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Taylor v. Texas Southern University

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

September 13, 2019




         Michele Taylor sued her employer, Texas Southern University, alleging that TSU pays a male employee with the same job title $924.12 more per year. (Docket Entry No. 15-1). Taylor asserts a violation of the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d). (Docket Entry No. 15 at ¶ 3.3). TSU has moved to dismiss, arguing that Taylor has not alleged that the male employee has the same job responsibilities as Taylor, and that Taylor has brought the same or similar claims twice before, without success. (Docket Entry No. 12). Taylor amended her complaint and responded that the amended complaint alleges enough facts to state a plausible Equal Pay Act claim, and that, although the claims she raises are not new, she bases this complaint on a different comparator and so preclusion does not apply. (Docket Entry Nos. 15-16). The court heard oral argument on the motion. (Docket Entry No. 21).

         After considering the pleadings, the properly considered documents, the motion and response, and the applicable law, the court grants TSU's motion to dismiss, without prejudice. (Docket Entry No. 12). Taylor may amend no later than September 27, 2019. The reasons for this ruling are explained in detail below.

         I. The Amended Complaint Allegations

         The facts are drawn from Taylor's amended complaint allegations and the document referred to and central to those allegations. Brand Coupon Network, L.L.C. v. Catalina Mktg. Corp., 748 F.3d 631, 635 (5th Cir. 2014). Taylor submitted TSU's letter responding to her discrimination complaints; the court may consider that letter.

         Taylor has worked as an Assistant Dean of Graduate Studies at TSU for 19 years. (Docket Entry No. 15 at ¶ 4.1). She has been a TSU employee since 1972. (Id. at ¶ 4.2). Taylor has a doctorate. (Id. at ¶ 4.1). She alleges that in 2016, [1] TSU hired Naveed Haider as an Assistant Dean of Graduate Programs at the Jessie H. Jones School of Business, with “essentially the same” job functions and duties that she had. (Id. at ¶¶ 4.1-4.8). Taylor alleges that she and Haider both report “to their immediate supervisors who, in turn, report[] to the Provost”; “perform academic advising tasks and policies and procedures for graduate students and the matriculation process”; and “oversee graduate programs and act as a point of contact for graduate programs.” (Id. at ¶¶ 4.6, 4.9). TSU pays Haider $924.12 more than Taylor per year. (Id. at ¶ 4.12; see Docket Entry No. 15-1).

         Taylor complained to TSU that Haider was paid more than she was, although she had a doctorate and he only a master's degree, and she had allegedly more relevant experience. (Docket Entry No. 15 at ¶ 4.2; see also Docket Entry No. 15-1). TSU responded that Haider is paid $924.12 more than Taylor annually, but his job and job duties are different than Taylor's, and “there is insufficient evidence to support [her] gender discrimination grievance.” (Docket Entry No. 15-1).

         TSU has moved to dismiss Taylor's Equal Pay Act claim, arguing that she fails to allege facts supporting a plausible inference that she and Haider held positions requiring “equal skill, effort, and responsibility, ” and that Taylor's previous lawsuits bar the claim. (Docket Entry No. 12 at 5-7 (quoting Chance v. Rice Univ., 984 F.2d 151, 153 (5th Cir. 1993))). Taylor amended her complaint and responded, arguing that the amended complaint alleges that she and Haider had the same job responsibilities, and that claim preclusion does not apply because she did not name Haider as a comparator in her two previous lawsuits. (Docket Entry No. 15; Docket Entry No. 16 at 3-4).

         The parties' arguments are considered in detail below.

         II. The Rule 12(b)(6) Standard

         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 Pervasive Software Inc. v. Lexware GmbH & Co. KG, 688 F.3d 214, 232 (5th Cir. 2012); 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). “Whether leave to amend should be granted is entrusted to the sound discretion of the district court.” Pervasive Software, 688 F33d at 232 (quotation omitted).

         III. Analysis

         A. Failure ...

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