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RUSS v. VAN SCOYOC ASSOCIATES

November 16, 2000

MARNIE RUSS, PLAINTIFF,
V.
VAN SCOYOC ASSOCIATES, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lamberth, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Marnie Russ has filed suit against defendants Van Scoyoc Associates, Inc. and the President of Van Scoyoc Associates, H. Stewart Van Scoyoc, charging that she was sexually harassed, discriminated against on the basis of her gender, constructively discharged and retaliated against in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the D.C. Human Rights Act (DCHRA), D.C.Code § 1-2501 et seq. Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all counts. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants in part and denies in part the defendants' motion.

I. Background

In October of 1997, Ms. Russ was told that another firm had a similar position open which paid $35,000. Ms. Russ told Ms. Buckley about the other firm's offer and was told that if she stayed with Van Scoyoc Associates, she would "be where she wanted to be" after her year-end salary increase. Ms. Russ believed this to mean that she would receive a raise, making her salary $35,000, after her year-end review. She also was informed that she would receive a 10% bonus.

On December 8, 1997, Jan Schoonmaker, a Vice President at Van Scoyoc Associates, asked Ms. Russ to help him prepare for a meeting for which he was running late. As she was helping him, he noticed that some papers were missing. He became irate and, while brandishing a stack of papers at her, made a number of derogatory remarks about her abilities. These facts form the basis for the plaintiff's first count. See Complaint ¶ 134-35.

The next day, December 9, 1997, Van Scoyoc Associates had its annual Holiday party at the Old Ebbitt Grill. During the party, several people became very intoxicated, including a Vice President, Paul Grimm. After the party ended at approximately 3 p.m., Mr. Stewart Van Scoyoc told the employees that no one had to return to work that day. A number of people, including Mr. Grimm and Ms. Russ, went to the Bottom Line, a bar, to continue socializing. While at the Bottom Line, Mr. Grimm sympathized with Ms. Russ's recent encounter with Mr. Schoonmaker and offered to have her work for him in the future. Then, as the day worn on, he began making a number of sexually explicit and offensive remarks to Ms. Russ, telling her that he admired her breasts, that he wanted to have sex with her, that he wanted to perform oral sex upon her, and that "she could make more money working at Hooters than at Van Scoyoc Associates." This continued for some time until Ms. Russ left the bar.

Ms. Russ then reported the conduct of Mr. Grimm to her office manager, Ms. Haley. Ms. Haley then reported the event to Ms. Buckley, who reported the event to Mr. Van Scoyoc. On December 12, 1997, Ms. Russ spoke with Mr. Van Scoyoc about the incidents involving Mr. Schoonmaker and Mr. Grimm. Mr. Van Scoyoc told her to be tolerant of Mr. Schoonmaker because he has "nothing outside of his work". Plaintiff's Opposition, Ex. 3 Van Scoyoc Deposition at 46. He also told Ms. Russ that Mr. Grimm was having marital problems and that it would be better if his wife did not find out about the incident at the Bottom Line.

Later that day, Ms. Russ was told that her raise would only bring her salary to $32,000 and her bonus would be only 6%, not the $35,000 salary she believes she was promised, nor the 10% bonus.

The following Monday, December 15, Ms. Russ met again with Mr. Van Scoyoc and attempted to resign. Mr. Van Scoyoc refused to let her resign, instead giving her an extended vacation and flying her home to visit her family in Montana. He told her that they could discuss her situation in the New Year.

When Ms. Russ returned from vacation, she, Mr. Van Scoyoc, and Ms. Buckley scheduled a meeting for January 6, 1998. When Ms. Russ went to this meeting, she brought along an attorney, Claude Convisser, to negotiate the terms of her return to Van Scoyoc Associates. However, when Mr. Van Scoyoc saw that Ms. Russ brought counsel to the meeting, he became upset and abruptly ended the meeting. Ms. Buckley asked Ms. Russ to hand over her keys to the office and to leave the building.

Ms. Russ filed this action against Van Scoyoc Associates and Mr. Van Scoyoc personally on December 28, 1998. Mr. Van Scoyoc previously filed a motion to dismiss the claims with respect to him, which was granted for the claims arising under Title VII and a constructive discharge theory and denied for the claims under DCHRA. Thus, the only remaining claim against Mr. Van Scoyoc personally is Count IV, the constructive discharge claim. A motion to dismiss the constructive discharge claim filed by Van Scoyoc Associates was also denied. See Russ v. Van Scoyoc Associates, Inc., 59 F. Supp.2d 20 (D.D.C. 1999).

II. Count I — Sex Discrimination Based on Mr. Schoonmaker's December 8 Conduct.

Ms. Russ alleges that Mr. Schoonmaker's conduct on December 8, 1997, when he yelled at her and brandished a stack of papers at her, constitutes sex discrimination in violation of Title VII. To prevail on a sex discrimination charge, a plaintiff must show that not only that she is a member of a protected class, and that similarly situated individuals who are not a member of a protected class were treated differently, but also that the plaintiff suffered some adverse employment action. See, ...


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