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Hamido v. Tennessee State University

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

February 27, 2018

ESSAM HAMIDO, Plaintiff,




         I. Introduction

         Pending before the Court are Defendant Tennessee State University's Motion for Partial Dismissal Of The First Amended Complaint (Doc. No. 40); Plaintiff's Response In Opposition (Doc. No. 53); and Defendant's Reply (Doc. No. 59). For the reasons set forth herein, the Motion For Partial Dismissal (Doc. No. 40) is GRANTED in part, and DENIED in part. Accordingly, Plaintiff's Section 1983 claim, his claims for religious and disability discrimination under Title VII, and his request for punitive damages and a written apology are DISMISSED.

         II. Factual and Procedural Background

         Plaintiff Essam Hamido brought this action under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against his employer, Tennessee State University (“TSU”), and the Interim Assistant Dean at TSU, William Johnson. (Doc. No. 38). Plaintiff alleges that he is an Associate Professor in the Department of Human Performance and Sports Science at TSU, and that when Defendant Johnson served as head of that department, Defendant Johnson discriminated against him on the basis of race, color, and national origin. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Johnson continued to discriminate against him even after Defendant Johnson was promoted to Interim Assistant Dean. (Id.) Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant TSU was aware of the alleged discrimination, and permitted it to continue. (Id.) Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as certain injunctive relief. (Id.)

         III. Analysis

         A. The Standards Governing Motions To Dismiss

         In considering a motion to dismiss, a court must determine whether the plaintiff has sufficiently alleged “a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). 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. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). Well-pleaded factual allegations are accepted as true and are construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. 129 U.S. at 1950: Mills v. Barnard, 869 F.3d 473, 479 (6th Cir. 2017).

         Defendant TSU seeks dismissal on the following grounds: (1) Defendant is immune from suit under Section 1983; (2) Plaintiff's Section 1983 claim should be dismissed because Title VII provides the exclusive remedy for employment discrimination; (3) Plaintiff's request for promotion to full professor should be dismissed because Plaintiff has failed to exhaust that claim; (4) Plaintiff's claims based on religious and disability discrimination should be dismissed for failure to state a claim; (5) Plaintiff's request for punitive damages should be dismissed as prohibited by law; and (6) Plaintiff's request for a written apology fails to state a claim.

         B. Section 1983 Claim

         Defendant TSU argues that Plaintiff's claims under Section 1983 should be dismissed because it is immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment. Eleventh Amendment jurisprudence holds that “an unconsenting State is immune from suits brought in federal courts by her own citizens as well as by citizens of another State.” Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 94 S.Ct. 1347, 1355, 39 L.Ed.2d 552 (1974). The Sixth Circuit has held that publicly-funded universities are state entities and are immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment. Hall v. Medical College of Ohio at Toledo, 742 F.2d 299, 307 (6th Cir. 1984); McKenna v. Bowling Green State University, 568 F. App'x 459, 457 (6th Cir. 2014); Underfer v. University of Toledo, 36 F. App'x 831, 834 (6thCir. 2002). Plaintiff does not dispute that Defendant TSU as a state university is a state entity, and the First Amended Complaint alleges as much. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-8-101(a)(2)(A) (establishing TSU as part of the state university and community college system); Boyd v. Tennessee State University, 848 F.Supp. 111, 113-14 (M.D. Tenn. 1994).

         Plaintiff contends, however, that because he is seeking prospective relief for ongoing or future violations, his claim satisfies the Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 28 S.Ct. 441, 52 L.Ed. 714 (1908) exception to Eleventh Amendment immunity. The First Amended Complaint seeks injunctive relief against Defendant TSU. In that regard, Plaintiff alleges that “Defendant TSU is subject to an injunction to restrain future injuries and for other permitted equitable relief.” (Doc. No. 38, at 7). More specifically, Plaintiff requests that TSU be ordered to “promote Plaintiff to full professor and not to unlawfully discriminate against him in the future or retaliate against him, ” and “to write an apology to Plaintiff and direct Defendant TSU to cause the same to be distributed and published . . . to all current TSU students, faculty, staff and administrators.” (Id., at 8).

         Courts have recognized three exceptions to Eleventh Amendment immunity: (1) when the state has consented to suit; (2) when Congress has abrogated the state's immunity; and (3) when Ex parte Young, supra, applies. S&M Brands, Inc. v. Cooper,527 F.3d 500, 507 (6th Cir. 2008). Under Ex parte Young and its progeny, the Eleventh Amendment does not bar a federal court from issuing prospective injunctive and declaratory relief compelling a state official to comply with federal law, even if compliance may have an ancillary effect on the state treasury. Edelman, 415 U.S. at 667-68; S&M Brands, 527 F.3d at 507-08. The Ex parte Young exception applies only to state officials, however, and not to state entities. McKenna, 508 F. App'x, at 457. Therefore, Plaintiff's requests for injunctive relief against Defendant TSU do not satisfy the Ex parte Young exception. ...

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