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White v. Washington Intern Student Housing

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 25, 2019

JOSHUA WHITE, Plaintiff
v.
WASHINGTON INTERN STUDENT HOUSING, et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Joshua White is a former employee of Washington Intern Student Housing (“WISH”). As an employee of WISH, Plaintiff managed a dormitory referred to as Woodley Park. Washington Media Institute (“WMI”), an organization that provides internships with media organizations in the District of Columbia, houses some of their participants in Woodley Park. Plaintiff argues that he was wrongfully terminated by WISH in retaliation for complaints that he made about alleged harassment by Amos Gelb, the Director of WMI. Plaintiff brings claims against WISH, WMI, and Mr. Gelb (“all Defendants”) for the intentional infliction of emotional distress and the negligent infliction of emotional distress. He also brings claims against WISH for sex discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act (“DCHRA”). He brings further claims for civil battery and assault against Mr. Gelb and WMI. Finally, he brings a claim of negligent supervision and retention against WMI.

         Before the Court are WISH's [14] Motion to Dismiss, or in the alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment and Mr. Gelb and WMI's [13-1] Motion to Dismiss. WISH moves for summary judgment on Plaintiff's Title VII claim as well as dismissal of Plaintiff's claims for the intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. WMI and Mr. Gelb move for dismissal of Plaintiff's claims for civil battery, assault, and the intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Finally, WMI moves to dismiss Plaintiff's claim for negligent supervision and retention.

         Upon consideration of the pleadings[1], the relevant legal authorities, and the record for purposes of this motion, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Defendants' Motions. The Court GRANTS Defendants' Motions and DISMISSES Plaintiff's claims for:

• Civil battery, because that claim is barred by the statute of limitations;
• Assault, because that claim is barred by the statute of limitations;
• Intentional infliction of emotional distress, because that claim is barred by the statute of limitations; and
• Negligent infliction of emotional distress, because Plaintiff has failed to state a claim for which relief may be granted.

         The Court otherwise DENIES Defendants' Motions.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff began working for WISH in late 2012. In August 2013, he moved into Woodley Park, one of WISH's dormitories. As part of his employment responsibilities, Plaintiff managed the dormitory. Compl., ECF No. 2, ¶ 9. WMI participants were some of the residents at Woodley Park. Id. at ¶ 10. And, WMI occasionally held classes at Woodley Park. Id. at ¶ 14.

         Plaintiff alleges that Mr. Gelb, the Director of WMI, began sexually harassing him soon after Plaintiff moved into Woodley Park. Id. Plaintiff claims that Mr. Gelb would knock on his door late at night, make sexually suggestive remarks, and touch him in an aggressive, sexual manner. Id. at ¶ 15. Plaintiff further alleges that Mr. Gelb would leave sexual notes on his door and at other locations throughout Woodley Park. Id. Plaintiff also claims that in October 2016, Mr. Gelb secretly recorded a video of Plaintiff and his partner having sex and sent it to several Woodley Park residents. Id. at ¶ 16.

         Plaintiff alleges that he complained verbally and by email to WISH's management as soon as Mr. Gelb began harassing him. Id. at ¶ 17. Plaintiff claims that he sent approximately 15 emails to WISH's management detailing Mr. Gelb's behavior. Id. He further alleges that he complained verbally at least 30 times to Jacqueline Lewis, Managing Member of WISH, Marie Dennis, WISH's Vice President of Management, [2] and Dan Lewis, WISH's Manager. Id. at ¶ 18. Despite these complaints, Plaintiff contends that WISH took no actions to stop Mr. Gelb's alleged harassment of Plaintiff. Plaintiff posits that WISH failed to take action due to their lucrative financial relationship with WMI. Id. at ¶ 19.

         In July 2017, Plaintiff alleges that Mr. Gelb continued to make sexually suggestive remarks and attempted to touch him. Plaintiff claims that he told Mr. Gelb that he would call the police if he did not leave the building. Id. at ¶ 21. Approximately three weeks later, on August 21, 2017, Plaintiff was fired from WISH. Id. Plaintiff alleges that Ms. Lewis admitted that, in response to Plaintiff's complaints to WISH about Mr. Gelb, Mr. Gelb had threatened to terminate WMI's contract with WISH unless Plaintiff was fired. Id. at ¶ 12. On September 4, 2017, Plaintiff alleges that Ms. Dennis sent him a letter offering four weeks of severance pay in exchange for a general release of liability. Id. at ¶ 22. But, Plaintiff refused to sign the letter. Id.

         Based on these events, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on August 29, 2018. Plaintiff brings claims for:

• Count 1- Sex discrimination and retaliation under Title VII against WISH;
• Count 2- Sex discrimination and retaliation under the DCHRA against WISH;
• Count 3- Intentional infliction of emotional distress against all Defendants;
• Count 4- Negligent infliction of emotional distress against all Defendants;
• Count 5- Negligent supervision and retention against WMI;
• Count 6- Civil battery against WMI and Mr. Gelb; and
• Count 7- Assault against WMI and Mr. Gelb.

Id. at ¶¶ 35-73. Defendants have moved for the dismissal of all claims except for Counts 1 and 2. Additionally, WISH requests summary judgment on Count 1. These Motions are currently before the Court.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         1. Motion to Dismiss Standard

         Defendants move to dismiss many of the claims in Plaintiff's Complaint under Rule 12(b)(6). According to Rule 12(b)(6), a party may move to dismiss a complaint on the grounds that it “fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). “[A] complaint [does not] suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 557 (2007)). Rather, a complaint must contain sufficient factual allegations that, if accepted as true, “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         2. Summary Judgment Standard

         In addition to the dismissal of many of Plaintiff's claims, WISH moves for summary judgment on Plaintiff's Count 1 Title VII claim. Summary judgment is appropriate where “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and [that he] ... is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ.P. 56(a). The mere existence of some factual dispute is insufficient on its own to bar summary judgment; the dispute must pertain to a material fact, that is, one that “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The dispute must also be “genuine, ” meaning that there must be sufficient admissible evidence for a reasonable trier of fact to find for the non-movant. Id. In order to establish a genuine dispute, the non-moving party must (a) cite to specific parts of the record-including deposition testimony, documentary evidence, affidavits or declarations, or other competent evidence-in support of his position, or (b) demonstrate that the materials relied upon by the opposing party do not actually establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). Conclusory assertions offered without any factual basis in the record cannot create a genuine dispute sufficient to survive summary judgment. Ass'n of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO v. U.S. Dep't of Transp., 564 F.3d 462, 465-66 (D.C. Cir. 2009). When “a party fails to properly support an assertion of fact or fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact, ” the district court may “consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).

         When faced with a motion for summary judgment, the district court may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence; instead, the evidence must be analyzed in the light most favorable to the non-movant, with all justifiable inferences drawn in its favor. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255. If material facts are genuinely in dispute, or undisputed facts are susceptible to divergent yet justifiable inferences, summary judgment is inappropriate. Moore v. Hartman, 571 F.3d 62, 66 (D.C. Cir. 2009). In the end, the district court's task is to determine “whether the evidence presents a sufficient ...


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