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Young v. Housing Authority of Baltimore City

United States District Court, D. Maryland

November 13, 2017

NADINE LEE YOUNG Plaintiff,
v.
HOUSING AUTHORITY OF BALTIMORE CITY, ET AL. Defendants

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER RE: SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Marvin J. Garbis, United States District Judge.

         The Court has before it Defendant Housing Authority of Baltimore City's Renewed Motion to Dismiss Complaint As Amended or In the Alternative For Summary Judgment [ECF No. 20], Defendant, Wade Johnson's, Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State A Claim and/or for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 23], and the materials submitted relating thereto. The Court finds that a hearing is not necessary.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Asserted Claims

         Plaintiff Nadine Lee Young (“Plaintiff” or “Young”), an employee of Defendant Housing Authority of Baltimore City (“HABC”) was, during a portion of her employment, supervised by Defendant Wade Johnson (“Johnson”).

         Young alleges that she was sexually harassed by Johnson during her employment. She asserts claims against both Defendants for alleged violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act, the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution and the Maryland Constitution, and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution and Maryland Constitution. She alleges that HABC negligently hired, trained, retained, and supervised Johnson, and that HABC is liable under a theory of negligent entrustment. She also asserts an assault claim against Johnson.

         B. Facts As Alleged by Young[1]

         Young has been employed by HABC since 2003 as a maintenance worker. Amended Complaint (“AC”) ¶ 12, ECF No. 11-4.

         In 2012, Young went to the Duncanwood facility of HABC to receive some equipment for work and met Defendant Johnson. At the time, Johnson called her “Miss Dimples” in a “very suggestive” manner. AC ¶ 13; Aff. Young ¶ 4, ECF No. 11-2.

         In or about October 2015, Young worked at the Gilmor Homes facility of HABC. Johnson was “occasionally” at Gilmor Homes, and Young alleges that his sexual harassment “became worse” in the following months. AC ¶ 15. He became more “aggressive, ” and every time he saw her he “took the opportunity to make sexually suggestive or lewd comments or propositions to [her].” Aff. Young ¶ 6, ECF No. 11-2.

         In early 2016, Johnson officially became Young's supervisor at Gilmor Homes, and his sexual harassment became “a daily problem.” AC ¶ 17. Starting at the end of 2015, Johnson “would repeatedly come to Ms. Young's desk and whisper lewd comments into her ear and ask to take her on dates.” Id. ¶ 17. See also Aff. Young ¶ 9, ECF No. 11-2. He would “‘talk with his hands'” in such a manner that he would place his hands on Ms. Young while making such comments. AC ¶ 17, Aff. Young ¶ 12, ECF No. 11-2. Frequently, he would “invade Ms. Young's personal space” by coming into her small file room while she was working. AC ¶ 18. See also Aff. Young ¶ 11, ECF No. 11-2. During one of these times, Johnson “reach[ed] over her body with his arms on either side of her” when showing her something on the computer. AC ¶ 19, Aff. Young ¶ 13, ECF No. 11-2. Young feared that Johnson would “one day inappropriately touch her in a sexual manner.” AC ¶ 20. See also Aff. Young ¶ 19, ECF No. 11-2.

         On a date allegedly near his birthday, Johnson offered to take Young and another employee on a cruise, stating that he “could make wonders happen on that cruise.” Id. ¶ 21. See also Aff. Young ¶ 15, ECF No. 11-2.

         Sometimes-no specific time was alleged-Johnson would ask Young if she was “ready, ” which she understood to mean “ready for a sexual encounter with him.” AC ¶ 22. See also Aff. Young ¶ 7, ECF No. 11-2. This occurred on one occasion in front of another employee. Aff. Young ¶ 17, ECF No. 11-2.

         On or about February 2016, Johnson told Young that “I would love to taste that.” AC ¶ 23. Later that month, Young took time off work for surgery, and upon her return on April 28, 2016, Johnson told her that she would be working at the Perkins Project (another HABC facility) instead of Gilmor Homes. Id. ¶ 24. He gave her his phone number and asked her to call him, which Young “understood to mean that she should contact him for a date or sexual encounter.” Id.[2]

         Young alleges that Johnson frequently engaged in this type of activity and may have been the subject of complaints from other HABC employees in the past. AC ¶¶ 14, 16, 26, 29, 35. See also Aff. Dawson, ECF No. 11-3, Aff. Young ¶ 16, ECF No. 11-2. Young alleges that Johnson had a “previous history of workplace sexual harassment, ” was “fired from a previous job in the public schools for sexual harassment, ” and “had pending sexual harassment cases at the Health Department.” AC ¶ 33.

         Young alleges that, at some unspecified time “early on” in her interactions with Johnson, she contacted her Union representatives regarding the sexual harassment. Id. ¶ 25, Aff. Young ¶ 21, ECF No. 11-2. She also spoke to her supervisor, Vernelle Gibson, in May 2016 regarding Johnson's behavior. Following this discussion, a hearing was held and Johnson was terminated from his HABC employment. AC ¶ 28. Following Johnson's termination, Young returned to work at Gilmor Homes. Id. ¶ 39.

         Young filed her EEOC Charge of Discrimination on December 8, 2016. Def.'s Mot. Ex. 2A at 70, ECF No. 20-7. The EEOC issued a Dismissal and Notice of Rights letter on December 16, 2016. AC ¶ 30. Young filed the Complaint in the instant case on March 15, 2017. ECF No. 1. On May 18, 2017, she filed the Amended Complaint (“AC”) [ECF No. 11], asserting ten causes of action:

Count

Title

I

Civil Rights Act Hostile Environment Sexual Harassment

II

Civil Rights Act Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

III

Civil Rights Act Due Process Claim

IV

Civil Rights Act Equal Protection Claim

V

Sexual Harassment Under Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act Code § 20-606: Hostile Work Environment and Quid Pro Quo

VI

Maryland Constitution Article 24 Due Process Claim

VII

Maryland Constitution Article 24 Equal Protection Claim

VIII

Negligent Hiring, Training, Retention & Supervision

IX

Negligent Entrustment

X

Assault

         II. LEGAL STANDARD FOR MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

         Both Defendants have filed motions to dismiss, or in the alternative, motions for summary judgment. Both sides have also submitted materials in addition to the Amended Complaint regarding these motions. The Court has not excluded these materials from consideration.

         When “matters outside the pleading are presented to and not excluded by the court, the [12(b)(6)] motion shall be treated as one for summary judgment and disposed of as provided in Rule 56.” Laughlin v. Metro. Washington Airports Auth., 149 F.3d 253, 260-61 (4th Cir. 1998); Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d).

         Because the Court has relied on supplemental affidavits and documents filed outside of the pleadings, it will treat the pending motions as motions for summary judgment.

         A motion for summary judgment shall be granted if the pleadings and supporting documents “show[] 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).

         The well-established principles pertinent to summary judgment motions can be distilled to a simple statement: [t]he Court may look at the evidence presented in regard to a motion for summary judgment through the non-movant's rose-colored glasses, but must view it realistically. After so doing, the essential question is whether a reasonable fact finder could return a verdict for the non-movant or whether the movant would, at trial, be entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See, e.g., Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-323 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Shealy v. Winston, 929 F.2d 1009, 1012 (4th Cir. 1991). Thus, in order to defeat a motion for summary judgment, “the party opposing the motion must present evidence of specific facts from which the finder of fact could reasonably find for him or her.” Mackey v. Shalala, 43 F.Supp.2d 559, 564 (D. Md. 1999) (emphasis added).

         When evaluating a motion for summary judgment, the Court must bear in mind that the “[s]ummary judgment procedure is properly regarded not as a disfavored procedural shortcut, but rather as an integral part of the Federal Rules as a whole, which are designed ‘to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action.'” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 327 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 1).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Sexual Harassment: Title VII and the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act

         In Counts I, II and V, Plaintiff asserts claims for sexual harassment under Title VII and the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act (“FEPA”). She contends that Defendant Johnson subjected her to, and Defendant HABC allowed, quid pro quo sexual harassment and a hostile work environment.[3]

         In response, Defendants argue that Young (1) failed to timely exhaust her administrative remedies, (2) failed to plead a claim for sexual harassment upon which relief can be granted, and (3) that HABC is protected from liability by an affirmative defense that it exercised reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct any sexually harassing behavior.

         i. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

         Defendants bring several procedural challenges to Plaintiff's claims, arguing that Plaintiff did not file her EEOC charge on time, that Plaintiff's EEOC Charge does not cover the actions now alleged in the Amended Complaint, that Plaintiff's claims are barred by the statute of limitations under FEPA, and that Plaintiff did not give proper Local Government Tort Claims Act (“LGTCA”) notice for some of the claims.

         1. Timing of EEOC Charge

         To exhaust her administrative remedies before filing a Title VII action, Young must first properly “bring[] a charge with the EEOC.” Smith v. First Union Nat. Bank, 202 F.3d 234, 247 (4th Cir. 2000). Defendant argues that Young's EEOC Charge was not timely filed.

         Plaintiff filed her EEOC Charge against Defendant Johnson on December 8, 2016. Def.'s Mot. Ex. 2A at 70, ECF No. 20-7. Defendants contend that any alleged sexual harassment incident occurred more than 300 days prior thereto, i.e., before February 12, 2016. If so, the Charge would be outside of the 300 day time limit for EEOC filing and would be time barred.[4]

         In the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that in February 2016, Wade Johnson stated to her “I would love to taste that.” AC ¶ 23. This is consistent with her EEOC Charge, which alleges that she was “subjected to sexual harassment by [her] Supervisor Wade Johnson” “in or about February 2016.” Def.'s Mot. Ex. 2A at 70, ECF No. 20-7.

         Because Young has not specified the exact date in February 2016 of the alleged incident, the record does not show whether the EEOC Charge was, or was not, filed within 300 days of the alleged statement. Hence, on the current record, the Court can only conclude that based on Young's allegations it is possible that the December 8, 2016 EEOC filing was timely, but recognizes the existence of a factual issue regarding the date.[5]

         Hence, the Court will assume for present purposes that the EEOC Charge was timely filed. If the alleged February 2016 incident is within 300 days of Plaintiff's EEOC Charge, Young's claim that the incident was part of a continuing violation including other alleged incidents presents a plausible claim that evidence of the alleged related sexual harassment incidents could be considered in connection with her hostile work environment claim. See Gilliam v. S.C. Dep't of Juvenile Justice, 474 F.3d 134, 140 (4th Cir. 2007) (Under the continuing violation doctrine, “a hostile work environment claim ‘may appropriately extend ... to acts that occurred before the relevant limitations period [if] the hostile work environment continued within the limitations period as well.'”).

         On the current state of the record, Defendants are not entitled to summary judgment dismissing Young's sexual harassment claims on this basis.

         2. Content of EEOC Charge

         Defendants argue that the Amended Complaint asserts claims that were not included in the EEOC Charge. Specifically, the EEOC Charge states that Johnson said he wanted to “[t]aste this” and would “rock [her] world” if Young went on a cruise with him, Def.'s Mot. Ex. 2A at 70, ECF No. 20-7, while her Amended Complaint contains additional allegations of comments and actions that Johnson took to sexually harass her.

         The Court finds Plaintiff's EEOC Charge is broad enough to encompass the more specific allegations that were made in her Amended Complaint. In her EEOC Charge, she states that “I was subjected to sexual harassment by my Supervisor Wade Johnson.” Def.'s Mot. Ex. 2A at 70, ECF No. 20-7. She listed two specific incidents as examples, but in context her sexual harassment charge is not reasonably limited to the two specifically stated examples. See Sydnor v. Fairfax Cty., Va., 681 F.3d 591, 594 (4th Cir. 2012) (explaining that the exhaustion requirement should not become a “tripwire for hapless plaintiffs” and understanding that the EEOC charges are initiated by laypersons, not lawyers).

         3. Statute of Limitations under FEPA

         Defendants argue that any claim under Maryland's FEPA statute is time-barred because it must have been filed within six months of the date on which the alleged discriminatory act occurred.

         The FEPA statute provides several different routes for dispute resolution. A plaintiff seeking to file a complaint with the Maryland Commission on Human Relations (“MCHR”) has six months from the alleged discriminatory act to do so. See Md. Code Ann., State Gov't § 20-1004; Md. Code Regs. 14.03.01.03. However, a plaintiff electing to bring a civil action has possible relief from the six month rule under Md. Code Ann., State Gov't § 20-1013, which states:

[A] complainant may bring a civil action against the respondent alleging an unlawful employment practice, if:
(1) the complainant initially filed a timely administrative charge or a complaint under federal, State, or local law alleging an unlawful employment practice by the respondent;
(2) at least 180 days have elapsed since the filing of the administrative charge or complaint; and
(3) the civil action is filed within 2 years after the alleged unlawful employment ...

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