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Crain v. Judson Independent School District

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, San Antonio Division

April 3, 2018

ALTON CRAIN, Plaintiff,
v.
JUDSON INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant.

          ORDER

          XAVIER RODRIGUEZ UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On this date, the Court considered Plaintiff's Partially Unopposed Motion for Leave to File Third Amended Complaint (docket no. 82) and the response and reply thereto.

         In August 2016, Plaintiff Alton Crain filed this lawsuit pro se, asserting claims under Title VII and the Equal Pay Act for race and sex discrimination against his employer, Judson ISD. Because the Title VII claims were not yet fully exhausted, Plaintiff could not proceed on these claims initially, and the Title VII claims were dismissed without prejudice. The claims were exhausted in May 2017, and Plaintiff filed an amended complaint asserting both the Equal Pay Act and Title VII claims in June 2017.

         After a discovery dispute that was referred to the Magistrate Judge in September 2017, the Court extended the discovery deadline to December 31, 2017. After another discovery dispute, the Court held a hearing, after which it appointed counsel for Plaintiff. The order required Defendant to provide certain documents and permit a 30(b)(6) deposition and advised that Plaintiff could move to re-open discovery. The order further permitted Plaintiff to “file an Amended Complaint, with the amendment limited to existing claims and the addition of a request for attorney's fees.” Appointed counsel filed an appearance on December 11.

         On February 23, Plaintiff filed a partially unopposed motion to file an amended complaint. The motion is unopposed insofar as the proposed amended complaint clarifies the existing Title VII and Equal Pay Act claims, but is opposed to the extent it seeks to add a new claim under § 1983. The Equal Pay Act claim alleges that Judson has discriminated against Crain by paying him less than female teaching staff, and includes a retaliation claim. The Title VII claim asserts discrimination on the basis of race and sex, and includes a retaliation claim. The proposed § 1983 claim alleges that Judson ISD has violated Crain's “constitutional rights, ” specifically by instituting a pretextual policy change forcing a conflict in scheduling in August 2014 and by requiring him to accept a lower hourly rate than that paid to female teaching staff for work after September 2014.

         Defendant opposes amendment to allow the new § 1983 claim, arguing that it is outside the scope of the leave permitted and good cause does not support the amendment. Defendant contends that the new claim would cause prejudice “as it would require essentially restarting the case, ” including reopening discovery. Plaintiff recognizes that the Court permitted amendment only with regard to existing claims and the addition of a claim for attorney's fees, but asserts that “the § 1983 claim is based on the same operative facts and transactions as Plaintiff's Title VII and Equal Pay Act claims and would relate back for limitations purposes to the filing of Plaintiff's original complaint.” Plaintiff thus asserts that the claim requires no new discovery, and merely required knowledge of the law that a pro se plaintiff would not have.

         Standard

         Generally, Rule 15(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs amendment of pleadings before trial. Rule 15(a) permits a party to amend a pleading with the opposing party's consent or the Court's leave, and provides that leave should be given “freely . . . when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a). The decision to grant or deny a motion to amend is within the sound discretion of the trial court. Avatar Exploration, Inc. v. Chevron, U.S.A., Inc., 933 F.2d 314, 320 (5th Cir. 1991). In exercising its discretion, the court considers such factors as undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowing the amendment, and futility of amendment. Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962).

         Motions to amend filed after the court-ordered deadline to amend pleadings are also subject to the stricter “good cause” standard of Rule 16. Sw. Bell Tel. Co. v. City of El Paso, 346 F.3d 541, 546 (5th Cir. 2003). Rule 16(b) requires that a party show good cause for not meeting the deadline before the more liberal standard of Rule 15(a) will apply. Four factors are relevant to good cause: “(1) the explanation for the failure to timely move for leave to amend; (2) the importance of the amendment; (3) potential prejudice in allowing the amendment; and (4) the availability of a continuance to cure such prejudice.” Id.

         Analysis

         Because even the more lenient standard of Rule 15 precludes amendment where it would be futile, the Court first addresses this threshold inquiry to determine whether addition of a § 1983 claim is permissible in these circumstances, where the underlying conduct for both claims is the same.

         Section 1983 provides that any person who, under color of state law, deprives another of “any rights, privileges or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws shall be liable to the party injured.” 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In Johnston v. Harris County Flood Control District, 869 F.2d 1565 (5th Cir. 1989), the Fifth Circuit addressed the relationship between Title VII and § 1983. It held that Title VII is the exclusive remedy for a violation of its own terms, and thus a violation of Title VII alone is not an underlying statutory violation for purposes of imposing liability under § 1983. Id. at 1573. “But when a public employer's conduct violates both Title VII and a separate constitutional or statutory right, the injured employee may pursue a remedy under § 1983 as well as under Title VII.” Id.

         The Johnston Court examined Supreme Court precedent indicating that the remedies available under Title VII and § 1981 are co-extensive and not mutually exclusive, and found that “the legislative history of Title VII manifests a congressional intent to allow an individual to pursue independently his rights under both Title VII and other applicable state and federal statutes, ” including §§ 1983 and 1981. Id. at 1574-75. The Court also pointed to its prior precedent in which it “effectively recognized that Title VII does not preclude an action under § 1983 arising from the same facts.” Id. at 1575. In sum, the Court concluded,

Although Title VII supplements and overlaps ยง 1983, it remains an exclusive remedy when a state or local employer violates only Title VII. When, however, unlawful employment practices encroach, not only on rights created by Title VII, but also on rights that are independent of Title VII, Title VII ceases to be exclusive. ...

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