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Willis v. Cleveland Metropolitan School District

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

April 24, 2018

DONALD WILLIS, Plaintiff,
v.
CLEVELAND METROPOLITAN SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OF OPINION AND ORDER [RESOLVING ECF NOS. 15 AND 21]

          Benita Y. Pearson United States District Judge.

         Pending is Defendants' Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c) motion for partial judgment on the pleadings, seeking dismissal of Count V of Plaintiff's Complaint with prejudice. ECF No. 15. Plaintiff has responded. (ECF No. 16). Defendants replied (ECF No. 17). For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion is denied.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Donald Willis, an African American male, filed this action seeking, among other things, restoration to his former employment position and compensation for damages sustained. ECF No. 1. The five-count Complaint alleges claims for race discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2 and Ohio Revised Code § 4112.01, et seq. (Counts One and Two), wrongful termination based on racial discrimination (Count Three), retaliation (Count Four), and common law intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count Five) . Id. at PageID#: 9 12, ¶¶ 98 132. More to the point, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Cleveland Metropolitan School District (“CMSD”) and Christopher Myslenski, principal at a middle school in the CMSD, wrongfully terminated Plaintiff's employment as an Intervention Specialist/Teacher, in an act of racial discrimination and in retaliation for his reporting Myslenski's discriminatory conduct. Id. at PageID#: 8, ¶¶ 89 92.

         In support of his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that in January 2015 Defendant Myslenski, the principal at Paul Revere Middle School, instructed Plaintiff to use his classroom for “increasingly disruptive students, ” and did not require similarly-situated Caucasian teachers to use their classrooms for this same purpose. Id. at PageID#: 3, ¶¶ 25 27. Plaintiff contends that Myslenski made several racially-motivated comments regarding Plaintiff's African-American students and an African-American CMSD staff member. Id. at PageID#: 4, ¶¶ 28 34. For instance, Plaintiff alleges that during a conversation with Myslenski concerning the need for Plaintiff's students to speak standard English, Myslenski's response was, “that's not important, we shouldn't focus on that. Maybe they can get a job in the hood.” Id. at PageID#: 4, ¶¶ 28 30. Furthermore, Plaintiff asserts that Myslenski imitated the voice of an African-American student's father in a stereotypical way, and asked an African-American staff member whether he or she had “fried chicken and a forty ounce during the weekend.” Id. at PageID#: 4, ¶¶ 32 33.

         Finding Myslenski's culturally insensitive remarks troubling, Plaintiff reported him to CMSD. Id. at PageID#: 4, ¶ 35; PageID#: 5, ¶ 42. CMSD did not issue any disciplinary action against Myslenski. Id. at PageID#: 5, ¶ 45. Plaintiff alleges that subsequent to his report, Myslenski verbally reprimanded Plaintiff in front of his students, subjected him to strict classroom instructions, and gave him inconsistent teacher evaluation ratings, in contrast to how similarly-situated Caucasian teachers were treated. Id. at PageID#: 5 7. In April 2015, Myslenski informed Plaintiff that “due to his ‘ineffective' rating on his evaluation, CMSD was placing him on a Performance Improvement Plan, ” and would not renew his employment contract. Id. at PageID#: 7, ¶¶ 74 75. Plaintiff appealed Defendants' non-renewal determination, but, to no avail, as CMSD denied Plaintiff's appeal and affirmed Myslenski's recommendation to not renew his contract at the end of the 2014 2015 school year. Id. at PageID#: 8, ¶¶ 79 80. In June 2015, Plaintiff's employment contract was terminated. Id. at PageID#: 8, ¶ 81.

         Plaintiff contends that his termination was pretextual for race discrimination and was in retaliation for reporting Myslenski's discriminatory conduct. Id. at PageID#: 8, ¶¶ 89 92. Additionally, Plaintiff contends that, because of Defendants' extreme and outrageous conduct, he suffered from emotional distress. Id. at PageID#: 9, ¶ 97.

         Defendants filed the instant Rule 12(c) Motion for Partial Judgment on the Pleadings, arguing that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. ECF No. 15 at PageID#: 115. Plaintiff responded. ECF No. 16. Defendants replied. ECF No. 17.

         II. Standard of Review

         Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c) provides that “[a]fter the pleadings are closed but early enough not to delay trial a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” A motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) is reviewed under the same standard applicable to a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). Tucker v. Middleburg-Legacy Place, 539 F.3d 545, 549 (6th Cir. 2008). “To survive a [Rule 12(b)(6)] motion to dismiss, [the complaint] must allege ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Traverse Bay Area Intermediate Sch. Dist. v. Mich. Dep't of Educ., 615 F.3d 622, 627 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting Bell Atl. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677 (2009). A court may dismiss a claim if its finds on the face of the pleading that “there is an insurmountable bar to relief indicating that the plaintiff does not have a claim[, ]” Ashiegbu v. Purviance, 76 F.Supp.2d 824, 828 (S.D. Ohio 1998), aff'd 194 F.3d 1311 (6th Cir. 1999), cert. denied, 529 U.S. 1001 (2000).

         “For purposes of a motion for judgment on the pleadings, all well-pleaded material allegations of the pleadings of the opposing party must be taken as true.” ” Wurzelbacher v. Jones-Kelley, 675 F.3d 580, 583 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Tucker v. Middleburg-Legacy Place, LLC, 539 F.3d 545, 549 (6th Cir. 2008)). The Court “‘must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to [the] plaintiff[.]'” Albrecht v. Treon, 617 F.3d 890, 893 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting League of United Latin Am. Citizens v. Bredesen, 500 F.3d 523, 527 (6th Cir. 2007)).

         III. Analysis

         Defendants move for partial judgment on the pleadings to dismiss Count V of Plaintiff's Complaint. ECF No. 15. Defendants argue that Plaintiff's factual allegations are insufficient as a matter of law to support a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Id. at PageID#: 115. Specifically, Defendants contend that Plaintiff's Complaint fails to allege facts under Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a) and the Twomblyand Iqbalpleading standard that describe or rise to the level of “extreme and outrageous” conduct as required to establish an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim. Id. at PageID#:118. In opposition, Plaintiff argues that the factual allegations regarding his intentional infliction of emotional distress claim satisfy the pleading requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a), and that he need not plead his intentional infliction of emotional distress claim with any further specificity at this stage. ECF No. 16 at PageID#: 121.

         Under Ohio law, a plaintiff alleging an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim must prove facts showing that: (1) the defendant intended to cause the plaintiff serious emotional distress; (2) the defendant's conduct was extreme and outrageous; (3) the defendant's conduct was the proximate cause of the plaintiff's distress; and (4) the plaintiff's emotional distress was serious and of such a nature that no reasonable person could be expected to endure it. Talley v. Family Dollar Stores ...


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