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Ward v. STG International Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

June 14, 2016

MEANA L. WARD, Plaintiff,
v.
STG INTERNATIONAL, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Paul W. Grimm United States District Judge

         While working for Defendant STG International, Inc. ("STG"), Plaintiff Meana Ward, an African-American woman, reported what she perceived as sexual harassment of one of her subordinates by another co-worker and thereafter experienced what she believed to be racial discrimination, a hostile workplace, and retaliation for her reporting. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 7-13, 46, 129, ECF No. 29. She was terminated on June 27, 2006 and filed a claim with the Montgomery County, Maryland Office of Human Rights ("MCOHR") on December 21, 2006, which she cross-filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), claiming retaliation. Id. ¶¶ 67, 88, 91. The administrative process concluded on September 30, 2014, id. ¶122, and within ninety days of receiving a Dismissal and Notice of Suit Rights, ECF No. 1-1, but more than eight and a half years after her termination, Ward filed suit in this Court on December 30, 2014, alleging, inter alia, racial discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation, in violation of federal, state and county laws, Compl., ECF No. 1. At the time, she was unrepresented, and issues of exhaustion of administrative remedies and timeliness were evident on the face of her Complaint.

         On those bases, STG moved to dismiss. ECF No. 12. I denied the motion without prejudice, ECF No. 26, and permitted Ward, who had retained counsel, to file an Amended Complaint in response to it, after I advised that any dismissal subsequent to the amendment would be with prejudice, ECF No. 25. The Amended Complaint includes claims of racial discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation, in violation of federal, state and county laws. Now pending is STG's Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint, ECF No. 30.[1] Ward has abandoned her hostile workplace claims, this Court lacks jurisdiction over Ward's racial discrimination claims, and Ward fails to state a claim for retaliation. Accordingly, I will dismiss Ward's Amended Complaint with prejudice.

         Background

         Ward worked for STG "on various government contracts" as a "team lead" under the supervision of Margaret Cross and Reginald Hosea, two African-Americans. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 5, 7, 8, 41.[2] On April 27, 2006, another team lead, Johnny Holliday, also African-American, made what Ward perceived as an "inappropriate sexual comment" to Ward's subordinate, Christina Simmons, also African-American, telling her "I have something for you to choke on." Id. ¶¶ 7-13. Ward reported the comment to management and human resources. Id. Then, on June 6, 2006, when Ward and Holliday and another African American team lead, Donald Beasley, were meeting with Cross and Hosea, Ward "complained to Cross and Hosea about Holliday's encouraging her team to slow their work while she was on vacation" and "criticized Holliday's meddling with her team, including contacting them outside of work and making false statements about her." Id. ¶¶ 44-45. Cross then "became angry and said, 'I am tired of this Nigger mess, '" and "told the team leads that there was a personality conflict between Plaintiff and Holliday and that they needed to work it out" or "she would speak ... to Michelle Lee, STG's president." Id. ¶ 46. Hosea "conclude[ed] that they would not be able to resolve their personality conflict" and "told Plaintiff that he was reporting both her and Holliday to [Douglas] Kuhn, " a Caucasian who supervised Cross and Hosea. Id. ¶129. He said to Ward: "Great, now I have to go and tell this White man that we cannot get along, someone has to go." Id. On June 27, 2006, Ward was terminated. Id. ¶67.

         She filed a claim of retaliation with the MCOHR on December 21, 2006 and cross-filed it with the EEOC, and almost two years later, "[o]n December 9, 2008, the Commission completed its investigation of her claims and issued a Determination of no reasonable cause." Id. ¶¶ 88, 81, 97; see Id.¶ 114. She appealed, and five years later, on June 23, 2014, the MCOHR affirmed the Determination; the EEOC adopted the findings on September 30, 2014. Id. ¶¶ 116, 117, 122. Ward received a Dismissal and Notice of Suit Rights and, within ninety days, filed suit in this Court on December 30, 2014. By then, more than eight and a half years had passed since her termination.

         Ward's Amended Complaint includes three claims. Count I is for "Black on Black" racial discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., based on her allegations that her supervisors "said, 'I am tired of this Nigger mess, '" and "told her, 'Great, now I have to go and tell this White man that we cannot get along, '" which in her view "is evidence of racial animus towards Plaintiff for reporting the harassment she suffered from Holliday[, ] a fellow Black employee." Am. Compl. ¶¶ 126-29. In Count II, Ward claims retaliation in violation of Title VII. In her view, she "engaged in protected activity when she reported Holliday for sexual harassment of a subordinate" and later reported him "for retaliation, hostile work environment and harassment." Id. ¶¶ 146-47. She alleges that, in retaliation, her supervisors "made unfounded complaints to STG upper management regarding Ward" and "recommended or encouraged STG upper management to discharge Ward." Id. ¶¶ 156-57. She claims (albeit in Count I) that she was terminated "because she complained about a fellow Black employee." Id. ¶ 140. Ward also claims hostile workplace in violation of Title VII in Count II, although the relevant allegations appear in Count I. She alleges that, through their racially-charged comments and their treatment of her, "Defendant had created a work environment that a reasonable person would find hostile and/or abusive, " and that Ward personally found "hostile and abusive." Id. ¶¶ 137-38. In Count III, Ward claims hostile workplace, race discrimination and retaliation in violation of Montgomery County Human Rights Act, Montgomery Cnty. Code § 27-19, and Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act ("MFEPA"), Md. Code Ann., State Gov't §§ 20-601 et seq[3]She alleges that "STG management racially discriminated and retaliated against Plaintiff and ultimately terminated her." Am. Compl. ¶174.

         STG moved to dismiss Ward's initial complaint, ECF No. 12, which she filed pro se, and Ward retained counsel and filed a motion for leave to amend, ECF No. 21. I held a telephone conference on September 16, 2015, in which I afforded Ward the opportunity to amend but cautioned that any subsequent dismissal would be with prejudice. ECF No. 25. Now pending is STG's second Motion to Dismiss.

         Standard of Review

         A motion to dismiss based on a plaintiffs alleged failed to exhaust administrative remedies is a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. See Balas v. Huntington Ingalls Indus., Inc., Ill. F.3d 401, 406 (4th Cir. 2013). When a defendant argues that the allegations in the complaint are untrue, '"the Court may . . . consider matters beyond the allegations in the complaint.'" Fianko v. United States, No. PWG-12-2025, 2013 WL 3873226, at *4 (D. Md. July 24, 2013) (quoting Fontell v. MCGEO UFCW Local 1994, No. AW-09-2526, 2010 WL 3086498, at *3 (D. Md. Aug. 6, 2010)). In this instance, the Court '"regard[s] the pleadings' allegations as mere evidence on the issue, " and its consideration of additional evidence does not "convert[ ] the proceeding to one for summary judgment.'" Id. (quoting Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Ry. v. United States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991)). But, if the defendant contends instead that the complaint simply does not allege that the plaintiff exhausted administrative remedies, "the facts alleged in the complaint are assumed to be true and the plaintiff, in effect, is afforded the same procedural protection as he would receive under a 12(b)(6) consideration." Adams v. Bain, 697 F.2d 1213, 1219 (4th Cir. 1982); see Lutfi v. United States, 527 F.App'x 236, 241 (4th Cir. 2013); Fianko, 2013 WL 3873226, at *4.

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for "the dismissal of a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Velencia v. Drezhlo, No. RDB-12-237, 2012 WL 6562764, at *4 (D. Md. Dec. 13, 2012). This rule's purpose "'is to test the sufficiency of a complaint and not to resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.'" Id. (quoting Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006)). To that end, the Court bears in mind the requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), when considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Specifically, a complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, " Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), and must state "a plausible claim for relief, " as "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice, " Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79. See Velencia, 2012 WL 6562764, at *4 (discussing standard from Iqbal and Twombly). "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.

         Jurisdiction

         "[FJederal courts lack subject matter jurisdiction over Title VII claims for which a plaintiff has failed to exhaust administrative remedies." Balas, 711 F.3d at 406. Therefore, to bring a Title VII employment discrimination claim in federal court, a plaintiff must first "exhaust his [or her] administrative remedies . . . ." Van Durr v. Geithner, No. 12-2137-AW, 2013 WL 4087136, at *4 (D. Md. Aug. 12, 2013) (quoting Bryant v. Bell Atl. Md, Inc., 288 F.3d 124, 132 (4th Cir. 2004)); see Jones v. Calvert Grp., 551 F.3d 297, 300 (4th Cir. 2009). To do so, a plaintiff must file a timely administrative complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(l). Balas, 711 F.3d at 406; Jones, 551 F.3d at 300; Krpan v. Bd. of Educ. of Howard Cnty., No. ELH-12-2789, 2013 WL 4400475, at *5 (D. Md. Aug. 15, 2013). A plaintiff only exhausts her administrative remedies as to '"those discrimination claims stated in the initial charge, those reasonably related to the original complaint, [] those developed by reasonable investigation of the original complaint, ' and those contained in official amendments to the EEO complaint." Vann Durr v. Lew, No. DKC-12-2137, 2014 WL 4187821, at *1 (D. Md. Aug. 22, 2014) (quoting Jones, 551 F.3d at 300); see Addison v. Dep 't of the Navy, No. DKC-13-846, 2015 WL 1292745, at *4 (D. Md. Mar. 20, 2015) (same); Krpan, 2013 WL 4400475, at *5-6 (granting motion to dismiss count for discrimination based on national origin because plaintiff "did not include such a claim in his complaint to the EEOC"); Bryant, 288 F.3d at 132-33 (affirming summary judgment on claims of color and sex discrimination, because EEOC charge only alleged race discrimination). This means that "so long as 'a plaintiffs claims in her judicial complaint are reasonably related to her [administrative] charge and can be expected to follow from a reasonable administrative investigation, ' she 'may advance such claims in her subsequent civil suit.'" Sydnor v. Fairfax Cnty., Va., 681 F.3d 591, 594 (4th Cir. 2012) (quoting Smith v. First Union Nat'l Bank, 202 F.3d 234, 247 (4th Cir. 2000)). In establishing and applying this rule, the Fourth Circuit has "sought to strike a balance between providing notice to employers and the [agency] on the one hand and ensuring plaintiffs are not tripped up over technicalities on the other." Id.

         Here, Ward, who sues for racial discrimination, retaliation, and hostile workplace, Am. Compl. ¶¶ 135-38, 146-47, 174, alleges that she "timely filed a charge with the . . . MCOHR[]" and "timely informed the MCOHR that she was 'terminated from her employment on the basis of race and in retaliation for her opposition to being harassed, " id. ¶ 3 (emphasis added). STG contends that Ward failed to exhaust her administrative remedies with regard to her racial discrimination and hostile workplace claims, because her MCOIFR claim only raises retaliation as the basis for her claim. Def.'s Mem. 13. Thus, as for Ward's racial discrimination claim, STG argues that Ward's allegations of presenting this claim to ...


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