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Sheppard v. The University of Akron

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

June 11, 2019

VICTORIA C. SHEPPARD, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE UNIVERSITY OF AKRON, et al., DEFENDANTS.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HONORABLE SARA LIOI, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is the motion to dismiss filed by defendants the University of Akron (“UA”), Lee Gill, Federia Nicholson, and Candace Campbell-Jackson. (Doc. No. 10 [“MTD”].) Pro se plaintiff Victoria C. Sheppard (“Sheppard”) filed her opposition to defendants' motion to dismiss in the form of a motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 18 [“MSJ”]), and defendants filed a reply in support of their motion to dismiss (Doc. No. 19 [“Reply”]). For the reasons discussed herein, defendants' motion to dismiss is GRANTED and plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On September 27, 2018, Sheppard filed her complaint labeled “Suit in Equity and Fairness” against UA and several former UA employees: Lee Gill, former Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion; Federia Nicholson, former Director of Multi-Cultural Affairs; and Candace Campbell-Jackson, former Vice President and Chief of Staff (“UA Officials”). (Doc. No. 1, Complaint [“Compl.”].) On October 29, 2018, Sheppard paid the filing fee.[1]

         Sheppard's complaint pertains to an event at UA known as “The Black Male Summit” and Sheppard's efforts to obtain employment at UA in connection with that event. Sheppard alleges that she came up with the “idea for a multi-day event/program to bring together community leaders and intellectuals to tackle the enormous plight of young African American males.” (Id. at 5.[2]) Sheppard alleges that she presented her idea to Akron City Council President Marco Sommerville (“Sommerville”) in 2004 and told him she was going to call her program “The Black Male Summit since we live in Summit County.” (Id.) Sommerville allegedly agreed to provide funding for the program, and Sheppard asked Sommerville to give her time to request permission to present her program on campus at AU where she was then attending graduate school. (Id.) Sheppard alleges that she subsequently met with the “then Director, [of the] Office of Multi-Cultural Development” at UA and presented her program, stating she was “giving” the program to UA in order to “create a job for [herself]” and that she wanted to work at UA. (Id.) She alleges she “eagerly left her telephone number and was told she would hear from officials as soon as possible.” (Id.)

         Sheppard alleges that she became ill and had to drop out of classes at UA. (Id.) Sheppard alleged that, “[u]pon returning, [she] noted that [UA] was announcing their new program: The Black Male Summit.” (Id.) Sheppard attended this program in 2008 and told defendant Nicholson “that the program name and idea belonged to her, ” to which Nicholson allegedly responded: “It doesn't matter whose idea it was! It was something that needed to be done!” (Id.)

         Sheppard alleges that “[e]ach year” she met with and spoke with a number of UA Officials, including defendant Gill, “asking for assistance in reclaiming her event/program[.]” (Id.) Sheppard alleges that each year “officials would assure her[] they would do something, bring her on board, recognize her as the creator and involve her participating in executing the program.” (Id. at 5-6.) Defendant Gill allegedly told her, “I'm going to contact the incoming Director Jolene Lane, and put in a good word for you. I don't have any problem recognizing/involving you. I know you created this event.” (Id. at 6.)

         Sheppard, however, was never offered employment at UA, or involvement in The Black Male Summit. She alleges that defendant Campbell-Jackson told her in 2012 that no one wanted to hire Sheppard because they would have to pay her more with a doctorate. (Id. at 10.)

         Sheppard contends she has been inequitably and unfairly treated by UA and has suffered serious health problems as a result. (Id. at 14.) Her complaint alleges claims against the defendants for (1) trademark infringement, (2) discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), (3) discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), and (4) discrimination under Ohio's antidiscrimination statute (Chapter 4112 of the Ohio Revised Code). (Id. at 14-16.) For relief, she seeks “$377 million in damages for the 11 years of unemployment, back pay, hurt, pain, suffering and undue stress created by the intentional mistreatment by officials at [UA].” (Id. at 17.)

         Defendants filed their motion to dismiss Sheppard's complaint pursuant to Fed. R. of Civ. P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), contending that this Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over Sheppard's trademark infringement, ADEA, and state-law discrimination claims on the basis of sovereign immunity, and lacks jurisdiction over Sheppard's Title VII and ADEA claims because Sheppard has failed to exhaust administrative remedies. (MTD at 127.) Defendants also contend that Sheppard's claims under Title VII, the ADEA, and Ohio's antidiscrimination statute are all barred by the applicable statute of limitations. (Id.) Further, defendants contend that Sheppard's complaint fails because she has failed to state any claims upon which relief can be granted. (Id.) Sheppard responded to defendants' motion to dismiss by filing a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56.[3]

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A. Rule 12(b)(6): Dismissal for Failure to State a Claim

         In the context of a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the sufficiency of the complaint is tested against the notice pleading requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), which provides that a complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief[.]” Although this standard is liberal, Rule 8 still requires a complaint to provide the defendant with “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). Thus, “[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, ” to state a plausible claim. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

         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.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Plausibility “is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.'” Id. “[W]here the well- pleaded facts do 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 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2) (second alteration in original)). In such a case, the plaintiff has not “nudged [his] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, [and the] complaint must be dismissed.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570; see Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 683.

         A complaint need not set down in detail all the particulars of a plaintiff's claim. However, “Rule 8 . . . does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79 (stating that this standard requires “more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation”). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555); see Gregory v. Shelby Cty., 220 F.3d 433, 446 (6th Cir. 2000) (finding courts should not accept conclusions of law or unwarranted inferences couched in the form of factual allegations). The complaint “must contain either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements to sustain a recovery under some viable legal theory.” Scheid v. Fanny Farmer Candy ...


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