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Liang v. Rahn

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division

July 27, 2017



         Defendants' second motion to dismiss [Doc. No. 24] is granted in part and denied in part, and their first motion to dismiss [Doc. No. 16] is denied as moot.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Chiung-Fang Liang began working for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (“UAMS”) as a nurse in January 2014. In November 2016, Liang's supervisor gave her a choice: face termination or resign. This threat, Liang alleges, was another link in a chain of discriminatory treatment she faced because of her race, sex, and national origin.

         UAMS hired Liang to work weekdays in UAMS's neuroscience unit. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4-5, Doc. No. 23. Soon after beginning work, however, she was required to work weekends, eventually working every weekend for two consecutive months in 2014. After voicing concerns about her schedule, Liang's immediate supervisor cautioned Liang that she could lose her job. Id. ¶ 5. In fear of losing her job, Liang accepted the schedule.

         To escape the work schedule, Liang applied to work in UAMS's stem cell transplant unit. She began working in the unit but later complained to supervisors about discrimination. For example, Liang was assigned to discharge (a time consuming and tedious task) more patients than other nurses. Because of this, her peers gave her the nickname “discharge queen.” During this time, she was also marked as someone “difficult to work with” because she refused to administer medications in violation of UAMS procedures.

         Liang was also mocked and bullied by employees in front of supervisors. On one occasion in July 2016, Richard Alcala, another UAMS employee, told Liang that “if she couldn't speak English that she should go back to where she came from” and to “tell [him] the numbers in English.” Id. ¶ 8. These comments were broadcast over an intercom system and Liang's supervisors, Susan Heath and Judy Osborn, could overhear the conversation.

         Heath and Osborn pushed Liang to file a complaint against Alcala. After filing a complaint, Liang never received documentation or notification of an investigation. Within two days, however, Liang began feeling retaliated against by those loyal to Alcala. For example, Megan Thomas reneged on promises that resulted in Liang spending more time completing tasks, and Christina Ketchum reported Liang for poor time management. Id. ¶¶ 10-11. Finally, approximately three months after filing the complaint, Liang was accused of having another employee clock in for her, which Liang alleges is false, misleading, and another example of the hostile environment she faced. Id. ¶ 12.

         Although her complaint does not deny that someone else clocked in for her, Liang states that it was not another employee, but her minor daughter, who clocked in for her. Liang's daughter was a visiting scholar in the UAMS bio-statistics department and on the day in question, she carried several of Liang's bags into the building from Liang's car. At one point, when Liang briefly returned to her car, her daughter was ushered into an elevator. Her daughter arrived at Liang's floor and, in following the example of everyone else on the elevator, apparently swiped Liang's employee badge that was in one of the bags. After Liang arrived on another elevator, she was unable to clock into the system. Id. ¶ 12. Liang prepared a statement to Heath regarding the time clock issue, and Heath followed up by notifying Liang that she had to resign or would be fired.

         UAMS's administrative guide provides progressive discipline procedures for time clock violations and immediate dismissal is warranted for gross misconduct. The guide's definition of gross misconduct does not explicitly include the actions taken by Liang and her daughter. Liang, however, received no oral or written warning and, apparently, this one instance was enough to constitute termination, as Heath told Liang that she would never have a good nursing job if fired from UAMS. When faced with the demand that she either quit or be fired, Liang signed a letter of resignation. Id. ¶ 13. Even though Liang resigned, Alcala, Ketchum, and Walker told other employees that Liang had been fired because Liang's nursing skills were subpar.

         It is notable that Alcala had also been the subject of discipline at UAMS, though he received much less severe treatment than Liang. For example, on July 26, 2016, Alacala received a “written warning” after eight unexcused absences, which followed a “verbal warning” for six unapproved absences just the month prior. Id. ¶ 21; Doc. No. 23-1 at 9-10.

         Ironically, on that same day in July 2016, UAMS pressured Liang to resign for a single instance of a time discrepancy that resulted from Liang's minor daughter swiping an employee badge without Liang's knowledge.

         Liang brought suit against Dan Rahn (official capacity), Jeff Risinger (official capacity), Audrey Bradley (official capacity), Richard Alcala (official and personal capacity), Christina Kethcum (official and personal capacity), Tamekia Walker (official and personal capacity), and the Board of Trustees for the University of Arkansas. She alleges First Amendment, Equal Protection, Due Process, section 1981 and 1983 claims, and state law defamation against all defendants. She brings Title VII claims for discrimination based on gender, race, and national origin; a Title VII retaliation claim; and claims for the same under the Arkansas Civil Rights Act against the Board of Trustees. Id. ¶ 22.


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits dismissal when the plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. To meet the 12(b)(6) standard, a complaint must allege sufficient facts to entitle the plaintiff to the relief sought. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 663 (2009). Although detailed factual allegations are not required, threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, are insufficient. Id. In ruling on a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, materials embraced by the pleadings, as well as ...

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