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Hudson v. City of Highland Park

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

June 30, 2017

PETER HUDSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF HIGHLAND PARK, MICHIGAN, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART HIGHLAND PARK DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS [62] AND GRANTING LEONA GROUP DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS [63]

          STEPHEN J. MURPHY, United States District Judge

         After the City of Highland Park terminated Plaintiff Peter Hudson's employment, Hudson filed suit against Defendants City of Highland Park, Highland Park Fire Chief Derek Hillman, Highland Park Human Resources Director Makini Jackson, the Leona Group, LLC, and Carmen Willingham. Hudson raised eight causes of action based on religious discrimination and related state-law contract and invasion-of-privacy claims. The Highland Park Defendants moved for judgment on the pleadings or to dismiss and the Leona Group Defendants moved to dismiss. For the reasons stated below, the Court will grant in part and deny in part the Highland Park Defendants' motion and will grant the Leona Group Defendants' motion.

         BACKGROUND

         The City of Highland Park employed Hudson as a full-time firefighter. Also, Hudson worked part-time for Leona Group, LLC (at the Highland Park Renaissance Academy, a local charter school) as a handyman and coach. Hudson alleges that Hillman and Jackson suspended his employment because he claimed pay as a Fire Engine Operator, and then terminated his employment because he had claimed to work for the Leona Group while he was working for the Fire Department.

         Hudson alleges that Leona Group principal Carmen Willingham provided his timesheets-without his permission- to Hillman and Jackson. The timesheets showed that Hudson claimed to work for Leona Group on the same week days he claimed to have worked at the fire station. Hudson submits that he actually worked for Leona on the weekends, and Willingham instructed him to record his weekend work as weekday work on the timesheets because the school's payroll system would not allow her to pay him for weekend work.

         Hudson claims to be a devout Christian. He alleges that Hillman and Jackson discharged him based on his Christian faith and his outspoken criticism of sexual misconduct in the firehouse. Hudson contends that-as a result of sexual misconduct-his co-workers were not present for duty during fire alarms, and neglected to maintain life-saving equipment like oxygen tanks. After he was terminated, Hudson filed an amended complaint. ECF 61. The Highland Park Defendants timely moved for judgment on the pleadings or to dismiss for failure to state a claim, ECF 62, and the Leona Group Defendants timely moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. ECF 63.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for dismissal of a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. If a complaint's allegations are not "sufficient 'to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, ' and to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face'" then the Court must grant a motion to dismiss. Hensley Mfg. v. ProPride, Inc., 579 F.3d 603, 609 (6th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 570 (2007)). The Court views the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, presumes the truth of all well-pled factual assertions, and draws every reasonable inference in favor of the non-moving party. Bassett v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 528 F.3d 426, 430 (6th Cir. 2008). If "a cause of action fails as a matter of law, regardless of whether the plaintiff's factual allegations are true or not, " then the Court must grant dismissal. Winnett v. Caterpillar, Inc., 553 F.3d 1000, 1005 (6th Cir. 2009).

         Rule 12(c) provides for judgment on the pleadings. The Court analyzes 12(b)(6) and 12(c) motions in the same manner because both test whether the complaint "met the minimal requirements of notice pleading." EEOC v. J.H. Routh Packing Co., 246 F.3d 850, 855 (6th Cir. 2001).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Highland Park Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings and Motion to Dismiss [62]

         Hudson brought five claims against the Highland Park Defendants: (1) Disparate treatment and hostile work environment as to City of Highland Park, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2; (2) Disparate treatment, suspension and discharge as to City of Highland Park, 42 U.S.C. § 2000; (3) Deprivation of right to freedom of speech as to Hillman, Jackson, and City of Highland Park, 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (4) Deprivation of Due Process as to Hillman, Jackson, and the City of Highland Park, 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and (5) Breach of Contract as to City of Highland Park. The Highland Park Defendants did not address-or dispute-whether Hudson has alleged sufficient factual allegations to satisfy basic pleading requirements. Rather, they argue that qualified immunity bars all of Hudson's claims.

         The qualified-immunity doctrine "'shield[s]' public officials from money-damages liability if 'their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'" Citizens in Charge, Inc. v. Husted, 810 F.3d 437, 440 (6th Cir. 2016) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). "Qualified immunity 'gives ample room for mistaken judgments' by protecting 'all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.'" Chappell v. City of Cleveland, 585 F.3d 901, 907 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 229 (1991)). "Plaintiff bears the burden of showing that defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity." Chappell, 585 F.3d at 907. To defeat qualified immunity, the Plaintiff must establish that "a constitutional right was violated" and "that the right was clearly established." Id. The Court looks "first to decisions of the Supreme Court, then to decisions of [the Sixth Circuit] and other courts within our [C]ircuit, and finally to decisions of other circuits" to determine whether a right is clearly established. Thomas v. Cohen, 304 F.3d 563, 580 (6th Cir. 2002) (quotations omitted).

         A. Count One - Religious Discrimination: Hostile ...


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