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Senior v. State

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 7, 2018

ROBYN SENIOR, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF CONNECTICUT WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMMISSION, THIRD DISTRICT, Defendant.

          RULING ON MOTION TO DISMISS

          JANET BOND ARTERTON, U.S.D.J.

         Plaintiff Robyn Senior brings this action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq, claiming that her employer subjected her to a hostile working environment and retaliation. For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Count One and DENIES the Motion with respect to Count Two.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff resides in Hamden, Connecticut, and has been a full-time employee of the Connecticut Workers' Compensation Commission, Third District, for many years. (Third Am. Compl. ("TAC") [Doc. # 25] ¶ 3.) Plaintiff alleges that she filed a timely complaint of ongoing discrimination with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on May 28, 2015 and received a Notice of Right to Sue on April 24, 2017. (Id. ¶ 5.) According to Plaintiff, one of her co-workers at her New Haven office, Silveri Robinson, "subjected other workers in the office, and in particular Jennifer Watert and Debra Tramichi, to harassment and abuse because they have religious beliefs different from hers[, ]" during the period from 2008 until "at least" May 2016. (Id. ¶ 6.) Plaintiff claims that in February 2015 "and on other occasions prior thereto . . . [she] complained" to her employer's "Human Resources Director about the said harassment and sought intervention to protect herself and co-workers from the harassment." (Id. ¶ 7.)

         Plaintiff alleges that she "was told by her supervisors in February 2015 and on multiple occasions thereafter . . . that if she does not stop complaining about the religious harassment by Ms. Robinson she will be transferred to a different office a long distance from her home in Hamden." (Id. ¶ 8.) "As a result, on May 10, 2016, when Ms. Tramichi complained to the office supervisors of ongoing religious harassment by Ms. Robinson, [] [P]laintiff was too frightened even to report the harassment to supervisors when directly questioned on the subject." (Id.) "Thus, [] [P]laintiff is being forced to endure ongoing religious harassment at her workplace for fear of being punished if she complains about it." (Id.)

         Plaintiff also alleges that "[t]he actions described have created an atmosphere in ... [her] office so hostile to her that her working environment has been materially altered." (Id. 9.)[1]

         II. Discussion

         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.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Although detailed allegations are not required, a claim will be found facially plausible only if "the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. Conclusory allegations are not sufficient. Id. at 678-79; see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6).

         1. Hostile Work Environment

         Defendant argues that Plaintiffs Title VII claim of discrimination must be dismissed because Plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and because Plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative remedies with respect to this claim. (Mot. Dismiss [Doc. # 26] atl.)

         First, with respect to Plaintiffs alleged failure to exhaust her administrative remedies, Defendant claims that Plaintiff failed to raise a claim of religious harassment or hostile work environment to the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities ("CHRO"), and only raised a claim of retaliation. (See Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss [Doc. # 26-1] at 5.) The basis for Defendant's position appears to be the fact that on the first page of Plaintiff s Affidavit of Illegal Discriminatory Practice, filed with the CHRO, Plaintiff did not check the box indicating that she believed that religion was a factor in the alleged discrimination. (See CHRO Aff., Ex. A to Mot. Dismiss [Doc. # 26-2] at 3.)[2] Significantly, Plaintiffs CHRO Complaint does describe "harassment" and "discriminat [ion]" in addition to "retaliatory actions [, ]" but seems to describe only harassment and discrimination motivated by retaliatory animus rather than harassment or discrimination motivated by religious discriminatory animus. (See, e.g., Id. at 4-5 ("I believe this situation occurred, at least in part, due to my having acted as a witness to a coworker's complaint of harassment based on the coworker's religion [;]" "I am seeking ... to have Respondent cease and desist its harassment and retaliatory actions toward me which I claim they are directing toward me based on my having acted as a witness to a coworker's religious discrimination complaint in the past").)

         "Title VII requires a plaintiff to pursue and exhaust administrative remedies before bringing suit[.]" Ragone v. Ail. Video at Manhattan Ctr., 595 F.3d 115, 126 (2d Cir. 2010) (citing 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000(e)-(f)). "The purpose of this exhaustion requirement is 'to give the administrative agency the opportunity to investigate, mediate, and take remedial action.'" Brown v. Coach Stores, Inc., 163 F.3d 706, 712 (2d Cir. 1998) (quoting Stewart v. United States Immigration & Naturalization Service, 762 F.2d 193, 198 (2d Cir. 1985)). "However, claims which are 'reasonably related' to the EEOC charge may be brought in a subsequent federal court action." Id. (citing Butts v. City of New York Dep't of Housing Preservation and Dev., 990 F.2d 1397, 1402 (2d Cir. 1993)). "We allow such claims to continue where 'the conduct complained of would fall within the scope of the EEOC investigation which can reasonably be expected to grow out of the charge of discrimination.'" Id.

         The absence from the CHRO complaint of any allegation of harassment or discrimination on the basis of religious, as opposed to retaliatory animus is troubling, but here, Plaintiffs allegations in her Complaint offered in support of her hostile work environment claim are apparently coextensive with the bulk of the allegations in her Complaint offered in support of the retaliation claim. (See supra note 1.) Given that Plaintiff apparently believes that almost the exact same facts support both claims, her hostile work environment ...


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