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Patricia Wheeler v. Georgetown University Hospital

June 6, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: James E. Boasberg United States District Judge


Plaintiff Patricia Wheeler is a black registered nurse formerly employed by Defendant Georgetown University Hospital. Her lawsuit alleges that Defendant discriminated against her because of her race and retaliated against her for complaining about various violations of the Nursing Code committed by her colleagues. Defendant has now filed a Motion to Dismiss, much of which the Court grants.*fn1

I.Factual and Procedural Background

Plaintiff worked as a nurse for Defendant between June 2009 and January 2010. Compl. at 1-2, ¶ 1. Over the course of her employment, Plaintiff observed and reported four purported violations of the "Nurses Code," id., ¶ 2, a publication of the American Nurses Association, a professional organization representing nurses. See id., Exh. 1 (American Nurses Association, Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statement). Plaintiff alleges that her supervisor failed to discipline the nurses involved because of their race (white) and that she instead "acted adversely towards" Plaintiff after these reports. Id., ¶ 2. Following these perceived retaliatory employment acts, Plaintiff filed an EEO complaint on January 7, 2010. Id., ¶ 4. She was terminated the next day. Id.

Plaintiff filed suit in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia on July 26, 2010, and Defendant removed the action to this Court in August 2010. Defendant then filed the instant Motion to Dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).

II.Legal Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of an action where a complaint fails to "state a claim upon which relief can be granted." When the sufficiency of a complaint is challenged under Rule 12(b)(6), the factual allegations presented in it must be presumed true. Leatherman v. Tarrant Cty. Narcotics & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164 (1993). Although the notice pleading rules are "not meant to impose a great burden on a plaintiff," Dura Pharm., Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 347 (2005), and "detailed factual allegations" are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, [if] accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (internal quotation omitted). Plaintiff must put forth "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged," id., and there must be "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id.

A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) must rely solely on matters within the pleadings, see FED. R. CIV. P. 12(d), which includes statements adopted by reference as well as copies of written instruments joined as exhibits. FED. R. CIV. P. 10(c).


A. Count I -- Race Discrimination

Defendant seeks the dismissal of Count I on two grounds. It contends Plaintiff has neither exhausted her administrative remedies nor stated a claim upon which relief can be granted. The Court addresses each in turn.

Defendant first argues that this count cannot survive because Plaintiff had not received a right-to-sue notice before she initiated the instant case. Mot. at 5-7. While it may be true that Plaintiff had not properly exhausted her administrative remedies before filing her Complaint, this fault was resolved with the subsequent receipt of the right-to-sue notice on September 22, 2010, which she included in her Supplemental Memorandum. See Williams v. Wash. Metro. Area Transit Auth., 721 F.2d 1412, 1418 n.12 (D.C. Cir. 1983) ("Receipt of a right-to-sue notice during the pendency of the Title VII action cures the defect caused by the failure to receive a right-to-sue notice before filing a Title VII claim in federal court."); see also Holmes v. PHI Serv. Co., 437 F. Supp. 2d 110, 123 (D.D.C. 2006) ("[U]nder Williams, where a defendant moves to dismiss a plaintiff's Title VII action for failure to exhaust administrative remedies because the plaintiff did not receive a right-to-sue letter before filing suit, a court should not dismiss the claim if, after filing the complaint but before dismissal, the plaintiff receives a corresponding right-to-sue letter from the EEOC."). This count, therefore, cannot be dismissed on exhaustion grounds.

Defendant's argument on the merits, however, meets with greater success. Plaintiff's discrimination claim is twofold: first, that she suffered disparate treatment throughout her employment on the basis of race, Compl., ¶¶ 5-6, and second, that she was terminated for the same reason. Id., ¶ 7. Defendant, in response, notes Plaintiff's failure "to provide any description of adverse employment actions [Defendant] administered, or the supposed harsher or less favorable treatment African-American nurses received from [Defendant's] management for failures similar to those of Caucasian nurses." Mot. at 7. Defendant's position on the general disparate treatment allegations is well founded.

Plaintiff alleges that "Clinical Manager Hollandsworth discriminated in work assignments, training support, and responded in a disparate manner to workplace infractions committed by African Americans as opposed to similar workplace infractions by Caucasian Nurses." Compl., ¶ 6. Yet there is nothing whatsoever in the Complaint regarding work assignments or training support. Furthermore, the detail about the workplace infractions has nothing to do with discrimination. More specifically, as to the first two incidents, Plaintiff claims that she and other nurses made reports, but there was no discipline of the offending white nurse. Id., ¶ 2(a), (b). There is, however, neither any mention of the race(s) of the other reporting nurses or any description of what adverse action was taken against Plaintiff for her report. Similarly, there is no mention of any specific adverse action for the reporting of the ...

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