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Touvian v. District of Columbia Public Schools

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 7, 2018




         In the fall of 2016, Naomi Touvian informed her employer that she would miss seven days of work in October to observe Jewish holidays. Touvian alleges that a trio of adverse actions were taken to retaliate against her for this and related events, and she asserts retaliation claims under Title VII and the D.C. Human Rights Act. Before the Court is the defendant's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant the motion in part and deny it in part.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         The District of Columbia Public Schools system (DCPS) hired Naomi Touvian in the summer of 2016 as a speech pathologist at Barnard Elementary School. Compl. ¶¶ 12, 14. Touvian reported to Dr. Maribel Vargas, who supervised Touvian's caseload and day-to-day activities, and to Ms. Tiffany White, who served as Touvian's clinical supervisor. Id. ¶ 16.

         About two weeks after beginning work, Touvian emailed Vargas and White to request leave for seven days in October so that she could observe the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. Id. ¶¶ 17-19. A week later, Vargas summoned Touvian to her office, explained that “[i]t is a lot of days and I don't like it, ” and said “I know there is nothing you can do about it, but I am going to report it to your supervisor.” Id. ¶ 22. Vargas then “reprimand[ed]” Touvian and said she had emailed the head of the Speech-Language Department to “report[]” Touvian and to “express[] her dissatisfaction” with Touvian's request. Id. Touvian became upset and did not report to work the next day; instead, she emailed Dr. Grace Reid, Barnard Elementary's principal, and relayed the statements Vargas had made. Id. ¶ 24.

         When Touvian returned to work on September 8, she was “shunned by her coworkers, ” including Reid, as “[o]ffice and administrative staff avoided her at every turn” and “people physically turned away from her.” Id. ¶ 25. She “received the same unwelcome and cold treatment from her coworkers again on September 9th.” Id. ¶ 27. Touvian felt it was “impossible for her to continue working at [Barnard], ” and she did not return. Id. ¶¶ 27-28. She was later transferred to two other schools within the DCPS system. Id. ¶ 28.

         On September 20, Touvian and her attorneys met with DCPS representatives-including Vargas and Reid-and Touvian complained about the treatment she received from Vargas and her coworkers. Id. ¶¶ 29-30. DCPS agreed to “take certain steps” to avoid similar incidents in the future, but to date, DCPS has “not taken such actions” and has not come to any agreement with Touvian. Id. ¶ 30.

         Touvian continued to work at two other DCPS schools until December 2016, when she traveled abroad to care for a sick family member. Id. ¶ 31. Upon her return in January 2017, DCPS informed Touvian that “her position . . . was no longer available to her.” Id. Touvian applied for other positions with DCPS between January and March, and though she received one interview, she was never offered a job. Id. ¶¶ 33, 39-41. Touvian pursued administrative remedies with the EEOC, and after the EEOC issued a dismissal and notice of rights, she brought suit in this Court. Id. ¶¶ 43-46.


         “To survive a [Rule 12(b)(6)] 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 quotations omitted); see also Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). In analyzing a 12(b)(6) motion, the Court will construe the complaint liberally in favor of the plaintiff and will grant the plaintiff “the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged, ” but the Court need not accept legal conclusions or inferences unsupported by the facts alleged. Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994); see also Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002); Ctr. for Responsible Sci. v. Gottlieb, 311 F.Supp.3d 5, 8 (D.D.C. 2018). The Court will grant a motion to dismiss only where a plaintiff's “well-pleaded factual allegations, ” even if true, do not “plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         Title VII forbids employers from “discriminat[ing] against any of [their] employees or applicants for employment . . . because [the employee or applicant] has opposed any practice made an unlawful employment practice by this subchapter.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). To prevail on a retaliation claim, a plaintiff must show:

(1) that he opposed a practice made unlawful by Title VII;
(2) that the employer took a materially adverse action against him; and
(3) that the employer took the action “because” the employee ...

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