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Compton v. State

United States District Court, D. Maryland

December 4, 2019

STATE OF MARYLAND, et al ., Defendants.


          Ellen L. Hollander United States District Judge

         In this employment discrimination case, plaintiff Dakota Compton filed suit against the State of Maryland and the Maryland Transportation Authority (collectively, the “State” or the “MDTA”), and MDTA's former employee, Satish Bhardwaj.[1] ECF 8-1 (the “First Amended Complaint”). Plaintiff asserts that from August 1, 2016 to March 30, 2017, his immediate supervisor, Bhardwaj, sexually harassed him. The claim was substantiated, and Bhardwaj was terminated. Further, plaintiff alleges that he was subjected to retaliation from Bhardwaj's supervisor, Sarah Williams, who was disciplined but not discharged. According to plaintiff, the retaliation culminated in his termination while he was on medical leave. Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief as well as monetary damages.

         The Complaint contains six counts. Count One alleges “Sexual Hostile Environment, ” in violation of the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act (“MFEPA”), Md. Code (2014 Repl. Vol., 2017 Supp.), § 20-606 of the State Government Article (“S.G.”). Count Two alleges “Retaliation” under the MFEPA. In Count Three, plaintiff alleges “Sexual Hostile Environment, ” in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”). Count Four asserts a retaliation claim under Title VII. Count Five, lodged only against Bhardwaj, asserts a common law claim of battery. Finally, Count Six sets forth a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

         The State has filed a “Partial Answer.” ECF 16. And, it has filed a “Partial Motion To Dismiss” (ECF 15), with respect to Counts Two, Four, and Six of the First Amended Complaint. The motion is supported by a memorandum. ECF 15-1 (collectively, “State Motion”). Compton opposes the State Motion, in part. ECF 19. The State has replied. ECF 21. Bhardwaj has also moved to dismiss (ECF 26), supported by a memorandum (ECF 26-1) (collectively, “Bhardwaj Motion”). Plaintiff has responded. ECF 27. No reply was filed, and the time to do so has expired. See Local rule 105.2.

         No hearing is necessary to resolve the motions. Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, I shall grant the Bhardwaj Motion and I shall grant in part and deny in part the State Motion.


         Plaintiff began working for the MDTA in August 2010. ECF 8-1, ¶ 6. He was hired as a Facility Maintenance Technician and was later promoted to a Customer and Revenue Agent. Id. Compton alleges that he “met and exceeded all reasonably objective performance standards, ” leading him to “receive[] increases in pay several times.” Id. ¶ 7.

         Plaintiff reported to Bhardwaj. Id. ¶ 8. Compton avers that from August 1, 2016, to March 30, 2017, he “was subjected to unwelcome and unwanted lewd sexual acts perpetrated” by Bhardwaj, including “derogatory and extremely vulgar and abusive language, pornographic material, [and] sexual comments about Mr. Compton's relationship with his significant other[.]” Id. ¶ 9. Further, Bhardwaj also allegedly made unwanted advances towards plaintiff, and at one point “thrust[] his genitals against Mr. Compton.” Id. ¶ 11.

         Plaintiff repeatedly asking Bhardwaj to stop his offensive conduct, but Bhardwaj ignored his requests or laughed at him. Id. ¶¶ 10, 12. In plaintiff's view, “Bhardwaj appeared to take pleasure in humiliating [him] and making [him] uncomfortable with such sexual acts.” Id. ¶ 10. Plaintiff complained to Bhardwaj's supervisor, Sarah Williams, but that too proved unavailing. Id. ¶ 12.

         Compton filed a complaint with the MDTA on or about March 30, 2017. Id. ¶ 16. While the investigation was ongoing, Williams allegedly “launched a personal campaign to smear Mr. Compton's work record, standing and reputation at the MDTA.” Id. ¶ 22. And, during the week of April 17, 2017, Williams allegedly “approached and expressed anger towards Plaintiff for going outside her department to report Mr. Bardwaj's [sic] behavior to MTDA management.” Id. ¶ 95.

         On April 21, 2017, Sara Cabrera, Chief of the MTDA's Equal Employment Opportunity and Fair Practices Department, wrote to plaintiff, stating: “‘I have conducted an internal investigation into this matter. The investigation included a thorough review of your complaint, and information obtained through interviews. Based on this investigation, there was sufficient evidence to support your complaint as alleged.'” Id. ¶ 97. Thereafter, the MDTA “fired” Bhardwaj. Id. ¶ 17. Williams was not discharged, but plaintiff alleges that the MDTA disciplined her for failing to take measures to control Bhardwaj. Id. ¶ 20.

         Compton alleges that, as a result of Williams's actions, he “was so physically and emotionally tortured, that he suffered a mental break down, was unable to function mentally as he normally did, unable to work, and unable to return to his position with the MDTA.” Id. ¶ 27; see also Id. ¶¶ 112, 116. Plaintiff was “forced to undergo medical leave.” Id. ¶ 31.

         According to plaintiff, following the MDTA investigation, Williams renewed “a deliberate and maligned campaign against the Plaintiff in retaliation for having brought the Bardwaj [sic] matter to MDTA management.” Id. ¶ 100. Specifically, plaintiff alleges that on April 27, 2017, while he was out on sick leave, Williams issued a written reprimand to plaintiff for mishandling MDTA funds during a transaction that occurred four weeks prior. Id. ¶ 102. The same day, Williams also asserted that a customer wrote a letter complaining that plaintiff had acted in an impolite manner. Id. ¶ 103. And, two days later, Williams accused plaintiff of making a “‘threatening statement'” while at work on April 26, 2017, which plaintiff alleges was impossible because he was on sick leave that day. Id. ¶ 104.

         Further, plaintiff alleges that on May 1, 2017, Williams “created the story that ‘Mr. Compton mishandled MDTA funds.'” Id. ¶ 107. In particular, Williams claimed that plaintiff and Amber Criner and Sherri Lapin, both MDTA employees, made miscalculations during a money exchange, resulting in a $500 accounting error. Id. ¶ 108. Although Ms. Lapin was not penalized and Ms. Criner was docked one day of compensable leave time, plaintiff was docked three days of compensable leave time. Id. ¶ 109.

         The MDTA required plaintiff to submit to a psychiatric evaluation “to assess his mental health and determine whether he was fit to continue working for the MDTA.” Id. ¶ 28. Therefore, plaintiff underwent an examination on June 8, 2017, performed by Gabriel Newman, M.D. Id. According to plaintiff, Dr. Newman “recommended” that plaintiff not return to his position, in light of his “current circumstances.” Id. ¶ 29.

         Plaintiff sought to return to work on June 30, 2017, after he underwent therapy and believed he was mentally able to do so. Id. ¶ 122. But, the MDTA “did not permit” him to return to his position. Id. According to plaintiff, the MDTA gave him three choices: “(1) Mr. Compton could return to work in the capacity of ‘facility maintenance,' which was a demotion in work responsibilities and reduction in pay grade, (2) apply for retirement, or (3) resign.” Id. ¶ 122. In plaintiff's view, the MDTA effectively discharged him while he was on medical leave. Id. ¶ 32.

         Additional facts are included in the Discussion.


         A defendant may test the legal sufficiency of a complaint by way of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). In re Birmingham, 846 F.3d 88, 92 (4th Cir. 2017); Goines v. Valley Cmty. Servs. Bd., 822 F.3d 159, 165-66 (4th Cir. 2016); McBurney v. Cuccinelli, 616 F.3d 393, 408 (4th Cir. 2010), aff'd sub nom., McBurney v. Young, 569 U.S. 221 (2013); Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion constitutes an assertion by a defendant that, even if the facts alleged by a plaintiff are true, the complaint fails as a matter of law “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Whether a complaint states a claim for relief is assessed by reference to the pleading requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). That rule provides that a complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is ...

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