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Pena v. Indianapolis Public School Corp.

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

July 11, 2019

Luis Pena, Plaintiff,
v.
Indianapolis Public School Corporation, E.R., a minor, b/n/f, Jorge Ramos, and Jorge Ramos, Defendants.

          ORDER

          HON. JANE MAGNUS-STINSON, CHIEF JUDGE

         On December 7, 2018, Plaintiff Luis Pena filed a Complaint against Indianapolis Public School Corporation (“IPS”), E.R. (a minor), and Jorge Ramos (E.R.'s father), relating to allegations E.R. and Mr. Ramos made that resulted in IPS investigating Mr. Pena's conduct and ultimately recommending termination of his employment with IPS. [Filing No. 1.] Presently pending before the Court is Defendant Indianapolis Public School Corporation's Motion to Dismiss Counts 1 and 2 (“Motion to Dismiss”), [Filing No. 16]. IPS seeks dismissal pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. The Court finds that Mr. Pena's Title VII discrimination claim may proceed, but that his remaining claims must be dismissed at this stage. Accordingly, as explained below, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART IPS's Motion to Dismiss.

         I.

         Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) “requires only ‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). “Specific facts are not necessary, the statement need only ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Erickson, 551 U.S. at 93 (quoting Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

         A motion to dismiss asks whether the complaint “contain[s] sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). In reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint, the Court must accept all well-pled facts as true and draw all permissible inferences in favor of the plaintiff. See Active Disposal, Inc. v. City of Darien, 635 F.3d 883, 886 (7th Cir. 2011). The Court will not accept legal conclusions or conclusory allegations as sufficient to state a claim for relief. See McCauley v. City of Chicago, 671 F.3d 611, 617 (7th Cir. 2011). Factual allegations must plausibly state an entitlement to relief “to a degree that rises above the speculative level.” Munson v. Gaetz, 673 F.3d 630, 633 (7th Cir. 2012). This plausibility determination is “a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id.

         II.

         Background

         The following are the factual allegations set forth in Mr. Pena's Complaint, which the Court must accept as true.

         After filing an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) Charge and receiving a Notice of Right to Sue from the EEOC, Mr. Pena filed a Complaint against IPS, E.R., and Mr. Ramos on December 7, 2018. [Filing No. 1 at 2.] The allegations stem from events that took place while Mr. Pena was working as a bilingual and support staff member at IPS. [Filing No. 1 at 3.] In January 2018, Mr. Pena was working as an assistant in an 8th grade English class for IPS. [Filing No. 1 at 3.] E.R. was a student in this class and was part of a small group of Spanish-speaking students with whom Mr. Pena would regularly meet. [Filing No. 1 at 3.] During these small group meetings, E.R. would often be disruptive and Mr. Pena chastised E.R. several times before he decided to speak to the English teacher about E.R.'s behavior. [Filing No. 1 at 3.] On January 8, 2018, Mr. Pena attempted to contact E.R.'s father, Mr. Ramos, to advise him that another teacher in the school was also having issues with E.R.'s disruptive behavior. [Filing No. 1 at 3.] Mr. Pena was eventually able to reach E.R.'s uncle, who was listed as an emergency contact in E.R.'s IPS records. [Filing No. 1 at 4.] Mr. Pena advised the uncle that he needed to speak with Mr. Ramos about E.R.'s behavior at school and requested that Mr. Ramos contact him. [Filing No. 1 at 4.] Mr. Ramos did not contact Mr. Pena, but instead went to E.R.'s school on February 6, 2018 and spoke to the assistant principal about Mr. Pena. [Filing No. 1 at 4.] Mr. Ramos reported that “Mr. Pena had disrespected E.R. by making her look for pictures of an old girlfriend including naked photos. He has made crude comments and gestures with his mouth.” [Filing No. 1 at 4.] Mr. Pena denied then, and still denies now, the substance of these allegations made by Mr. Ramos. [Filing No. 1 at 4.]

         IPS and Child Protective Services (“CPS”) initiated investigations into Mr. Ramos's allegations about Mr. Pena. [Filing No. 1 at 4.] On February 7, 2018, Mr. Pena received notice from IPS that he was being suspended without pay pending the investigations of the “allegations that [he] made inappropriate comments to a student and directed her to an explicit social media post.” [Filing No. 1 at 4.] The notice also stated that Mr. Pena was “prohibited from visiting IPS school grounds without permission from [the principal], the IPS Police Department or [IPS's Director of Employee Relations].” [Filing No. 1 at 4.]

         During CPS's investigation, E.R. made different allegations against Mr. Pena, all of which Mr. Pena contends are false and defamatory. [Filing No. 1 at 4.] CPS concluded its investigation and determined that it could not substantiate any of E.R.'s allegations. [Filing No. 1 at 4.]

         From IPS's investigation, however, IPS determined that Mr. Ramos's and E.R.'s allegations were “substantiated.” [Filing No. 1 at 5.] IPS's superintendent and general counsel recommended that IPS terminate Mr. Pena's employment. [Filing No. 1 at 5.] IPS notified Mr. Pena that he was “suspended without pay pending his termination for violation of IPS's Title IX policy[, ] including inappropriate and suggestive behavior and comments directed towards a female student.” [Filing No. 1 at 5.] Mr. Pena received a hearing, which occurred on May 29, 2018. [Filing No. 1 at 5.] Mr. Pena submitted written statements from several students who indicated they had never witnessed Mr. Pena behaving in the manner that E.R. alleged. [Filing No. 1 at 5.] One of Mr. Pena's witnesses testified that E.R. and two boys instructed the witness to lie to investigators about Mr. Pena's and E.R.'s interactions so that Mr. Pena's employment would be terminated. [Filing No. 1 at 5.] IPS did not allow Mr. Pena to present the testimony of two witnesses who attended the hearing, nor did IPS allow Mr. Pena to cross-examine any of IPS's witnesses. [Filing No. 1 at 5.] After the hearing, IPS decided to reset the hearing to another date and reopen its investigation to interview additional witnesses. [Filing No. 1 at 6.]

         On November 16, 2018, IPS contacted Mr. Pena's counsel and advised him that Mr. Ramos reported to IPS that Mr. Pena was in the school parking lot trying to contact students who may be able to serve as witnesses. [Filing No. 1 at 6.] Mr. Pena denied that he was in the school parking lot. [Filing No. 1 at 6.] IPS later confirmed that Mr. Pena had not been speaking to students on school property and stated to Mr. Pena's counsel that IPS was “not sure why Mr. Ramos was so adamant that this was the case and that it had been going on for some time.” [Filing No. 1 at 6.] However, despite this finding, IPS issued Mr. Pena a second no trespass order. [Filing No. 1 at 6.] The second hearing was conducted on November 20, 2018. [Filing No. 1 at 6.] During cross-examination, IPS's official responsible for the follow-up investigation testified that she did not speak to all of the witnesses that had submitted statements at the prior hearing. [Filing No. 1 at 6.] The investigator stated that she was told by her IPS supervisor to not speak to those witnesses. [Filing No. 1 at 6.] However, the investigator did speak to one of the boys who previously testified that E.R. told him to lie to investigators, and the boy stated he “hid in a bathroom instead of speaking with [the] IPS investigator because he was afraid.” [Filing No. 1 at 6.] IPS did not speak to the teachers who routinely observe Mr. Pena's interactions with students “under the guise that the teachers do not speak Spanish so they would be unable to give accurate information.” [Filing No. 1 at 8.] IPS failed to preserve any video evidence that may have been relevant. [Filing No. 1 at 8.] IPS concluded the second hearing by recommending the termination of Mr. Pena's employment with IPS. [Filing No. 1 at 7.]

         On December 7, 2018, Mr. Pena filed this action. [Filing No. 1 at 7.] As of that date, Mr. Pena had not received notice of his termination. [Filing No. 1 at 7.]

         Mr. Pena's Complaint alleges that:

• “IPS discriminated against [Mr.] Pena on the basis of his race and national origin (Columbian)”;
• “[t]he discrimination subjected [Mr.] Pena to a hostile work environment that was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of his employment and to create an abusive working environment”; and,
• “[t]he Title IX investigation conducted by IPS was biased and inequitable from the outset, ” and “[t]hroughout the investigation of the allegations IPS discriminated against [Mr. Pena] on the basis of gender, and his race (Latino), considering him guilty until proven innocent, depriving him of fundamental due process, including the right to cross-examine his accuser as guaranteed by the United States and Indiana Constitutions.”

[Filing No. 1 at 7-8.]

         On February 22, 2019, IPS filed its Motion to Dismiss, [Filing No. 16], which is fully briefed and ripe for decision.

         III.

         Discussion

         In its Motion to Dismiss, IPS argues that Mr. Pena's Complaint fails to state claims for violations of Title VII, Title IX, and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. [Filing No. 16 at 1.] The Court addresses each claim in turn.

         A. ...


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