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Muñoz v. Board of Trustees of the University of the District of Columbia

December 3, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ellen Segal Huvelle United States District Judge


Plaintiff brings this action against the Board of Trustees of the University of the District of Columbia ("UDC"), alleging discrimination and retaliation on the basis of national origin and race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.; the District of Columbia Human Rights Act ("DCHRA"), D.C. Code Ann. § 2-1401.01 et seq.; 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as well as a common law claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress.*fn1 Defendant has moved to dismiss each of plaintiff's claims.*fn2 For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant the motion in part and deny it in part.


Plaintiff is a white Hispanic woman born and raised in Puerto Rico. (Compl. ¶ 4.) She has a Ph.D. in linguistics, and in the fall of 1993, she and Dr. April Massey, who is African American, were hired by UDC as faculty for the Department of Languages and Communications Disorders ("DLCD"). (Id. ¶¶ 6, 13-14.) Throughout her employment at UDC, plaintiff was one of only two Hispanic faculty members. (Id. ¶ 15.) In 1999, Massey was appointed Chairman of the DLCD, with immediate supervisory responsibility over plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 17.) Massey held this appointment until 2004. (Id.) In the fall of 2002, plaintiff was promoted to associate professor, a tenured position. (Id. ¶ 18.)

Plaintiff alleges that during her term as Chairman of the DLCD, which ended in 2004, "Massey engaged in a consistent and continuous pattern of discriminatory harassment and adverse employment actions against plaintiff." (Id. ¶ 19; see also id. ¶¶ 20-30.) These acts culminated in the fall of 2004, when Massey falsely accused plaintiff of having supplied answers to four UDC students for the Departmental Comprehensive Exams. (Id. ¶ 31.) Thereafter, Massey sent a memorandum dated November 30, 2004, to Dr. Wilhelmina Reuben Cooke, UDC's Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, recommending that plaintiff be investigated regarding the matter and placed on indefinite administrative leave in the interim. (Id. ¶ 32.) Cooke accepted the recommendation and placed plaintiff on indefinite administrative leave, effective at the beginning of 2005. (Id.)

After assuring plaintiff that the investigation would last only six weeks, Cooke prolonged it for 12 months from November 2004 to November 2005, using procedures contrary to those in effect at UDC and without providing prior notice to the UDC Faculty Association, as required by UDC policies and procedures. (Id. ¶ 33.) During the investigation, plaintiff was never allowed to speak in her own defense, confront witnesses against her, or record any proceedings to which she was summoned, nor was she presented with any investigative report. (Id.). On November 18, 2005, Cooke issued a "Statement of Cause" accompanied by a "Response to Recommended Adverse Action" calling for plaintiff to be charged with professional misconduct and interference with the integrity of UDC's academic operations, for plaintiff to be suspended for a semester, and for the adverse action to be placed in plaintiff's personnel file as part of her employment record. (Id. ¶ 34.)

According to plaintiff's complaint, she suffered severe emotional distress and anguish as a result of these adverse actions, and she was forced her to take sick leave beginning in the fall of 2005. (Id. ¶ 39.) On January 20, 2006, she appealed Cooke's conclusions and recommendations. (Id. ¶ 35.) On February 28, 2006, Dr. William Pollard, the President of UDC, dismissed Cooke's proposed adverse action against plaintiff on the ground of insufficient evidence, although Pollard expressed support for the investigation and stated that Massey and other UDC officials had acted appropriately. (Id. ¶ 36.) No action was taken to restore plaintiff's pay. (Id.)

When plaintiff's sick leave expired in February 2006, UDC stopped paying her wages. (Id. ¶ 40.) Moreover, during the summer and fall of 2006, plaintiff sent several letters to various officers of UDC requesting clarification of her employment status, but received no response. (Id. ¶ 37.) On November 22, 2006, Dr. Leslie Richards, President of the UDC Faculty Association, sent an email to plaintiff, in which she stated, "The University has approached me with attempting to settle the case through some restitution of your pay and other issues, however I do not know whether you are interested in any of this." (Id. ¶ 38.) Plaintiff responded that she would be willing to negotiate through her attorney, but UDC never replied. (Id.)

During the summer of 2007 and without prior notice to plaintiff, UDC terminated her health insurance policy and deprived her of any opportunity to apply for COBRA extension coverage. (Id. ¶ 41.)


I.Standard of Review

A case must be dismissed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted if the complaint does not plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974 (2007). The allegations in plaintiff's complaint are presumed true at this stage and all reasonable factual inferences must be construed in plaintiff's favor. Maljack Prods., Inc. v. Motion Picture Ass'n of Am., Inc., 52 F.3d 373, 375 (D.C. Cir. 1995). However, "the court need not accept inferences drawn by plaintiff if such inferences are unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint. Nor must the court accept legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations." Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994). To survive a motion to dismiss, the factual allegations in the complaint "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965.

II.Title VII Claims

Plaintiff alleges that UDC discriminated against and harassed her in the course of her employment and constructively discharged her on account of her race and national origin and retaliated against her for complaining of the discriminatory treatment in violation of Title VII. Defendant moves to dismiss plaintiff's Title VII claims on the basis that they are time barred. Ordinarily, a charge of discrimination must be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") within 180 days after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1). However, if a complainant initially institutes proceedings with a state or local agency with authority to grant or seek relief from the unlawful employment practice, the charge must be filed within 300 days after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred. Id. In this case, plaintiff filed a charge with the D.C. Office of Human Rights, the agency given the power in the District to deal with unlawful employment claims, and with the EEOC on February 14, 2007.*fn3 (See Compl. ΒΆ 10; Mot. to Dismiss Ex. A.) Thus, the unlawful employment practices of which plaintiff complains must have occurred no earlier than April 20, 2006; that is, within 300 days of her February 14, 2007 ...

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