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Wesley v. Georgetown University

United States District Court, District of Columbia

November 2, 2018



          BERYL A. HOWELL Chief Judge.

         Plaintiff Clarence Wesley, an African-American male, claims that his employer, Georgetown University, a private university located in Washington, D.C., subjected him “to a hostile work environment because of his race and because of his engagement in protected activity, ” and retaliated against him for engaging in protected activity, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended (“Title VII”), see 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. Compl. ¶¶ 1-3, 10, 21, 24, ECF No. 1-1. The defendant has moved to dismiss the Complaint, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), for failure to state a claim. Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss the Compl. (“Def.'s Mot.”), ECF No. 6. For the reasons discussed below, the defendant's motion will be granted, without prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The plaintiff has been employed in the defendant's Facilities Department since 2001, and alleges that he is a “well respected member of the University community” and has received “high praise for his work.” Compl. ¶¶ 6, 7. On January 27, 2014, Mark Sciarratta, a Caucasian male, became the Director of Facilities Management, id. ¶¶ 8, 11, and over a year and a half later, on September 15, 2015, Pedro Alvarez, a Hispanic male, became leader of the “Academic Zone Team, ” id. ¶¶ 9, 11.[1] The plaintiff alleges that “[s]ince Mr. Alvarez was appointed leader, there has been a breakdown in communication between management and employees.” Id. ¶ 12. Specifically, the plaintiff alleges that “Hispanic employees are notified about overtime opportunities first . . . [giving them] greater access to these opportunities, ” and “Hispanic employees are not subject to the same disciplinary measures as non-Hispanics.” Id.

         On July 2, 2015, Mr. Sciarratta and Mr. Alvarez accused the plaintiff “of stealing [overtime] hours, ” even though “he had pre-approval from Mr. Alvarez” to work three hours of overtime. Id. ¶ 13. Shortly thereafter, on July 21, 2015, the plaintiff filed a Title VII discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging discrimination by the defendant based on race because of the “preferential treatment of Hispanic employees regarding overtime and communication from management.” Id. ¶ 14. See also Compl., Ex. B, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Determination (“EEOC Determination”), at 13-14, ECF No. 1-1.

         On August 21, 2015, a month after the plaintiff filed his initial EEOC complaint, the plaintiff and a Hispanic co-worker, Hector Coreas, “equally engaged in an argument.” Compl. ¶¶ 15, 24; EEOC Determination at 13. As a result of this incident, the plaintiff was put on administrative leave on September 16, 2015, but Mr. Coreas received no punishment. Id. ¶ 16. Mr. Sciarratta was responsible for the investigation and disciplinary action related to this incident. Id. ¶ 17.

         The plaintiff notified the EEOC of the argument with Mr. Coreas and the resulting punishment, id. ¶ 18, and relayed his belief that he was disciplined for the altercation in retaliation for his earlier complaint regarding preferential treatment, id.

         On December 1, 2017, the EEOC issued the results of its investigation finding that the verbal altercation on August 21, 2015 “was initiated by Mr. Coreas, ” and that the defendant nonetheless disciplined the plaintiff, on September 16, 2015, by issuing “a disciplinary warning and place[ment] on administrative leave, ” “but Mr. Coreas was not” disciplined. EEOC Determination at 13. The Acting Director of the EEOC's Washington Field Office stated that “[b]ased on the foregoing, I have determined that [the defendant] violated Title VII by disciplining [the plaintiff] due to his race and in retaliation for his engaging in protected activity.” Id. at 14; Compl. ¶ 19. The EEOC made “no findings” regarding the plaintiff's “remaining allegations, ” evidently referring to the plaintiff's allegation about “preferential treatment of Latino employees with regards to overtime and management communications on work assignments.” EEOC Determination at 13-14. The EEOC invited the parties “to eliminate the alleged unlawful practices by informal methods of conciliation, ” id. at 14, but the defendant declined to settle and, on January 10, 2018, the EEOC granted the plaintiff a right to sue under Title VII. Compl., Ex. A, EEOC Not. Right to Sue, at 11, ECF No. 1-1.

         On April 6, 2018, the plaintiff filed the instant Complaint in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, and the defendant timely removed this action to this Court. See Compl. at 1; Notice of Removal to Federal Court, ECF No. 1; Notice to Counsel, ECF No. 4. The Complaint asserts two causes of action: one claim for subjecting the plaintiff to a hostile work environment, and one claim for retaliation. As factual support for his hostile work environment claim, the plaintiff alleges that the defendant's “[m]anagement has created an environment that favors Hispanic employees over other employees by informing them about overtime opportunities first and exposing other [non-Hispanic] employees to more strict discipline for the same or similar infractions.” Compl. ¶ 22. As support for the retaliation claim, the plaintiff alleges that the defendant retaliated against the plaintiff for engaging in the protected activity of filing a discrimination complaint when it placed the plaintiff on administrative leave following the altercation with Mr. Coreas, who was subject to no discipline. Id. ¶¶ 14, 16, 24.[2]

         The defendant now moves to dismiss the Complaint, with prejudice, arguing that the plaintiff's claims of hostile work environment and retaliation fail as a matter of law, and that the plaintiff fails to plead facts that would support a claim for race discrimination, Def.'s Mot. at 1, which motion is now ripe for review.


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires that a complaint contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” to encourage brevity and, at the same time, “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) (alteration in original; internal quotation marks omitted). The Supreme Court has cautioned that although “Rule 8 marks a notable and generous departure from the hypertechnical, code-pleading regime of a prior era, [ ] it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009).[3]

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the “complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Wood v. Moss, 572 U.S. 744, 757-58 (2014) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). A claim is facially plausible when the plaintiff pleads factual content that is more than “‘merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, ” and “allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556-57); see also Rudder v. Williams, 666 F.3d 790, 794 (D.C. Cir. 2012). Although “detailed factual allegations” are not required to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a complaint must offer “more than labels and conclusions[] and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” to provide “grounds” for “entitle[ment] to relief, ” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal quotation marks omitted; alteration in original), and “nudge[ ] [the] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, ” id. at 570; see Banneker Ventures, LLC v. Graham, 798 F.3d 1119, 1129 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (“Plausibility requires more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.”) (internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, “a complaint [does not] suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557) (second alteration in original).

         In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to plead a claim on which relief can be granted, the court must consider the complaint in its entirety, accepting all factual allegations in the complaint as true, “even if doubtful in fact, ” and construe all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; Nurriddin v. Bolden, 818 F.3d 751, 756 (D.C. Cir. 2016) (per curiam) (“We assume the truth of all well-pleaded factual allegations and construe reasonable inferences from those allegations in the plaintiff's favor.” (citing Sissel v. U.S. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 760 F.3d 1, 4 (D.C. Cir. 2014)). The Court, however, “is not required to accept the plaintiff's legal conclusions as correct, ” Sissel, 760 F.3d at 4, nor is it required to “accept inferences drawn by [a] plaintiff[ ] if such inferences are unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint.” Nurriddin, 818 F.3d at 756 (alterations in original) (quoting Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994)). Finally, while “matters outside the pleadings” generally may not be considered, without converting the motion to one for summary judgment, Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d), a court deciding a motion brought under Rule ...

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