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Sasser v. Salt Lake City Corp.

United States District Court, D. Utah

December 1, 2017

QUENTIN L. SASSER, Plaintiff,
v.
SALT LAKE CITY CORPORATION, a Utah Municipal corporation, DAVID TERRY, in his individual capacity, and LYNN LANDGREN, in his individual and official capacity, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

          David Nuffer United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Quentin L. Sasser (“Mr. Sasser”) makes employment-related claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Salt Lake City (the “City”), David Terry (“Mr. Terry”), and Lynn Landgren (“Mr. Landgren”) (collectively “Defendants”).[1] This is his third cause of action. Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Third Cause of Action (“Motion to Dismiss”) based on the statute of limitations.[2] Mr. Sasser opposes[3] the Motion to Dismiss, arguing that his third cause of action was timely because he did not have knowledge of the “cause of the discrimination” until 2017, or in the alternative, because the discrimination is ongoing.[4]

         Because the statute of limitations began running at the time each discriminatory act occurred, the incidents Mr. Sasser alleges in his § 1981 and § 1983 claims, which form the basis of his third cause of action, are time barred and the Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED.

         Table of Contents

         BACKGROUND ............................................................................................................................ 2

         DISCUSSION ................................................................................................................................. 5

         Motion to Dismiss Standard ................................................................................................ 5

         Statute of Limitations .......................................................................................................... 6

         Mr. Sasser's § 1981 and §1983 claims based on failures to promote in 2000, 2008, 2010, and 2011 are untimely. . .......................................................... 7

         Plaintiff's continuing violation and fraudulent concealment theories fail as a matter of law...................................................... 9

         Request to Amend ............................................................................................................. 11

         ORDER ......................................................................................................................................... 12

         BACKGROUND

         This background section is drawn from Mr. Sasser's well-pleaded allegations.

         Mr. Sasser, an African-American male, was born on December 12, 1958 and is currently 58 years old.[5] In March of 1993, the City hired Mr. Sasser as a seasonal employee at Wingpointe Golf Course, where Mr. Sasser worked until September 2000.[6] In this position, Mr. Sasser's responsibilities included managing tee times, tournament play, cart assignments, pin sheets and hole assignments, and providing customer service at all levels.[7]

         During his time at Wingpointe, his supervisor, Mr. Landgren, maintained an employee file on Mr. Sasser, which Mr. Sasser did not know.[8] In this file, Landgren kept notes of Mr.Sasser's performance and missteps.[9] Landgren did not keep a file on any other employee at Wingpointe.[10] Mr. Landgren used this file as a basis for not promoting Mr. Sasser.[11]

         In 2000, Mr. Sasser alleges he was not promoted multiple times to full-time merit positions, because of his race, color, and age.[12] This prompted a fellow employee to suggest that Mr. Sasser file a grievance with the City to address the discrimination.[13] However, Mr. Sasser did not file a grievance and instead left his position at Wingpointe Golf Course.[14]

         From September 2000 to May 2002, Mr. Sasser worked in a management position at Coral Canyon Golf Course in southern Utah, developing his customer service and management skills.[15] Mr. Sasser then returned to Salt Lake to work at Fore Lakes Golf Course as a Teaching Professional and groundskeeper until 2006.[16] In these positions, he taught golf and assisted the course maintenance crew.[17]

         In 2006, the City rehired Mr. Sasser to a seasonal position at the Wingpointe Golf Course as a Teaching Professional and groundskeeper, and also made him Lead Instructor for the City's Junior Golf clinics and camps.[18] Later in 2006, Mr. Sasser was elected as a Class A member of the PGA, making him the only African-American PGA-certified professional in the state of Utah.[19]

         In 2008, the City and Mr. Terry refused to interview Mr. Sasser for a First Assistant position, even though he was allegedly more qualified than the candidates who were interviewed.[20] The City did not interview any minority applicants for the position, and all persons who were interviewed were younger than Mr. Sasser.[21]

         Similarly, in July 2010, the City had an opening for a Head Professional position, which required applicants to have a Class A PGA membership. Mr. Sasser was one of only five applicants who met this qualification, yet the City and Mr. Terry interviewed all the applicants except Mr. Sasser.[22] Further, the City interviewed several applicants who did not meet the PGA membership requirement at the time, and did not interview anyone younger than Mr. Sasser or any minority applicants.[23]

         Finally, in spring 2011, the City advertised a First Assistant position at Mountain Dell Golf Course.[24] Due to a problem with the City's personnel software, several applicants' resumes, including Mr. Sasser's could not be submitted online. Mr. Terry reached out to two of these applicants, both Caucasian and younger than Mr. Sasser, and encouraged them to deliver their resumes in person to the City's human resources department.[25] The City did not interview Mr. Sasser for this position and instead promoted Mr. Miller, a younger and less-experienced applicant, to the position.[26]

         About a year after this adverse decision, on January 13, 2012, Mr. Sasser filed a charge of discrimination against the Defendants with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”).[27] The EEOC issued a Notice of Right to Sue on March 2, 2015. Mr. Sasser then filed this lawsuit in the Utah Third Judicial District Court on May 28, 2015.[28] The action was then removed to this Court on August 25, 2015.[29]

         DISCUSSION

         Motion to Dismiss Standard

         Defendants move, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, to dismiss Mr. Sasser's third cause of action. Defendants are entitled to dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) when the complaint, standing alone, is legally insufficient to state a claim for which relief may be granted.[30] When considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the thrust of all well-pleaded facts in the complaint is presumed, but conclusory allegations need not be considered.[31] Nor are the complaint's legal conclusions and opinions accepted, even if they are couched as facts.[32]

         Generally, where materials outside of the pleadings are presented, a court must either convert a Rule 12 motion to a Rule 56 motion for summary judgment, or exclude matters presented outside the pleadings.[33] However, “a defendant may submit an indisputably authentic copy to the court to be considered” if it is incorporated by reference in the complaint, if the court may take judicial notice of it, or if it is referenced in the complaint and central to the claims.[34]Conversion to summary judgment affords the plaintiff an opportunity to respond in kind with outside material, but when a complaint refers to a document and the document is central to the plaintiff's claim, the plaintiff is on notice of the document's contents, and conversion is unnecessary.[35] While “the court has discretion to consider such materials, ” it is not required to consider them.[36]

         Statute of Limitations

         The statute of limitations period for § 1981 and § 1983 claims is “dictated by the personal injury statute of limitations in the state in which the claim arose[.]”[37] In Utah, “a four-year statute of limitations under Utah Code Ann. [§ 78B-2-307] governs § 1983 actions.”[38]

         However, federal law still determines when a cause of action accrues, causing the limitation period to start.[39] For Title VII claims, the United States Supreme Court has determined that plaintiffs may “only file a charge to cover discrete acts that occurred within the appropriate time period.”[40] “Discrete acts such as termination, failure to promote, denial of transfer, or refusal to hire . . . each . . . constitute[] a separate actionable unlawful employment practice.”[41]Further, “a continuing violation theory of discrimination is not permitted for claims against discrete acts of discrimination.”[42] Instead, “[e]ach discrete discriminatory act starts a new clock for filing charges alleging that act.”[43] Thus, the limitations period begins to run on “the date the employee is notified of an adverse employment decision by the employer.”[44]

         Mr. Sasser's § 1981 and §1983 claims based on failures to promote in 2000, 2008, 2010, and 2011 are untimely.

         Mr. Sasser has alleged violations of § 1981 and § 1983 from failures to promote on four separate occasions: (a) in 2000;[45] (b) in 2008;[46] (c) in July 2010;[47] and (d) spring 2011.[48] The first complaint in this case was filed on May 28, 2015.[49] Therefore, applying the appropriate four-year statute of limitations[50] to these discrete acts, it is clear that three of the four failures to promote are untimely. The statute of limitations required the 2000 claim for failure to promote to be filed by 2004; the 2008 claim to be filed by 2012; and the July 2010 claim to be filed by July 2014. Because the complaint was filed in May of 2015, Mr. Sasser's claim for violation of § 1981 and § 1983 with regards to the failures to promote in 2004, 2008, and July 2010 are untimely. This leaves the failure to promote in spring 2011.

         In their Motion to Dismiss, Defendants argue that Mr. Sasser's claim for violation of § 1981 and § 1983 with regards to the spring 2011 failure to promote is also untimely.[51] In support of this argument, Defendants attached a document to their Motion to Dismiss which purports to show that Mr. Sasser was notified in February 2011 that he would not be promoted.[52]This places the spring 2011 failure to promote outside of the four-year limitations period. The adverse letter started the clock on Mr. Sasser's four-year statute of limitations. Thus, any claims filed after February 15, 2015, four years from the date of the adverse decision, are untimely.

         In his Opposition, Mr. Sasser argues that the statute of limitations did not begin to run until he “had knowledge of the cause of the discrimination.”[53] Specifically, he contends that he did not learn of the cause of the discriminatory failure to promote in spring 2011 until he deposed Mr. Terry and Mr. Landgren in early 2017.[54] In support of this argument, Mr. Sasser relies on a Tenth Circuit case which states that for a federal cause of action, “[t]he statute of limitations begins to run when the plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the existence and cause of the injury, which is the basis of his action.”[55]

         But more recent case law, discussed above, states that in a Title VII case, the limitations period begins to run on “the date the employee is notified of an adverse employment decision by the employer.”[56] Indeed, “[e]ach discrete discriminatory act starts a new clock for filing charges alleging that act.”[57] Thus, the statute of limitations began to run on Mr. Sasser's § 1981 and § 1983 claims when he was notified of the failure to promote, not when he learned of the discriminatory cause of the failures to promote.

         In summary, Mr. Sasser has not pleaded timely § 1981 and § 1983 claims with regards to the 2004, 2008, July 2010, and spring 2011 failures to promote.

         Plaintiff's continuing violation and fraudulent concealment theories fail as a matter of law.

         In an attempt to salvage his § 1981 and § 1983 claims, Mr. Sasser also argues that the statute of limitations should be tolled because the “discriminatory treatment of him is ongoing.”[58] Mr. Sasser also contends that under Utah law, the statute of limitations should be tolled ...


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