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Dangerfield v. Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

October 11, 2019




         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Melinda Dangerfield ("Plaintiff”) commenced this action by filing a complaint against her former employer, Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, Inc. ("Johns Hopkins" or "Defendant"), for race-based discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000 et seq., intentional infliction of emotional distress, hostile work environment based on race and gender in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and breach of contract. Johns Hopkins moved to partially dismiss the complaint or, in the alternative, for summary judgment ("the Motion"). (ECF No. 11.) This matter is fully briefed (ECF Nos. 12, 13) and no hearing is required, see Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). As explained more fully below, Defendant's Motion will be granted as to Counts III, IV (regarding gender discrimination only), and V of the complaint and Plaintiff will be directed to show cause why Counts I and IV based upon racial discrimination should not be dismissed.

         II. Allegations in the Complaint

         Plaintiff was employed by Johns Hopkins as a Nurse Recruiter Assistant on July 14, 2008. (Complaint ¶ 5, ECF No. 1.) She alleges that she was the only African American woman out of six employees in her department for a significant period during her employment. (Id. ¶ 6.) She alleges that beginning on March 29, 2010, she was subjected to condescending and abusive, language and behavior by her fellow colleagues and supervisor. (Id. ¶ 7.) She further alleges that she was treated disparately from her co-workers regarding annual leave and raises. (Id. ¶ 9.) At some point, Plaintiff filed a grievance and multiple complaints with her supervisor and Johns Hopkins's human resources department regarding the discriminatory work environment. (Id. ¶ 7.) Plaintiff states that in direct retaliation for her own reports to human resources, her supervisor and colleagues filed complaints against Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 8.) However, Plaintiff alleges the complaints against her were based upon false allegations of inappropriate behavior. (Id.)

         On September 17, 2018, Plaintiff was issued a written warning and placed on paid leave, allegedly based upon the false accusations made by her supervisor and colleagues. (Id. ¶ 10.) Due to the alleged discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, she requested a transfer to a lateral position on October 4, 2018. (Id. ¶ 11.) Plaintiff claims she was terminated the same day because of her race and gender. (Id. ¶ 12.) As a result of the allegedly intentional and unlawful employment practices, Plaintiff suffered, inter alia, damages, loss of "medical and wage earnings," humiliation, emotional pain, suffering, anxiety, stress, loss of enjoyment of life, depression, and inconvenience. (Id. ¶ 14.)

         III. Legal Standard for Motion to Dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b) (6)

         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 Court 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.

         IV. Analysis of Motion to Dismiss

         Plaintiffs complaint asserts five claims: Count I, alleging racial discrimination; Count II, alleging retaliation; Count III, alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress; Count IV, alleging hostile work environment; and Count V, alleging breach of contract.[1] Defendant moved to dismiss the claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress, hostile work environment based on sexual discrimination, and breach of contract, only. However, given the complaint's sparse factual allegations, the Court questions the sufficiency of Plaintiff s claims for race-based hostile work environment and discrimination. The Court will first address the grounds raised in Defendant's Motion and then turn to the claims for race-based hostile work environment and discrimination.

         A. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

         Defendant seeks dismissal of the state law claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED") because the behavior Plaintiff alleges to have occurred is insufficient to rise to the level of offensive conduct that constitutes intentional infliction of emotional distress. Under Maryland law, a successful claim of IIED requires a plaintiff to establish four elements: (1) the conduct must be intentional or reckless; (2) the conduct must be extreme and outrageous; (3) the conduct must be causally related to the emotional distress; and (4) the emotional distress must be severe. Harris v. Jones, 380 A.2d 611, 614 (Md. 1977). The conduct alleged in the complaint consists of condescending and abusive language and behavior. Plaintiff claimed that she endured repeated acts of intentional, extreme, and outrageous behavior, including disciplinary actions based upon false allegations, verbal abuse from colleagues and supervisors, and the constant (and realized) threat of termination for unfounded claims. (Compl. ¶ 25.) Plaintiff has provided no factual content to support her conclusional allegations of "condescending and abusive language and behavior" or "verbal abuse" or "repeated acts of intentional, extreme, and outrageous behavior." The Maryland Court of Appeals has indicated that the conduct for this tort must be '"so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.'" Harris, 380 A.2d at 614 (quoting Restatement (Second) of Torts § 46 cmt. d (Am. Law Inst. 1965)). Pleading a claim for IIED is a rigorous and difficult burden to satisfy. Ky. Fried Chicken Nat'l Mgmt. v. Weathersby, 607 A.2d 8, 11 (Md. 1992). Recovery is limited to the most extreme and unusual circumstances. Hrehorovich v. Harbor Hosp. Ctr., Inc., 614 A.2d 1021, 1034 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2010). Based on the nature and severity of conduct Plaintiff alleges only in vague generalizations, the Court cannot conclude that Plaintiff has stated a plausible claim for IIED and, therefore, Count III will be dismissed.

         B. Gender-Based Hostile Work Environment

         Count IV of the complaint alleges that Defendant fostered an illegal and abusive work environment and discriminated against Plaintiff "because of her race and gender" and that the conduct is actionable pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Defendant argues this claim must be dismissed insofar as it asserts gender discrimination. Defendant is correct that relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 is limited to correcting racial discrimination and does not extend to situations of gender discrimination. Runyon v. McCrary,427 U.S. 160, 167 (1976); Cornell v. Gen. Elec. Plastics,853 F.Supp. 221, 223 (S.D. W.Va. 1994); Betof v. Suburban Hosp., Inc., Civ. No. DKC-11-1452, 2012 WL 2564781, at * 12 ...

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