United States District Court, D. Minnesota
Ciano, Esq. and Karin Ciano Law PLLC, and William L. French,
Esq. and William L. French, Attorney at Law, counsel for
P. Edison, Esq., Michael J. Waldspurger, Esq. and Rupp,
Anderson, Squires & Waldspurger, counsel for defendants.
S. DOTY, JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
matter is before the court upon the motion for judgment on
the pleadings by defendants Independent School District No.
535 and Brenda Lewis. Based on a review of the file, record,
and proceedings herein, and for the following reasons, the
court grants the motion.
discrimination dispute arises out of the school
district's decision to fire plaintiff Regina Seabrook. In
June 2012, the school district hired Seabrook, an
African-American woman, to develop the Student and Family
Engagement (SAFE) Program. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 5, 8-9.
SAFE was intended to serve as a social and academic resource
for under-served youth and their families. Id.
¶ 9. On July 1, 2012, Seabrook began her employment
under the supervision of Brenda Lewis. Id. ¶
alleges that Lewis never evaluated her performance, although
she did so for “persons from non-protected
classes.” Id. ¶ 12. Seabrook further
claims that she did not have regularly scheduled meetings
with Lewis, was not invited to department meetings, and
generally felt ignored. Id. ¶ 15.
the course of her employment, Seabrook's title and the
location of her office were changed twice, but she does not
allege that she suffered any reduction in pay or benefits
because of these changes. Id. ¶¶ 10, 13,
17-18. Despite the change in title, she continued to work on
the SAFE program in addition to other responsibilities.
Id. ¶¶ 13-14.
16, 2015, Seabrook filed a sexual harassment complaint
against Lewis with the school district. Id. ¶
19; see Munoz Decl. Ex. 1. In the complaint Seabrook
stated that, from the summer of 2012 to the fall of 2013,
Lewis made inappropriate sexual comments to her. Am. Compl.
¶ 19; see Munoz Decl. Ex. 1. In August,
superintendent Michael Munoz informed Seabrook that her
complaint had been dismissed following an investigation. Am.
Compl. ¶ 20. Seabrook generally alleges that,
thereafter, Lewis retaliated against her by “giving her
directives out of context, brow-beating her repeatedly, and
scripting all conversations she had with school
principals” and that the work environment became
hostile and abusive. Id. ¶ 21.
October 5, 2015, the school district placed Seabrook on paid
administrative leave for insubordination. Id.
¶ 23. Soon after, Munoz, Lewis, and the executive
director of human resources, Brooke Bass, met with Seabrook,
presumably about her alleged insubordination. Id.
¶ 24. Seabrook claims that Munoz yelled at her,
intimidated her, and told her that no one liked her or wanted
to work with her. Id. Munoz, Lewis, and Bass then
allegedly pressured Lewis to sign an agreement that would
have prevented her from seeking relief from discrimination
under state and federal law. Id. Seabrook refused to
do so. Id. On December 8, 2015, Seabrook returned to
work. Id. ¶ 26.
March 27, 2016, Seabrook filed a complaint with the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging
discrimination on the basis of race and sex and retaliation.
Id. ¶ 27; Munoz Decl. Ex. 3. The EEOC
investigated the claim and dismissed the complaint on April
1. Am. Compl. ¶ 27; Munoz Decl. Ex. 4, at 1. On May 27,
the school district fired Seabrook, and on June 21, the
school board voted to eliminate the SAFE Program. Am. Compl.
¶ 28. Munoz told Seabrook that she was fired due to
budget cuts. Id. Seabrook alleges that his
explanation was untrue and pretext for race and sex
August 19, Seabrook filed an amended complaint alleging that
the school district engaged in (1) sex and race
discrimination in violation of Title VII and the Minnesota
Human Rights Act (MHRA); (2) retaliation in violation of
Title VII and the MHRA; (3) a hostile and abusive working
environment; and (4) sexual harassment. She also alleges that
Lewis engaged in race discrimination in violation of 42
U.S.C. § 1981. Defendants now move for judgment on the
Standard of Review
same standard of review applies to motions under Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure 12(c) and 12(b)(6). Ashley Cty.,
Ark. v. Pfizer, Inc., 552 F.3d 659, 665 (8th Cir. 2009).
Thus, in order to survive a motion for judgment on the
pleadings, “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 plaintiff need not make
out a prima face case under Title VII to survive a motion to
dismiss, but must plead some facts giving rise to a plausible
claim. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506,
511-12 (2002). “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, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (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 of relief above the speculative level.
See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. “[L]abels and
conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a
cause of action” are not sufficient to state a claim.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citations and internal
quotation marks omitted).
court does not consider matters outside the pleadings under
Rule 12(c). Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). The court may, however,
consider matters of public record and materials that are
“necessarily embraced by the pleadings.”
Porous Media Corp. v. Pall Corp., 186 F.3d 1077,
1079 (8th Cir. 1999) (citation and internal quotation marks
omitted). Here, the court properly considers Seabrook's
complaints to the school district and EEOC.
Service of Process
argue that the complaint should be dismissed for improper
service. To properly serve a school district, a plaintiff
must serve the summons and complaint on the school
district's chief executive officer or a member of the
school board. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(j)(2); Minn.
R. Civ. P. 4.03(e)(4). To properly serve an individual
defendant, a plaintiff must deliver the summons and complaint
to the defendant personally, to the defendant's residence
or usual place of abode with a person of suitable age and
discretion who resides there, or to an agent authorized to
receive service. Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(e); Minn. R. Civ. P. 4.03(a).
Here, Seabrook served John Carlson who is the school
district's executive director of finance, not its chief
executive officer or a member of the board as required by
statute. But where a plaintiff has, in good faith,
substantially complied with the rules for service of process
and the defendant has not been prejudiced, a court may find
that service was adequate. Devin v. Schwan's Home
Servs., Inc., No. Civ. 04-4555, 2005 WL 1323919, at *3
(D. Minn. May 20, 2005).
process server made a good faith effort to comply with the
rules for service. The school district's human resources
department directed him to John Carlson's office to serve
the summons and complaint. Grimes Decl. ¶ 6. Carlson
identified himself as a senior administrator and stated that
he would accept the summons and complaint and deliver them to
the proper parties. Id. ¶ 7. The process server
reasonably relied on Carlson's representation, and
defendants do not claim they were prejudiced by the technical
error. See Van Hoven Co. v. Stans, 319 F.Supp. 180,
182 (D. Minn. 1970) (“It is sufficient ... that a
responsible person who declared himself to be in charge of
the office was served, particularly where ...