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Blue v. City of Hartford

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

February 13, 2019

KENNETH BLUE, Plaintiff,
CITY OF HARTFORD, KELLY KIRKLEY-BEY, individually and in her professional capacity, RJO WINCH, individually and in her professional capacity & THOMAS J. CLARKE II, individually and in his professional capacity, Defendants.



         Plaintiff Kenneth Blue brings this action against the City of Hartford, Kelly Kirkley-Bey, Councilwoman rJo Winch, and Council President Thomas J. Clarke II. Defendants Kirkley-Bey, Winch, and Clarke are all sued in both their individual and professional capacities. See Doc. 1 ("Compl."). Plaintiff alleges that all Defendants engaged in Title VII violations, harassed and retaliated against him, and intentionally and negligently inflicted emotional distress upon him. Compl. ¶¶ 157-162, 163-171, 178-183, 184-188. He also asserts a negligence claim against only the City of Hartford. Id. ¶¶ 172-177. Pending before this Court are the Defendants' three motions to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint: one from Kirkley-Bey, one from Winch, and one from the City of Hartford and Clarke. See Docs. 12, 17, 18. Plaintiff filed objections to all motions, [Docs. 20, 30, 31], and Defendant Winch filed a reply, [Doc. 33]. This Ruling resolves Defendants' motions.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The facts herein are taken from the allegations in Plaintiff's Complaint, which are accepted as true only for the purposes of this Ruling.

         Plaintiff is a gardener employed by the City of Hartford. Compl. ¶ 11. Plaintiff's work duties apparently encompass maintenance assignments such as setting up for special events. Id. ¶¶ 16, 28, 68. He also serves as President of the 1719 union.[1] Id. ¶ 11.

         Plaintiff describes multiple occasions when Defendant Kirkley-Bey harassed him and, in one instance, sexually assaulted him. Kirkley-Bey is the executive assistant to Defendant rJo Winch, a councilwoman on the City of Hartford's Court of Common Council. Id. ¶¶ 2, 3. From February 2016 to November 2016, Kirkley-Bey directed negative comments at Plaintiff and other city maintenance employees about the cleanliness of City Hall. Id. ¶ 18. Her conduct eventually focused onto Plaintiff for refusing to share confidential information regarding union negotiations with the Mayor. Id. ¶ 21. For example, she told people waiting in line to donate at a City Hall toy drive event to make complaints about Plaintiff and the limited amount of toys that were donated. Id. ¶¶ 25-26.

         On or about January 12, 2017, Plaintiff was in the City Hall parking lot when he saw Kirkley-Bey speed her car towards him, causing him to step aside onto a platform. Id. ¶¶ 27, 30, 31. When informed of the event, Defendant and then-Council President Clarke said that he had spoken with Kirkley-Bey and Winch about "bullying" and that he would "speak to her again."[2] Id. ¶ 35. Plaintiff and Winch also sat down in Plaintiff's office to discuss the parking lot incident with police officer James Barrett that afternoon. Id. ¶¶ 39, 42. "Kirkley-Bey barged into the meeting and shouted that [Plaintiff] was a 'clown ass nigger.'" Id. ¶ 44. She continued yelling down the hallway while Officer Barrett escorted her away. Id. ¶ 47. Winch provided a statement, which contained lies and omissions, to Plaintiff's supervisor about what happened in the meeting. Id. ¶¶ 51-55.

         On or about February 3, 2017, Plaintiff and Kirkley-Bey were present for a City Hall event when a security officer informed Plaintiff that Kirkley-Bey had a maintenance issue with her office door lock. Id. ¶¶ 67-70. Plaintiff and the security officer went to inspect the door when Kirkley-Bey pulled Plaintiff back by the arm to speak with him, and later, placed her hands on Plaintiff again when he was speaking with other employees. Id. ¶¶ 71-72, 75. At the end of the event, Plaintiff was in the maintenance office when Kirkley-Bey came in and hugged him. Id. ¶¶ 77-78. She then tried to place Plaintiff's hands on her breasts and genital area and to kiss Plaintiff on the mouth, asking him "[W]hat can I do to fix this[?]." Id. ¶¶ 80-81. She also smacked Plaintiff's behind several times as Plaintiff was leaving the office. Id. ¶ 85. Kirkley-Bey appeared to be intoxicated throughout the events of February 3, 2017. Id. ¶¶ 74, 79, 95. The security officer witnessed these events and reported them to Clarke and other city officials. Id. ¶¶ 90, 93.

         The City of Hartford hired an outside firm to investigate Plaintiff's allegations regarding the events of January 12, 2017, and sexual assault on February 3, 2017. Id. ¶¶ 61, 97-99. Sent to Clarke, the final report stated there was insufficient evidence to substantiate Plaintiff's claims regarding the January 12, 2017, parking lot incident, found Plaintiff's claims regarding the January 12, 2017, meeting and sexual assault on February 3, 2017, to have merit, and recommended remedial and/or disciplinary measures against both Plaintiff and Kirkley-Bey but that the action against Kirkley-Bey ought to be more severe than any such action against Plaintiff. Doc. 1-1 at 17-18, 22.

         Plaintiff received a vague letter of reprimand from the interim director of the city's Department of Public Works on or about June 23, 2017. Compl. ¶ 113; Doc. 1-2 at 7. Plaintiff believes the letter was in retaliation for exposing Kirkley-Bey's behavior. Compl. ¶ 116.

         Plaintiff's allegations became public in early December 2017, causing work to become "extremely hostile and uncomfortable for Plaintiff." Id. ¶¶ 117, 119-120. He also became anxious and depressed and went to the emergency room for vertigo and lightheadedness. Id. ¶¶ 121, 122. Winch, in particular, publicly attacked Plaintiff to discredit him. In a YouTube video discussing the incidents, Winch made allegedly false statements about Plaintiff. Id. ¶¶ 125-133. She also made two Facebook posts asserting that the outside firm's report, see supra, made no termination recommendations. Id. ¶¶ 139-141.

         Kirkley-Bey remains a city employee. Id. ¶ 151. Plaintiff, however, has been denied employment opportunities in retaliation for reporting and effectively barred from working inside City Hall. Id. ¶¶ 154-155. Plaintiff accuses Kirkley-Bey and Winch of harassment, Winch and Clarke for aiding and abetting Kirkley-Bey's behavior by not terminating her, and the City of Hartford for turning a blind eye to the harassment. Id. ¶¶ 150-153.


         "On a motion to dismiss, the issue is 'whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims.'" Patane v. Clark, 508 F.3d 106, 111 (2d Cir. 2007) (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1984)). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim 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)). This pleading standard creates a "two-pronged approach," Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679, based on "[t]wo working principles." Id. at 678.

         First, all factual allegations in the complaint must be accepted as true and all reasonable inferences must be drawn in the favor of the non-moving party. See id.; see also Gorman v. Consolidated Edison Corp., 488 F.3d 586, 591-92 (2d Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). The presumption of truth does not extend, however, to "legal conclusions" or "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action supported by mere conclusory statements[.]" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Second, "a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief" will survive a motion to dismiss and "[d]etermining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679) (quotation marks omitted). "Dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is appropriate when 'it is clear from the face of the complaint, and matters of which the court may take judicial notice, that the plaintiff's claims are barred as a matter of law.'" Associated Fin. Corp. v. Kleckner, 480 Fed.Appx. 89, 90 (2d Cir. 2012) (quoting Conopco, Inc. v. Roll Int'l, 231 F.3d 82, 86 (2d Cir. 2000)).


         A. Defendant Kirkley-Bey's "Motion to Dismiss"

         Defendant Kirkley-Bey filed a "Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8." Doc. 12. However, the supporting memorandum is titled, "Memorandum i[n] Support of Motion for a More Definit[e] Statement." Doc. 12-1 ("K-B Mem."). At the end of the memorandum, Kirkley-Bey asks that Plaintiff's Complaint "be dismissed without prejudice to Plaintiff leaving another opportunity to submit a more coherent pleading." Id. at 3. The Court thus construes Kirkley-Bey's motion ...

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