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Frett v. Howard University

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 10, 2014

JEANNETTE FRETT, Plaintiff,
v.
HOWARD UNIVERSITY et al., Defendants

Page 77

For JEANETTE N. FRETT, Plaintiff: Catharine E. Edwards, Sharon Yvette Eubanks, LEAD ATTORNEYS, EDWARDS KIRBY, LLP, Washington, DC.

For HOWARD UNIVERSITY, SIDNEY A. RIBEAU, BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF HOWARD UNIVERSITY, Office of the Secretary, DOUGLAS L. WILDER, Chairman of the Audit and Legal Committee of The Board of Trustees of Howard University, Office of the Secretary, Defendants: Johnine P. Barnes, LEAD ATTORNEY, GREENBERG TRAURIG, LLP, Washington, DC.

For JAMES JONES, Defendant: Amanda C. Dupree, Joyce E. Taber, Robert John Smith, LEAD ATTORNEYS, MORGAN, LEWIS & BOCKIUS, LLP, Washington, DC.

OPINION

RICHARD J. LEON, United States District Judge.

Page 78

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Jeannette Frett, an African American woman, brings this discrimination suit against Howard University (" Howard" or " the University" ); Howard's President, Dr. Sidney A. Ribeau; Howard's Board of

Page 79

Trustees (" the Board" ); and the Chairman of the Board of Trustees' Audit and Legal Committee, the Honorable L. Douglas Wilder (collectively, " the Howard defendants" ); [1] as well as James " Jimmy" Jones, Howard's former Chief Human Resources Officer. See Compl. [Dkt. #1]. The non-University Howard defendants and Jones move to dismiss all claims against them, and Howard moves to dismiss one claim against it.[2] Upon consideration of the pleadings, relevant law, and the entire record therein, both motions are GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff's complaint alleges the following facts, which I accept as true and construe in her favor at this stage.[3] Howard University is a federally chartered private historically black university that receives approximately $235,000,000 each year from the federal government. Compl. ¶ ¶ 13, 15-17. At all relevant times, Howard's President and Chief Executive Officer was Dr. Sidney A. Ribeau. Id. ¶ ¶ 18-19. As President and CEO, Dr. Ribeau was responsible for the University's day-to-day decisions, practices, and procedures. Id. ¶ 20. University governance fell under the purview of the Board of Trustees, which had broad authority to exercise all powers conferred upon the University by its Charter. Id. ¶ 22. Former Virginia Governor L. Douglas Wilder was a member of the Board and the Chairman of the Audit and Legal Committee, which was responsible for advising the Board on the University's Code of Ethics and Conduct. Id. ¶ ¶ 24-26.

Frett is a 53-year-old dark-skinned African American woman. Id. ¶ ¶ 9, 78. In September 2010, Howard University hired her as a consultant, and the following January, she transitioned into a permanent position as Senior Director and Chief Talent Officer in the Office of Human Resources. Id. ¶ 9. From the time of her promotion through her termination, Frett reported directly to Howard's Chief Human Resources Officer and Executive Vice President James Jones. Id. ¶ ¶ 32, 55.

Throughout her tenure, Frett had a number of interactions with Jones that she claims created a hostile work environment and evidenced color or gender discrimination. For instance, Jones often used the phrase " HNIC" (" Head Nigger in Charge" ) to refer to himself and other high-ranking University employees, which Frett found to be " crude, shocking, and highly offensive" and interpreted as a sign that Jones would not tolerate anyone questioning his authority. Id. ¶ ¶ 61-68. Jones also told sexual jokes and " openly and casually discussed [his] perceived sexual prowess." Id. ¶ ¶ 70-71. He ignored Frett's concerns about another employee's disrespectful conduct, id. ¶ ¶ 73-76, and her strong recommendation that ...


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