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Uyar v. Seli

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 6, 2017

ASLI UYAR, Plaintiff,



         I. Introduction

         The Plaintiff Asli Uyar (“Uyar”) brings this action alleging sexual harassment and sex discrimination in a ten-count Complaint against defendants Emre Seli (“Seli”) and Yale University (“Yale”) (collectively, “Defendants”). Seli has moved to dismiss Counts Five, Six, Seven, Eight, and Nine of the Complaint, and Yale has moved to dismiss Counts One, Two, Three, Four, and Ten of the Complaint, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons that follow, Seli's Motion to Dismiss [Dkt. No. 19] is GRANTED, and Yale's Motion to Dismiss [Dkt. No. 23] is GRANTED-IN-PART and DENIED-IN-PART.

         II. Background

         Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are taken from the Plaintiff's complaint. Plaintiff is a Turkish national who was granted a visa to work in the United States as a post-doctoral fellow at the Yale School of Medicine's Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences doing research in the area of early embryo genetics. [Dkt. No. 1 (“Compl.”) ¶¶ 4, 6.] Seli was a Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at the Yale School of Medicine. Id. ¶ 7. He ran the laboratory where Uyar performed her fellowship work and he supervised her fellowship research. Id. Plaintiff's fellowship research was funded by, and her position was dependent on, grant money obtained by Seli, and Seli could at any time decide not to continue funding Plaintiff's position. Id. ¶ 8. Additionally, to continue to advance in her field, Plaintiff was dependent on positive recommendations from Defendant Seli to obtain other positions or to publish in academic journals. Id. ¶ 9.

         In the summer of 2012, Seli, who was married, began to pursue a romantic relationship with the Plaintiff. The Plaintiff initially rejected his advances, but Seli persisted and Uyar relented in September 2012. Id. ¶¶ 11-12. Plaintiff claims that she tried to end this relationship repeatedly, but each time, Seli coerced her into continuing the relationship by threatening that Plaintiff would lose her fellowship if she ended it. Id. ¶¶ 13-14. The Plaintif continued the relationship in order to remain in the United States and pursue her career. Id. at 15.

         On May 31, 2014, Seli's wife learned of the relationship. Id. ¶ 18. Plaintiff alleges that Seli sought to terminate her relationship with Yale to appease his wife. Id. at 19. On June 1, 2014, Seli sent an email to his department's business manager, claiming that Plaintiff's research “did not look promising for next year and I think we may not renew her appointment, ” and he forwarded this email to his wife, even though his wife had no professional involvement with the Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 20, 24. The same day, Seli cancelled Plaintiff's research project, and cancelled Plaintiff's flight to and registration at a professional conference she was scheduled to attend. Id. ¶ 21, 25. The cancellation of the Plaintiff's research project prevented her from producing and publishing a major research project during her fellowship. Id. ¶ 22. This cancellation would have been fatal to Plaintiff's academic career prospects. Id. Seli also told the Plaintiff that if she continued coming to work, Seli would tell her friends and family about the relationship in order to ruin her reputation. Id. ¶ 23, 28. He also threatened to ruin her academic career by telling others that she had falsified her curriculum vitae in order to obtain her fellowship at Yale. Id. ¶¶ 27, 28. Plaintiff initially complied with Seli's directive. Id.

         On June 18, 2014, Yale emailed Seli that her position would expire on August 18, 2014. Id. ¶ 31. On June 24, 2014, Plaintiff reported the relationship and Seli's threats to the Department Chair, who returned Plaintiff to work. Id. ¶ 33. Once she returned to the laboratory, Seli became hostile and threatening when he interacted with Plaintiff, including by excluding her from meetings and preventing her from working on the laboratory's research projects. Id. ¶¶ 34-35 In order to preserve her professional reputation, Plaintiff succumbed to Seli's pressure, terminated her fellowship at Yale and accepted a position at a less prestigious academic institution. Id. ¶ 37-38. Subsequently, Seli threatened Plaintiff with litigation if she attempted to pursue a sexual harassment claim at Yale, and Yale published her research without crediting her. Id. ¶¶ 39-41.

         Plaintiff filed an administrative complaint with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (“CHRO”) on March 31, 2015, alleging that she was discriminated against in the terms and conditions of her employment, sexually harassed, constructively discharged, and retaliated against by the Defendants. [Dkt. No. 19-2]. She received a right to sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (“EEOC”) on December 1, 2015. [Compl. ¶ 45, Exh. A].

         Plaintiff filed the instant action on February 5, 2015, alleging as to Yale sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation in violation of Title VII, sexual harassment in violation of Title IX, and negligent supervision, and alleging as to Seli tortious interference with a business expectancy, defamation, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and invasion of privacy. [Compl. at 1]. Seli and Yale moved to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) on April 4, 2016 [Dkt. No. 19] and April 15, 2016 [Dkt. No. 23], respectively.

         III. Legal Standard

         “‘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.'” Sarmiento v. U.S., 678 F.3d 147, 152 (2d Cir. 2012) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). While Rule 8 does not require detailed factual allegations, “[a] pleading that offers labels and conclusions or 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 (quotations and citations omitted). “Where a complaint pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of ‘entitlement to relief.'” Id. (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 557 (2007)). “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.” Id. (citations omitted).

         In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the Court should follow a “two-pronged approach” to evaluate the sufficiency of the complaint. Hayden v. Paterson, 594 F.3d 150, 161 (2d Cir. 2010). “A court ‘can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.'” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). “At the second step, a court should determine whether the ‘well-pleaded factual allegations, ' assumed to be true, ‘plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.'” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). “The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quotations omitted).

         In general, the Court's review on a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) “is limited to the facts as asserted within the four corners of the complaint, the documents attached to the complaint as exhibits, and any documents incorporated in the complaint by reference.” McCarthy v. Dun & Bradstreet Corp., 482 F.3d 184, 191 (2d Cir. 2007). The Court may also consider “matters of which judicial notice may be taken” and “documents either in plaintiffs' possession or of which plaintiffs had knowledge and relied on in bringing suit.” Brass v. Am. Film Techs., Inc., 987 F.2d 142, 150 (2d Cir. 1993); Patrowicz v. Transamerica HomeFirst, Inc., 359 F.Supp.2d 140, 144 (D. Conn. 2005). Here, Plaintiffs attach the EEOC right to sue letter to her Complaint, and Seli attaches the CHRO complaints to his briefing. These documents are integral to the Complaint and may be considered.

         IV. Discussion

         A. Claims Against Yale

         1. Title VII

         Pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, “[i]t shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer . . . to discriminate against any individual with respect to [her] compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's . . . sex.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). “[S]exual harassment so ‘severe or pervasive' as to ‘alter the conditions of . . . employment and create an abusive working environment' violates Title VII.” Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775, 786 (1998) (quoting Meritor Sav. Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 64 (1986)). “[A] plaintiff seeking relief ...

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