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Jones v. Family Health Ctrs. of Balt., Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 29, 2015


         Decided September 28, 2015.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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          For Tiffany Jones, Plaintiff: Charles Henry Edwards, IV, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Office of Barry R Glazer PC, Baltimore, MD.

         For Family Health Centers of Baltimore, Inc., Ricardo Dajani, Defendants: Paul D Shelton, LEAD ATTORNEY, McKennon Shelton and Henn LLP, Baltimore, MD; Paula J McGill, Law Office of Paula J McGill, Washington, DC.

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         James K. Bredar, United States District Judge.

         Tiffany Jones (" Plaintiff" ) brought this suit against Family Health Centers of Baltimore, Inc. (" Family Health" ) and Ricardo Dajani (collectively, " Defendants" ). Against Family Health, Plaintiff alleged sexual harassment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (" Title VII" ), 42 U.S.C. § § 2000e et seq., as well as negligent hiring, training, and retention under Maryland law. Against both Defendants, Plaintiff alleged intentional infliction of emotional distress (" IIED" ) and battery under Maryland law. Now pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. (ECF No. 38.) The issues have been briefed (ECF Nos. 38 and 42), and no hearing is required, Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2014). For the reasons explained below, Defendants' Motion will be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

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         I. Background[1]

         Plaintiff was employed as a temporary medical records scanner at Defendant Family Health from June 4, 2010, to April 27, 2011. (ECF No. 42 at 6.) Plaintiff reported to Anita Savage, the medical records lead; Savage reported to Norva Dancy-Gladden. (ECF No. 38-3 at 4-5.) Dancy-Gladden reported directly to Paula McLellan, the Chief Executive Officer (" CEO" ) of Family Health. ( Id. at 15.) During this same period, Defendant Ricardo Dajani served as Chief Financial Officer (" CFO" ) of Family Health. Although Dajani oversaw all aspects of the organization's electronic medical records system and " in this capacity dealt with all departments," he claims to have had no supervisory authority over Plaintiff. (ECF No. 38-4 at 3.)[2]

         Plaintiff alleges that, while she was employed at Family Health, Dajani harassed her on numerous occasions. The first incident occurred during a staff meeting. Plaintiff and a coworker had stepped into the lunchroom for a bagel; Dajani apparently had the same idea. (ECF No. 42 at 37.) Plaintiff and Dajani simultaneously reached for a bagel, at which point Dajani allegedly told Plaintiff that he " wouldn't mind . . . taking [her] somewhere or taking [her] away or something like that." ( Id. ) Plaintiff's coworker remarked that Dajani " gave her the creeps," but Plaintiff " didn't want to . . . make too much of a big deal out of it at the time." ( Id. )

         The next incident occurred in an office hallway. Plaintiff and Dajani were approaching one another, and Dajani allegedly blocked Plaintiff's path. ( Id. at 38.) " [E]very way I tried to get past," Plaintiff claims, " he would . . . do this." ( Id. ) Plaintiff interpreted the incident as " a joke," and she " didn't find it . . . threatening or anything like that." ( Id. ) Plaintiff did not report the incident; however, from that point forward, Plaintiff would ask one of her coworkers to accompany her on trips to the restroom. ( Id. at 38-39.)

         Plaintiff further alleges that, on some number of occasions, Dajani would either enter the medical records workroom or " look through the crack of the door." ( Id. at 40.) Uncomfortable, Plaintiff approached Savage, who gave Plaintiff permission to lock the door when she was working by herself. ( Id. ) According to Plaintiff, a coworker noted that Dajani had only started monitoring the records scanners after Plaintiff joined Family Health. ( Id. ) However, Plaintiff admits that Dajani had complained about noise problems and productivity issues among the scanners. ( Id. at 41.) At some point after Plaintiff secured permission to lock the door, the scanners were told to begin logging their activities; thereafter, they were assigned quotas. ( Id. )

         The final incident occurred on either April 11 or April 13, 2011. ( Id. at 62.) Dajani entered the medical records workroom to inform the employees that free kittens were available on the premises.

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Plaintiff stepped outside to select a kitten. ( Id. at 43.) On her way back, as she walked through the lunchroom and toward a door that opened into the clinic's waiting room, Plaintiff felt Dajani behind her: he " got up on [her] so close, [she] felt his private parts on . . . [her] buttocks." ( Id. at 44.) Plaintiff also felt Dajani's hand on her waist. ( Id. at 51.) She " felt so violated and disgusted and angry," she " couldn't hold back [her] feelings." ( Id. at 44.) She claims that a coworker, Tammy Simpson, observed the incident; that Simpson hugged her and walked her to the workroom; and that Plaintiff " couldn't stop crying." ( Id. ) Plaintiff reported the incident to Savage, who allowed her to " go home" and " get [her]self together." ( Id. at 45.)

         The next day, Savage allegedly urged Plaintiff to report the doorway incident to McLellan. ( Id. )[3] Plaintiff twice approached McLellan, but McLellan was in meetings and was unavailable. ( Id. at 46-47.) Plaintiff thereafter gathered her belongings and left Family Health: she never returned. ( Id. at 47.) Plaintiff never filed a report or met with upper management to discuss the doorway incident, although she admits that Dancy-Gladden called her several days later and asked for a meeting. ( Id. at 48.) Savage avers that she also attempted to set up a meeting between Plaintiff and Dancy-Gladden, but the meeting never took place. (ECF No. 38-3 at 13.) Although Family Health stated in an interrogatory that it was " not able to conduct an investigation because Plaintiff refused to return to work and provide any details" (ECF No. 38-2 at 3), it appears that the organization did attempt at least an initial inquiry: Jorge Lopez[4] discussed the doorway incident with Simpson (ECF No. 38-3 at 14), and Dajani " spoke with and prepared a response to . . . Lopez regarding the allegations" (ECF No. 38-4 at 2). Dajani avers that he " did not discriminate or harass the Plaintiff." ( Id. )

         Due to her " whole experience" at Family Health, Plaintiff claims to have suffered depression, and she alleges that she was on medication for some time. (ECF No. 42 at 53-55.) Plaintiff acknowledges, however, that she experienced a series of hardships in and around 2011, including the violent death of her aunt and shakeups in her living situation.[5] In either 2011 or 2012, Plaintiff took a job at Baltimore City Child Support; however, she soon left that position as she was " going through a lot with this case and . . . [her] son and it was just too much." ( Id. at 58-59.) In mid-2013, Plaintiff began providing childcare in her home. ( Id. at 60.)

         Plaintiff filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging that Dajani's conduct constituted unlawful discrimination. She then filed this action on March 12, 2014, stating claims against both Family Health and Dajani. (ECF No. 1.) Defendants jointly moved for summary judgment on March

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23, 2015 (ECF No. 38), and Plaintiff responded on April 24, 2015 (ECF No. 42).

         II. Standard for Summary Judgment

         " The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986) (citing predecessor to current Rule 56(a)). No genuine issue of material fact exists if the opposing party fails to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case as to which she would have the burden of proof. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322-23. The " mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [opposing party's] position" is insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). As the Fourth Circuit has recognized, district courts have an " affirmative obligation . . . to prevent 'factually unsupported claims [or] defenses' from proceeding to trial." Felty v. Graves-Humphreys Co., 818 F.2d 1126, 1128 (4th Cir. 1987) (quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-24).

         The facts themselves, and the inferences to be drawn therefrom, must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007); Iko v. Shreve, 535 F.3d 225, 230 (4th Cir. 2008). Even so, the opponent may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of her pleading but must instead, by affidavit or other evidentiary showing, set out specific facts showing a genuine dispute for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). Supporting and opposing affidavits must be made on personal knowledge with such facts as would be admissible in evidence and must affirmatively show the competence of the affiant to testify to the matters stated therein. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4).

         III. Analysis

         A. Count ...

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