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Phillips v. Prince George's Community College

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

February 12, 2018



          Paul W. Grimm United States District Judge

         Frank J. Phillips worked for Prince George's Community College (“the College”) as an Associate Professor. He alleges that he experienced racial discrimination and a hostile work environment based on his department chair's actions in 2015 and 2016. He filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) in March 2015 and then filed this suit in 2017. Now pending is a Motion to Dismiss that the College, which asserts that it is the proper defendant, filed, ECF No. 18.[1] Because Phillips failed to exhaust his administrative remedies for his racial harassment and hostile work environment and racial bias claims (Counts II and III) and fails to state a claim for retaliation (Count I), I will grant the Motion and dismiss his Amended Complaint, ECF No. 17.


         Phillips began working for the College as an Associate Professor in January 2008 and, “[f]or approximately 7 years, he received stellar reviews by students and faculty alike.” Am. Compl. ¶¶ 8-9. Then, “[i]n 2015, the Department Chair, Tammy O'Donnell accused him of being unprofessional, ” based on complaints she had received “about his teaching style, ” and she “spoke to him harshly, ” “constantly harassed” him about his alleged unprofessionalism, and “verbally reprimanded him for not completing his Major Functional Responsibilities Report.” Id. ¶¶ 10-11, 13, 41. She also gave him “a difficult teaching schedule” with “four to five preparations” (a term he does not explain) and “courses . . . which he was untrained to teach.” Id. ¶¶ 12-14. He also claims that O'Donnell “told mistruths about him [being] an ineffective and uncaring Professor.” Id. ¶ 47.

         “Phillips filed a grievance against O'Donnell in 2015 for harassment, hostile work environment, and racial discrimination.” Am. Comp. ¶ 15. After that, “O'Donnell informed the whole department of Phillips' grievance[, ] . . . asked individual students to file a complaint against Phillips, ” and changed two of his students' grades without informing or asking him. Id. ¶¶ 16-18. He claims that O'Donnell “continued to give [him] harsh schedules and courses for which he was untrained to teach” and, as a result, Phillips had to withdraw from the Ph.D. program in which he had enrolled at Morgan State University. Id. ¶ 32. He alleges that “[t]his racial retaliation continued during the 2015 year and beyond, ” including that O'Donnell “forced him to attend a workshop during Martin Luther King weekend, ”[3] thereby “showing a disdain for racial sensitivities.” Id. ¶¶ 25, 34, 37. In 2016, she placed Phillips on a Performance Improvement Plan “in order to terminate him.” Id. ¶¶ 19, 38. At that point, Phillips took leave under the Family Medical Leave Act “based on stress, insomnia, sleep apnea, major depression and triggered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” Id. ¶ 20. He was told by the new dean that he would be on a Performance Improvement Plan when he returned. Id. ¶ 22. Instead, he filed for disability retirement, which the Social Security Administration approved. Id. ¶¶ 21, 49

         He alleges that the “harsh scheduling” and “multiple preparation workload” were racially based and created a hostile work environment. Id. ¶ 23. He sees racial bias in O'Donnell's treatment of Black faculty members, alleging that she “fir[ed] one black faculty member and sanction[ed] another, and plac[ed] Phillips on a Performance Improvement Plan, ” while she “gave favored schedules with fewer preparations to white teachers.” Id. ¶¶ 24, 33. And, he claims that, of five people she hired, four were white. Id. ¶ 36. Phillips alleges that he filed an EEOC Charge on April 16, 2016, charging “racially based retaliation and hostile work environment.” Id. ¶ 28. Yet, on the EEOC Charge, which he signed on April 25, 2016 and which he attached to his Complaint, he only checked the box for “retaliation” as the basis of discrimination. ECF No. 2-2.

         On April 28, 2017, he filed suit against Charlene M. Dukes, President of the College, and Samuel L. Parker, Chairman of the Board of Education for the College, in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, alleging defamation, retaliation, harassment and hostile work environment, and racial bias. ECF No. 2. Defendants removed to this Court, ECF No. 1, and sought leave to file a motion to dismiss, contending that the Complaint did not include any allegations as to the named Defendants; the statute of limitations barred the defamation claim; his harassment and racial bias claims were beyond the scope of the EEOC Charge; and he otherwise failed to state a claim. ECF No. 9.

         I held a conference call with regard to the proposed motion to dismiss, and Phillips, through counsel, stated that he was suing the College. He sought leave to amend to clarify the defendant, remove the defamation claim, and address the deficiencies in the remaining claims. ECF No. 16. Phillips filed his Amended Complaint, naming “Prince George's Community College, Charlene M. Dukes, President” and “Board of Education for Prince George's Community College, Samuel Parker, Jr., Chairman” as Defendants, and bringing three claims pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq.: racially based retaliation (Count I), racial harassment and hostile work environment (Count II), and racial bias (Count III). ECF No. 17. The College, which asserts that it is the proper Defendant, moves to dismiss all remaining claims.

         Standard of Review

         “[F]ederal 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)). Because the College argues, with regard to Counts II and III, that the Amended Complaint “simply fails to allege facts upon which subject matter jurisdiction can be based, ” the facts alleged in the Amended Complaint “are assumed to be true and the plaintiff, in effect, is afforded the same procedural protection as he would receive under a Rule 12(b)(6) consideration.” Fontell v. MCGEO UFCW Local 1994, No. AW-09-2526, 2010 WL 3086498, at *3 (D. Md. Aug. 6, 2010) (quoting Adams v. Bain, 697 F.2d 1213, 1219 (4th Cir. 1982)), aff'd, 410 Fed.Appx. 645 (4th Cir. 2011).

         A complaint is subject to dismissal if it “fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). 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, ” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009). “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. Rule 12(b)(6)'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.” Velencia v. Drezhlo, No. RDB-12-237, 2012 WL 6562764, at *4 (D. Md. Dec. 13, 2012) (quoting Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006)).

Ultimately, a complaint must “‘permit[] the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct' based upon ‘its judicial experience and common sense.'” Coleman v. Md. Court of Appeals, 626 F.3d 187, 190 (4th Cir. 2010) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). To this end, “while a plaintiff [in an employment discrimination case] is not required to plead facts that constitute a prima facie case in order to survive a motion to dismiss, [f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. (citing Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 510-15 (2002); Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555); see also McCleary-Evans v. Md. Dept. of Transp., State Highway Admin., 780 F.3d 582, 585 (4th Cir. 2015).

Nam v. 2012 Inc., No. DKC-15-1931, 2016 WL 107198, at *3 (D. Md. Jan. 11, 2016) (alterations in Nam).

         Proper ...

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