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Woytowicz v. The George Washington University

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 27, 2018





         Plaintiff Catherine Woytowicz filed this suit to challenge both the process and outcome of an investigation into her alleged violation of Title IX while she was employed as a part-time professor at The George Washington University (“University”). She has brought constitutional claims against the University and several of its employees for violations of her rights under the First and Fifth Amendments to the United States Constitution, a federal claim under the Ku Klux Klan Act, as well as common law and District of Columbia statutory claims for breach of contract, intentional infliction of emotional distress, discrimination, retaliation, and harassment. Defendants have moved to dismiss her complaint for failure to state a claim, arguing that the University and its employees cannot be liable to Professor Woytowicz for constitutional violations because the University and its employees are not government actors, that her contract claim is preempted by the Labor Management Relations Act (“LMRA”) and has not been properly exhausted, and that her remaining state law claims are insufficiently pleaded to survive Defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. For the reasons given below, the Court dismisses Professor Woytowicz's constitutional claims because she has not sufficiently alleged that the University and its employees were government actors or performing a governmental function when they investigated and disciplined her. The Court also dismisses one of her breach of contract claims as preempted by the LMRA and insufficiently exhausted. Finally, finding that the circumstances of this case do not warrant the exercise of supplemental jurisdiction, the Court remands Professor Woytowicz's remaining state law claims to D.C. Superior Court.


         Professor Catherine Woytowicz served as a part-time faculty member at The George Washington University from 2000 to 2017, teaching both in the Department of Chemistry and at the Elliott School of International Affairs. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 9-13. Professor Woytowicz was recognized both by the University and her students for her excellence in teaching. See id. ¶¶ 44- 55. In 2013, she received an award for her teaching in a “Writing in the Discipline” course and was also nominated by students for several other teaching awards. Id. In addition to teaching numerous courses at the University, see Id. ¶¶ 10-13, Professor Woytowicz actively mentored students on a personal and professional basis, and as a result, often received thank you emails and notes. See Id. ¶¶ 56-57; see also Am. Compl. Ex. 2, ECF No. 9-2 (fifty-nine thank you emails from students expressing their appreciation toward Professor Woytowicz for her teaching, guidance, and assistance with various applications).

         As a part-time faculty member at the University, Professor Woytowicz was a member of the Service Employees International Union, Local 500, CTW (“Union”), which had a Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”) with the University at all times relevant to this case. Id. ¶¶ 34- 35. Because Professor Woytowicz had held each of her teaching assignments for more than five academic years, she was entitled to receive “good faith consideration for appointment to teach the same course[s]” under Article V, Part C of the CBA. Id. ¶¶ 35-37.

         On March 17, 2016, Rory Muhammad, the University's Director for Diversity and Inclusion and Title IX Coordinator, notified Professor Woytowicz via email that a male student had filed a complaint against her under the University's Title IX Policy, and that the University intended to investigate the complaint. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 61, 78. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal civil rights statute enforced by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”). See generally 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681-88. Title IX provides that “[n]o person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a). OCR enforces Title IX by evaluating, investigating, and resolving complaints alleging sex discrimination, and also “conducts proactive investigations, called compliance reviews, to examine potential systemic violations based on sources of information other than complaints.” U.S. Dep't of Educ., Title IX and Sex Discrimination, docs/tixdis.html (last visited August 20, 2018). OCR also publishes informational and guidance documents to assist schools, universities, and other agencies in complying with Title IX requirements. Id.

         OCR regulations govern the enforcement of Title IX. See generally 34 C.F.R. § 106. Among other requirements, the regulations mandate that (1) “[e]ach recipient . . . designate at least one employee to coordinate its efforts to comply with and carry out its responsibilities under this part, including any investigation of any complaint communicated to such recipient alleging its noncompliance with this part, ” and (2) “adopt and publish grievance procedures providing for prompt and equitable resolution of student and employee complaints alleging any action which would be prohibited by this part.” 34 C.F.R. § 106.8. As a recipient of federal funds, Am. Compl. ¶¶ 302-04, the University was subject to the requirements of Title IX at all times relevant to this case. Id. ¶ 306. To comply with OCR regulations, the University assigned Rory Muhammad as its Title IX coordinator; his responsibilities included investigating complaints and carrying out grievance procedures adopted by the University. Id. ¶¶ 309-12; see 34 C.F.R. § 106.8(a).

         In 2011, the University entered into a Voluntary Resolution Agreement with OCR in order to resolve an OCR investigation into the University's compliance with Title IX. See U.S. Dep't of Educ., Resolution Agreement, OCR Complaint No. 11-11-2079, (last visited August 20, 2018). As part of the Agreement, the University agreed that by a certain date it would “submit to OCR for its review and approval draft revised procedures that provide for prompt and equitable resolution of complaints of sexual violence consistent with Title IX.” See Resolution Agreement ¶ 1. The Agreement also included instructions for providing notice of approved procedures and developing training programs to help employees “recogniz[e] and appropriately address[] complaints of sex harassment.” See Resolution Agreement ¶¶ 6-9.

         On March 23, 2016, Professor Woytowicz met with Mr. Muhammad in person. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 79-81. At this meeting, Mr. Muhammad told Professor Woytowicz that there had been “an allegation of sexual harassment based on unequal power.” Id. ¶ 84. Because she found the allegations to be vague, Professor Woytowicz requested that Mr. Muhammad provide further details of the accusations against her and the documents on which he was relying, but he did not comply with her requests. Id. ¶¶ 85, 94. Mr. Muhammad expressed his desire to resolve the complaint through an informal resolution, which he suggested would only result in a written reprimand, but Professor Woytowicz did not acquiesce. Id. ¶ 94. Professor Woytowicz alleges that Mr. Muhammad also asked her inappropriate questions during the meeting. Id. ¶ 101.

         On March 24, 2016, Mr. Muhammad sent Professor Woytowicz a list of eighteen quotations from text messages she had purportedly exchanged with the complaining student and asked her to respond. Id. ¶¶ 111-18. Mr. Muhammad stated that these texts “could be interpreted as sexual innuendo.” Id. ¶ 118. Professor Woytowicz believed that Mr. Muhammad quoted these messages out of context. Id. ¶¶ 115-18. On May 20, 2016, Professor Woytowicz sent to Mr. Muhammad, through her counsel, a 74-page response to the complaint against her, in which she sought to give context to the aforementioned text messages. Id. ¶ 133. Mr. Muhammad did not respond to this document. Id. ¶ 140.

         In June 2016, Mr. Muhammad emailed Professor Woytowicz and her counsel a nine-line written outline of the accusations against her, which she again found to be conclusory and vague. Id. ¶¶ 141-48. In July, Professor Woytowicz sent an 81-page response, arguing that the accusations in the June email were “materially different from the allegations Mr. Muhammad told Dr. Woytowicz about [orally], ” and also that without seeing the “actual allegations, ” she would not be able to properly respond. Id. ¶¶ 149, 153. Mr. Muhammad did not respond to this document either. Id. ¶ 153.

         In September 2016, Mr. Muhammad sent two emails indicating that after discussions between him, Dr. Michael King, Chair of the Chemistry Department, and Eric Arnesen, Vice Dean for Faculty and Administration in the University's College of Arts and Sciences, the Chemistry Department had decided to seek an informal resolution to the complaint. Id. ¶¶ 154- 55. In a November 2016 meeting, Mr. Muhammad stated that “he did not find evidence sufficient to support the complaint of sexual harassment, ” but that he had evidence of inappropriate behavior under the “Consensual Relationships” section of the University's Title IX Policy. Id. ¶¶ 159, 162. Mr. Muhammad told Professor Woytowicz that he believed there was evidence of a “verbal or physical” sexual relationship between Professor Woytowicz and the complainant, which violated the Policy's prohibition against “faculty member[s] . . . hav[ing] a sexual relationship with a student who is currently in his/her course or is subject to his/her supervision or evaluation.” Id. ¶¶ 63, 163. Mr. Muhammad again proposed an informal resolution where Professor Woytowicz would not have to admit to violating the Title IX Policy, but would still likely receive a written reprimand and have to participate in training. Id. ¶ 170. Professor Woytowicz did not agree to an informal resolution because she was afraid of losing her contractual right of first refusal to teach her various courses. Id. ¶¶ 174-75.

         In a January 2017 meeting, Mr. Muhammad reiterated his belief that the phrase “sexual relationship” in the Policy's Consensual Relationships provision included “verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, ” and that Professor Woytowicz had engaged in an improper sexual relationship with the complainant based on texts and emails mentioned in previous exchanges. Id. ¶¶ 186, 210. Dr. King stated in that meeting that he would “consider” allowing Professor Woytowicz to teach again if she agreed to an “informal resolution, ” but “did not say that he would appoint Professor Woytowicz to teach . . . or that Defendants would forego their power to bar her from teaching [in the future].” Id. ¶ 197. Professor Woytowicz objected to what she perceived as retaliatory behavior by the University and denied violating the Policy. Id. ¶¶ 198, 207.

         On February 7, 2017, Professor Woytowicz noticed that her name was not on the Chemistry Department's summer teaching schedule. Id. ¶ 224. Professor Woytowicz spoke with Dr. King, who explained that “[h]e was barring her from teaching these courses because of what she had done” and that “he would never let her teach again while he was Chair of the Chemistry Department.” Id. ¶ 227. The next day, Professor Woytowicz objected to this action through counsel, but Dr. King did not change his mind. Id. ¶¶ 228-31.

         On February 14, 2017, Professor Woytowicz sent a 26-page response to Mr. Muhammad countering the allegations presented during the January 2017 meeting and objecting to any finding of misconduct. Id. ¶ 233. The response included a declaration from a former roommate of the complainant “stating that he never saw or heard anything to indicate that there had been a sexual relationship between Professor Woytowicz and the student complainant.” Id. ¶¶ 234-35. In addition, she requested that Dr. King allow her to continue teaching Chemistry courses and that the University reimburse her for attorney's fees and expenses. Id. ¶ 235. On February 24, 2017, Professor Woytowicz officially rejected the informal resolution proposed at the January meeting. Id. ¶ 237.

         On March 5, 2017, Dean Arnesen notified Professor Woytowicz by email that Mr. Muhammad had concluded his administrative review of the complaint and that Dean Arnesen had decided not to initiate formal proceedings against her under the University Policy. Id. ¶ 240. On March 10, 2017, Professor Woytowicz and her counsel met with Dr. King, Dean Arnesen, and counsel for the University. Id. ¶ 242. Dr. King and Dean Arnesen represented that this meeting was a “supervisor-subordinate” conversation outside of the scope of Title IX proceedings. Id. ¶ 243. However, Dr. King and Dean Arnesen repeatedly suggested that Professor Woytowicz had engaged in “inappropriate” conduct and refused to answer her questions regarding the allegations against her. Id. ¶¶ 246-49.

         On March 15, 2017, Dr. King issued a written reprimand of Professor Woytowicz, which again stated that she would not be reappointed to teach summer courses in the Chemistry Department. Id. ¶¶ 286-87. In May, Professor Christopher Bracey, Vice Provost of Faculty Affairs at the Elliott School of International Affairs, notified Professor Woytowicz that, after conversations with Dr. King and Dean Arnesen and after reviewing Dr. King's written reprimand, he was also barring her from teaching a spring semester course at the Elliott School. Id. ¶¶ 289-92. Professor Woytowicz communicated her objection to this decision to Vice Provost Bracey, but he refused to reconsider his decision or meet with her per her request. Id. ¶¶ 296-97.

         On November 15, 2017, Professor Woytowicz filed suit in D.C. Superior Court, see Notice of Removal ¶ 1, ECF No. 1, and Defendants removed the case to this Court, see Id. ¶¶ 3-7. Professor Woytowicz has since amended her complaint to bring her constitutional claims against Defendants Muhammad, King, Arnesen, and Bracey under a Bivens cause of action instead of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Am. Compl. ¶ 4, but has otherwise preserved her original claims that the University violated her First and Fifth Amendment rights; and that all Defendants violated her right to freedom from conspiracy under the Ku Klux Klan Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1985; violated her rights to freedom from sex discrimination, sexual harassment, retaliation, and retaliatory harassment under the District of Columbia Human Rights Act; breached her contractual rights under the University's Collective Bargaining Agreement, its Title IX policy, and an agreement it had made with her to teach a writing seminar; and intentionally inflicted emotional distress on her. Compare Compl. ¶¶ 3, 463-540, ECF No. 1-1 with Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4, 583-667. She seeks back pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages, and injunctive relief. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 550-574. Defendants have moved to dismiss Professor Woytowicz's Amended Complaint, and their motion is now ripe for decision.


         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a complaint contain “a short and plain statement of the claim” in order to give the defendant fair notice of the claim and the grounds upon which it rests. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); accord Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam). A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) does not test a plaintiff's ultimate likelihood of success on the merits, but rather tests whether a plaintiff has properly stated a claim for which relief can be granted. It is not necessary for the plaintiff to plead all elements of her prima facie case in the complaint. See Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 511-14 (2002); Bryant v. Pepco, 730 F.Supp.2d 25, 28-29 (D.D.C. 2010). Nevertheless, “[t]o 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) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). This means that a plaintiff's factual allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56 (citations omitted). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause ...

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