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Flowers v. Northern Middlesex YMCA

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 11, 2016

Linda F. Flowers, Plaintiff,
Northern Middlesex YMCA, Defendant.


Michael P. Shea, U.S.D.J.

Plaintiff Linda Flowers has brought sex discrimination and retaliation claims against Defendant Northern Middlesex YMCA (the “YMCA”) under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) and the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act (“CFEPA”). The YMCA has moved to dismiss Flowers’s complaint in its entirety, arguing that Flowers’s allegations fail to state a plausible claim for relief. Because Flowers’s complaint asserts sufficient factual allegations to state plausible claims of a hostile work environment and retaliation in violation of Title VII and CFEPA, I deny the YMCA’s motion to dismiss.

I. Background

The complaint alleges the following facts. In 1984, the YMCA hired Flowers as a housekeeper. (Compl. ¶ 7.) She remained in that position until July of 2014. (Id. at ¶ 28.) About ten years earlier, on March 8, 2004, Bruce Thortenson, Director of Maintenance at the YMCA, struck and slid his hand across Flowers’s buttocks. (Id. at ¶ 12.) This upset Flowers, and she reported Thortenson’s conduct to Frank Sumpter, who was at the time the president of the YMCA. (Id.) Soon after Flowers reported the incident, Sumpter placed a report of Flowers’s complaint in her personnel file. (Id.)

On January 23, 2014, Thortenson touched the side of Flowers’s breast and left arm. (Id. at ¶ 10.) Flowers immediately told Thortenson not to “put his hands” on her. (Id.) Flowers reported the incident to the YMCA’s human resources personnel. (Id. at ¶ 11.) The following day, a human resources representative informed Flowers that she had spoken to Thortenson, and that Thortenson would not touch Flowers again. (Id.) At the conclusion of their discussion, the human resources representative hugged Flowers, which caused Flowers to leave crying “in a state of immense distress.” (Id.)[1]

After the January 23, 2014 incident, Thortenson instructed other YMCA employees not to speak with Flowers and not to enter the laundry room if Flowers was there. (Id. at ¶ 16.) Thortenson also “frequently gave [Flowers] disgruntled facial stares” when she passed him or while she was working. (Id.) On April 7, 2014, Flowers allowed a representative to review her personnel file. (Id. at 13.) A search of the file yielded no documentation of the January 23, 2014 incident between Thortenson and Flowers. (Id.)

Flowers filed a complaint with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (“CRHO”) and the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on April 10, 2014, in which she alleged violations of state and federal antidiscrimination laws. (Id. at ¶ 6.) After Flowers filed her complaint with the CHRO and EEOC, other employees refused to communicate with her about work. (Id. at ¶ 18.)

Between the time that the YMCA first hired Flowers and January 2014, the YMCA employed two housekeepers. (Id. at ¶¶ 19, 21.) The second housekeeper left the YMCA after January 2014. (Id.) Michelle - another YMCA employee - informed Flowers that due to financial constraints the YMCA did not intend to hire another housekeeper, and that Flowers would need to cover the former housekeeper’s duties in addition to Flowers’s normal responsibilities. (Id. at ¶¶ 19, 20.) Flowers attempted to accommodate her additional responsibilities by arriving at work around 7:00 a.m. - which apparently was earlier than she would arrive prior to January of 2014 - but another YMCA employee informed her that she could not work extra hours because she was “making too much money.” (Id. at ¶ 22.) Flowers chose not to quit because she believed that if she did, she would not receive a pension. (Id. at ¶ 25.) At some point after she was assigned the additional responsibilities, Flowers suffered a stroke and, as a result, was forced to resign from her position. (Id. at ¶¶ 27-28.)

After obtaining a release of jurisdiction by the CHRO and EEOC on February 17, 2015 (id. at ¶ 6), Flowers filed suit in this Court on May 11, 2015. Flowers’s complaint asserts the following counts: (1) sex discrimination in violation of Title VII due to a hostile work environment, (2) retaliation in violation of Title VII, (3) sex discrimination in violation of CFEPA due to a hostile work environment, and (4) retaliation in violation of CFEPA. On August 11, 2015, the YMCA filed this motion to dismiss.

II. Legal Standard

A motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of a claimant’s pleadings. In considering a motion to dismiss, the Court takes Flowers’s “factual allegations to be true and [draws] all reasonable inferences in” her favor. Loginovskaya v. Batratchenko, 764 F.3d 266, 269-70 (2d Cir. 2014). “To survive a motion to dismiss, 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) (internal quotation marks omitted). “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, ” Kelly v. Howard I. Shapiro & Assocs. Consulting Engineers, P.C., 716 F.3d 10, 14 (2d Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted), and raises “a right to relief above the speculative level, ” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). “Although a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint, this tenet is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Sikhs for Justice, Inc. v. Gandhi, 614 Fed. App’x 29, 30 (2d Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks omitted).

III. Discussion

A. Hostile Work Environment (Counts One and Three)

In Counts One and Three, Flowers claims that the YMCA is liable for Thortenson’s sexual harassment because it created a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII and CFEPA, respectively. The parties do not dispute that a hostile work environment claim under CFEPA is analyzed in the same manner as one brought under Title VII. See, e.g., Martin v. Town of Westport, 558 F.Supp.2d 228, 242 (D. Conn. 2008) (“As with CFEPA discrimination claims, Connecticut courts look to federal law for guidance when analyzing CFEPA hostile work environmental claims.”). I therefore use the same legal framework in addressing the YMCA’s argument that Flowers fails to state federal and Connecticut law hostile environment claims. I conclude that, while a close question, Flowers alleges sufficient facts to ...

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