boxes for race and color discrimination.[3] Second, although Massaquoi disclosed in his written statement that he was from Liberia, he alleged Harris Hill terminated him because of his race and color; he did not mention being terminated due to his national origin.

         Massaquoi also alleges that defendants continued to take negative actions against him after Harris Hill terminated him. The first negative action involved Harris Hill. Specifically, Massaquoi alleges that, after he filed his EEOC charge, Janowicz wrote a letter to DHHS accusing him of attempting to rape a Harris Hill resident. Janowicz wrote this letter before completing an internal investigation. After she did fully investigate the accusation, Janowicz determined that it had no merit. The second negative action involved Genesis. Specifically, Massaquoi alleges that, at some point after Harris Hill terminated him, he sought and gained employment ...


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