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Edoho-Eket v. Nordstrom, Inc.

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

May 21, 2019

NORDSTROM, INC., Defendant.



         For good cause shown, pro se plaintiff Udeme Edoho-Eket's Application to Proceed in District Court Without Prepaying Fees or Costs (Doc. No. 4) is GRANTED, and the Clerk is DIRECTED to file the complaint in forma pauperis. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). However, for the reasons explained below the Complaint is DISMISSED.

         I. Initial Review

         Because Plaintiff proceeds in forma pauperis, the Court is required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) to conduct an initial review of the Complaint and to dismiss it if it is facially frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim for which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. McGore v. Wrigglesworth, 114 F.3d 601, 604 (6th Cir. 1997), overruled on other grounds by Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199 (2007). The Sixth Circuit has confirmed that the dismissal standard articulated by the Supreme Court in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), “governs dismissals for failure to state a claim under [§ 1915(e)(2)] because the relevant statutory language tracks the language in Rule 12(b)(6).” Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010).

         Thus, in reviewing the complaint to determine whether it states a plausible claim, “a district court must (1) view the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and (2) take all well-pleaded factual allegations as true.” Tackett v. M & G Polymers, USA, LLC, 561F.3d 478, 488 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Gunasekera v. Irwin, 551 F.3d 461, 466 (6th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted)). The court must then consider whether those factual allegations, accepted as true, “plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief.” Williams v. Curtin, 631 F.3d 380, 383 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 681). The court “need not accept as true legal conclusions or unwarranted factual inferences.” DirectTV, Inc. v. Treesh, 487 F.3d 471, 476 (6th Cir. 2007). (quoting Gregory v. Shelby Cty., 220 F.3d 433, 446 (6th Cir. 2000)). “[L]egal conclusions masquerading as factual allegations will not suffice.” Eidson v. State of Tenn. Dep't of Children's Servs., 510 F.3d 631, 634 (6th Cir. 2007).

         A “pro se complaint . . . must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Even under this lenient standard, however, pro se plaintiffs must meet basic pleading requirements. Martin v. Overton, 391 F.3d 710, 714 (6th Cir. 2004).

         II. Factual Allegations and Claims for Relief

         The only defendant is Plaintiff's employer, Nordstrom, Inc. Plaintiff was told in January 2019 that her employment was being placed on “paid suspension” through May 6, 2019, while Nordstrom investigated Plaintiff's use of social media to determine whether she had violated the company's “Code of Conduct.” (Doc. No. 1, at 1.) The Complaint was filed on May 7, 2019, the day after the suspension terminated, but Plaintiff does not indicate that she was subsequently fired or that she suffered any other adverse employment action. She claims, instead, that the suspension amounted to an admission that the company is engaged in “cyberstalking.” Second, Plaintiff claims that, while being employed by Nordstrom, she has endured “dehumanization, degradation, demoralization, insults both direct and indirect, harassment, coercion, exploitation, intimidation, and bullying.” (Id.) Plaintiff admits to having “urgent issues” that affect her personal life, apparently including mental health problems for which she has sought treatment with a “world-renowned psychiatrist” since April 2019, but she maintains that her work has nonetheless been exemplary. (Id.)

         Third, Plaintiff alleges that Nordstrom is “actively involved in fraud, ” in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1038. (Doc. No. 1, at 2.) This “fraud” takes the form of Nordstrom's operation of two food service establishments at its mall location where Plaintiff is employed, as a result of which Plaintiff is “coerced to spend earnings from Nordstrom, Inc. at Nordstrom, Inc. . . . to buy food - utilizing company discounts, ” which Plaintiff claims “exploits her human rights and fundamental needs to have nourishment during a working day.” (Id.)

         Plaintiff further alleges that Nordstrom's business practice of operating food-service establishments and providing employee discounts constitutes embezzlement from its employees and somehow results in the padding of its company valuation. According to Plaintiff, this business strategy amounts to securities fraud. She speculates that Nordstrom is “likely siphoning money from employees rather than capitalizing ethically in order to keep pace with growing e-commerce markets.” (Id.) All of these practices together reveals Nordstrom's true values and “what is at the crux of its methods - to make marketable dehumanization to cater to a class of elite shoppers who continually perpetuate racism by mean of intolerance and as perpetrators of hate crimes.” (Id.)

         Plaintiff seeks damages for the “gross abuses that have affected her mental health, ” plus compensatory and punitive damages, totaling $2, 000, 000. She also wants “all meals and beverages served at cost at Nordstrom, Inc. to be complimentary . . . for all employees.” (Id. at 3.).

         III. Analysis

         Plaintiff does not identify the basis for invoking this Court's jurisdiction, whether diversity or federal question. Even assuming that diversity of citizenship exists for purposes of diversity jurisdiction, and construing the Complaint very liberally in light of Plaintiff's pro se status, the Court is unable to discern any colorable cause of action under federal or state law based on these factual allegations.

         First, Plaintiff has not stated a claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., or any of the other federal statutes prohibiting employment discrimination, because Plaintiff does not allege that the “harassment” she has suffered while employed by Nordstrom was based on race, national origin, gender, age, disability, pregnancy, religion, or any other protected characteristic.[1] The Supreme Court has recognized that Title VII “does not set forth ‘a general civility code for the American workplace.'” Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53, 68 (2006) (quoting Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Servs., Inc., 523 U.S. 75, 80 (1998)). Rather, it only protects employees from discrimination or harassment based upon specific protected characteristics. Plaintiff therefore has not stated a claim for employment discrimination in violation of federal law. Accord, e.g., Was ...

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