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Kornyo v. Gonzaga College High School

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 5, 2018




         This case arises from the decision of Defendant Gonzaga College High School (“Gonzaga”) to terminate the employment of one of its ethics and philosophy teachers, Plaintiff Emmanuel A. Kornyo. Plaintiff is black and a native of Ghana. During his tenure at Gonzaga, Plaintiff was in the United States on an H-1B visa. Plaintiff alleges that Gonzaga discriminated against him on the basis of his race and national origin. Now before the Court is Defendant's [8] Motion to Dismiss. Upon consideration of the pleadings, [1] the relevant legal authorities, and the record as it currently stands, the Court will GRANT Defendant's motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         For the purposes of the motion before it, the Court accepts as true the well-pleaded allegations in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint. The Court does “not accept as true, however, the plaintiff's legal conclusions or inferences that are unsupported by the facts alleged.” Ralls Corp. v. Comm. on Foreign Inv. in U.S., 758 F.3d 296, 315 (D.C. Cir. 2014).

         According to the Amended Complaint, Gonzaga hired Plaintiff as a teacher of ethics and philosophy in September 2006. Am. Compl., ECF No. 7, ¶ 7. Plaintiff is black and a native of Ghana. Id. ¶ 5. During the interview process leading up to his hiring, Plaintiff alleges that he informed Defendant that he was in the United States on a student visa with a work permit. Id. ¶ 9. According to Plaintiff, Defendant told him that due to Plaintiff's prior experience teaching and in the Seminary, Defendant was willing, contingent on Plaintiff's performance, to sponsor his application for a work visa or a green card. Id. ¶¶ 10-11. Plaintiff alleges that, based on his good work, the Headmaster at Gonzaga eventually agreed to sponsor his application for an H-1B visa. Id. ¶ 19. Plaintiff's visa application was approved. Id. ¶ 22. Plaintiff then began the process of applying for a green card. Id. ¶¶ 23-25. He requested assistance in that process (including the completion of a “labor certification”) from the Headmaster, who took his request under advisement. Id. ¶¶ 25-26.

         Later, Plaintiff participated in a skit about the Headmaster at a school retreat. Id. ¶¶ 27-29. The skit allegedly portrayed the Headmaster holding an umbrella and saying “good morning.” Id. ¶ 29. Plaintiff alleges that, after the skit was over, the Headmaster confronted him and said “why did you do a skit about me? It was very offensive, it should never be done, and is not acceptable.” Id. ¶ 30. Plaintiff apologized, but feared retaliation. Id. ¶¶ 30-32.

         Plaintiff was subsequently approached about teaching a new course at Gonzaga in Bioethics. Id. ¶ 34. In order to prepare to teach this new subject matter, Plaintiff allegedly requested permission to take a course on Biotechnology at Georgetown University, and have Gonzaga reimburse him for the tuition. Id. ¶¶ 34-35. Plaintiff alleges that the Headmaster originally agreed but, after Plaintiff was accepted in the program, retracted his support and informed Plaintiff that the school would not pay for Plaintiff to attend the course. Id. ¶¶ 36-40. The Headmaster allegedly determined that the program was not related to the subject Plaintiff taught at Gonzaga, and also cited concerns about the program's cost and Plaintiff's ability to successfully complete it. Id. ¶¶ 39-40. Plaintiff attended and completed the program regardless, without reimbursement. Id. ¶ 41. According to Plaintiff, other teachers at Gonzaga received reimbursement for their own educational pursuits. Id. ¶ 43.

         Plaintiff approached the Headmaster in early 2011 and requested that he be allowed to take leave to care for his sick wife. Id. ¶¶ 47-51. He also asserted that he was entitled to a one year sabbatical under Gonzaga's employee handbook. Id. ¶ 51. Both requests were denied. Id. ¶ 52. Plaintiff was told that if he took long term leave he would be terminated and would have to re-apply for his job. Id.

         Plaintiff missed an hour of work on February 24, 2011. Id. ¶ 54. He alleges that he received permission to do so from “a colleague temporarily coordinating class coverage” while the Dean and Headmaster were travelling, but was nonetheless disciplined for his absence. Id. ¶¶ 54-57. At a meeting during which he was disciplined, Plaintiff alleges that the Headmaster “raised his voice and displayed furious anger, ” and stated “that he has his own set of rules for the Plaintiff.” Id. ¶ 58. Plaintiff was given a probation letter for “dereliction of duty.” Id. ¶ 59. Plaintiff claims that as he was leaving that meeting, the Headmaster stated that “if Plaintiff cannot attend school Plaintiff ‘should be prepared to go back to the jungle.'” Id.

         Later in 2011, Plaintiff went on FMLA leave to care for his wife. Id. ¶ 61. Upon returning, Plaintiff was allegedly instructed by the Headmaster “to notify him of all travel plans domestic and international.” Id. ¶ 63.

         In late 2012, Plaintiff informed the Headmaster that he was on the final extension of his H-1B visa and asked the Headmaster whether he would support Plaintiff in the process of obtaining a green card and sign Plaintiff's labor certification. Id. ¶ 68. The Headmaster allegedly gave an uncertain response and did not sign the certification. Id.

         In 2013, Gonzaga's Headmaster again declined to reimburse Plaintiff for the cost of tuition for educational courses Plaintiff had been accepted to attend, again on the grounds that the program Plaintiff sought to attend fell outside the scope of Plaintiff's teaching assignment. Id. ¶ 71. The Headmaster also told Plaintiff in 2013 that he had decided not to sign Plaintiff's labor certification for his green card, and that he was not comfortable offering Plaintiff a permanent position at Gonzaga. Id. ¶ 73. On April 30, 2013, Defendant's Dean of Faculty informed Plaintiff that his employment would not be renewed for the next semester. Id. ¶ 78.

         At a ceremony on June 2, 2013, outside the presence of other colleagues, the Headmaster allegedly expressed to Plaintiff that he was surprised and angry that Plaintiff was present, and also allegedly used a racial slur to refer to Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 74.

         Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on June 2, 2017. Compl., ECF No. 1. In the operative Amended Complaint, Plaintiff asserts three claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1981: one for national origin discrimination (Count I), one for race discrimination (Count ...

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