*fn7,The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton United States District Judge,SAFIYA HOSKINS, PLAINTIFF, v. HOWARD UNIVERSITY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS." />

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Safiya Hoskins v. Howard University

March 20, 2012 *fn7

SAFIYA HOSKINS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
HOWARD UNIVERSITY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Safiya Hoskins brings this action against the defendants asserting claims for sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, and discrimination based on gender pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2 (2006), as well as tort claims under District of Columbia common law.*fn1 See Complaint and Prayer for Jury Trial ("Compl.") ¶ 1. Currently before the Court are the motions of defendants Howard University ("Howard") and Barron Harvey to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Upon careful consideration of the parties' submissions,*fn2 the Court concludes for the following reasons that the defendants' motions must be granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

The plaintiff, an African-American female, was formerly employed as an Assistant Director for Training and Communications at the District of Columbia Small Business Development Center at Howard University's School of Business (the "Center"). Compl. ¶¶ 6, 8. She held this position from September 2009 until her termination in July 2010. Id. ¶ 6. During this period, defendant Charles Webb was the Director of Finance at the Center, defendant Henry Turner was the Center's Executive Director, and defendant Barron Harvey was the Dean of the School of Business. Id. ¶ 7. The complaint contains the following factual allegations.

Starting in September 2009, "Webb began to verbally and sexually harass the [p]laintiff by sharing details of inappropriate dreams and engaging in unwelcomed advances." Id. ¶ 12. He "expressed that he had a strong sexual attraction for the [p]laintiff," and would "blam[e] the plaintiff for his arousal" by telling her things such as "you make me excited," "I cannot control my feelings for you," and "you turn me on." Id. During one encounter in October 2009, Webb "grabbed [the plaintiff's] arm and held her against her will." Id. ¶ 13. "The [p]laintiff suffered physical pain and bruises on her arm as a result of Webb's grip that lasted for two weeks." Id. Following this encounter, Webb continued to make sexual remarks to the plaintiff, sharing "details of his life as a philanderer, his obsession with sex and his abuse of pornography and prostitutes," as well as his desire to have sex with the plaintiff. Id. ¶ 14. At one point, Webb suggested that he had considered sexually assaulting the plaintiff, telling her that he had "watched her walk all the way to the parking lot one dark evening" and warning that she "should pay more attention when . . . walking at night and be more aware of [her] surroundings[] because, if [he] was [his] old self [he] might have grabbed [her] and done something to [her]."

Id. ¶ 14. He also made "moaning sounds" and inappropriate "gesture[s] including licking his lips and acting as though he was holding himself back from grabbing her." Id.

During another incident that occurred on February 4, 2010, Webb became outraged upon learning that the plaintiff was going to receive a salary increase. Id. ¶ 15. He shouted at the plaintiff in an "uncontrollable rage," exclaiming "I will have you fired!" and "[y]ou cannot make more money than me!". Id. Webb's "rage and verbal assaults became violent because [the

p]laintiff would not share the details of her earnings with him." Id. He "threatened [the

p]laintiff's physical safety" and "positioned himself to strike" her. Id. The plaintiff then "went into her office and shut the door" to escape Webb, after which he eventually stopped shouting and left the office. Id.

The plaintiff relayed her concerns about Webb to her direct supervisor, defendant Henry Turner, by email on February 5, 2010, and then in person on February 12, 2010. Id. ¶ 16. Turner defended Webb's behavior, stating that "Webb is a minister," and that "when [he] first came to work here he said that he could not even drive with a woman in his car." Id. ¶ 17. Turner also placed blame on the plaintiff for the incident by stating that she "had too much caffeine," which caused her to be "giddy," and that this might have affected how Webb construed her actions. Id. He noted that Webb had worked with women before without any problems, and wondered what made Webb's interactions with the plaintiff any different. Id. The plaintiff "expressed that she feared for her safety as a result of Webb's erratic behavior," in response to which Turner "promised to keep their discussion in confidence until a mutually agreeable solution could be reached." Id. However, despite this promise, within "less than an hour" Turner told Webb about the plaintiff's complaint and their ensuing discussion. Id. ¶ 18. Fearful for her safety, the plaintiff "closed and locked her office door." Id. "Only minutes after the reported breach, Webb came to her office and began shouting her name, banging and twisting the knob for uninvited access." Id.

The plaintiff filed a formal complaint regarding Webb's conduct with Howard's Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") Office on February 16, 2010. Id. ¶ 19. Later that same day, the plaintiff received a call from a human resources representative at Howard who informed the plaintiff that she had been "researched" and "it had had been determined that she was overpaid." Id. ¶ 20. When the plaintiff asked whether other employees' salaries had been "researched," she did not receive a direct answer. Id. Instead, the human resources representative offered several incoherent and inconsistent reasons for the "manipulation of her salary and the standing of her payroll account." Id. The plaintiff never received a formal explanation for this salary adjustment. Id.

Ultimately, as a result of the plaintiff's complaints, Webb was "removed to the Dean's office to minimize contact" with the plaintiff. Id. ¶ 24. Following Webb's transfer, the work environment at the Center became "exceedingly hostile." Id. ¶ 25. "Male counterparts stopped speaking to [the p]laintiff" out of fear of being transferred. Id. They would "exclude [the p]laintiff from meetings and laugh in her presence, saying things like, 'you better be careful what you say,' or 'you know how women are.'" Id. Certain male employees would address the plaintiff "from a distance and exaggerate[] formalities like stepping aside and keeping a 'safe and respectable' distance from the [p]laintiff." Id.

Turner, in particular, rarely spoke to the plaintiff directly and would instead communicate with her through intermediaries, even when they were in the same room. Id. He avoided contact with her at work-related functions and declined to invite her to certain events to which the plaintiff, as the Center's "communications director," was "always invited." Id. ¶ 30. The plaintiff later learned that Turner was working with other employees "to manipulate information to get rid of" her. Id. ¶ 27. Turner also expressed insensitivity in regards to the plaintiff's situation with Webb. Id. ¶ 31. For instance, on March 8, 2010, Turner sent the plaintiff an email informing her that Webb would be in the office in the coming days and that "the [p]laintiff was required to be there as well." Id. The plaintiff then spoke with individuals in the Dean's Office and the EEO to express her discomfort with this situation, and was provided "a space in the Dean's Office for her to work from that day." Id. Then, on March 9, 2010, Turner told the plaintiff that she was expected to attend a "[d]irector's [m]eeting" on March 15, 2010, that Webb was also scheduled to attend. Id. ¶ 32. When the plaintiff "advised Turner that she would not be comfortable being in the same room with Webb," he told her that "the Dean's Office told him to arrange the meeting with Webb and [the p]laintiff present," and that the plaintiff "had no choice in the matter." Id. ¶¶ 32-33. The plaintiff responded that she would not attend the meeting because "she was directed by [the] EEO that legally she was not to share space with" Webb. Id. ¶ 33. "Turner reiterated in an increasingly hostile manner . . . that the directive came from" the Dean of the Business School, defendant Barron Harvey. Id.

As instructed, the plaintiff attended the director's meeting on March 15, 2010. Id. ¶ 35. A topic of conversation at this meeting was the "Women's Small Business Development Center," a new institution being created by Howard's Business School. Id. Turner "expressed his disdain for such gender centers" and "refus[ed] to assist their efforts or attend their opening ceremony." Id. The male attendees at the meeting vocalized their support for Turner's position. Id. The plaintiff "suggested tactful strategies for addressing the situation," to which "Turner suggested that [she] attend the ceremony." Id. He then asked "the only other female Director present if she would also attend." Id. The male employees, however, maintained that "they would not attend." Id. That evening, Turner sent an email "to all female staff" notifying them of the Women's Small Business Development Center grand opening, but "no men were listed on the email." Id.

The workplace hostility continued into March and April 2010. See id. ¶¶ 36-40. On March 25, 2010, the plaintiff arrived at her office to find that her computer's hard drive had been erased. Id. She was "forced to work from the lobby computer" and was unable to access the projects on which she had been working. Id. She obtained no assistance from Turner in addressing this matter "due to his attitude toward [her], distance, hostility, and reluctance to communicate." Id. Later that same day, Webb returned to the office. Id. Upon learning of Webb's return, the plaintiff went into her office and closed the door. Id. The next day when she arrived at work, Webb was standing in a "narrow doorway" through which the plaintiff had to pass to enter the office. Id. ¶ 37. She "felt fearful and hesitated before turning the doorknob," and Webb "made no effort to move." Id. Then, on April 7, 2010, Turner told the plaintiff "that Webb would be working in the [Center that day] due to a review visit from the [United States] Small Business Administration." Id. ¶ 39. In anticipation of Webb's arrival, Turner told the plaintiff, in a condescending tone, "work in your office behind a closed and locked door like you usually do." Id. Thereafter, "Webb continued to work in the same office," which caused the plaintiff to "request administrative leave." Id. Despite the filing of her EEO complaint, that office "did not conduct [a] timely investigation," nor did it "take remedial actions to protect the [p]laintiff," id. ¶ 40, and on July 31, 2010, the plaintiff was "terminated [by Howard, allegedly] on the pretext that she failed to report to work while she was being paid," id. ¶¶ 6, 44.

Based on the foregoing allegations of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, the plaintiff filed two complaints with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). Id. ¶ 3. In response those complaints, the EEOC issued the plaintiff two right-to-sue letters on June 30, 2011. Id. After receiving these letters, the plaintiff filed her complaint with this Court on September 23, 2011, along with an application to proceed in forma pauperis ("IFP application"). The Court granted her IFP application on October 6, 2011, and her complaint was accepted for filing by the Clerk of the Court on that same date.

The plaintiff's complaint asserts the following six counts against the defendants: sex discrimination and sexual harassment in violation of Title VII (Count I), id. ¶¶ 47-50; sex discrimination and hostile work environment in violation of Title VII (Count II), id. ¶¶ 51-54; sex discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII (Count III), id. ¶¶ 55-5; wrongful and constructive discharge (Count IV), id. ¶¶ 58-60; intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress (Count V), id. ¶¶ 61-63; and negligent hiring, supervision, and retention (Count VI), id. ¶¶ 64-66. On November 1, 2011, defendants Howard and Barron Harvey each moved for dismissal of the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). In support of their motions, the defendants argue that the ...


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