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United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. The George Washington University

United States District Court, District of Columbia

May 8, 2019

UNITED STATES EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Plaintiff,
v.
THE GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC” or the “Commission”) has brought this action to challenge alleged sex discrimination by Defendant The George Washington University (the “University”) pursuant to the Equal Pay Act of 1963, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d) (“E PA ”), and Title VII of the Civil Rights of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”). The director of the University's Athletics Department allegedly gave preferential treatment to a male staff member compared with a female executive assistant.

         Presently pending is the University's motion to dismiss this case for failure to state a claim. In the alternative, the University requests an order compelling the Commission to engage in further conciliation and a stay pending completion of that process. Upon consideration of the briefing, [1] the relevant legal authorities, and the record as a whole, the Court DENIES the [10] Motion of Defendant The George Washington University to Dismiss the Complaint or, Alternatively, Stay Proceedings.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Court shall rely on the allegations in the Commission's [1] Complaint to summarize the pertinent factual background, reserving further elaboration to pertinent portions of this Memorandum Opinion.

         Sara Williams was hired in August 2014 as the Executive Assistant to Patrick Nero, the University's Director of Athletics. Compl., ECF No. 1, ¶ 14.[2] In this capacity, Ms. Williams' work included, inter alia, “providing high-level administrative support” to Mr. Nero and “serving on the senior staff of the Department of Athletics.” Id. ¶ 15.

         The gravamen of this case dates to September 2015, when Michael Aresco “began performing work in the Administrative Suite of the Office of the Director of Defendant's Athletics Department.” Id. ¶ 18. Although the briefing touches on Mr. Aresco's title at the time, [3] the Complaint does not. Rather, the Commission simply states that Mr. Aresco “had not [previously] been employed by Defendant in any administrative position.” Id. ¶ 19. Once Mr. Aresco started contributing within the Administrative Suite, Mr. Nero “treated [him] more favorably than [Ms. Williams], because of sex, ” as evidenced by opportunities given to him while Ms. Williams was “minimiz[ed]” and “requir[ed] . . . to train Aresco, ” “perform job duties that Aresco either failed to perform or was incapable of performing, ” and do “tasks such as running personal errands.” Id. ¶ 20.

         In January 2016, the University advertised a new position in its Athletics Department. See Id. ¶¶ 22, 25. Based on the job posting, this Special Assistant's duties would consist of “work . . . substantially equal to the work that [Ms. Williams] performed.” Id. ¶ 24. But unnamed “personnel” at the University effectively informed Ms. Williams that the job was off limits to her, for the “the Special Assistant position had been created for Aresco, and . . . it already had been decided to hire him for that position.” Id. ¶ 25. Whether in that way or by unspecified other means, the University “dissuaded and deterred [Ms. Williams] from applying” for the job, despite her qualifications therefor, and Mr. Aresco was indeed “selected” that same month. Id. ¶¶ 26-28. Whereas Ms. Williams' annual salary as Executive Assistant fell between $38, 500 and $40, 000, Mr. Aresco initially was paid approximately $77, 500 per year as Special Assistant and later was awarded raises. Id. ¶¶ 17, 29.

         Ms. Williams turned to the Commission to pursue EPA and Title VII claims against the University. Id. ¶ 8. Upon finding reasonable cause for her claims, the Commission issued a Letter of Determination to the University and proposed joint efforts to conciliate. Id. ¶ 9. Despite communicating thereafter with the University, the Commission ultimately determined that it “was unable to secure from [the University] a conciliation agreement acceptable to the Commission” and sent a Notice of Failure of Conciliation on July 19, 2017. Id. ¶¶ 10-12.

         On September 26, 2017, the Commission brought this lawsuit against the University under the EPA and Title VII. Count I alleges that the University paid Ms. Williams “lower compensation than Defendant paid to males to perform substantially equal work, ” in violation of the EPA. Id. ¶ 32. Count II alleges that the University violated Title VII by “engaging in disparate pay practices based on sex”; “failing to provide [Ms. Williams] with promotional opportunities”; “subjecting [Ms. Williams] to disparate terms and conditions of employment”; and “depriving [Ms. Williams] of employment opportunities and advancement because of her sex.” Id. ¶¶ 37, 38. The Commission seeks a variety of remedies, including an injunction against any similar treatment of the University's other female employees, an order that the University put into place policies that ensure equal employment opportunities for women, and compensation for Ms. Williams. Id. (Prayer for Relief).

         The University responded to these claims with the pending motion to dismiss. After briefing had concluded, and while the motion remained under advisement, the Court granted the Commission's request for a stay during a partial government shutdown. Min. Order of Dec. 26, 2018. Some time after proceedings resumed, the Court sought an update as to any pertinent developments and/or case law that post-dated briefing of the pending motion. See Min. Orders of Jan. 30, 2019, and Apr. 23, 2019. At the Court's instruction, the parties focused on the University's alternative request for a stay pending further conciliation; they did not bring any other developments or case law to the Court's attention. See Joint Notice Regarding Case Update, ECF No. 21.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A. Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), 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) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)); accord Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007).

         Although “detailed factual allegations” are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, to provide the “grounds” of “entitle[ment] to relief, ” a plaintiff must furnish “more than labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citing, e.g., Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)).

         Instead, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 570; Erickson, 551 U.S. at 93. “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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The complaint must establish “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not ‘show[n]'- ‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Id. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).

         “In determining whether a complaint fails to state a claim, [the court] may consider only the facts alleged in the complaint, any documents either attached to or incorporated in the complaint and matters of which [the court] may take judicial notice.” Hurd v. District of Columbia, Gov't, 864 F.3d 671, 678 (D.C. Cir. 2017) (quoting EEOC v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 117 F.3d 621, 624 (D.C. Cir. 1997)) (internal quotation marks omitted) (alterations in original). “If the district court considers other facts, it must convert the motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment and ‘provide the parties with notice and an opportunity to present evidence in support of their respective positions.'” Id. (quoting Kim v. United States, 632 F.3d 713, 719 (D.C. Cir. 2011); citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d)).

         When considering a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), the court “construe[s] the complaint liberally, grant[ing] plaintiff[ ] the benefit of all inferences that can [reasonably] be derived from the facts alleged.” Sickle v. Torres Advanced Enterprise Sols., LLC, 884 F.3d 338, 345 (D.C. Cir. 2018) (quoting Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C. Cir. 2002)) (each alteration, except first, in original) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         B. Motion to Stay Proceedings

         “[T]he power to stay proceedings is incidental to the power inherent in every court to control the disposition of the causes on its docket with economy of time and effort for itself, for counsel, and for litigants. How this can best be done calls for the exercise of judgment, which must weigh competing interests and maintain an even balance.” Air Line Pilots Ass'n v. Miller, 523 U.S. 866, 879 n.6 (1998) (quoting Landis v. North Am. Co., 299 U.S. 248, 254-55 (1936)) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681, 706-07 (1997) (“The District Court has broad discretion to stay proceedings as an incident to its power to control its own docket.”).

         A party requesting a stay of proceedings “must make out a clear case of hardship or inequity in being required to go forward, if there is even a fair possibility that the stay for which he prays will work damage to some one else.” Landis, 299 U.S. at 255.

         III. DISCUSSION

         There is no dispute as to the Court's subject-matter jurisdiction, which is attributable, at the least, to federal questions under the EPA and Title VII. See Compl., ECF No. 1, ¶ 1 (citing these grounds, among others); 28 U.S.C. § 1331; 29 U.S.C. § 206(d); 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Each of those statutory regimes expressly recognizes jurisdiction in federal district court. See 29 U.S.C. §§ 215(a)(2), 217; 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(3).

         Although the University challenges an aspect of the conciliation process, neither of the parties has framed conciliation as a jurisdictional issue, and the Court is satisfied that it is not. See EEOC v. MVM, Inc., Civil Action No. TDC-17-2881, 2018 WL 1882715, at *2 (D. Md. Apr. 19, 2018) (citing Arbaugh v. Y & H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 516 (2006); EEOC v. Agro Distribution, LLC, 555 F.3d 462, 469 (5th Cir. 2009)); EEOC v. MJC, Inc., 306 F.Supp.3d 1204, 1211-12 (D. Haw. 2018) (discussing, e.g., Arbaugh, 546 U.S. at 515-16). Accordingly, the Court shall not examine any aspect of the Commission's compliance with ...


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