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Cobb v. Atria Senior Living, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 29, 2018

KEITH COBB, Plaintiff,
v.
ATRIA SENIOR LIVING, INC. and TERRY JACKSON Defendants.

          RULING ON THE DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS, IN PART, THE AMENDED COMPLAINT

          Michael P. Shea, U.S.D.J.

         Plaintiff Keith Cobb filed this action against Defendants Atria Senior Living, Inc. (“Atria”) and Terry Jackson (collectively, “Defendants”) after he was terminated from his position as a nurse at one of Atria's assisted living facilities. Defendants move to dismiss Cobb's claims for hostile work environment and/or quid pro quo sexual harassment and discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) (Count One); retaliation under Title VII (Count Two); gender discrimination and sexual harassment under the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act (“CFEPA”), Connecticut General Statute (“Conn. Gen. Stat.”) §§ 46a-60(a)(8), 46a-60(a)(1) (Count Three); retaliation under CFEPA, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46-60(a)(4) (Count Four); and retaliation for constitutionally protected speech under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 31-51q (Count Six). (ECF No. 24.)[1]

         For the reasons discussed below, I GRANT the motion to dismiss with respect to Cobb's gender discrimination claims (Counts One and Three), and DENY the motion to dismiss with respect to Cobb's retaliation claims (Counts Two, Four, and Six).

         I. Factual Allegations

         A. Cobb's Employment at Atria

         Cobb is a white male and was 54 years old at the time he filed the Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 22 ¶ 16.) In April 2011, Cobb began working for Atria, a corporation that operates private senior living facilities, at an assisted living facility in Stamford, Connecticut. (Id. ¶¶ 5, 18.) Cobb worked as a nurse and caregiver to the senior residents at the facility. (Id. ¶ 19.) Cobb received consistently positive reviews for all four years of his employment with Atria. (Id. ¶ 20.)

         B. Cobb Opposes Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Directed at a Female Colleague

         During his employment at Atria, Cobb learned of sexual harassment and discrimination directed toward a female nursing colleague, Ms. Rutherford. (Id. ¶¶ 22-23.) Cobb alleges that Defendant Jackson, an Executive Director at Atria, frequently harassed Rutherford, insisting that Rutherford talk with Jackson about personal matters, asking her to hug him, and making romantic advances toward her, embarrassing Ms. Rutherford in front of others. (Id. ¶¶ 23-26.) Cobb alleges that Rutherford refused Jackson's advances, and that Jackson became angry and resentful as a result. (Id. ¶ 27.) One on occasion in April 2015, Cobb alleges that Rutherford was alone with Jackson in an elevator in the Stamford facility and decided not to interact with Jackson. (Id. ¶ 28.) Jackson later reprimanded Rutherford in his office, stating, “when I come around you need to smile more and talk to me.” (Id. ¶¶ 29-30.) Jackson threatened to “write up” Rutherford if she did not accede to his overtures. (Id. ¶ 31.)

         Rutherford told Cobb about her experiences in the elevator and being reprimanded by Jackson. (Id. ¶ 32.) Rutherford expressed to Cobb that she feared she would lose her job if she did not comply with Jackson's demands. (Id. ¶ 34.)

         Cobb encouraged Rutherford to file a formal complaint of sexual harassment with Atria's Human Resources Department employee hotline in order to stop Jackson's behavior. (ECF No. 22 ¶ 35.) Rutherford registered a complaint with the hotline on May 1, 2015. (Id. ¶ 36.) After learning of the complaint from Human Resources, Jackson became angry that Cobb had encouraged Rutherford to make a complaint; Cobb alleges that Jackson directed discriminatory and retaliatory animus at Cobb due to his male gender, because of the friendship and confidence Cobb shared with Rutherford, which made Jackson jealous. (Id. ¶¶ 40-42.)

         C. Cobb Provides Information to the Connecticut Department of Health During an Investigation Into the Death of an Elderly Resident

         In January 2014, an elderly resident at the Stamford facility passed away two days after she wandered outside, becoming exposed to extreme cold for an unknown period of time. (Id. ¶¶ 44-47.) Cobb helped locate the resident, took her vital signs, and cared for her until the end of his shift. (Id. ¶ 45.)

         In December 2014, the Connecticut Department of Health (“DOH”) began investigating the resident's death by conducting on-site interviews with Atria personnel, including Cobb, regarding the incident. (Id. ¶¶ 48-50.) Atria senior management, including Jackson, discouraged Cobb and his coworkers from reaching out to DOH, instructing them to cooperate minimally with the investigation. (ECF No. 22 ¶ 50.) Cobb and others were instructed to attend DOH investigative interviews and answer questions, but not to otherwise contact or volunteer information to DOH. (Id. ¶ 51.)

         Cobb participated in at least one interview with DOH in January 2015 and “was able to review” a compilation of information that DOH had gleaned from its interviews with Atria personnel. (Id. ¶¶ 52, 55.) Cobb became concerned that DOH's information was inaccurate or incomplete, and that Atria management was not forthcoming in its response to the investigation. (Id. ¶¶ 56-57, 61.) Cobb decided to provide additional information to DOH “outside of the formal investigation, ” and did so in a 20- to 30-minute phone call with a DOH investigator, placed from his cell phone, outside the workplace, and on his own time. (Id. ¶¶ 58-59.)

         After DOH concluded its investigation, and a few days before a formal public hearing regarding the incident, Cobb informed Jackson that he had provided additional information to DOH outside the formal investigation. (ECF No. 22 ¶ 63.) Jackson “angrily sneered” at Cobb and told him that he knew what Cobb had done. (Id. ¶ 65.) Atria's senior management became hostile to Cobb and blamed him after Atria was determined to be at fault and fined at the conclusion of the investigation. (Id. ¶ 67.)

         D. Cobb's Termination

         On May 29, 2015, less than two weeks after the DOH's formal hearing and determination of Atria's culpability, Cobb was terminated from his position at Atria. (Id. ¶ 68.) Cobb alleges that he was terminated in retaliation for cooperating with the DOH investigation and for encouraging Rutherford to file a formal sexual harassment complaint. (Id. ¶¶ 68-69.)

         E. Administrative Complaints and This Lawsui

          After receiving a right-to-sue letter from the CHRO on November 22, 2016, Cobb filed this lawsuit. (Id. ¶ 14; ECF No. 1.) Cobb brought claims for hostile work environment and/or quid pro quo sexual harassment and discrimination under Title VII (Count One), retaliation under Title VII (Count Two), gender discrimination and sexual harassment under Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 46a-60(b)(1) and 46a-60(b)(8) (Count Three), retaliation under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46a-60(b)(4) (Count Four), retaliation for whistleblowing under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 31-51m (Count Five), and retaliation for constitutionally protected speech under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 31-51q (Count Six). Defendants ...


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