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Williams v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

June 30, 2018

OSCAR WILLIAMS Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          EMMET G. SULLIVAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Oscar Williams brings this action alleging defendant Metropolitan Police Department (“MPD”) discriminated against him because of his sexual orientation, retaliated against him, and created a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et. seq., and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act (“DCHRA”), D.C. Code Ann. § 2-1402.21. Specifically, Mr. Williams alleges that MPD took a series of actions resulting in his eventual termination after learning about Mr. Williams' same-sex marriage. Pending before the Court is MPD's motion to dismiss the amended complaint. Upon consideration of the amended complaint, MPD's motion, the response and reply thereto, and the applicable law, the Court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part MPD's motion to dismiss. Specifically, the Court finds that Mr. Williams' claims based on discrimination and retaliation may proceed, but that he has failed to adequately allege a claim based on hostile work environment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Mr. Williams is a married gay man. Am. Compl., ECF No. 11 ¶ 6. In 2016, Mr. Williams applied for a Management Supervisory Service position of Supervisor at MPD. Id. ¶ 7. On or about May 5, 2016, Mr. Williams was notified that he was hired for the position, and that the “background investigation unit” would contact him to begin the hiring process. Id. ¶¶ 8-9. Approximately two and a half months later, Mr. Williams received a call from MPD's Human Resource Specialist Marie Dawkins who notified Mr. Williams that he had successfully passed the background investigation. Id. ¶ 16. Ms. Dawkins extended an offer of employment to Mr. Williams, which he accepted. Id. ¶ 18.

         In the course of that call, Mr. Williams asked Ms. Dawkins whether the salary associated with the position could be negotiated, noting that his “partner” had advised him that negotiation may be possible. Id. ¶¶ 19, 20. Ms. Dawkins asked what he meant by “partner, ” and Mr. Williams informed her that he was gay. Id. ¶¶ 21-22. According to Mr. Williams, the conversation “soured quickly” at that point, and Ms. Dawkins told him that salary negotiations would “definitely not happen in this situation.” Id. ¶ 23. Mr. Williams subsequently contacted MPD's Human Resource Department and complained to Operations Manager Lennie Moore about the exchange with Ms. Dawkins and her “offensive response.” Id. ¶ 24.

         On or about August 5, 2016, Mr. Moore contacted Mr. Williams to advise him that there was a “mishandling of paperwork, ” that the supervisory position he was offered was going to be reposted, and that he would need to re-apply and re-interview. Id. ¶¶ 27-28. Mr. Moore also informed Mr. Williams that, in the meantime, MPD would offer him a “non-competitive career service appointment” position. Id. ¶ 29. Mr. Williams “reluctantly” accepted the appointment until he could re-apply for the supervisory position. Id. ¶ 30. Mr. Williams alleges that, around the same time, another employee, Lamont Mahone, was hired for a position identical to the supervisory position for which Mr. Williams was initially hired. Id. ¶ 26. Mr. Williams believes that Mr. Mahone is a heterosexual man. Id.

         On August 8, 2016, Mr. Williams met with Ms. Dawkins and Human Resource Director Kathleen Crenshaw for orientation for the non-competitive appointment position he accepted. Id. ¶ 31. Mr. Williams alleges that, when he inquired about benefits for his partner during an orientation session, he immediately noticed “disdain and disgust in Ms. Dawkins' body language, tone, and voice in responding.” Id. ¶¶ 33-34. Moreover, Ms. Dawkins “avoided interaction with Mr. Williams for the rest of [that] day.” Id. ¶ 36. A few days later, Mr. Williams reported the incident to Mr. Moore. Id. ¶ 37. In the course of this conversation, Mr. Moore stated that Ms. Dawkins “was the person who initially mishandled [Mr. Williams'] paperwork” and that she was “not very fond” of gay men. Id. ¶¶ 38-40.

         On September 7, 2016, after Mr. Williams had begun working in the non-competitive position, he received a call from Ms. Dawkins regarding the supervisory position for which he had initially applied. Id. ¶ 47. Ms. Dawkins explained that “all interviews were cancelled” and that Mr. Williams would “receive a call if they were rescheduled.” Id. ¶ 47. Mr. Williams subsequently spoke to Mr. Moore, who reiterated that Ms. Dawkins was “not friendly” toward gay men and stated that Ms. Dawkins had “once again incorrectly handled the situation.” Id. ¶¶ 48-50.

         On September 30, 2016, Mr. Williams' immediate supervisor instructed him to report to Human Resources. Id. ¶ 52. Upon doing so, Mr. Williams was informed by Sergeant George Bernard that his employment with MPD was terminated. Id. ¶¶ 52-53. According to Sergeant Bernard, the purported reason for the termination was because Mr. Williams was “not a DC resident when he began employment and that ‘maybe' the background check was unsuccessful.” Id. ¶ 54. Notably, Mr. Williams alleges that the reasons for termination provided by Sergeant Bernard were different than the ones listed in the written confirmation of his termination that he later received. Id. ¶¶ 57-59.

         Based on these facts, Mr. William claims that MPD discriminated against him - and eventually terminated him - because of his sexual orientation. Mr. Williams's amended complaint alleges that MPD violated Title VII and the DCHRA by (1) discriminating against him on the basis of his sexual orientation, (2) retaliating against him after he complained to Human Resources, and (3) creating a hostile work environment. See Am. Compl., ECF No. 11 ¶¶ 63-98. MPD moved to dismiss plaintiff's amended complaint, arguing that Mr. Williams failed to allege sufficient facts to state a claim for sex discrimination, retaliation or a hostile work environment. See Def.'s Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss. Am. Compl. (“Def.'s Mem.”), ECF No. 13 at 7. MPD's motion is now ripe and ready for the Court's adjudication.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002). A complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal quotation marks and citation marks omitted). “[W]hen ruling on a defendant's motion to dismiss [pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)], a judge must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint.” Atherton v. D.C. Office of the Mayor, 567 F.3d 672, 681 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). In addition, the court must give the plaintiff the “benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.” Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994).

         Despite this liberal pleading standard, to survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). A claim is facially plausible when the facts pled in the complaint allow the court to “draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. The standard does not amount to a “probability requirement, ” but it does require more than a “sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id.

         III. ...


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