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Pratt v. State

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

November 8, 2018

KEIRON B. PRATT, Plaintiff,



         Pratt initiated a state and federal law-based employment discrimination action on December 19, 2017, seeking monetary damages and equitable relief against his former employer, Defendant State of Hawai‘i, Department of Public Safety (“DPS” or “Department”). See Compl., Dkt. No. 1. Following this Court's Order granting in part the Department's Motion to Dismiss, with leave to amend, on May 8, 2018, Pratt filed a First Amended Complaint (“FAC”) based exclusively on federal employment discrimination claims. FAC, Dkt. No. 18. The Department subsequently filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (“MJOP”). Dkt. No. 24. For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS IN PART the Department's MJOP. Counts I through III of the FAC are hereby DISMISSED without prejudice. Leave to amend is GRANTED with respect to Pratt's retaliation, hostile work environment, and sex discrimination claims, consistent with the instructions below.


         Pratt worked as a Deputy Sheriff for the Department of Public Safety from April 2002 until 2017. See FAC ¶¶ 11, 13, Dkt. No. 18. Initially hired as a “Deputy Sheriff I” (FAC ¶ 11), Pratt “was promoted to Deputy Sheriff II” in 2003 (FAC ¶ 12). As a Deputy Sheriff II, Pratt was “assigned to various sections including the Criminal Investigation Unit [(‘CIU')] of the Sheriff Division as an Investigator” (FAC ¶ 13). In 2008, Pratt “sought a transfer from warrants to [the] records department” (FAC ¶ 24); in 2009, he sought a transfer “from the records department to Capitol Patrol” (FAC ¶ 25); and in 2013, he sought a transfer again, this time to CIU (FAC ¶ 31).

         Pratt states that he has been “open about his homosexuality” since receiving a “homosexual discharge by the military under DD-214” in 1994. FAC ¶ 15. Although Pratt “did not talk about his homosexuality” in the workplace prior to 2004 (FAC ¶¶ 17, 18), “[t]he DD-214 . . . was given to” DPS when Pratt was hired, and DPS “placed it in his personnel file with HR” (FAC ¶ 17). “In 2004, [Pratt] became openly gay at his workplace in the Warrants Division after he was informed by his partner deputy sheriff that everyone at the office, including his supervisors and fellow deputy sheriffs, knew he was gay.” FAC ¶ 18. From that time until 2007, Pratt claims to have been “repeatedly and frequently sexually harassed by fellow deputy sheriffs, who would call him by female-gender names and scorn and ridicule him and his lack of dating women, and humiliate him by displaying homophobic behavior toward him.” FAC ¶ 20.

         In 2008, Pratt filed an administrative complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) and the Hawai‘i Civil Rights Commission (“HCRC”) regarding this harassment. FAC ¶ 21. Following Pratt's receipt of right-to-sue letters from both the HCRC and the EEOC, Pratt filed suit in state court in 2012, Civil No. 12-1-1409-05 KKS (“2012 Lawsuit”). FAC ¶ 27.[1]

         On May 1, 2014, Pratt alleges that he “was again subjected to sex discrimination, [a] sexually hostile work environment, and retaliation by his fellow deputies” in the CIU, “who ridiculed him for his sexual orientation (gay) and stated that [he] was his partner's ‘10-3', a code used for deputies who are married and are seeing someone on the side.” FAC ¶ 26. As a result of these incidents, Pratt filed another Charge of Discrimination, and after receiving a right-to-sue letter from the HCRC, Pratt sued DPS again in both state and federal courts. FAC ¶ 33 (citing Keiron Pratt v. State of Hawaii, et al.; Civil No. 15-1-1289-07 JHC (1st Cir. Ct., State of Hawai‘i); Keiron Pratt v. State of Hawaii, et al., Civil No. 15-00264 HG KSC (D. Haw. July 14, 2015) (“2015 Lawsuit”)); see Cook Decl., Ex. 4, Dkt. No. 9-9. According to Pratt, the 2015 Lawsuit was “resolved in [his] favor pursuant to a settlement agreement (‘the April 2016 Settlement').” FAC ¶ 29.

         Pratt alleges that after the April 2016 Settlement, DPS subjected him yet again to a “further sexually hostile work environment, sex discrimination, and retaliation.” FAC ¶ 30. Pratt summarizes the facts underlying these alleged wrongdoings in paragraph 31 and 33 of the FAC, and asserts that these events resulted in another Charge of Discrimination with the HCRC and EEOC on February 22, 2017 (“2017 Charge”). FAC ¶ 31.

         The HCRC issued Pratt a right-to-sue letter on September 26, 2017, and the EEOC did the same on October 16, 2017. FAC ¶¶ 3-4, Dkt. No. 18. Pratt then initiated the instant lawsuit on December 19, 2017. FAC ¶¶ 3-4, Dkt. No. 1.

         The Department subsequently filed a Motion to Dismiss in Lieu of an Answer, arguing inter alia that several of plaintiff's claims were barred under res judicata and failed to state a claim for which relief could be granted. Motion to Dismiss, Dkt. No. 9. The Court granted the Motion to Dismiss without leave to amend with respect to all state-law claims previously adjudicated in the 2012 and 2015 Lawsuits. The Court granted plaintiff leave to amend with respect to all claims under Title VII.

         On May 8, 2018, in accordance with the Court's April 2018 Order, Pratt filed a First Amended Complaint. On May 10, 2018, Defendant filed an Answer. Dkt. No. 20. In the FAC, Pratt asserts three causes of action against DPS:

         1) Retaliation under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000, et seq. (“Title VII”) (“Count I”; FAC ¶¶ 35-38);

         2) Sexually Hostile Work Environment, in violation of Title VII, (“Count II”; FAC ¶¶ 39-42); and

         3) Sex Discrimination, in violation of Title VII, (“Count III”; FAC ¶¶ 43-49).

         In relevant part, Pratt describes the alleged misconduct underlying these Counts as follows:

a. In April 2017, [Pratt] was warned by a person in HR that “they retaliated against you.”
b. In April 2017, [DPS] transferred [Pratt] out of the Office Assistant job at the Sheriff's Division to the Hawaii Paroling Authority making him Parole Officer III, also without his voluntary consent;
c. In late April 2017, [DPS] coerced or attempted to coerce [Pratt] into signing an agreement withdrawing all grievances and future lawsuits against [DPS], which [Pratt] refused to sign;
d. On June 28, 2017, [DPS] created a fraudulent Performance Appraisal System (“PAS”) in which [DPS] falsely reported that [Pratt] had been doing “unsatisfactory work” as Parole Officer III, for [Pratt]'s signature on the PAS was forged, [Pratt] had not been on the job long enough to justify or warrant the PAS, and on December 12, 2017, [Pratt] learned from HR that the June 28, 2017 PAS was never in his personnel file, confirming that the June 28th PAS was fabricated and forged;
e. On November 22, 2017, three days before Thanksgiving and 15 minutes before [Pratt]'s quitting time, [DPS], by and through [Pratt]'s supervisors, Corey Reincke and Andrew Morgan, blinded-sided [sic] [Pratt] with a notice of unsatisfactory work performance, claiming that his work had been unsatisfactory and that he had three months to bring it up to a satisfactory level, which claim was bogus, fabricated by [DPS] to set [Pratt] up for a termination or to force him to quit, and pretextual, to conceal [DPS]'s discriminatory and retaliatory motive.
f. On March 1, 2018, [DPS], served [Pratt] with a cease-and-desist letter from [chairman Hyun], dated February 28, 2018, which demanded that the Plaintiff cease and desist from using his work email account to send emails to his fellow coworkers in the department to lobby for support of a [legislative bill]… [The letter] is the first of its kind in the history of PSD as many other employees have used their work email account for non-work related purposes, and none of them were slapped with a cease and desist letter;
i. On March 14, 2018, [the Administrator] of the Hawaii Paroling Authority, wrote a letter to Plaintiff falsely accusing him of lying about being sick. In his letter [the Administrator] stated, “this is to notify you that you are a possible witness and/or under investigation as to allegations of violation(s) listed below . . . the complaint alleges the following: [Pratt], lied and misrepresented that he was out on sick leave on February 28, 2018 . . . Pratt's union representative told Plaintiff that no employee in the history of PSD had ever received a complaint accusing them of lying and misrepresenting when taking sick leave.

FAC ¶¶ 33(a)-(i), Dkt. No.18.

         Counts II and III (but not Count I) are also supported by the following allegations:

a. On September 9, 2016, when it was time for [Pratt]'s annual Employee Performance Appraisal Form, First Deputy Albert Cummings refused to complete it, falsely stating in the form, “Unable to rate in the capacity of a Deputy Sheriff since he has not been assigned to regular duties since July 2014. [sic] Plaintiff had been assigned to regular duties during this time period, for Cummings assigned Plaintiff to investigate and complete at least 40 cases as Deputy Sheriff II from September 2014 through December 2016. Cummings' misrepresentation on the Employee Performance Appraisal form constitutes falsification of an official government document;
b. On December 29, 2016, [DPS] took [Pratt]'s Sheriff's badge away from him, which he was allowed to maintain after [DPS] removed his gun in May 2014, and he continued to perform his duties as Deputy Sheriff II;
c. On February 17, 2017[, ] [DPS] moved [Pratt] out of the Sheriff CIU office into the Hawaii Paroling Authority office, changed his job title from Deputy Sheriff II to Office Assistant III, and demoted him from a Sheriff/Investigator in CIU to a secretary for the Hawaii Paroling Authority, all of which were done against Plaintiff's voluntary consent.

FAC ¶¶ 31(a)-(c).

         As a “direct and proximate result” of this wrongful conduct, Pratt alleges that he has suffered, and continues to suffer, “substantial economic and non-economic damages, including, but not limited to, medical expenses, loss of past and future income, loss of future earning capacity, severe physical manifestations of his medical/mental condition, serious emotional distress, serious mental anguish, loss of quality of life, loss of enjoyment of life, and other related damages.” FAC ¶ 34. In its prayer for relief, the FAC therefore requests “back pay, front pay, compensatory damages, special damages, and general damages, together with costs of suit, ” and “reasonable attorneys' fees, ” among other things. FAC ¶¶ 32, 42, 49.

         In its Answer, the Department admits to some of the facts alleged, but denies any wrongdoing, relying on several defenses, including that the FAC fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, Plaintiff failed to exhaust administrative remedies, and that the actions taken by DPS were in good-faith and for non-discriminatory reasons. Answer, Dkt. No. 20 ¶¶ 19-23.

         Before the Court is the Department's August 3, 2018 MJOP. Following a hearing on October 12, 2018 (see EP, Dkt. No. 30), the Court took matters under advisement. This disposition follows.


         Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings for Failure to State a Claim for Relief

         The Court may enter judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c), “after the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial.” For a Rule 12(c) motion, the allegations of the nonmoving party are accepted as true, while the allegations of the moving party that have been denied are assumed to be false. See Hal Roach Studios v. Richard Feiner & Co., Inc., 896 F.2d 1542, 1550 (9th Cir. 1989). A court evaluating a Rule 12(c) motion must construe factual allegations in a complaint in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Fleming v. Pickard, 581 F.3d 922, 925 (9th Cir. 2009). “Judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) is proper when the moving party establishes on the face of the pleadings that there is no material issue of fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Jensen Family Farms, Inc. v. Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control Dist., 644 F.3d 934, 937 n. 1 (9th Cir. 2011).

         The standard governing a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings is “functionally identical” to that governing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. United States ex rel. Caffaso v. Gen. Dynamics C4 Sys., Inc., 637 F.3d 1047, 1054 n.4 (9th Cir. 2011). The Court may dismiss a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted” when there is a “lack of a cognizable legal theory or the absence of sufficient facts alleged.” UMG Recordings, Inc. v. Shelter Capital Partners, LLC, 718 F.3d 1006, 1014 (9th Cir. 2013) (quoting Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990)). In other words, a plaintiff is required to allege “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)); see also Weber v. Dep't of Veterans Affairs, 521 F.3d 1061, 1065 (9th Cir. 2008). “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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         Factual allegations that only permit the Court to infer “the mere possibility of misconduct” do not constitute a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief as required by Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Id. at 677, 679 (explaining that the Federal Rules “do[] not require ‘detailed factual allegations,' but [they] demand[] more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation”). Conclusory allegations of law, unwarranted deductions of fact, and unreasonable inferences are insufficient to defeat a motion to dismiss. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (explaining that the construed-as-true/light-most-favorable tenet “is inapplicable to legal conclusions”); Sprewell, 266 F.3d at 988; see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (“While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations . . ., a plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his [or her] ‘entitlement to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” (internal citations omitted)). Moreover, the court need not accept as true allegations that contradict matters properly subject to judicial notice, nor must it assume that allegations contradicted by the exhibits attached to the complaint ...

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