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Taylor v. Howard University

United States District Court, District of Columbia

July 28, 2016

HAROLD TAYLOR, Plaintiff,
v.
HOWARD UNIVERSITY, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          REGGIE B. WALTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The plaintiff, Harold Taylor, brings this action against the defendants, Howard University (the “University”), Howard University Faculty Practice Plan, and Jeanette Gibbs, asserting claims of employment discrimination on the basis of gender and hostile work environment under the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, D.C. Code Ann. §§ 2-1401.01-2-1403.16 (West 2001), and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2 (2012). See generally Complaint (“Compl.”). The complaint also asserts claims for tortious bad faith and wrongful discharge in violation of public policy under District of Columbia common law. Id. Currently before the Court is the defendants’ Partial Motion to Dismiss (“Defs.’ Mot.”), which seeks to dismiss the claims asserted against defendant Gibbs, as well as Counts II (tortious bad faith) and IV (wrongful discharge in violation of public policy) of the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Upon careful consideration of the parties’ submissions, the Court concludes that it must grant in part and deny in part the defendants’ partial motion to dismiss.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         The plaintiff alleges the following in his Complaint. From August 26, 2013, to November 5, 2014, the plaintiff was employed by the Howard University Faculty Practice Plan as the Director of Professional Billing. Compl. ¶ 12. Upon being hired for this position, the plaintiff relocated from Florida to Washington, D.C. in the summer of 2013 and was provided with housing near the University as a privilege of his employment. Id. ¶ 15. The plaintiff’s “duties included, but were not limited to, managing the billing and collection of professional medical fees, ensuring that the collection process of such fees w[as] in compliance with municipal, state, [and] federal regulations, and supervising employees in the billing department.” Id. ¶ 13.

         Defendant Gibbs, who was the “Associate Vice President for Administration and Operations” and “the [p]laintiff’s direct supervisor, ” id. ¶ 6, allegedly told the plaintiff that he could live in the University-provided house as long as he remained employed by the Howard University Faculty Practice Plan, id. ¶ 15. Shortly after the plaintiff began his employment, the plaintiff’s “fiancée and minor children relocated and joined him [in Washington, D.C.] on or about December 19, 2013.” Id. ¶ 16. The plaintiff alleges that when Gibbs learned that his family had joined him as residents in the house provided by the University, “she demanded that the [p]laintiff immediately vacate the premises.” Id. ¶ 17. In contrast to this demand, “all female employees that had occupied the aforementioned premises with or without their families were allowed to occupy the premises as long as it was their pleasure to do so.” Id. ¶ 18.

         Shortly after the plaintiff commenced his employment, “he noticed that the billing department was violating the law by submitting medical records and bills to federally funded healthcare programs and private insurance companies for services rendered by physicians that had not been properly credentialed.” Id. ¶ 30. The plaintiff brought his concerns regarding the billing department’s practices to Gibbs’ attention, but she refused to take any action. Id. ¶ 31. The plaintiff then “reported the illegal billing practices to the Clinical Chairs, who in turn contacted [] Gibbs[, ] and shortly thereafter, the [p]laintiff was suspended and subsequently terminated for allegations of sexual misconduct.” Id. ¶ 32. The plaintiff requested that the defendants provide “the names of the persons [] he was being accused of sexually harassing, [the] dates such harassment occurred, and the conduct that constituted sexual harassment, ” but his requests were denied. Id. ¶ 33. The plaintiff contends that the University’s investigation of the sexual misconduct charges against him was a “sham.” Id. ¶ 35. Further, the plaintiff contends that complaints of sexual misconduct committed by female employees were not taken seriously while “allegations of sexual misconduct [by] male employees result[ed] in severe adverse actions regardless of the truth of the matter.” Id. ¶ 36.

         The plaintiff also contends that “[o]n numerous occasions, the [p]laintiff was subjected to embarrassing and humiliating treatment in front of female co-workers.” Id. ¶ 20. For instance, “any time that the [p]laintiff attempted to counsel or discipl[ine] a female subordinate, [] Gibbs would usurp the [p]laintiff’s authority and tell the female subordinates to ignore [his] . . . directives and/or discipline.” Id. ¶ 22. Gibbs allegedly “created an environment [that] undermin[ed] the [p]laintiff’s authority [and] resulted in the [p]laintiff’s subordinates refusing to accept instructions, directives, or counseling from him.” Id. ¶ 26. “[W]henever the [p]laintiff attempted to correct, discipline[, ] or reprimand his female subordinates, they would go to a female manager and complain . . . . The female manager would go to [] Gibbs and the matter would be taken out of the [p]laintiff’s hands.” Id. ¶ 27.

         Further, “all female senior executives were issued company credit cards, ” but the plaintiff’s request for a company credit card was denied, even though he was a senior executive, because “Gibbs did not believe that a man could handle the responsibility of a company credit card.” Id. ¶¶ 23-24. As a result, the plaintiff was “forced to pay [for] his company[-]related expenses out-of-pocket and wait months to be reimbursed, causing the plaintiff and his family undue hardship.” Id. ¶ 25.

         The plaintiff was also warned that “if the central billing office was not successful, [] he would be fired, ” even though “none of the female managers that were similarly situated and just as responsible for the billing office were threatened with termination if the central billing office was not successful.” Id. ¶ 21. Although the plaintiff “performed his job by either meeting or exceeding expectations, ” Gibbs gave the plaintiff “an unfavorable performance evaluation as compared to female employees[, ] which resulted in loss of promotional opportunities.” Id. ¶ 28. The plaintiff also alleges that “Gibbs promoted unqualified female employees to executive positions.” Id. ¶ 29.

         The plaintiff filed a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), and a Notice of Right to Sue was issued by the EEOC on July 8, 2015. Id. ¶ 3. The plaintiff then filed this case on October 13, 2015, asserting claims of gender discrimination/disparate treatment (Count I), id. ¶¶ 37-41; tortious bad faith (Count II), id. ¶¶ 42-47; hostile work environment (Count III), id. ¶¶ 48-51; and wrongful discharge in violation of public policy (Count IV), id. ¶¶ 52-54. The defendants’ partial motion seeks to dismiss Counts II and IV and the claims asserted against defendant Gibbs.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests whether the complaint properly “state[s] a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Rule 8(a) requires only that a complaint provide a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). But although “detailed factual allegations” are not required, Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)), a plaintiff must provide “more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation, ” id. Rather, the “complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A claim is facially plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw [a] reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). A complaint alleging “facts [which] are merely consistent with a defendant’s liability . . . stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

         “In evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court must construe the complaint ‘in favor of the plaintiff, who must be granted the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.’” Hettinga v. United States, 476 (D.C. Cir. 2012) (quoting Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1979)). However, conclusory allegations are not entitled to an assumption of truth, and even those allegations pleaded with factual support need only be accepted insofar as “they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         III. ...


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