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Melinda Keenan and Catherine Lieb v. Eric K. Shinseki

February 3, 2012



This matter comes before the court upon defendant's motion to dismiss. (ECF 11.) The hearing on this motion took place on September 14, 2011; Douglas Watts appeared for plaintiffs and Lynn Ernce appeared for defendant. For the following reasons, defendant's motion is GRANTED.


Plaintiffs brought their original complaint on December 28, 2010 (ECF 1) and their amended complaint ("AC") on May 13, 2011. (ECF 8.) They allege four causes of action:

1) unlawful discrimination in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq.; 2) retaliation in violation of Title VII; 3) violations of the Federal Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206, et seq.;*fn1 and 4) on behalf of plaintiff Lieb only, violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq.

Defendant filed the present motion to dismiss in lieu of an answer on June 10, 2011. (ECF 11.) Plaintiffs filed their opposition on June 28, 2011. (ECF 13.) Defendant filed his reply on July 6, 2011. (ECF 14.)


Melinda Keenan was employed with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs ("VA") at the VA's Mather facility; she worked as a staff psychologist and post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD") program coordinator from February 2001 to 2010. (AC ¶ 1.) She is currently employed as a psychologist at the VA's Citrus Heights facility. (Id.) Catherine Lieb has been employed as a licensed clinical social worker at the VA's Mather facility since January 2008. (Id. ¶ 2.) In June 2008, Lieb was assigned to be the general health team leader. (Id. ¶ 19.) Since October 25, 2009, Lieb has been a social worker on Mather's PTSD team. (Id. ¶ 21.) Keenan, Lieb and another individual were nominated to form a steering committee for the Mather facility in mid-2008. (Id. ¶ 20.)

Maga Jackson-Triche, M.D., was at all relevant times the associate chief of staff for mental health services and Keenan's direct supervisor. (AC ¶ 13.) Steven Shotz was hired by Dr. Jackson-Triche in April 2007 and made the mental health clinic's manager in late 2007. (Id. ¶¶ 14-15.) At some point in 2008, Dr. Shotz stepped down as clinic manager and stayed on as a mental health practitioner. (Id. ¶¶ 17, 27.)

The Mather facility's mental health clinic held a staff meeting on December 3, 2008. (AC ¶ 22.) During the meeting, plaintiffs spoke about "ways the staff could, collectively, move past the very painful tenure and hard feelings created by SHOTZ's time as Clinic Manager." (Id. ¶ 23.*fn2 ) A few months later, Dr. Shotz filed an Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") complaint against the Mather facility alleging that plaintiffs "had been disrespectful toward him, disparaged him, and encouraged fellow Mather VA Mental Health Clinic staff not to work with him." (Id. ¶ 29.) Neither party has indicated what, if any, findings or conclusions were reached by the EEO.

On February 12, 2010, Keenan received a written letter of admonishment. (AC ¶ 35.) Lieb received a one-week suspension from her job without pay. (Id.) Parties do not provide copies of the letter or notification of suspension.


A. Standard

Under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a party may move to dismiss a complaint for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." A court may dismiss "based on the lack of cognizable legal theory or the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory." Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990).

Although a complaint need contain only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief," FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2), in order to survive a motion to dismiss this short and plain statement "must contain sufficient factual matter . . . to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A complaint must include something more than "an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation" or "'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.'" Id. at 1949 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Determining whether a complaint will survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim is a "context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and ...

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