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Middlebrooks v. Godwin Corp.

June 25, 2010


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


Plaintiff Lillie Middlebrooks, proceeding pro se, has sued defendants Godwin Corporation ("Godwin"), Janice Williams, Karen P. Watts, and the District of Columbia ("the District") for discrimination on the basis of race and color, retaliation, and hostile work environment in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1981; discrimination on the basis of race and color in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d; discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment in violation of the District of Columbia Human Rights Act ("DCHRA"), D.C. Code §§ 2-1401.01-2-1404.04; promissory estoppel; negligent supervision; and wrongful termination in violation of D.C. public policy. Before the Court are defendants' motions to dismiss*fn1 under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Upon review of the parties' legal memoranda and the applicable law, the Court will grant defendants' motions.


Plaintiff alleges that in 2008, Godwin was awarded a two-year contract from the District of Columbia Department of Health ("DCDOH") to provide healthcare staffing for the District of Columbia Healthy Start Program ("Healthy Start"). (Compl. ¶ 11.) According to plaintiff, Healthy Start is federally funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and is "designed to reduce infant mortality [and] premature infant births and to promote healthy lifestyles among pregnant and parenting women residing in Wards 5, 6, 7, and 8 of the District of Columbia." (Id. ¶¶ 16-17.) Plaintiff alleges that she was interviewed and hired by defendant Williams, an African-American female, in July 2008 as a "contract at will employee" of Godwin to work as a Registered Nurse on behalf of Godwin for the DCDOH. (Id. ¶¶ 6, 9, 12.) When plaintiff reported for work at the DCDOH on or about August 1, 2008, defendant Watts, also an African-American female, assigned her to work as a nurse case manager in Healthy Start to assist with a pilot program focused on high risk pregnant and parenting women. (Id. ¶¶ 8, 15, 27.) Watts also assigned two family support workers, Kenya Singleton and Erica Proctor, to work in the pilot program with plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 28.) According to plaintiff, Singleton is a "dark skinned African-American female" and Proctor is a "milk chocolate African-American female." (Id. ¶¶ 29, 31.)

Plaintiff alleges that after a month of working with Singleton and Proctor, she filed a written complaint of a hostile work environment against them with Watts. (Id. ¶¶ 34-35.) According to plaintiff, she was subjected to a hostile work environment when she overheard Proctor and Singleton making "rude condescending" remarks about plaintiff to another employee and about Healthy Start clients' economic status.*fn2 (Id. ¶¶ 37-41.) Plaintiff also claims that she overheard a "sexual[ly] explicit" conversation among Singleton, Proctor, and other Godwin employees that "primarily focused on their sex lives." (Id. ¶ 42.) Plaintiff asserts that based on this behavior, she requested reassignment to a different program. (Id. ¶ 43.) Although her request was denied, another case manager volunteered to oversee Singleton while plaintiff supervised a different support worker, Claudia Queen. (Id. ¶¶ 45-46.) Plaintiff alleges that Proctor then made false allegations against Queen, and that based on those allegations and other unspecified "conniving and devious acts" by Singleton and Proctor, she filed complaints against them with Williams on October 2, 2008, stating that their behavior subjected plaintiff to "an extreme hostile work environment." (Id. ¶¶ 47-51, 54.) According to plaintiff, despite Williams' promises to stop the "hostile working conditions," Williams ignored plaintiff's requests. (Id. ¶¶ 54-55.)

Plaintiff alleges that in October 2008, she encountered several difficulties with Proctor and Singleton as a result of their purportedly substandard care for Health Start clients. (Id. ¶¶ 57-63.) According to plaintiff, Singleton violated Healthy Start policy by touching the stomach of a Healthy Start client, taking her blood pressure, and inquiring of her weight. (Id. ¶¶ 63-66, 68.) Plaintiff maintains that upon learning this information, she made an appointment with Watts for October 27, 2008. (Id. ¶¶ 64, 69.) Plaintiff alleges that she also informed Williams of Singleton's actions, but that Williams failed to follow up with plaintiff or with Singleton. (Id. ¶ 73.) On October 27, 2008, plaintiff met with Watts, Singleton, Proctor, and two other women. (Id. ¶ 74.) During the meeting, plaintiff claims that Singleton and Proctor lodged a complaint against plaintiff for failing to drop a client from Healthy Start. (Id.) Plaintiff then alleges that Proctor left the meeting so that plaintiff and the other women could ask Singleton about the allegations that she had touched the stomach of the Healthy Start client. (Id. ¶ 75.) Although Singleton denied touching the client, plaintiff informed Watts and the others that she believed the client and that she protested Singleton's actions. (Id. ¶¶ 75-91.) According to plaintiff, she informed Watts that it was "imperative" that they "safeguard the care" of Healthy Start clients. (Id. ¶ 91.) Plaintiff alleges that although Watts stated that she would investigate the claims against Singleton, and although plaintiff informed Williams of the events at the October 27, 2008 meeting, Watts did not inform plaintiff of the results of the investigation of Singleton. (Id. ¶¶ 94-95.)

Plaintiff further claims that at a mandatory staff meeting on October 30, 2008, she was subjected to a hostile work environment when she witnessed Watts "scream and yell" at another nurse case manager. (Id. ¶ 96.) She maintains that after that meeting, and after she observed Williams meet with Watts, Williams ordered plaintiff to leave the building, effectively terminating her. (Id. ¶ 97.) Plaintiff alleges that she was never provided with a written or verbal explanation for why she was terminated. (Id. ¶¶ 103-104.) However, she asserts that she was terminated based on her race and color and because she reported a hostile work environment and protested the "unfair" and "illegal" treatment of Healthy Start clients. (Id. ¶¶ 106-118.)

Plaintiff filed the instant lawsuit on October 30, 2009. She alleges claims of race and color discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, the DCHRA, and Title VI (Counts 1, 2, 3, 4, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18); retaliation under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and the DCHRA (Counts 5, 6, 7, 8, 19, 20, 21, and 22); race-based hostile work environment under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and the DCHRA (Counts 9, 10, 11, 12, 23, 24, 25, and 26); aiding and abetting in unlawful retaliation under the DCHRA (Counts 27, 28, 29, and 30); promissory estoppels (Counts 31 and 32); negligent supervision (Counts 33, 34, 35, and 36); and wrongful termination in violation of District of Columbia public policy (Counts 37, 38, 39, and 40).



As the Supreme Court held in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009), "[t]o survive a motion to dismiss [under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure], a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id. at 1949 (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A complaint must be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6) if it consists only of "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements." Id. "Where a complaint pleads facts that are 'merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it 'stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557) (internal quotation marks omitted)). The allegations in plaintiff's complaint are presumed true at this stage and all reasonable factual inferences must be construed in her favor. Maljack Prod., Inc. v. Motion Picture Ass'n of Am., Inc., 52 F.3d 373, 375 (D.C. Cir. 1995). However, "the [C]court need not accept inferences drawn by plaintiff[] if such inferences are unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint." Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994); see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (Court is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation"). Although "[a] pro se complaint . . . 'must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers,'" Atherton v. D.C. Office of the Mayor, 567 F.3d 672, 681 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)), "a pro se complainant must plead 'factual matter' that permits the court to infer 'more than the mere possibility of misconduct.'" Id. at 681-82(quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950).


A.42 U.S.C. § 1981 CLAIMS

Plaintiff maintains that defendants discriminated against her on the basis of her race and color (Compl. ¶¶ 119-124), and retaliated against her on the basis of complaints she filed alleging a hostile work environment (id. ¶¶ 125-130), in violation of § 1981. She further alleges that defendants subjected her to a hostile work environment in violation of the same statute. (Id. ¶¶ 131-135.) ...

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