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Katherine A. Teliska v. Janet Napolitano

November 28, 2011

KATHERINE A. TELISKA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JANET NAPOLITANO, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard W. Roberts United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Katherine A. Teliska filed this action against her former employer, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security ("DHS"), under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e et seq., alleging that the Secret Service, a DHS agency, subjected her to a hostile work environment in retaliation for her complaining about sexual harassment.

DHS moves under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) to dismiss Teliska's complaint for failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted. Because Teliska's complaint pleads a plausible claim of retaliatory hostile work environment, DHS's motion will be denied.

BACKGROUND

In February 2006, Teliska lived in Odenton, Maryland and worked as an Executive Officer for Pentagon official Maxie McFarland. Teliska applied through the Secret Service's Baltimore office for a position as a Secret Service Special Agent ("SA"). (Compl. ¶¶ 8-9.) SA Sean McCarthy was Teliska's point of contact for interviews and other application activities with the Secret Service. McCarthy conducted Teliska's initial application interview in Baltimore. (Id. ¶¶ 10-12.) Teliska alleges that on the day of the interview, McCarthy told her he was attracted to her, asked her to refrain from applying to the Secret Service because McCarthy would not be able to date an applicant, and asked her to spend the following weekend with him at his condominium in New York. Teliska declined McCarthy's invitation (id. ¶¶ 17-20), and later informed McFarland of McCarthy's inappropriate advances (id. ¶¶ 28).

In the Spring of 2006, McFarland instructed a colleague to contact Secret Service SA Tom Armis and complain about McCarthy's harassment of Teliska. (Id. ¶ 29.) According to the complaint, as a result of McFarland's intervention, the Secret Service investigated McCarthy's harassment of Teliska, and eventually removed McCarthy from Teliska's application file as a recruiter. (Id. ¶¶ 32-33.) Later in 2006, Teliska was interviewed by a panel of Secret Service agents. During the panel interview, Special Agent in Charge Ed Lugo informed Teliska that his office was composed primarily of men, and asked whether that should preclude him from hiring her "since [Teliska] obviously [had] a 'sting' out for men[.]" (Id. ¶¶ 38-40.)

In September 2006, the Secret Service hired Teliska to begin work in October 2006. (Id. ¶ 46.) According to Teliska, from the month she was hired through the beginning of December 2008, the Secret Service continuously retaliated against her for objecting to McCarthy's behavior. (Id. ¶ 47.) Teliska alleges that even though McCarthy had told her she would work in the Washington, D.C. region where she lived, the agency assigned her to New York and denied her a posting near Washington, D.C., falsely claiming no positions were available there (id. ¶¶ 48-49, 57); that the agency forced her to in-process in New York instead of following the normal procedure of having in-processing in the office of recruitment (Baltimore), imposing significant financial hardship on her (id. ¶¶ 50-53, 58); that her duties were reassigned during the United Nations General Assembly session in August 2008 in a manner that reduced her overtime hours; that the Secret Service denied her request for a hardship transfer to Washington D.C. in September 2008 (id. ¶¶ 69-79); that in November 2008 her supervisor who was good friends with McCarthy de-selected her for a Washington, D.C. assignment she requested because she sought to drive there in her personal car rather than in the agency vehicle he demanded she drive that she could not have used for personal errands, even though her replacement was not required to drive the agency vehicle (id. ¶¶ 83-90); that also in November 2008 her New York office never officially notified her of her assignment by headquarters to an imminent overseas Presidential protection detail which caused her to nearly miss the departing military plane (id. ¶¶ 94-103); and that the Secret Service denied her November 22, 2008 request to protect Vice President-elect Biden on Thanksgiving and required other agents, who had not volunteered, to work that detail (id. ¶¶ 104-105).

Teliska alleges that in November of 2008, she asked to speak with John McQuade, Assistant to the Special Agent in Charge ("ATSAIC") in New York about "a potential EEO issue." (Id. ¶¶ 91-92.) On December 19, 2008, she contacted an EEO officer to complain of sex discrimination and sexual harassment, and to request counseling with an Agency EEO specialist. (Id. ¶ 106.) According to Teliska, in January 2009, Evyenia Poumpouras, a special agent supervised by McCarthy, falsely accused Teliska of sleeping on the job and losing track of the whereabouts of the protectee to whom she was assigned. Even though the Special Agent In Charge of the New York office told Teliska that she was not responsible for the incident, ATSAIC McQuade removed Teliska from her duties as a midnight shift agent for the protectee and moved her to midnight response for counterfeit money arrests. The ATSAIC informed Teliska that her reassignment was based upon Poumpouras's accusations. Teliska alleges that her reassignment was humiliating and raised unfounded questions about her competence and professionalism. (Id. ¶¶ 112-125.) Almost immediately after she was reassigned, the supervisor of the counterfeit squad accused Teliska of not following appropriate protocol for the midnight response unit. (Id. ¶¶ 130-131.)

On February 4, 2009, Teliska gave a written statement to Inspector Eric Whatley and ATSAIC Kim Cheatle detailing the actions that Teliska considered to be retaliation against her for her complaint against McCarthy. (Id. ¶¶ 134-135.) Inspector Whatley told Teliska that her complaint would be forwarded to the EEO office, but asked Teliska whether she merely had a personal conflict with Poumpouras. (Id. ¶¶ 133, 136.) The Secret Service granted Teliska a transfer to the Washington D.C. office later that month, since she married a Secret Service agent living there. (Id. ¶ 141.) However, rather than continue her assignment to an Electronic Crimes Squad for which she had the requisite special training, the Secret Service assigned her to the Washington Investigative Team and assigned to the Electronic Crimes Squad agents who did not have the requisite special training she had. (Id. ¶¶ 142-143.)

On March 13, 2009, Teliska filed a formal EEO discrimination complaint with the DHS EEO office, alleging claims of sex discrimination and reprisal for having engaged in prior EEO activity. (Id. ¶ 181.) Teliska left the Secret Service later that month. (Id. ¶ 144.) In November 2009, the DHS issued a final agency decision ("FAD") dismissing Teliska's EEO complaint as untimely. (Id. ¶¶ 191-193.)

Teliska filed this action on December 23, 2009. Teliska's complaint alleges one count of discriminatory hostile work environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). (Id. ¶¶ 151-166.) The DHS has moved to dismiss Teliska's complaint, arguing that it failed to sufficiently allege a claim of retaliatory hostile work environment because her hostile work environment claim consists of discrete acts of retaliation, for some of which Teliska failed to exhaust her administrative remedies, and the remainder of which are insufficient as a matter of law to constitute a claim of retaliatory hostile work environment. Teliska opposes the motion, arguing that she timely pursued administrative relief and adequately pled a claim of retaliatory hostile work environment.

DISCUSSION

"A complaint can be dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) when a plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Maib v. FDIC, 771 F. Supp. 2d 14, 17 (D.D.C. 2011) (quoting Peavey v. Holder, 657 F. Supp. 2d 180, 185 (D.D.C. 2009) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6))). "A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint." Smith-Thompson v. Dist. of Columbia, 657 F. Supp. 2d 123, 129 (D.D.C. 2009).

To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, acceptable as true, to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." . . . A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the ...


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