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Smith v. De Novo Legal, LLC

United States District Court, District of Columbia

November 21, 2012

Richard B. SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
DE NOVO LEGAL, LLC, Defendant.

Page 100

Richard B. Smith, Bethesda, MD, pro se.

Lawrence Z. Lorber, Ravinder S. Sandhu, Proskauer Rose LLP, Washington, DC, for Defendant.

Page 101

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

The plaintiff in this matter alleges that he was subjected to a hostile work environment and retaliation in violation of Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Now before the court is the defendant's motion to dismiss. For the reasons explained below, the court will dismiss the plaintiff's hostile work environment claim but allow his retaliation claim to proceed to discovery.

II. FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The plaintiff is a white contract attorney who alleges that he suffered racial discrimination at the hands of his black co-workers. The plaintiff's employment only lasted for three months. 3d Am. Compl. ¶ 2. The plaintiff's claim revolves around a handful of awkward interactions with his co-workers whenever their conversation turned to the subject of race. For instance, one day at work, a co-worker stated, " I voted for Obama because of the melanoma [sic] in his skin. I voted for Obama because he is black." The plaintiff claims that he was " humiliated and intimidated." Although another co-worker told him that it was just a joke, the plaintiff remained offended and humiliated by their laughter. Id. ¶¶ 3-4. A few days later, another co-worker asked about the plaintiff's heritage. The plaintiff said that he was of English/Irish stock. The co-worker responded by indicating that the plaintiff had African roots, " because everyone is from Africa." According to the plaintiff: " This was an attempt to establish African heritage as superior to my heritage. Again, I felt humiliated and intimidated." Id. ¶ 5. Later, the plaintiff was speaking with a co-worker regarding the inflammatory comments of a New Black Panther who had once stated: " You want freedom? You will have to kill some crackers. You're going to have to kill some of their babies!" Another co-worker (somewhat ambiguously) interjected: " That is every day in America." The plaintiff interpreted this " to be a threat of violence." He maintains that he felt " shocked and scared." Id. ¶ 6.

At some point, the plaintiff was accused of making racist remarks. Id. ¶ 8. In a conversation with his supervisor, the plaintiff denied the accusation and insisted that he was the victim— not the perpetrator— of racial discrimination. Id. The supervisor did not investigate the plaintiff's allegation, however. Instead, the supervisor asked the plaintiff to change his seating. Id. ¶ 11. The plaintiff insists that he was nevertheless subjected to further acts of racial hostility. For instance, one day the plaintiff went to use a communal computer and he found the web browser open to a website called " Black Snob." Id. ¶ 12. In addition, a co-worker asked the plaintiff if he had any black friends. When the plaintiff refused to answer, the co-worker moved to the other side of the office and sat with several other black co-workers. Id. ¶ 13. The plaintiff " felt isolate [sic] and humiliated." Id. Approximately one month after he complained of racial discrimination to his supervisor, the plaintiff was fired. Id. ¶ 17.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard for a Motion to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(6)

All that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require of a complaint is that it contain a " short and plain statement of the ...


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