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Hernandez v. Tiendas Cuadra U.S. LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

June 3, 2019



         Rene G. Hernandez has sued Tiendas Cuadra U.S. LLC, which owns and operates retail stores selling leather goods, alleging that Tiendas Cuadra discrimination on the basis of age, sex, and race, in violation of Texas and federal law. Hernandez also asserted a disability claim, with no supporting facts. Tiendas Cuadra has moved to dismiss, arguing that Hernandez's complaint does not sufficiently allege facts to state a plausible claim of sex, race, or disability. (Docket Entry No. 10). Hernandez has not responded. After a careful review of the complaint, Tiendas Cuadra's arguments, and the applicable law, the court grants the motion to dismiss all claims but the age-discrimination claim, with prejudice and without leave to amend. Hernandez must amend her age discrimination claim, which is dismissed, no later than June 24, 2019, or this case will be dismissed, with prejudice. The reasons are explained in detail below.

         I. Background

         The court accepts the well-pleaded allegations as true for this motion and considers also the EEOC charge attached to the complaint. See Brand Coupon Network, L.L.C. v. Catalina Mktg. Corp., 748 F.3d 631, 634-35 (5th Cir. 2014). In July 2017, Tiendas Cuadra hired Hernandez as a “Supervisor.” (Docket Entry No. 1-1 at 4). Hernandez alleges that Tiendas Cuadra discriminated against her because she was not from Mexico; was Muslim; was 48-years old; and was female. (Docket Entry No. 1 at 3-4). Tiendas Cuadra promoted “Mexican nationals” over her; demoted and later fired her in January 2017 after she had complained that “the company was reporting [inventory] losses that were not true” and after she had refused a pay reduction because of missing inventory. (Id.; see Docket Entry No. 1-1 at 4).

         In Hernandez's discrimination charge filed with the EEOC in February 2018, she alleged that a Tiendas Cuadra store manager, Paul Cuevas, demoted her, fired her, and then hired a 26-year-old woman to replace her. (Docket Entry No. 1-1 at 4). In October 2018, the Commission dismissed Hernandez's charge because it was “unable to conclude that the information obtained establishes violations of the statutes.” (Id. at 2).

         Hernandez timely sued in federal court, asserting violations of the Texas Commission of Human Rights Act (“TCHRA”); the Age Discrimination and Employment Act; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act; and the Rehabilitation Act. (Docket Entry No. 1 at 4-7). Tiendas Cuadra moved to dismiss, arguing that Hernandez failed to exhaust her administrative remedies for her race-based discrimination and retaliation claims; Tiendas Cuadra does not receive federal funding, as required for a Rehabilitation Act claim; Hernandez has not alleged that she participated in any protected activity, as required for a retaliation claim; and Hernandez does not allege facts supporting a plausible inference of sex discrimination. (Docket Entry No. 10 at 10-20). Hernandez did not respond. Tiendas Cuadra's arguments are considered in detail below.

         II. The Legal Standard for Dismissal

         Rule 12(b)(6) allows dismissal if a plaintiff fails “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Rule 12(b)(6) must be read in conjunction with Rule 8(a), which requires “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). A complaint must contain “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Rule 8 “does not require ‘detailed factual allegations,' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         The court should generally give a plaintiff at least one chance to amend under Rule 15(a) before dismissing the action with prejudice, unless it is clear that to do so would be futile. See Carroll v. Fort James Corp., 470 F.3d 1171, 1175 (5th Cir. 2006) (“[Rule 15(a)] evinces a bias in favor of granting leave to amend.” (quotation omitted)); Great Plains Tr. Co. v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co., 313 F.3d 305, 329 (5th Cir. 2002) (“[D]istrict courts often afford plaintiffs at least one opportunity to cure pleading deficiencies before dismissing a case, unless it is clear that the defects are incurable or the plaintiffs advise the court that they are unwilling or unable to amend in a manner that will avoid dismissal.”). A court may deny a motion to amend for futility if an amended complaint would fail to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Pervasive Software Inc. v. Lexware GmbH & Co. KG, 688 F.3d 214, 232 (5th Cir. 2012). The district court has discretion to grant or deny leave to amend. Id.

         III. Analysis

         A. The Rehabilitation Act Claim

         “The Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in federal agencies and federally funded programs.” Powers v. Northside Indep. Sch. Dist., 662 Fed.Appx. 306, 307 (5th Cir. 2016) (citing 29 U.S.C. § 794(a)). Because Hernandez has not alleged that Tiendas Cuadra receives federal funding at all, much less in any aspect involving her, her Rehabilitation Act claim is dismissed. Because she fails to allege any disability at all, and because she pleads no connection between any disability and her demotion or termination, the claims are dismissed, with prejudice, because the two problems make amendment futile.

         B. Exhaustion

         Under Title VII and the TCHRA, an employee must exhaust administrative remedies before seeking judicial relief. See McClain v. Lufkin Indus., Inc., 519 F.3d 264, 273 (5th Cir. 2008); Harris v. Honda, 213 Fed.Appx. 258, 261 (5th Cir. 2006). A private-sector employee satisfies this requirement by timely filing a discrimination charge with the EEOC. See McClain, 519 F.3d at 273; Harris, 213 Fed.Appx. at 261. “In assessing whether a charge properly exhausts a particular claim, ” a court “broadly” construes the charge, but a claim is exhausted only “if it could have been ‘reasonably expected to grow out of the charge of discrimination.'” Jefferson v. Christus St. Joseph Hosp., 374 Fed.Appx. 485, 490 (5th Cir. 2010) (alterations omitted) (quoting McClain, 519 F.3d at 273).

         Hernandez has not exhausted her claims for race or religious discrimination. Hernandez states that her action “is brought to remedy discrimination on the basis of age, sex, race, and retaliation.” (Docket Entry No. 1 at 1). She alleged that Tiendas Cuadra was “persecuting her because of her Muslim background.” (Id. at 3). In Hernandez's discrimination charge, she checked age- and sex-discrimination boxes, stating only that the Tiendas Cuadra store manager demoted and fired her, and then hired a “26-year-old woman.” (Docket Entry No. 1-1 at 4). These allegations do not support a plausible inference of race or religious discrimination that could have been reasonably expected to grow out of the charge of discrimination. Jefferson, 374 Fed.Appx. at 490. To the extent that Hernandez asserts claims ...

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