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Christine King v. Triser Salons

October 3, 2011

CHRISTINE KING, PLAINTIFF,
v.
TRISER SALONS, LLC, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Amy Berman Jackson United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Christine King brings this action against Triser Salons, LLC and Mukesh Patel, alleging sexual harassment and a hostile work environment in violation of the D.C. Human Rights Act of 1977, D.C. Code § 2-1401, et seq. (2001) ("DCHRA"). Compl. ¶ 24. *fn1 She alleges that she was subjected to repeated unwanted sexual advances and sexual comments made by a co-worker at the Supercuts salon where she was employed, and that her complaints to the manager were unavailing. Triser owns and operates the Supercuts salon where plaintiff was employed, and, according to defendants, Patel and his wife are the sole members of Triser. Defs.' Mem. at 2.

Defendants move to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), or, in the alternative, for summary judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a) [Dkt. #3], arguing that Patel cannot be held individually liable under the DCHRA since he was not plaintiff's supervisor and there is no allegation that he participated in the unlawful conduct. Defs.' Mem. at 5---6. Defendants also argue that plaintiff's hostile work environment claim fails as a matter of law because 1) plaintiff did not report the conduct described in the complaint to Patel or Triser; 2) Triser had policies in place that prohibited discriminatory conduct and provided employees with the means to report it; and 3) Patel took action to place the co-worker on administrative leave when an incident was first reported to him. Defs.' Mem. at 6--9. Defendants do not articulate a basis for dismissing the claims against Triser on their face; rather, they advance factual arguments based upon Patel's affidavit that contradict the hostile work environment allegations. Therefore, the Court will treat the motion as a motion for summary judgment with respect to Triser, while continuing to review Patel's claim as motion to dismiss.*fn2

Plaintiff opposes defendants' motions, arguing that Patel is an "employer" who can be found liable under the DCHRA and that the defendants knew or should have known about the harassment but failed to implement prompt and appropriate corrective action. Pl.'s Opp. at 2. For the reasons stated below, the Court will grant defendant Patel's motion to dismiss without prejudice and deny summary judgment for defendant Triser at this time.

BACKGROUND

Beginning in the spring of 2010, plaintiff worked at a Supercuts salon owned by defendant Triser. Compl. ¶ 6. She alleges that her co-worker, Gary Blair, made regular, inappropriate and unwanted sexual remarks and advances towards her on numerous occasions. Id. ¶ 8. Plaintiff alleges that she complained to the store manager, Darrell Morrison, once a week about her co-worker's behavior. Id. ¶ 11. According to plaintiff, although Morrison observed Blair's behavior and spoke with Blair on numerous occasions, "it did no good, [Blair] would not listen to [Morrison], and [Morrison] could not get [Blair] to stop."*fn3 Id. ¶ 12. On or about January 23, 2011, Blair showed plaintiff a photo of his genitals. Plaintiff told her husband about the photo, and plaintiff's husband called Morrison to speak with him about it. Id. ¶ 8. She states that "[w]orking conditions were so intolerable that [she] was forced to quit." Id. ¶ 14.

Plaintiff alleges that defendants "failed to take appropriate remedial action to prevent or stop [the harassment] from happening" and that defendants subjected her to a severe and hostile work environment. Id. ¶¶ 8, 13. Plaintiff claims that both defendants knew or should have known about the harassing behavior. Id. ¶ 13.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

I. Motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6)

"To survive a [Rule 12(b)(6)] motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, --- U.S. ---, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted); accord Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).4 In Iqbal, the Supreme Court reiterated the two principles underlying its decision in Twombly: "First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions." Ashcroft, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. And "[s]econd, only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Id. at 1950.

A claim is facially plausible when the pleaded factual content "allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. at 1949. "The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. A pleading must offer more than "labels and conclusions" or a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action," id., quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, and "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice," id.

When considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the complaint is construed liberally in plaintiff's favor, and the Court should grant plaintiff "the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged." Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994). Nevertheless, the Court need not accept inferences drawn by the plaintiff if those inferences are unsupported by facts alleged in the complaint, nor must the Court accept plaintiff's legal conclusions. See id.; Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002). In ruling upon a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a court may ordinarily consider only "the facts alleged in the complaint, documents attached as exhibits or incorporated by reference in the complaint, and matters about which the Court may take judicial notice." Gustave-Schmidt v. Chao, 226 F. Supp. 2d 191, 196 (D.D.C. 2002) (citations omitted).

II. Motion for Summary Judgment under Rule 56(a)

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). The party seeking summary judgment bears the "initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted). To defeat summary judgment, the non-moving party must "designate specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. at 324 (internal quotation marks omitted). The existence of a factual dispute is insufficient to preclude summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is "genuine" only if a reasonable fact-finder could find for the non-moving party; a fact is only "material" if it is capable of affecting the outcome of the litigation. Id. See also Laningham v. ...


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