United States District Court, D. Maryland
W. Grimm United States District Judge
Jira Churchill, who identifies as a lesbian and has an
autoimmune disorder, began working for Defendant Prince
George's County Public Schools (“School
System”) in August 2014. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 21-24,
ECF No. 11-1. Churchill believes that she was harassed and
discriminated against by her supervisors, colleagues, and
students based on her sexual orientation and nonconformity
with gender stereotypes, and that she was retaliated against
for having filed charges with the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) and Prince
George's County Human Relations Commission
(“HRC”). Id. ¶¶ 30-73.
Ultimately, Churchill's contract with the School System
was not renewed, id. ¶ 73, and she filed this
litigation. ECF No. 1. She alleges discrimination (in the
form of both a hostile work environment and termination)
based on sexual orientation and gender stereotypes, in
violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42
U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Maryland Fair
Employment Practices Act (“MFEPA”), Md. Code
Ann., State Gov't § 20-601 et seq., as well
as retaliation in violation of Title VII, the MFEPA, and the
Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42
U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. Am. Compl. ¶¶
School System has filed a motion to dismiss Churchill's
Title VII and MFEPA discrimination claims in Counts I-IV
(with the exception of her MFEPA hostile work environment
claim based on her sexual orientation in Count I) for failure
to state a claim, and her retaliation claims based on wage
withholding (Count VII) for failure to exhaust administrative
remedies. Def.'s Mot., ECF No. 13. The School
System's motion is granted in part, as Title VII does not
entertain a cause of action for discrimination on the basis
of sexual orientation and Churchill fails to state a claim
for discriminatory termination on the basis of sexual
orientation or gender stereotypes. It is denied in part as
Churchill has stated a claim for hostile work environment
based on gender stereotypes and she has exhausted her
administrative remedies with regard to her claim for
retaliation in the form of wage withholding. Thus, Counts III
and IV, as well as the Title VII claim in Count I are
dismissed; and the MFEPA claim in Count I, as well as the
claims in Counts II, V, VI, and VII remain. Churchill may
file a second amended complaint by December 22, 2017, and the
School System must supplement its Answer no later than
January 12, 2018.
began working for the School System at Thurgood Marshall
Middle School in August 2014. Am. Compl. ¶ 21. On
September 19, 2014, Churchill was reassigned to DuVal High
School where she worked under Principal Mark Covington and
Assistant Principal Shanay Wheeler. Id. ¶¶
22-24. The principal of Thurgood Marshall Middle School was
aware of Churchill's sexual orientation and informed
Covington and Wheeler, who informed Churchill's students.
Id. ¶¶ 25-27. Churchill informed teachers
at her new school about her sexual orientation, who in turn
also informed students. Id. ¶¶ 28-29.
October 2014, Churchill found “the homophobic slur
‘FAG' written on her chalkboard along with other
derogatory remarks.” Id. ¶ 30. Churchill
informed Wheeler by sending her a picture of the chalkboard,
but no action was taken. Id. ¶ 31. Throughout
2014, students repeatedly referred to Churchill as
“Mister Churchill” and “mocked her sexual
orientation by referencing how much she must like
rainbows” as well as at least one student calling
Churchill a “fag” directly. Id.
DuVal High School, the teachers were praised for allowing
their students to eat lunch in their classrooms; however,
when Wheeler noticed the majority of students in
Churchill's classroom for lunch were female, Wheeler told
Churchill “‘the school [can't] have [the
female students] being in [Ms. Churchill's
classroom].'” Id. ¶¶ 36-38.
Churchill alleges that this was due to her sexual
orientation. Id. ¶ 38.
Churchill requested accommodations for her autoimmune
disorder. Id. ¶ 47. On December 10, 2014,
Churchill filed a charge (“December 2014 Charge”)
of disability discrimination and retaliation before the EEOC
and the HRC. Id. ¶¶ 9, 50; Dec. 2014
Charge, ECF No. 13-2. Churchill also filed seven
administrative complaints between December 2014 and April
2015, alleging harassment and retaliation. Am. Compl.
on February 5, 2015, Churchill “was issued a Letter of
Reprimand for failing to appear to [sic] at two parent
conferences which Ms. Wheeler scheduled without consulting
Ms. Churchill.” Id. ¶ 55. Churchill
received a second Letter of Reprimand on February 10, 2015
and was notified on March 4, 2015 that a review panel
recommended that her contract not be renewed. Id.
April 4, 2015, in a meeting with Churchill and her union
representative, Covington informed Churchill that “she
was to be removed from the classroom and banned from teaching
students.” Id. ¶ 58. Covington also
referred to Churchill as being “‘aggressive,
'” which Covington said was “an attribute of
‘her people, '”-comments Churchill understood
as references to her sexual orientation because Churchill and
Covington are the same race-and Covington “stated that
she was removed because she was too much of an influence in
the classroom.” Id. ¶¶ 59-62.
during April 2015, Churchill intervened when a student was
harassing another student who is homosexual. Id.
¶ 39. Churchill recommended disciplinary action to
Covington, but no action was taken. Id. ¶¶
39-41. Additionally, her newly assigned supervisor, Ms.
Price, told Churchill that “she was handy with tools
like her husband” as Churchill was fixing a fax machine
and that “‘[her] people are handy.'”
Id. ¶¶ 64-67. Churchill understood this to
mean she “was not stereotypically” female based
on a “gender stereotype . . . that men are more
skillful with tools than women.” Id. Lastly
during April 2015, Covington instituted procedures to have
Churchill terminated before the end of her contract, but he
was unsuccessful. Id. ¶¶ 70-71. Churchill
was terminated at the end of her contract on June 30, 2015.
Id. ¶ 73.
January until June of 2015, Churchill had wages withheld in
the amount of $6, 624.58; she alleges that they were withheld
in retaliation for her filing an EEOC charge. Id.
September 23, 2015, Churchill filed a second charge with the
EEOC alleging discrimination and retaliation. Sept. 2015
Charge, ECF No. 13-3. Churchill received her right to sue
notice on the September 2015 Charge on February 24, 2017 and
on the December 2014 Charge on April 13, 2017. Id.
¶ 9(a)-(e). Churchill filed this litigation on April 10,
2017. Compl., ECF No. 1. Churchill alleges seven counts: (I)
hostile work environment on the basis of sexual orientation
in violation of Title VII and the MFEPA; (II) hostile work
environment on the basis of gender stereotypes in violation
of Title VII and the MFEPA; (III) discriminatory termination
on the basis of sexual orientation in violation of Title VII
and the MFEPA; (IV) discriminatory termination on the basis
of gender stereotypes in violation of Title VII and the
MFEPA; (V) retaliation in violation of Title VII and the
MFEPA; (VI) retaliation in violation of the ADA; (VII)
withholding wages in retaliation for protected activities in
violation of Title VII, the MFEPA, and the ADA. Am. Compl.
courts lack subject matter jurisdiction over Title VII claims
for which a plaintiff has failed to exhaust administrative
remedies.” Murphy v. Adams, No. DKC-12-1975,
2014 WL 3845804, at *7 (D. Md. Aug. 4, 2014) (quoting
Balas v. Huntington Ingalls Indus., Inc., 711 F.3d
401, 406 (4th Cir. 2013)). On this basis, Defendant moves to
dismiss Count VII, Churchill's claim of retaliation in
the form of wage withholding, under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). In
considering Defendant's motion, “the Court may . .
. consider matters beyond the allegations in the
complaint” because Defendant assert that “the
jurisdictional allegations in the complaint are not
true.” Fontell v. MCGEO UFCW Local 1994, No.
AW-09-2526, 2010 WL 3086498, at *3 (D. Md. Aug. 6, 2010);
see Adams v. Bain, 697 F.2d 1213, 1219 (4th Cir.
1982). 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.” Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac
Ry. v. United States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991);
see Adams, 697 F.2d at 1219 (“A trial court
may consider evidence by affidavit, depositions or live
testimony without converting the proceeding to one for
School System also moves to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), which 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). Similarly, “unsupported legal
allegations need not be accepted.” Nam v. 2012
Inc., No. DKC-15-1931, 2016 WL 107198, at *3 (D. Md.
Jan. 11, 2016) (citing Revene v. Charles Cty.
Comm'rs, 882 F.2d 870, 873 (4th Cir. 1989)).
employment discrimination case such as this, the plaintiff
“is not required to plead facts that constitute a
prima facie case in order to survive a motion to
dismiss, ” but “[f]actual allegations must be
enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative
level.” Nam, 2016 WL 107198, at *3 (quoting
Coleman v. Md. Court of Appeals, 626 F.3d 187, 190
(4th Cir. 2010)); see also Swierkiewicz v. Sorema
N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 510-15 (2002). “A claim has
facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual ...