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Francisco v. Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Texarkana Division

August 20, 2019

PHALANZA S. FRANCISCO PLAINTIFF
v.
COOPER TIRE & RUBBER COMPANY DEFENDANT

          ORDER

          Susan O. Hickey Chief United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is the Report and Recommendation filed July 30, 2019, by the Honorable Barry A. Bryant, United States Magistrate Judge for the Western District of Arkansas. (ECF No. 12). Judge Bryant recommends that the Court grant Defendant Cooper Tire & Rubber Company's motion for partial judgment on the pleadings and dismiss Plaintiff Phalanza S. Francisco's retaliation claim. Plaintiff has filed timely objections to the Report and Recommendation. (ECF No. 13). The Court finds the matter ripe for consideration.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises from allegations of discrimination, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”). Plaintiff is an African American who was formerly employed by Defendant. He alleges that on September 6, 2018, he got into an online argument with a white supervisor regarding the act of kneeling during the national anthem and the police's treatment of African Americans. Plaintiff alleges further that on September 19, 2018, Defendant terminated his employment based on another co-worker's false statement that Plaintiff threatened him with a gun and made sexually explicit remarks to him.

         Plaintiff alleges that he filed a charge of racial discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) in February 2019, and that he received a right to sue letter from the EEOC on March 15, 2019.[1] On May 29, 2019, Plaintiff filed this Title VII case pro se, asserting claims of racial discrimination and retaliation.

         On July 2, 2019, Defendant filed a motion for partial judgment on the pleadings. (ECF No. 10). Defendant contends that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies with respect to his retaliation claim because he did not check the “retaliation” box on his EEOC administrative charge and because the information Plaintiff provided on the charge form does not otherwise give notice of a retaliation claim. From this, Defendant argues that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to hear Plaintiff's retaliation claim and, thus, the Court should dismiss the claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1).

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the Court referred Defendant's motion to Judge Bryant for consideration and to prepare a Report and Recommendation thereon. On July 30, 2019, Judge Bryant issued the instant Report and Recommendation. Judge Bryant finds that Plaintiff's EEOC charge fails to give Defendant notice of a retaliation claim and, thus, Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as to that claim. Accordingly, Judge Bryant recommends that the Court dismiss Plaintiff's retaliation claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

         On August 12, 2019, Plaintiff filed objections to the Report and Recommendation.[2]Plaintiff does not appear to dispute that he failed to check the “retaliation” box on his EEOC charge. Rather, Plaintiff states that this is because, at the time of his termination, he did not fully understand why he had been fired and, thus, an EEOC charge officer advised him to only check the “race discrimination” box on the charge form. Plaintiff also states that he feels he has fully exhausted his administrative remedies because he received no help from his union representatives and does not have legal counsel. Accordingly, Plaintiff asks the Court to deny Defendant's motion and allow him to proceed further on his retaliation charge.

         II. DISCUSSION

         When reviewing a magistrate judge's Report and Recommendation, “the specific standard of review depends, in the first instance, upon whether or not a party has objected to portions of the report and recommendation.” Anderson v. Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Soc'y, 308 F.Supp.3d 1011, 1015 (N.D. Iowa 2018). Generally, “objections must be timely and specific” to trigger de novo review. Thompson v. Nix, 897 F.2d 356, 358-59 (8th Cir. 1990). The Court must apply a liberal construction when determining whether pro se objections are specific. Hudson v. Gammon, 46 F.3d 785, 786 (8th Cir. 1995). Moreover, even if objections are non-specific, “full de novo review” may still be appropriate if the record is concise. Belk v. Purkett, 15 F.3d 803, 815 (8th Cir. 1994) (requiring de novo review when the record was “strikingly brief” and magistrate judge did not conduct a hearing). Giving Plaintiff's timely objections a liberal construction, the Court finds that they are specific enough to warrant de novo review, particularly considering the sparse record in this case.

         Upon de novo review and for the reasons set forth below, the Court reaches the same conclusion as Judge Bryant-that Plaintiff's retaliation claim should be dismissed-but does so for different reasons than those articulated in the Report and Recommendation. To explain, the Court will first address Defendant's argument that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's retaliation claim. The Court will then discuss why Plaintiff's retaliation claim should be dismissed.

         A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         Title VII establishes an administrative procedure that a complaining employee must follow before filing a lawsuit in federal court. Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co., 415 U.S. 36, 47 (1974). “In other words, an employee cannot bring a discrimination claim without first exhausting his or her administrative remedies.” Briley v. Carlin, 172 F.3d 567, 571 (8th Cir. 1999).

         Exhaustion of administrative remedies is central to Title VII's statutory scheme because it provides the EEOC the first opportunity to investigate discriminatory practices and enables it to perform its roles of obtaining voluntary compliance and promoting conciliatory efforts. Patterson v. McLean Credit Union, 491 U.S. 164, 180-81 (1989). To exhaust administrative remedies, an individual must: (1) timely file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, setting forth the facts and nature of the charge, and (2) receive notice of the right to sue from the EEOC. 42 U.S.C. ...


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