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O'Neill v. Rutland County State's Attorneys Office

United States District Court, D. Vermont

December 29, 2016

JANE O'NEILL, Plaintiff,


          Christina Reiss, Chief Judge

         This matter came before the court on October 12, 2016 for oral argument on the partial motion to dismiss filed by Defendants Rutland County State's Attorneys Office (the "Rutland SAO") and the Department of State's Attorneys and Sheriffs (the "Department") (collectively, "Defendants") (Doc. 10). Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and the Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Defendants seek dismissal of all state law claims asserted by Plaintiff Jane O'Neill, including her civil conspiracy, constructive discharge, quantum meruit, and unjust enrichment claims as well her claim that Defendants violated Vermont's Fair Employment Practices Act ("VFEPA"), 21 V.S.A. § 495(a)(7) and (8).[1] Plaintiff opposes the motion. On November 14, 2016, the parties filed post-hearing supplemental memoranda, whereupon the court took the pending motion under advisement.

         John Paul Faignant, Esq. and Marie Peck Fabian, Esq. represent Plaintiff. Assistant Attorneys General Kate T. Gallagher and Bartholomew J. Gengler represent Defendants.

         I. Factual Background.

         The following facts are derived from Plaintiffs Complaint and are accepted as true for the purpose of this motion. See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 572 (2007) ("[A] judge ruling on a defendant's motion to dismiss a complaint must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint.") (internal quotation marks omitted).

         In 2009, the Rutland SAO hired Plaintiff as a deputy state's attorney. She remained employed in that position through August of 2014. When Plaintiff was hired, her salary was established at the "entry level" by the Rutland SAO and the Department. (Doc. 1 at 3, ¶ 14.) Plaintiff was allegedly told that her level of compensation was "not negotiable." Id. Despite Plaintiffs repeated requests, Rutland County State's Attorney Marc Brierre refused to discuss her compensation with her during her employment.

         Plaintiffs position as a deputy state's attorney required her to routinely work fifty to sixty hours per week, and to be on-call every night for one week per month from 4:30 p.m. until 8:30 a.m. She was not compensated for her on-call hours. Defendants were allegedly aware that Plaintiff was working in excess of forty hours per week, but did not keep track of her hours worked and would not authorize her paycheck to be released unless she signed an affidavit stating that she did not work in excess of forty hours. Plaintiff did not receive compensation in addition to her salary for the excess hours she worked, although a male deputy state's attorney allegedly received additional compensation on this basis.

         In 2011, the Rutland SAO hired "John Doe" as a deputy state's attorney to perform essentially the same work as Plaintiff. John Doe's salary was set at a rate approximately 26% higher than Plaintiffs. State's Attorney Brierre allegedly refused to discuss John Doe's compensation with Plaintiff, including whether they were both paid the same amount.

         Following John Doe's hire, Plaintiff alleges that State's Attorney Brierre "embarked on a course of retaliatory conduct to demean and marginalize" Plaintiff s job duties, "including assigning much lesser tasks [to her], which should have gone to the new[, ] less experienced person" notwithstanding Plaintiffs "overwhelming existing caseload." Id. at 5, ¶ 25. Plaintiff was also not included in important office function meetings and procedures and State's Attorney Brierre "lashed out" at her whenever she inquired about her salary. Id. State's Attorney Brierre directed Plaintiff s salary inquiries to Bram Kranichfeld, Esq., the executive director of the Department. Attorney Kranichfeld was "non-committal" in response to Plaintiffs inquiries and directed her to speak with State's Attorney Brierre. Id. at 5, ¶ 28.

         In 2013, the Rutland SAO hired "Jane Doe" as a deputy state's attorney to perform essentially the same work as Plaintiff and John Doe. Jane Doe's salary was set at a rate approximately 25% lower than John Doe's.

         In July of 2014, Plaintiff discovered that John Doe had earned approximately $14, 000 more than her for each year since his 2011 hire. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants knew that she was being discriminated against on the basis of sex, and that she was being paid less than her male coworkers "for equal work that required equal skill, effort[, ] and responsibility and [that] was performed under substantially similar working conditions." Id. at 6, ¶ 32. Plaintiff further alleges that "[a]s the salary disparity continued over the years[, ] it perpetuated a sex based wage differential" between Plaintiff and John Doe. Id. at 6, ¶ 33. On at least two occasions, State's Attorney Brierre "lost his temper over [Plaintiff s] pressing him as to her pay status, to the point where [Plaintiff] believed [State's Attorney Brierre] would fire her if she pressed further." Id. at 6, ¶ 34. Plaintiff resigned at the end of July 2014 because the "working conditions had become so intolerable, she felt she had no other choice but to resign." Id. at 7, ¶ 35.

         Plaintiffs Complaint alleges the following causes of action: Count I (violation of the EPA and VFEPA); Count II (conspiracy to violate the EPA and VFEPA); Count III (retaliation); Count IV (constructive discharge); Count V (quantum meruit); and Count VI (unjust enrichment). Citing Eleventh Amendment immunity, Defendants seek dismissal of all claims set forth in Plaintiffs Complaint, except for her EPA claim set forth in Count I.

         II. Conclusions of Law and Analysis.

         A. Standard of Review.

         A case is properly dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) if the district court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate it. See Nike, Inc. v. Already, LLC, 663 F.3d 89, 94 (2d Cir. 2011) (citing Moloney v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 517 F.3d 70, 74 (2d Cir. 2008)). Generally, on a 12(b)(1) motion, the "plaintiff asserting subject matter jurisdiction has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that it exists." Makarova v. United States, 201 F.3d 110, 113 (2d Cir. 2000). However, in cases where a governmental entity asserts the Eleventh Amendment as the basis of dismissal, the burden falls to that entity to prove its entitlement to immunity from suit. See Woods v. Rondout Valley Cent. Sch. Dist. Bd of Educ, 466 F.3d 232, 237 (2d Cir. 2006) (joining other circuit courts in "holding that the governmental entity invoking the Eleventh Amendment bears the burden of demonstrating that it qualifies as an arm of the state entitled to share in its immunity").

         B. Whether Defendants Are Entitled to Eleventh Amendment Immunity.

         The Eleventh Amendment provides: "The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State." U.S. Const, amend. XL "Although the text of the amendment speaks only of suits against a state by persons who are not citizens of that state, the Supreme Court has interpreted the Eleventh Amendment to extend to suits by all persons against a state in federal court." Mancuso v. N.Y. State Thruway Auth., 86 F.3d 289, 292 (2d Cir. 1996).

         "It has long been settled that the reference to actions 'against one of the United States' encompasses not only actions in which a State is actually named as the defendant, but also certain actions against state agents and state instrumentalities." Regents of the Univ. of Cal. v. Doe,519 U.S. 425, 429 (1997). As a result, "when the action is in essence one for the recovery of money from the state, the state is the real, substantial party in interest and is entitled to invoke its sovereign immunity ...

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