Robinson v. Motor Vehicle
RULING: The Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 46) is GRANTED, and Robinsons hostile work environment claim is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. Nothing in this Ruling alters the courts Ruling (Doc. No. 40 ) with respect to Robinsons claims of discrimination and retaliation stemming from her December 2011 suspension and her termination, which may proceed. Signed by Judge Janet C. Hall on 11/28/2017. (Lewis, D)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
MELBA C. ROBINSON,
DEPARTMENT OF MOTOR VEHICLE,
CIVIL ACTION NO.
NOVEMBER 28, 2017
RULING RE: MOTION TO DISMISS (DOC. NO. 28)
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 also initially asserted claims pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act, title 42
section 12101. However, this court has dismissed all ADA claims. See Rec. Ruling (Doc. No. 12)
(Merriam, J.) at 8; recommendation adopted, Order (Doc. No. 13).
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.
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.
In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the court accepts 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).
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.
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).
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 motivated by the plaintiff’s race or color. See Brown v.
Henderson, 257 F.3d 246, 252 (2d Cir. 2001) (“It is axiomatic that mistreatment at work,
whether through subjection to a hostile environment or [otherwise], is actionable under
Title VII only when it occurs because of an employee’s [protected characteristic].”).
DMV argues that Robinson has still failed to adequately allege a hostile work
environment claim because the facts she pleads do not plausibly allege that her ability
to function in the workplace was subverted, or that the conduct she alleges was
motivated by discriminatory intent. Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 46) at 6–7.
The court agrees with DMV that Robinson has not plausibly alleged a hostile
work environment. First, the conduct that Robinson alleges does not rise to the level of
severity necessary to state a hostile work environment claim. The human resources
meetings that Robinson cites were not particularly frequent: three meetings occurred
between October 2011 and January 2013. Although Robinson asserts that these
meetings were designed to intimidate her, she has not alleged that the human
resources employee with whom she met was threatening, demeaning, or otherwise
created a hostile work environment. In addition, while Robinson asserts that a manager
embarrassed her in front of customers by implying that she was lying, that her
complaints about this were ignored, and that one of the three meetings was an effort to
coerce her into apologizing to the manager, this was an “isolated incident” as opposed
to “continuous and concerted” harassment.3
Robinson has alleged that the conduct at issue interfered with her work
performance: she states that, as a result of these events, she became “very depressed”
and “was placed on work-related medical leave for depression and anxiety.” Am.
Compl. at 2; see also Plaintiff’s Response (Doc. No. 57) at 1. However, the hostile work
environment standard is an objective one: “the objective severity of harassment should
be judged from the perspective of a reasonable person in the plaintiff’s position.”
Oncale, 523 U.S. at 81. While Robinson may have been so affected that it interfered
In her Response to DMV’s Motion to Dismiss, Robinson alleges additional facts, including that
DMV “conducted an unannounced administrative investigation about [her] without [her] knowledge” and
that human resources and management targeted her. Plaintiff’s Response (Doc. No. 57) at 1. However,
even if Robinson had made these allegations in her Amended Complaint, they would not alter the court’s
conclusion that Robinson has not alleged sufficiently severe or discriminatory conduct.
with her work, her subjective experience does not alter the court’s conclusion that she
has not alleged objectively severe conduct.
Furthermore, Robinson has failed to plausibly allege that the events she cites as
the basis for her hostile work environment claim occurred because of her race or color.
See Miller v. Ethan Allen Global, Inc., No. 3:10-CV-1701(JCH); 2011 WL 3704806, at *7
(D. Conn. Aug. 23, 2011) (“In order to sufficiently plead hostile work environment, [the
plaintiff] must link the harassment to her [protected characteristic.”). Robinson alleges
that management did not take her seriously and notes that the manager who
embarrassed her in front of customers was Caucasian. Am. Compl. at 2. However, she
does not even allege, much less allege facts to support, that the alleged harassment
was connected to her race or color. She has therefore failed to adequately allege that
the conduct at issue was discriminatory in nature. See, e.g., Khan v. HIP Centralized
Laboratory Servs., Inc., No. CV-03-2411 (DGT), 2007 WL 1011325, at *5 (E.D.N.Y.
Mar. 30, 2007) (“Because [the plaintiff] is relying on facially neutral incidents, he must
offer some additional evidence from which a reasonable jury could infer that these acts
were, in fact, discriminatory.”).
For the foregoing reasons, Robinson has failed to adequately state a claim of
hostile work environment pursuant to Title VII.
The Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 46) is GRANTED, and Robinson’s hostile work
environment claim is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. Nothing in this Ruling alters the
court’s Ruling (Doc. No. 40) with respect to Robinson’s claims of discrimination and
retaliation stemming from her December 2011 suspension and her termination, which
Dated at New Haven, Connecticut this 28th day of November, 2017.
/s/ Janet C. Hall
Janet C. Hall
United States District Judge
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