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Thurmand v. University of Connecticut

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 30, 2019

CHARMANE D. THURMAND, Plaintiff,
v.
UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT, ET AL, Defendants.

          RULING ON ETHICS DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS (DOC. NO. 15)

          Janet C. Hall United States District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff, Charmane D. Thurmand (“Thurmand”), brings this claim alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act (“CFEPA”), and state claims of defamation, false light, slander of credit, and negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress. See Complaint (Compl.) ¶ 1.

         She names as defendants the University of Connecticut; Susan B. Herbst, the President of UConn; Mun Y. Choi, the Provost of UConn; Kent Holsinger, the Dean of the UConn Graduate School; Scott Jordan, the UConn Chief Financial Officer; Stephanie Reitz, the UConn Spokeswoman; Bruce Gelston, an investigator at UConn's Officer of Audit, Compliance, and Ethics; and Kimberly Hill, the UConn Associate Director for Community Standards (collectively “UConn Defendants”). Also named as defendants are Carol Carson (“Carson”). the Executive Director of the State of Connecticut Office of State Ethics; Thomas Jones (“Jones”), the Ethics Enforcement Officer at the Connecticut Office of State Ethics; and Mark Wasielewski (“Wasielewski”), the Deputy Enforcement Officer of the State of Connecticut Office of State Ethics

         (collectively “Ethics Defendants”). Before the court is the Ethics Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (“Mot. to Dismiss”) (Doc No. 15).

         For the reasons set forth below, the Motion to Dismiss is granted.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         To withstand a motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 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.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (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. The plausibility standard is not a probability requirement; the pleading must show, not merely allege, that the pleader is entitled to relief. Id. Legal conclusions and “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, ” are not entitled to a presumption of truth. Id. However, when reviewing a motion to dismiss, the court must accept the factual allegations in the operative complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the non-movant's favor. See Graziano v. Pataki, 689 F.3d 110, 114 (2d Cir. 2012).

         In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a district court must limit itself to facts stated in the complaint or in documents attached to the complaint as exhibits or incorporated in the complaint by reference. “Of course, it may also consider matters of which judicial notice may be taken under Fed.R.Evid. 201.” Kramer v. Time Warner Inc., 937 F.2d 767, 773 (2d Cir. 1991). Such matters include facts that “can be accurately and readily determined from sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned.” Fed.R.Evid. 201.

         III. FACTS

         Thurmand was employed by UConn, as the UConn Graduate School's Diversity Officer, from October 1, 2012 to February 24, 2017. Compl. ¶ 17. She was also a Ph.D. candidate at the UConn Graduate School until her expulsion on May 19, 2017. Id. ¶ 19. Thurman assisted the Graduate School's Diversity Committee, which is responsible for awarding various fellowships, scholarships and grants. Id. ¶ 26.

         Thurmand was accused of violating her employment code by, inter alia, deceiving Holsinger, the Dean of the UConn Graduate School, and illegitimately obtaining a fellowship for her husband. Id. ¶ 29. Thurmand alleges that the UConn Defendants conducted a “biased, racially [motivated, ] and retaliatory investigation of the charges, ” and falsely found that the accusations of theft were well-founded. See Id. The UConn Defendants conducted a similarly biased student conduct investigation, with the same conclusion. Id. ¶ 30. The UConn Defendants reported a false debt to collection and credit agencies. Id. ¶ 34. Thurmand faced a hostile work environment, and was subjected to a criminal investigation, suspended from her employment, denied admission to academic events, expelled from the Graduate School, and lost her employment at Smith College. Id. ¶ 35.

         The UConn Defendants made numerous statements to media outlets regarding the investigations. In those statements, the UConn Defendants identified Thurmand by name, and repeated the allegations of impropriety against her. Id. ¶ 40. Thurmand alleges that these statements were false and malicious, id. ¶ 41, and that non-minority employees who were similarly situated were treated differently, id. ¶ 42.

         In March 2017, the Ethics Defendants initiated a state ethics complaint (“Ethics Complaint”) against Thurmand, which Thurmand alleges was discriminatory and retaliatory, and done for the purpose of harassment. Id. ¶¶ 45-48. The Complaint alleges that the Ethics Defendants abused their authority by issuing illegitimate and defamatory subpoenas and disclosing that Thurmand was the subject of the Ethics Complaint. Id. ¶ 49. As a result, Thurmand lost her employment at Smith College. Id. ¶ 50, and suffered economic harm, humiliation and other emotional harms, loss of sleep, and continued professional harm. Id. ¶ 55.

         IV. ...


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