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Finnegan v. Washoe County

United States District Court, D. Nevada

August 2, 2017

JOHN FINNEGAN, and KATHLEEN DENNING, Plaintiffs,
v.
WASHOE COUNTY, a political subdivision of the State of Nevada, and DOES I-X, Defendants.

          ORDER

          MIRANDA M. DU UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. SUMMARY

         This case concerns employment discrimination claims brought by two employees of Washoe County Regional Animal Services (“Washoe County” or “Defendant”). Before the Court is Defendant Washoe County's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 7) and Motion to Dismiss First Amended Complaint (“Motion”) (ECF No. 11). Because Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint (“FAC”) superseded its prior complaint, the Court denies Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 7) as moot.

         The Court has reviewed Plaintiffs' response to Washoe County's Motion (ECF No. 12) and Washoe County's reply (ECF No. 15). For the reasons discussed below, the Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         In addition, Washoe County filed a Motion to Sever (ECF No. 6). Having reviewed Plaintiffs' response (ECF No. 8) and Washoe County's reply (ECF No. 9), the Court grants the Motion to Sever.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs John Finnegan (“Finnegan”) and Kathleen Denning (“Denning”) filed their initial complaint on January 3, 2017. (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiffs then filed their FAC on February 2, 2017. (ECF No. 10.) In the FAC, Finnegan brings two claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., for a sexually hostile work environment and retaliation. (Id. at 3-7.) Denning brings three claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and Rehabilitation Act, 28 U.S.C. § 701 et seq., for a hostile work environment, discrimination/failure to accommodate, and retaliation. (Id. at 7-10.) Both Plaintiffs bring a claim for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. (Id. at 11.) The following facts are taken from the FAC.

         Finnegan began his employment with Washoe County on March 8, 2010. Soon after, his supervisor, Cindy Doak (“Doak”), began to sexually harass him by making sexually inappropriate remarks. Supervisory personnel who worked for Washoe County were aware of at least some of the sexual harassment Doak directed at Finnegan. Because Finnegan did not reciprocate Doak's advances, Doak then transformed her behavior towards Finnegan into hostility. On or around September 25, 2015, Finnegan made a complaint to Defendant's Human Resources Department concerning Doak. However, Defendant failed to conduct a thorough investigation or to implement adequate remedial action and, on June 28, 2016, issued findings that Finnegan's complaint was unsubstantiated.[1] Manager Robert Smith (“Smith”), who participated in the investigation of Finnegan's complaint against Doak, then encouraged Doak to implement retaliatory hostility against Finnegan. For instance, Doak used her supervisory authority to assign Finnegan excessive workloads while other employees did not have sufficient work to perform. Both Doak and Smith also informed other employees that Finnegan had lodged a false complaint against Doak. Finnegan was subsequently suspended as a result of this harassment and retaliatory hostility. Finnegan also states that on May 3, 2016, one of the Assistant District Attorneys for Defendant implicitly threatened him with retaliatory discipline if he refused to allow himself to be interviewed by an investigator who had the ability to subsequently testify against him.

         Denning suffers from epilepsy. After Smith learned Denning suffered from epilepsy, he commenced a course of harassment against her, including: telling her she could not perform her job duties because of her disability; refusing to accommodate her need to adjust to medication by requiring her to work nights and declining to give her dispatcher support; openly referring to her as crazy; refusing to speak with and generally shunning her; informing other employees that she had epilepsy and implicitly encouraging those employees to engage in hostility against Denning based on that fact; telling other employees Denning was unable to perform her job duties because of her disability; telling other employees to stay away from her; subjecting her to excessive scrutiny; attempting to ostracize and belittle her; threatening to terminate her and subjecting her to unnecessary investigations; and maintaining a secret and separate personnel file on her and informing her and others of the existence of this file. Denning was also subjected to abusive questioning by Defendant's Human Resources personnel regarding the specifics of her disability as well as to an unwarranted and retaliatory investigation regarding contact with the District Attorney's office. Denning complained of Smith's actions but those complaints were ignored or trivialized. Denning informed Defendant of Smith's actions, but Defendant refused to properly investigate his conduct or discipline him. Cumulatively, Defendant failed to implement timely, adequate remedial action sufficient to address the harassment of Denning.

         III. MOTION TO DISMISS

         A. Legal Standard

         A court may dismiss a plaintiff's complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A properly pleaded complaint must provide “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). While Rule 8 does not require detailed factual allegations, it demands more than “labels and conclusions” or a “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.) “Factual allegations must be enough to rise above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Thus, to survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (internal citation omitted).

         In Iqbal, the Supreme Court clarified the two-step approach district courts are to apply when considering motions to dismiss. First, a district court must accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint; however, legal conclusions are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Id. at 678-79. Mere recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported only by conclusory statements, do not suffice. Id. at 678. Second, a district court must consider whether the factual allegations in the complaint allege a plausible claim for relief. Id. at 679. A claim is facially plausible when the plaintiff's complaint alleges facts that allow a court to draw a reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct. Id. at 678. Where the complaint does not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has “alleged-but it has not show[n]-that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Id. at 679 (internal quotation marks omitted). When the claims in a complaint have not crossed the line from conceivable to plausible, the complaint must be dismissed. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. Moreover, a complaint must contain either direct or inferential allegations concerning “all the material elements necessary to sustain recovery under some viable legal theory.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 562 (quoting Car Carriers, Inc. v. Ford Motor Co., 745 F.2d 1101, 1106 (7th Cir. 1989) (emphasis in original)).

         B. Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies

         Defendant argues that Plaintiffs' FAC must be dismissed because the allegations in the FAC go beyond the scope of the allegations detailed in Plaintiffs' respective Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) complaints, and therefore Plaintiffs have failed to exhaust ...


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