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Jones v. Summit County Job and Family Services

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

December 16, 2019




         Pro se plaintiff, Keely Jones (“Jones”), brings this action against defendant, Summit County Job and Family Services (“SCJFS”), alleging age discrimination in employment and retaliation. (Doc. No. 1 [“Compl.”].) Jones moves to proceed with this action in forma pauperis (Doc. No. 2), and that motion is granted.

         For the reasons that follow, this case is dismissed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The allegations in the complaint are sparse, but this action appears to stem from SCJFS failing to hire Jones. Specifically, Jones alleges that on February 9, 2018, she applied for a job, and SCJFS unlawfully discriminated and retaliated against her by failing to hire her. (Compl. at 4.[1]) While the complaint itself includes few facts to support her claims, Jones attached various documents to her pleading which the Court will consider in determining whether Jones states a plausible claim for relief. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(c).

         It appears that Jones was previously employed by SCJFS as a Case Management Specialist 1. (Doc. No. 1-5.) It is unclear when, and under what circumstances, Jones ceased working for SCJFS. But on February 9, 2018, Jones applied for a Temporary PT (presumably part time) Case Management Specialist position with SCJFS. (Doc. No. 1-3.) SCJFS considered Jones's application but ultimately selected candidates whose qualification more closely matched the requirements of the position. (Doc. No. 1-4.) On August 14, 2018, Jones filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission alleging age discrimination and retaliation. (Doc. No. 1-1.) On August 5, 2019, Jones received a right to sue letter from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (Doc. No. 1-11.) Jones filed the instant action on August 16, 2019. (See Compl. at 1.)


         A. Standard of Review

         Pro se pleadings are held to “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers” and must be liberally construed. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520, 92 S.Ct. 594, 30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972); see also Franklin v. Rose, 765 F.2d 82, 85 (6th Cir. 1985) (pro se complaints are entitled to liberal construction) (citations omitted). Nevertheless, courts are not required to conjure unpleaded facts or construct claims on plaintiff's behalf. See Kamppi v. Ghee, 208 F.3d 213 (table), 2000 WL 303018, at *1 (6th Cir. Mar. 14, 2000); Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985).

         Federal district courts are expressly required, under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), to review all in forma pauperis complaints filed in federal court and to dismiss before service any such complaint that the court determines is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470 (6th Cir. 2010). The standard for dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) also applies to dismissal under § 1915(e)(2)(B). Id. at 470-71 (holding that the dismissal standard articulated in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) governs dismissal under § 1915(e)(2)(B)). Therefore, to survive dismissal under § 1915(e)(2)(B), Jones's complaint must set forth sufficient facts to state a plausible claim for relief. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         B. Analysis

         Even construing Jones's claims liberally, in the light most favorable to her, Jones has failed to state a plausible claim for relief. Under the ADEA, employers are not permitted to “refuse to hire or to discharge” an individual because of that person's age. 29 U.S.C. § 623 (a)(1). Where, as here, there is no direct evidence of age discrimination, courts apply the burden-shifting framework set out in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). Under McDonnel Douglas, plaintiffs must establish the elements of a prima facie case of age discrimination. The plaintiff must show “(1) she was over the age of 40, (2) she applied for and was qualified for the position, (3) she was considered for and denied the position, and (4) she was rejected in favor of a significantly younger person with similar or inferior qualifications to permit an inference of age discrimination.” George v. Youngstown State Univ., 4:17CV2322, 2019 WL 118601, at *7 (N.D. Ohio Jan. 7, 2019) (citing Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prod., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 142, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000); Betkerur v. Aultmen Hosp. Ass'n, 78 F.3d 1079, 1095 (6th Cir. 1996)). The ADEA does not allow mixed-motive discrimination claims; plaintiff must show “that an employer took adverse action ‘because of age....” Gross v. FBL Fin. Servs., Inc., 557 U.S. 167, 176, 129 S.Ct. 2343, 174 L.Ed.2d 119 (2009).

         To be sure, Jones was not required to plead specific facts establishing a prima facie case of discrimination or retaliation to survive dismissal. See Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 508, 122 S.Ct. 992, 152 L.Ed.2d 1 (2002). But she was required to meet the pleading standards articulated in Twombly and Iqbal; and she failed to do so. Jones's complaint provides no direct evidence of discrimination and the circumstantial evidence that the Court was able to piece together, does not meet basic pleading requirements. Jones's statement of her case simply states, “I filed a federal lawsuit 5:19 CV 169 against [SCJFS] January 23, 2019, for age discrimination.” (Compl. at 4-5.) The complaint does not indicate who was hired for the position to which Jones applied, whether the newly-hired employee was younger than Jones, and what qualifications that employee possessed.[2]

         The facts supporting Jones's retaliation claim are even more scant than those supporting her age discrimination claim. It appears that Jones has filed at least one previous lawsuit against SCJFS alleging age discrimination and failure to hire. See Jones v. Summit Co. Job & Family Servs., No. 5:19CV169, 2019 WL 4141601, at *1 (N.D. Ohio Aug. 30, 2019), appeal docketed, No. 19-3916 (6th Cir. Sept. 26, 2019). However, the complaint is entirely devoid of facts related to Jones's previous lawsuit against SCJFS. Aside from her naked assertion, Jones does not even attempt to tie her failure to hire claim to the fact that she previously filed a lawsuit against SCJFS. Even liberally construed, Jones's complaint fails to set forth sufficient facts to meet basic pleading requirements or support plausible claims of age ...

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