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Selmon-Vasser v. Hennepin County

United States District Court, Eighth Circuit

November 26, 2013

James Selmon-Vasser, Plaintiff,
Hennepin County, Defendant.

Daniel G. Leland, Esq. and Baillon, Thome, Jozwiak & Wanta, LLP, 222 South Ninth Street, Suite 2955, Minneapolis, MN 55402, counsel for plaintiff.

Beverly J. Wolfe, Charles H. Salter, Hennepin County Attorney's Office, A2000, 300 South Sixth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55487, counsel for defendant.


DAVID S. DOTY, District Judge.

This matter is before the court upon the amended motion to dismiss by defendant Hennepin County. Based on a review of the file, record and proceedings herein, and for the following reasons, the court denies the motion.


This employment dispute arises out of the November 2011 termination of plaintiff James Selmon-Vasser by the Hennepin County Department of Community Corrections and Rehabilitation (DOCCR). At the time of his termination, Selmon-Vasser was employed as a probation officer in the Hennepin County Drug Court. Am. Compl. ¶ 7.

From September 2008 to January 2009, Selmon-Vasser had a romantic relationship with a co-worker, Alyssa Walswick. Id . ¶ 8. Walswick was promoted to Acting Drug Court Corrections Supervisor in November 2008. Id . ¶ 9. Shortly thereafter, Selmon-Vasser ended the relationship. Id . ¶ 10. Selmon-Vasser alleges that Walswick subsequently retaliated against him by (1) reprimanding him and placing him on a Performance Improvement Plan in mid-2009 and (2) reprimanding him again in July 2010. Id . ¶ 11.

In May or June of 2011, Selmon-Vasser applied and interviewed for a position as a Neighborhood Probation Officer. Id . ¶ 13. Selmon-Vasser was not hired for the position. Id . ¶¶ 15-16. Selmon-Vasser alleges that he did not receive the position because Walswick had "giv[en] [him] a bad name in [Hennepin] County." Id . ¶ 16.

On November 4, 2011, while off duty, Selmon-Vasser was assaulted by two co-workers, Juliana Schroeder and Melissa Toavs. Id . ¶¶ 18-19. During the altercation, Schroeder also broke the windshield of his vehicle. Id . ¶ 19. Selmon-Vasser reported the assault and vehicle damage to the South St. Paul Police Department. Id . ¶ 20. Following the incident, on November 5, 2011, DOCCR Division Manager Brian Kopperud placed Selmon-Vasser on administrative leave. Id . ¶ 22.

Selmon-Vasser met with Kopperud, DOCCR Program Manager Mike Gephart and union representative Bobbi Harrington on November 15, 2011. Id . ¶¶ 23-24. At the meeting, Selmon-Vasser disclosed that he was romantically involved with both Schroeder and Toavs. Id . ¶ 25. Kopperud and Gephart asked Selmon-Vasser several questions about those relationships during the meeting. Id . ¶ 26. Thereafter, on November 21, 2011, Selmon-Vasser received a "Notice of Intent" to terminate his employment. Id . ¶ 28. On November 28, 2011, Selmon-Vasser had a hearing on the proposed termination, during which he disclosed his previous relationship with Walswick. Id . ¶¶ 29, 31. Selmon-Vasser also alleged at the hearing that he had "endure[d] a hostile, unfair, and discriminatory work environment" because of that relationship. Id . ¶ 32. On November 28, 2011, DOCCR Workforce Administrator Rich Tiedeman informed Selmon-Vasser that the decision to terminate his employment was being upheld. Id . ¶ 35.

On June 1, 2012, Selmon-Vasser filed administrative charges with the EEOC and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR). Id . ¶¶ 45, 46. On January 28, 2013, Selmon-Vasser filed a complaint in Minnesota court. Hennepin County timely removed and moved to dismiss. Thereafter, on March 18, 2013, Selmon-Vasser filed an amended complaint, alleging sex discrimination, race discrimination, [1] retaliation and reprisal. Hennepin County renews its motion to dismiss.


I. Standard of Review

To survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Braden v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. , 588 F.3d 585, 594 (8th Cir. 2009) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff [has pleaded] factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)). Although a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, it must raise a right to relief above the speculative level. See Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555. ...

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