United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
TIMOTHY J. KELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Tyes-Williams, an African-American woman, has worked in
various chaplaincy positions for the Federal Bureau of
Prisons (BOP) since 2004. She describes the first decade of
her career as a steady climb marked by superior performance
reviews and robust skills development. After 11 years with
BOP, however, she ran into trouble with two coworkers who at
various times held supervisory positions over her and
received promotions that Tyes-Williams sought for herself.
From Tyes-Williams's perspective, these coworkers
unlawfully discriminated against her by treating her
condescendingly, interfering with her career advancement, and
depriving her of advantages routinely offered to white, male
employees. Tyes-Williams sought support from an Equal
Employment Opportunity (EEO) counselor and later filed an EEO
complaint, but she claims her coworkers' bad behavior did
not abate. After BOP took no action on her formal EEO
complaint, Tyes-Williams filed this lawsuit.
brings four claims, alleging discrimination, retaliation, a
hostile work environment, and a retaliatory hostile work
environment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
Defendant has moved to dismiss the latter three, arguing that
Tyes-Williams failed to administratively exhaust some of her
claims and that, in any case, none of them allege misconduct
serious enough to state a discrimination claim. For the
reasons explained below, the Court will grant Defendant's
motion and dismiss Tyes-Williams's claims of retaliation,
hostile work environment, and retaliatory hostile work
Factual and Procedural Background
has worked for the BOP since December 2004. ECF No. 1,
Complaint (“Compl.”), ¶¶ 1, 6, 7. In
June 2014, she was promoted to a GS-13 position as a
Chaplaincy Services Coordinator with BOP's Central Office
Reentry Division. Id. ¶ 9. Although this
position was based in Washington, D.C., Tyes-Williams worked
remotely, first from the Southeast Regional Office in
Atlanta, Georgia, and most recently from the Federal
Correctional Complex in Yazoo City, Mississippi. Id.
¶¶ 1, 9.
to Tyes-Williams, in her new position she was subjected to a
pattern of discrimination and retaliation on the basis of her
race and gender beginning in “approximately November
2015.” Id. ¶ 14. She identifies two
allegedly discriminating officials: Heidi Kugler and Kevin
Kelley. Id. In August 2015, Tyes-Williams reported
directly to Kugler, a white female. Id. ¶¶
14, 15. Tyes-Williams and Kelley, a white male, held
positions of the same grade, GS-13. Id. ¶ 15.
In November 2015, the BOP advertised an opening for a GS-15
position. Id. ¶ 19. Although Tyes-Williams
alleges that she was well-qualified and recommended for the
position, she did not receive an interview. Id.
¶ 20. Instead, Kugler was selected for the position.
alleges that Kugler and Kelley proceeded to treat her in a
cold, unpleasant, and hostile manner. See Id.
¶¶ 17-18, 21, 38, 40-41. She contacted an EEO
counselor about filing an EEO complaint of discrimination on
November 16, 2015. Id. ¶ 22. Thereafter, she
alleges, Kugler circumscribed her responsibilities-although
not those of any white employees-and limited her advancement
potential. Id. ¶¶ 23-26. Further, Kugler
limited Tyes-Williams's access to training opportunities.
Id. ¶¶ 27-31.
February 2016, Kelley was promoted to Kugler's old
position, although Tyes-Williams alleges that she had applied
and was qualified for it. Id. ¶¶ 33-34.
This made Kelley Tyes-Williams's supervisor. Id.
¶ 33. In March 2016, Tyes-Williams requested to be
transferred to Yazoo City, Mississippi. Id. ¶
42. Her request was not approved for more than three months.
Id. ¶ 43. In response to this alleged
“ongoing discriminat[ion], ” Tyes-Williams
followed up on her original EEO contact by filing an informal
complaint on March 18, 2016. Id. ¶ 44.
Tyes-Williams experienced trouble with her assigned
performance standards and the performance ratings she
received. Among other things, she received a
less-than-perfect “Excellent” rating-her first
such rating in eight years-and was frustrated by the
vagueness of the standards she was expected to meet.
Id. ¶¶ 48, 51, 54-55. Eventually, however,
the rating that Tyes-Williams received in April 2017 was
adjusted upward. Id. ¶¶ 58-60. Finally, in
April 2017, Tyes-Williams requested two days per week of
telework and was granted only one, despite some white
employees being allowed two. Id. ¶¶ 60-62.
16, 2017, Tyes-Williams filed the instant action. Her
complaint includes four counts: discrimination (Count I),
hostile work environment (Count II), retaliation (Count III),
and retaliatory hostile work environment (Count IV).
See Compl. ¶¶ 64-89. Defendant has moved
to dismiss Counts II and IV for failure to allege misconduct
that rises to the level of a hostile work environment claim.
ECF No. 6-1, Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support
of Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Counts II, III, and IV,
at 7. As to Count III, Defendant moves to dismiss on the
grounds that Tyes-Williams (1) has not exhausted “most
subparts” of her claim, (2) has failed to allege a
materially adverse action, and (3) has failed to allege a
causal connection between her protected activity and some of
the alleged retaliation. See Id. at 15-23.
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)). “A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the
legal sufficiency of a plaintiffs complaint; it does not
require a court to ‘assess the truth of what is
asserted or determine whether a plaintiff has any evidence to
back up what is in the complaint.'” Herron v.
Fannie Mae, 861 F.3d 160, 173 (D.C. Cir. 2017) (quoting
Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir.
2002)). The Court construes all factual inferences in favor
of the plaintiff when considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion.
Hettinga v. United States, 677 F.3d 471, 476 (D.C.
Cir. 2012). When defendants allege that plaintiffs have
failed to administratively exhaust their Title VII claims,
courts typically resolve the exhaustion question in the
context of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Augustus v.
Locke, 699 F.Supp.2d 65, 69 n.3 (D.D.C. 2010).
Hostile Work Environment and Retaliatory Hostile Work
Environment Claims (Counts II and IV)
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, federal employers may not
discriminate “based on race, color, religion, sex, or
national origin.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(a).
“[A] plaintiff may establish a violation of Title VII
by proving that discrimination . . . has created a hostile or
abusive work environment.” Meritor Sav. Bank, FSB
v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 66 (1986). To state a hostile
work environment claim, an employee must allege misconduct so
serious that it has changed “a ‘term, condition,
or privilege' of employment within the meaning of Title
VII.” Id. at 67. In determining whether a work
environment is hostile, courts consider “the frequency
of the discriminatory conduct; its severity; whether it is
physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive
utterance; and whether it unreasonably interferes with an
employee's work performance.” Harris v.
Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 23 (1993). The Supreme
Court has held that “the ordinary tribulations of the
workplace, such as the sporadic use of abusive language,
gender-related jokes, and occasional teasing” are not
sufficiently serious to create a hostile work environment.
Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775, 788
(1998) (quoting B. Lindemann & D. Kadue, Sexual
Harassment in Employment Law 175 (1992)). Nor are
“offhand comments [or] isolated incidents (unless
extremely serious).” Id.
many of the slights Tyes-Williams experienced are of a kind
that courts in this district have expressly held are, on
their own, insufficient to form a hostile work environment
claim. About half of the affronts Tyes-Williams identifies
are interactions with Kugler or Kelley that she found
offensive or inappropriate. For example, she alleges that
Kugler was “cold” to her and was “unfairly
critical” of her work. Compl. ¶ 16. Kugler also
referred to herself as Tyes-Williams's “boss,
” but referred to subordinate white employees as
“co-worker[s]” or “teammate[s].”
Id. ¶ 17. After Kugler was promoted over
Tyes-Williams, she said she would “support”
Tyes-Williams transferring to another department.
Id. ¶ 21. And Kugler asked Tyes-Williams how
her husband would feel about her traveling or changing duty
stations, which Tyes-Williams found inappropriate.
Id. ¶ 18. As for Kelley, Tyes-Williams alleges
that he yelled at her in front of her colleagues on two
occasions. Id. ¶¶ 38, 40. But
“disparaging remarks, criticisms of [the
plaintiff's] work, and other negative comments” do
not make a hostile work environment. Nurriddin v.
Bolden, 674 F.Supp.2d 64, 94 (D.D.C. 2009) (citing
Stewart v. Evans, 275 F.3d 1126, 1134-35 (D.C. Cir.
2002)). Similarly, neither do these allegations.
makes other allegations regarding her assignments and
performance evaluations, but these allegations are also
insufficient to state a hostile work environment claim.
Tyes-Williams alleges that when Kugler became her supervisor,
she instructed Tyes-Williams to stop performing work for the
South Central and Southeast Regional branches despite
consistent positive feedback from those branches on her
performance. Compl. ¶¶ 23-24. Tyes-Williams
characterizes this work as “front-facing” and
providing a “terrific opportunity for
advancement.” Id. ¶ 25. Tyes-Williams
also alleges that Kugler required her-and no other
employee-to obtain explicit permission before working on any
new tasks, even if they fell within her existing job
responsibilities. Id. ¶ 26. When Kugler issued
performance ratings, Tyes-Williams received
“Excellent” rather than “Outstanding”
for the first time in eight years. Id. ¶¶
46, 48. When Kelley became Tyes-Williams's supervisor,
she alleges, he imposed vague performance standards that he
refused to clarify to her. Id. ¶¶ 54, 55.
And again, Tyes-Williams received a rating of
“Excellent” rather than “Outstanding,
” which a grievance committee later corrected to
“Outstanding.” Id. ¶¶ 57-59.
However, allegations of “the removal of important
assignments, lowered performance evaluations, and close
scrutiny of assignments by management” are also not
enough to state a hostile work environment claim.
Nurriddin, 674 F.Supp.2d at 94 (citing Bell v.
Gonzales, 398 F.Supp.2d 78, 92 (D.D.C. 2005)).
additional allegations also fail to plead a hostile work
environment. She alleges that at one point, Kugler forbade
her-and no other employee-from attending trainings at the
BOP's training center unless she was presenting the
training. Compl. ¶¶ 27, 30-31. Although Kugler said
this decision was made for budgetary reasons, Tyes-Williams
alleges that the branch's budget had recently increased
by $30, 000. Id. ¶ 32. When Tyes-Williams
requested to change her duty station to Yazoo City,
Mississippi, she alleges that the BOP did not approve her
request for more than three months. Id. ¶¶
42-43. And finally, when Tyes-Williams submitted a request to
Kelley to telework two days of the week, he authorized only
one day, even though a number of other employees in the
office were permitted two days. Id. ¶¶
60-62. But in Beckwith v. Ware, 174 F.Supp.3d 1, 5-6
(D.D.C. 2014), ...