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Dawson v. Housing Authority of Baltimore City

United States District Court, D. Maryland

January 9, 2019

LATANYA DAWSON[1] Plaintiff,



         I. Background

         This action is brought by Plaintiff Latanya Dawson, an employee of Defendant Housing Authority of Baltimore City ("HABC"). Dawson alleges that she experienced sexual abuse and harassment perpetrated by her former supervisor at HABC, Defendant Wade Johnson. Dawson alleges this abuse and harassment created a hostile work environment and constituted quid pro quo sexual harassment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and additionally violated the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Constitution. Compl., ECF No. 1.

         HABC filed a motion to dismiss Dawson's complaint or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. ECF No. 5, Johnson filed a motion to dismiss. ECF No. 7. The motions have been briefed, ECF Nos. 11, 12, 14, and 15, and no hearing is necessary, see Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For the following reasons, Defendants' motions, ECF Nos. 5 and 7, will be granted in part and denied in part.

         II. Standard of Dismissal for Failure to State a Claim

         A complaint must contain "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Facial plausibility exists "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. An inference of a mere possibility of misconduct is not sufficient to support a plausible claim. Id. at 679. As the Twombly opinion stated, "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." 550 U.S. at 555. "A pleading that offers 'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.' . . . Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders 'naked assertion[s]' devoid of 'further factual enhancement.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557). Although when considering a motion to dismiss a court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint, this principle does not apply to legal conclusions couched as factual allegations. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         III. 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 (1986) (citing predecessor to current Rule 56(a)). The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate the absence of any genuine dispute of material fact. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970). If sufficient evidence exists for a reasonable jury to render a verdict in favor of the party opposing the motion, then a genuine dispute of material fact is presented and summary judgment should be denied. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). However, 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. Id. at 252. The facts themselves, and the inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts, must be viewed in the light most favorable to the opposing party, Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007); Iko v. Shreve, 535 F.3d 225, 230 (4th Cir. 2008), who may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading but instead must, 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 are to be made on personal knowledge, contain such facts as would be admissible in evidence, and show affirmatively the competence of the affiant to testify to the matters stated in the affidavit. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4).

         IV. Allegations of the Complaint

          Dawson has been employed by HABC since 1994 as a Maintenance Clerk. Compl. ¶ 11. Dawson worked at the Gilmor Homes location, and Johnson was transferred to that location and began acting as her supervisor. Id. ¶ 14. Between February and June 2016, Dawson alleges that Johnson made "sexually explicit and lewd comments to [her] on a nearly daily basis." Id.¶ 15. These comments included, but were not limited to, saying that her "titties are sitting up nice and high," that he wished he could be a chair for her to sit on, that he wished he "had those lips wrapped around" him, that she had "sexual bedroom eyes," that he would "love to ride that trunk," that she had a "lot of junk in her trunk," and that she had "enough cushion already in that chair." Id. ¶ 16. Johnson made additional comments about Dawson's clothing and about other female employees' appearances and bodies. Id. ¶ 19. The alleged remarks about Dawson's body were so humiliating that she isolated herself in her office away from "hallways, break rooms, and other locations where she knew Mr. Johnson would be." Id. ¶¶ 16, 28-29. Dawson never affirmatively welcomed or encouraged these remarks, id. ¶ 21, and repeatedly refused to take Johnson's cell phone number, id. ¶ 22. Dawson also alleges that, in retaliation for her refusal to respond favorably to Johnson's advances, he forced her to resign a second job she held as a crossing guard and otherwise threatened the loss of her newly acquired promotion at HABC. Id. ¶¶ 23-25. Dawson claims she was reluctant to make a complaint against Johnson because of these threats of retaliation. Id. ¶ 26. She also claims she was afraid to make a complaint because Johnson's cousin was the Human Resources Director at HABC. Id. ¶ 30. She alleges Johnson's behavior caused her "extreme mental duress, affected her ability to work productively, affected her family life, put her in fear of losing her job, and put her in fear that he would one day increase his sexual aggressiveness and do her harm." Id. ¶ 4.

         Dawson alleges that "several people from several different departments had complained of or were aware of Mr. Johnson's constant inappropriate sexual commentary at multiple Housing Authority sites" and that HABC was thus aware, or should have been aware, of his actions. Id. ¶¶ 32-33. Dawson also contends that Johnson's termination from a previous job for sexual harassment should have placed HABC on notice of his behavior. Id. ¶¶ 37-38. Upon learning that other women in the office were being sexually harassed by Johnson, Dawson made a formal complaint in June 2016. Id. ¶ 31. She alleges Johnson's harassment continued up until June 9, 2016. Id. ¶ 13. (Although not alleged directly in Dawson's complaint, her charge filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (referenced in her complaint in this Court) stated her HABC complaint was investigated and that Johnson's employment with HABC was terminated soon thereafter. See EEOC Charge 2, ECF No. 5-10.)

         V. Counts of the Complaint

          Dawson's complaint contains four counts: Count I - Civil Rights Act: Hostile Environment Sexual Harassment; Count II - Civil Rights Act: Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment; Count III - Civil Rights Act: Due Process Claim; and Count IV - Civil Rights Act: Equal Protection Claim. Dawson alleges that Johnson's sexually harassing conduct constituted a pattern or practice contrary to "the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000, et seq" Based on this indirect reference to the federal employment discrimination statutes, the Court analyzes Counts I and II as statutory claims under Title VII, which prohibits such conduct by employers. . Counts III and IV are clearly claims based on the federal constitution, and the Court considers them brought under 42 U.S.C. §1983.

         VI. Analysis

         Defendant HABC filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, arguing that it was not on notice of any harassment prior to Dawson's June 2016 complaint and that it acted promptly in response to that complaint; that the alleged comments were not sufficiently severe or pervasive to constitute sexual harassment; and that Dawson did not state a claim for quid pro quo harassment. HABC also contends it is entitled to summary judgment on all claims for harassment prior to June 9, 2016, because that is the date Dawson first reported her harassment. Defendant Johnson filed a separate motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, contending he has no personal liability under Title VII, that Dawson's substantive due process claim fails because her bodily integrity was not compromised by a physical assault, that she failed to state a claim for sexual harassment under the Equal Protection Clause, and that he is entitled to qualified immunity.

         Johnson is correct that he has no personal liability under Title VII. See Lissau v. Southern Food Service, Inc., 159 F.3d 177, 180-81 (4th Cir. 1998) ("[Supervisors are not liable in their individual capacities for Title VII violations . . . We interpret the inclusion of agent in Title VIFs definition of employer simply to establish a limit on an employer's liability for its employees' actions.")- To the extent, ...

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