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McCalla v. Yale University

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

October 26, 2017



          Janet C. Hall United States District Judge


         The plaintiff, Leon McCalla, filed a Complaint against the defendant, Yale University. See Complaint (“Compl.”) (Doc. No. 1). In it, McCalla brings seven claims against Yale, arising out of the alleged racial discrimination and harassment of McCalla's supervisor, Melissa Bonk. See id. On August 25, 2017, Yale filed a Motion to Dismiss Count Seven, which alleges intentional infliction of emotional distress. See Motion to Dismiss (“Mot. to Dismiss”) (Doc. No. 12).

         For the reasons set forth below, the court grants Yale's Motion, and Count Seven is dismissed.


         The Complaint alleges the following facts.[1] McCalla had been employed by Yale as a Lab Animal Technician Scheduler since 1989 and was the only African American in that position. See Compl. at ¶¶ 13-14. McCalla alleged that he performed satisfactorily in the position, which was recognized by Yale in the form of a yearly raise and several promotions. See id. at ¶¶ 15, 17. In May 2013, Melissa Bonk became McCalla's supervisor. See id. at ¶ 18. Bonk is Caucasian. See id.

         McCalla alleges that he was “unfairly scrutinized, micromanaged, harassed, and discriminated against” by Bonk. Id. at ¶ 19. For example, Bonk gave McCalla both verbal and written warnings for errors with his performance, “even if the error was inconsequential” or if the error was not made by him. Id. at ¶¶ 20, 27. He cites specific instances on February 7, 2014, July 28, 2015, and December 24, 2015. See id. at ¶¶ 21, 23, 27. Bonk conducted “Fact-finding” meetings to discuss these errors, but did not provide McCalla or his union representative with copies of the alleged errors. See id. at ¶¶ 31-32. McCalla also alleges that Bonk “berated, belittled, and intentionally embarrassed him” in front of his co-workers because of his alleged mistakes. Id. at ¶ 27. He cites specific instances on December 24, 2017, and March 19, 2016. See id. at ¶¶ 27, 36. Although McCalla complained to the union, to Yale's Office for Equal Opportunity, and to Human Resources, Yale took no action to stop Bonk's conduct. See id. at ¶¶ 21-22, 24-26, 28-29, 33-34. After meeting with Bonk and a representative from Human Resources, McCalla was suspended for three days due to alleged poor work performance. See id. at ¶ 34.

         McCalla also alleges that employees who were Caucasian were not disciplined for their scheduling errors or for arriving late while African-American employees were. See id. at ¶¶ 30, 36-39. On March 25, 2016, McCalla filed an initial complaint alleging hostile work environment and disparate treatment on the basis of race with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. See id. at ¶ 41. After McCalla filed the complaint, Bonk's harassment and hostility worsened until McCalla “could no longer tolerate Yale's hostile work environment and constructively discharged on August 16, 2016, as recommended by his doctor.” Id. at ¶ 42. McCalla's doctor stated that he “had to leave work for medical reasons related to stress” caused by his work environment and specifically by Bonk. Id. at ¶ 43.


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires a complaint to plead “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 8(a). Under Rule 12(b)(6), to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, that plain statement must allege facts sufficient to state a plausible claim for relief. 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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). While this plausibility standard does not require probability, it is not satisfied by “a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully” or by facts that are “merely consistent with a defendant's liability.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

         In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must accept all material factual allegations of the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Hemi Grp., LLC v. City of New York, 559 U.S. 1, 5 (2010); Jaghory v. N.Y. State Dep't Educ., 131 F.3d 326, 329 (2d Cir. 1997). However, the court is not required to accept as true a “legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986); Timm v. Faucher, No. 3:16-CV-00531 (VAB), 2017 WL 1230846, at *6 (D. Conn. Mar. 31, 2017). In those instances, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The court may consider “only the facts alleged in the pleadings, documents attached as exhibits or incorporated by reference in the pleadings, and matters of which judicial notice should be taken.” Samuels v. Air Trans. Local 504, 992 F.2d 12, 15 (2d Cir. 1993); Borg v. Town of Westport, No. 3:15-CV-1380 (AWT), 2016, WL 9001021, at *3 (D. Conn. Aug. 18, 2016).


         Count Seven of the Complaint alleges that Yale intentionally inflicted emotional distress on McCalla because it knew of Bonk's conduct and took no steps to prevent it. See Compl. at 98-104. Yale moves under Rule 12(b)(6) to dismiss Count Seven for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See Memorandum in Support of Motion to Dismiss Count Seven (“Mem. in Supp.”) (Doc. No. 13) at 3. It argues primarily that McCalla's Complaint fails to allege conduct that is sufficiently extreme and outrageous to state a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. See id. at 4. Briefly, Yale also includes one sentence arguing that McCalla has not alleged facts to indicate that his emotional distress was severe. See id. at 6. The court agrees that the facts alleged by McCalla do not rise to the level of extreme and outrageous, and Count Seven is dismissed on this ground. Therefore, the court need not address Yale's second argument as to whether McCalla's emotional injury is severe.

         In order to state a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, a plaintiff must allege four elements: “(1) that the actor intended to inflict emotional distress or that he knew or should have known that emotional distress was the likely result of his conduct; (2) that the conduct was extreme and outrageous; (3) that the defendant's conduct was the cause of the plaintiff's distress; and (4) that the emotional distress sustained by the plaintiff was severe.” Dipane-Saleem v. Gallagher, No. 3:15-CV-596 (MPS), 2016 WL 1060190, at *4 (D. Conn. Mar. 15, 2016) (quoting Appleton v. Bd. of Educ., 757 A.2d 1059, 1062 (2000)). The focus of the court in this case is on the second element. This second element is satisfied “only where the conduct has been 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. Generally, the case is one in which recitation of the ...

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