GOODE v. CENT. VA. LEGAL AID SOC’Y, INC., NO. 14-1939

Decided: December 9, 2015

The Fourth Circuit dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction and remanded the case to the district court.

The Central Virginia Legal Aid Society (“CVLAS”) terminated Plaintiff Freddie Lee Goode’s (“Goode”) employment in March of 2013. Goode was 72 years old at the time of his termination and had worked for CVLAS for 25 years. Goode was one of CVLAS’s two Senior Managing Attorneys. Goode reported to Executive Director, Stephen Dickinson (“Dickinson”), a white male. On April 17, 2014 Goode brought a claim against CVLAS for violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”). In Goode’s complaint, he alleged that five African American employees, including Goode, were terminated as a result of the CVLAS’s restructuring. CVLA contended that it eliminated Goode’s position because representation for Social Security cases at the litigation stage was a service available through the private bar and that CVLA was going to focus on family law cases. Goode challenged this rationale as pretext. On July 15, 2014, CVLAS filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). The district court granted CVLA’s motion and dismissed the case without prejudice, holding that Goode had failed to state a claim for unlawful discrimination under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and the ADEA.

On appeal, CVLAS argued that the district court’s order granting its motion to dismiss without prejudice was not appealable because Goode could have amended his complaint to cure the pleading deficiencies. The Fourth Circuit agreed and found that it lacked jurisdiction over the appeal. The district court’s dismissal “did not clearly indicate that no amendment could cure the defects in the complaint.” As a result, the order of dismissal was not final, and therefore, not appealable. The Court considered whether a plaintiff could have amended the complaint to satisfy the pleading standards that the district court imposed. In this case, the district court dismissed Goode’s case because he failed to allege sufficient facts to present direct or circumstantial evidence of discrimination or to establish a prima facie case of discrimination. The Court concluded that Good could have amended his complaint to add factual allegations that satisfied the standards under McDonnell Douglas, and that the district court’s order failed to indicate otherwise. Likewise, the Court found that the district court’s order did not prevent Goode from amending his complaint to properly allege a plausible claim of discrimination based on age. The Court ultimately held that the “grounds for dismissal in this case did not clearly preclude amendment.”

Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit dismissed Goode’s appeal for lack of jurisdiction and remanded the case to the district court with instruction to allow Goode to amend his complaint.

Full Opinion

Meredith Weisler

 

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