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Robinson v. Department of Motor Vehicle

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

November 28, 2017

MELBA C. ROBINSON, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF MOTOR VEHICLE, Defendant,

          RULING RE: MOTION TO DISMISS (DOC. NO. 28)

          Janet C. Hall United States District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         The plaintiff, Melba C. Robinson (“Robinson”), pro se, brings this employment discrimination action against the defendant, the State of Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles (“DMV”). Robinson asserts race discrimination and retaliation claims pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”).[1]DMV initially moved to dismiss Robinson's Title VII claims on March 9, 2017. See Mot. to Dismiss (Doc. No. 28). This court ruled on DMV's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 28) on May 23, 2017, denying it in part and granting it in part. Ruling (Doc. No. 40). Specifically, the court dismissed Robinson's claim related to her August through September 2011 suspension and her hostile work environment claim, but gave Robinson leave to replead those claims if she had a factual basis upon which to plausible allege those claims. Id. The court denied DMV's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 28) with respect to Robinson's claim of discrimination and retaliation stemming from her December 2011 suspension and her termination. Id. Finally, the court struck Robinson's jury trial demand with respect to jury determination of back pay, but allowed Robinson's jury trial demand to proceed with respect to jury determination of compensatory damages. Id.

         On June 12, 2017, Robinson filed the operative Amended Complaint (Doc. No. 43), expanding on her allegations with respect to her hostile work environment claim. Subsequently, DMV moved to dismiss Robinson's Amended Complaint with respect to her hostile work environment claim. Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 46).

         For the reasons that follow, DMV's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 46) is granted.

         II. ALLEGED FACTS[2]

         Robinson, who is African American, was employed by the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles (“DMV) for five years and nine months as a DMV examiner. Amended Complaint (“Am. Compl.”) (Doc. No. 43) at 1.

         With respect to her hostile work environment claim, Robinson alleges that she had a meeting with the DMV Commissioner regarding the hostile work environment she was experiencing, but DMV management did not take any action. Id. at 2. Robinson alleges that she was subjected to “unannounced” disciplinary meetings on October 12, 2011, April 13, 2012, and January 8, 2013, and asserts that these meetings were an effort by human resources to intimidate her. Id. She further alleges that on February 24, 2012, a Caucasian manager embarrassed her in front of customers by implying that she was a liar, and that when Robinson complained about this behavior she was told to file a grievance and that “management can use any tone they want to use” with her. Id. Finally, she alleges that the April 13, 2012 meeting was a “setup to make me apologize to” the Caucasian manager who had embarrassed her. Id.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         When deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the court must determine whether the plaintiff has stated a legally cognizable claim by making allegations that, if true, would show that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 557 (2007) (interpreting Rule 12(b)(6), in accordance with Rule 8(a)(2), to require allegations with “enough heft to ‘sho[w] that the pleader is entitled to relief” (alteration in original)). The court takes all factual allegations in the complaint as true and draws all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Crawford v. Cuomo, 796 F.3d 252, 256 (2d Cir. 2015). However, the tenet that a court must accept a complaint's allegations as true is inapplicable to “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         To survive a motion pursuant to Rule 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.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “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. 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.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         It is well-established that “[p]ro se complaints ‘must be construed liberally and interpreted to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.'” Sykes v. Bank of Am., 723 F.3d 399, 403 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006)); see also Tracy v. Freshwater, 623 F.3d 90, 101-02 (2d Cir. 2010) (discussing special rules of solicitude for pro se litigants).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         A hostile work environment claim requires a showing that “the workplace is permeated with ‘discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult, '” to such a degree that the plaintiff's conditions of employment are altered and an abusive work environment is created. Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 21 (1993). Relevant factors for hostile work environment claims include “the frequency of the discriminatory conduct; its severity; whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee's work performance.” Id. at 23. “‘[S]imple teasing, ' offhand comments, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not amount to discriminatory changes in the ‘terms and conditions of employment.'” Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775, 788 (1998) (internal citation omitted) (quoting Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Servs., Inc., 523 U.S. 75, 82 (1998)). The alleged incidents “must be more than episodic; they must be sufficiently continuous and concerted in order to be deemed pervasive.” Id. at 787. Furthermore, in order to violate Title VII's prohibition on race or color discrimination, the conduct at issue must be ...


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