Knoskie v. Red Onion State Prison
OPINION and ORDER granting in part and denying in part 12 Motion to Dismiss; and the plaintiff's construed Motion for Leave to Amend Complaint 17 is granted, provided that any Second Amended Complaint must be filed within 14 days of this date. Signed by Judge James P. Jones on 2/17/17. (ejs)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF VIRGINIA
BIG STONE GAP DIVISION
VIRGINIA DEPARTMENT OF
Case No. 2:16CV00019
OPINION AND ORDER
By: James P. Jones
United States District Judge
Joshua Erlich, Benjamin W. Owen, Davia Craumer, and Katherine L.
Herrmann, The Erlich Law Office, PLLC, Arlington, Virginia, for Plaintiff; E.
Lewis Kincer, Jr., Assistant Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General of
Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, for Defendant.
The plaintiff, Marie Knoskie, has asserted claims of race discrimination,
creation of a hostile work environment based on race, and retaliation for engaging
in a protected activity, all in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,
42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to 2000e-17 (“Title VII”) against her employer, defendant
Virginia Department of Corrections (“VDOC”). VDOC has moved to dismiss the
Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6).1 In response, Knoskie opposes the Motion to Dismiss
Knoskie initially asserted a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Count II), as well as
claims under Title VII (Counts I and III). The parties later stipulated to the voluntary
dismissal of Count II as well as any claim for punitive damages.
and, alternatively, seeks leave to further amend her Amended Complaint. For the
reasons that follow, I will grant VDOC’s Motion to Dismiss as to the claims of
race discrimination and retaliation, deny VDOC’s Motion to Dismiss as to the
claim of creation of a hostile work environment based on race, and grant Knoskie’s
request to amend.2
The Amended Complaint alleges the following facts, which I must accept as
true for the purpose of deciding the present motion.
Marie Knoskie is an African-American woman who has been employed by
VDOC since August 2000. Knoskie works as a Corrections Officer at Red Onion
State Prison (“Red Onion”) in Pound, Virginia. During her employment, the use of
racial slurs and making of race-related jokes by non-black officers was common
and accepted. Knoskie did not feel confident that her fellow officers would protect
her in the event of inmate violence. Red Onion also experienced failures of safety
and security that were unique to black workers.
On April 1, 2013, Knoskie discovered that someone had written the phrase
“I hate n******” in a log book in the C2 control room. Am. Compl. ¶ 19, ECF
No. 5. Because log books are only available to corrections officers, the phrase
Knoskie has not filed a formal motion seeking to amend, but I construe section
IV of her Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss as such a
motion. See Pl.’s Mem. Opp’n Mot. to Dismiss 13-14, ECF No. 17 (“Plaintiff Requests
Leave to Amend If the Court Finds Deficiencies in the Complaint”).
could not have been written by an inmate.
Knoskie reported the incident to
management, including Chief Warden Randall Mathena (her supervisor), Assistant
Warden John Walruth, and EBT manager Israel Hamilton. On April 12, 2013, she
asked Mathena if she should document the incident in CORIS, the system used by
VDOC to manage incident reports. Mathena told her not to document the incident
in CORIS and to instead give a written incident report to Hamilton. Knoskie did
so, but never heard anything further. According to Knoskie, VDOC took no action
to resolve the matter.
Following this incident, Knoskie was not asked to work in the C2 control
room, where the log book with the slur was located, until February 2014. On
February 18, 2014, she was told to work at that post by Sergeant Brandon Hall.
When Knoskie reminded Hall of the slur and told him she was uncomfortable
working there, he “said he had forgotten the incident, apologized, and reassigned
[her] to a different location.” Id. at ¶ 29.
On February 27, 2014, Knoskie looked in the log book and found that the
racial slur was still there. The same day, she was told by Unit Manager Andy
Kilborn to work in the C2 control room. She refused to work the post because of
the slur and told Kilborn that “she believed she was being subjected to a hostile
work environment based on her race.” Id. at ¶ 33. In response to this incident and
Knoskie’s refusal to work, Mathena sent her home because she was “hysterical”
and “unable to perform [her] job.” Id. at ¶ 34.
The next day, February 28, Knoskie met with Chief Warden Mathena,
Assistant Warden Walruth, Unit Manager Kilborn, and Human Resources Head
Officer Renee Conley. At this meeting, Mathena mentioned a past occasion on
which Knoskie had reported swastikas carved into another post and asked why she
had continued to work at the post where the swastikas were found but would not
work in the C2 control room. Knoskie responded that the swastikas had been
removed promptly after she reported them, whereas the racial slur in the C2 control
room log book had remained for nearly a year.
On March 9, 2014, Knoskie saw a workplace counselor to discuss the
“mental stress, frustrating [sic], and fear involved at working in a super-max prison
where she did not feel supported by her coworkers and supervisors.” Id. at ¶ 42.
The counselor placed her on short-term disability leave. Until this point, Knoskie
had an “excellent performance and disciplinary history.” Id. at ¶ 44.
Knoskie filed a timely charge of race-based discrimination and retaliation
with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), and on March
31, 2016, the EEOC issued her a Notice of Right to Sue. She initiated this action
on July 5, 2016, within ninety days of her receipt of the Notice of Right to Sue.
Knoskie asserts that VDOC discriminated against her and created a hostile
work environment based on her race, in violation of Title VII.3 She also asserts
that VDOC retaliated against her for engaging in a protected activity in violation of
Title VII. Knoskie seeks damages for loss of earnings and related employment
benefits and damages for emotional distress and litigation expenses, including
attorneys’ fees. 4
“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)). “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. at 678 (citing Twombly,
550 U.S. at 556). In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the court must accept as true all
of the factual allegations contained in the complaint, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 572,
Knoskie pleads both discrimination and hostile work environment under the
umbrella of Count I. For purposes of clarity, I will refer to her claim of discrimination as
Count I-A and her claim of hostile work environment as Count I-B.
The motion to dismiss has been fully briefed and is ripe for decision. I will
dispense with oral argument because the facts and legal contentions are adequately
presented in the materials before the court and argument would not significantly aid the
and it must view those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.
Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403, 406 (2002).
However, this “tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations
contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.” Ashcroft, 556 U.S.
at 678. “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by
mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at
555). Although legal conclusions can “provide the framework of a complaint, they
must be supported by factual allegations.” Id. at 679.
In the context of employment discrimination claims, “a plaintiff is not
required to plead facts that constitute a prima facie case” in order to survive a
motion to dismiss. Coleman v. Md. Ct. of Appeals, 626 F.3d 187, 190 (4th Cir.
2010) (citing Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 510-15 (2002)).
However, her “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above
the speculative level.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).
A. Count I-A: Discrimination.
Title VII prohibits an employer from “discriminat[ing] against any
individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of
employment, because of such individual’s race.”
42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1).
Knoskie has alleged that VDOC unlawfully discriminated against her because of
her race. As the defendant has noted, see Def.’s Mem. Supp. Mot. to Dismiss 11,
ECF No. 14, it is unclear whether Knoskie is alleging that she was the victim of
disparate treatment, disparate discipline, or both. I will address each possible
claim in turn.
1. Disparate Treatment.
A plaintiff claiming unlawful discrimination in the form of disparate
treatment who does not offer direct evidence of discriminatory intent has the
burden of establishing that: (1) she is a member of a protected class; (2) her job
performance was satisfactory; (3) she was subjected to an adverse employment
action; and (4) she was treated differently from similarly situated employees
outside the protected class. Coleman, 626 F.3d at 190 (citing White v. BFI Waste
Servs., LLC, 375 F.3d 288, 295 (4th Cir. 2004)); see also McDonnell Douglas
Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973).
Although a plaintiff need not plead facts constituting a prima facie case, she
must nevertheless plead facts that “raise a right to relief above the speculative
level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Knoskie has not done so with regard to the
third and fourth elements of her claim. She conclusorily alleges that VDOC
“deprive[d] [her] of equal employee [sic] opportunities and otherwise adversely
affect[ed] her status as an employee because of her race” and that it “engaged in a
calculated effort to pressure her into resignation through the imposition of
unreasonably harsh conditions, in excess of those faced by her white coworkers.”
Am. Compl. ¶¶ 59, 61, ECF No. 5. However, she does not plead facts sufficient to
support these allegations; “[o]nly speculation can fill the gaps in her complaint.”
McCleary-Evans v. Md. Dep’t of Transp., 780 F.3d 582, 586 (4th Cir. 2015).
First, Knoskie does not adequately plead that she was subjected to an
“adverse employment action” within the meaning of Title VII. “Title VII liability
can arise from a tangible employment action,” which includes discharge, demotion,
decrease in pay or benefits, loss of job title or supervisory responsibility, reduced
opportunities for promotion or failure to promote, and reassignment with
significantly different responsibilities. Boone v. Goldin, 178 F.3d 253, 255-56 (4th
Cir. 1999) (quoting Burlington Indus., Inc. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742, 760-61 (1998))
(internal quotation marks omitted). Knoskie does not plead that VDOC took any
such action against her; instead, she pleads that she was sent home for the
remainder of one workday and that she was later placed on short-term disability.
She does not allege that she experienced any decrease in her pay or benefits, that
she lost her title or responsibilities, or that either of these occurrences have reduced
her opportunities for promotion in the future. Concluding that Knoskie is entitled
to relief would require unsupported speculation as to the possible implications of
Even if Knoskie was subjected to an adverse employment action within the
meaning of Title VII, she does not adequately plead that such action was due to her
race. Knoskie was placed on short-term disability by a workplace counselor after
seeing that counselor “due to the mental stress, frustrating [sic], and fear involved
at working in a super-max prison where she did not feel supported by her
coworkers and supervisors.” Am. Compl. ¶ 42, ECF No. 5. She does not allege
that her placement on disability for these psychological stresses was unwarranted
or that she was, contrary to the counselor’s belief, able to continue working. She
also does not allege that VDOC forced her to see this counselor or that it made her
continued employment contingent on attending counseling. The obvious inference
based on these facts is that Knoskie experienced psychological stress at work that
made it impossible, in the counselor’s view, for her to perform her job.
Knoskie argues that “exposure to discrimination based on her race was made
a condition of [her] continued employment by VDOC” and that by sending her
home and placing her on disability, VDOC “demonstrat[ed] to [her] that she would
be disciplined for not enduring the discrimination of which she complained.” Pl.’s
Mem. Opp’n Mot. to Dismiss 6, ECF No. 17. I disagree, however, that the facts
she pleads in her Amended Complaint support these assertions as “clear and
reasonable inference[s].” Id. None of the facts pleaded in Knoskie’s Amended
Complaint reasonably support an inference that VDOC sent her home and placed
her on short-term disability in order to send a message that she must endure her
coworkers’ racism or face termination. As I noted above, she does not plead that
VDOC made her continued employment contingent on attending counseling, that
counseling was unwarranted, or that her placement on disability was unwarranted.
Indeed, it is not even clear, based on the pleadings, that her placement on disability
constituted “discipline.” She provides no facts about the counselor’s relationship
with VDOC and does not allege that placement on disability is typically, or that it
was in this case, employed as a punishment. On the contrary, the facts she pleads
support a reasonable inference that she was placed on disability because of her
psychological state. It would be purely speculative to conclude that she was placed
on short-term disability because of her race, rather than for the reasons pleaded in
her Amended Complaint.5
In addition to being placed on short-term disability, Knoskie was also sent
home from work for the remainder of the workday after she refused to work in the
C2 control room.
According to Knoskie’s Amended Complaint, Mathena
Knoskie argues that because her psychological stress stemmed from the
frustration and fear she felt as a result of working with racist coworkers, her placement on
short-term disability as a result of this psychological stress was, in fact, due to her race.
See Pl.’s Mem. Opp’n Mot. to Dismiss 6, ECF No. 17. While it may be true that
Knoskie’s psychological stress was the result of what she perceived to be race
discrimination, VDOC’s act of placing her on disability as a result of that stress cannot
reasonably be framed as race discrimination in itself. The argument that she incurred
psychological stress as a result of her work environment is properly raised in the context
of her hostile work environment claim, not her race discrimination claim.
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apparently sent her home because she was “hysterical” and “unable to perform her
job.” Am. Compl. ¶ 34, ECF No. 5. Knoskie does not allege that she was not, in
fact, hysterical or unable to perform her job. Moreover, she pleads that she was
generally experiencing mental stress, frustration, and fear at work. The obvious
inference, based on the facts pleaded, is that Knoskie was sent home because
Mathena believed, given the circumstances and her reaction, that she actually was
unable to perform her job. It would be speculative to conclude that Mathena’s
decision to send Knoskie home was motivated by her race.6
Finally, Knoskie does not adequately plead that she was treated differently
from similarly situated white coworkers. She alleges that she was “deprive[d] . . .
of equal employee [sic] opportunities” and that “[f]ailures of safety and security
were unique to black workers and were not the terms and conditions under which
white officers worked.” Id. at ¶ 18, 59. However, Knoskie does not elaborate
regarding the employment opportunities of which she was allegedly deprived, and
one is left to speculate as to what those opportunities might even be, let alone
whether they were made available to her similarly situated white coworkers or
whether she was deprived of them due to her race. Similarly, she does not plead
facts demonstrating any “[f]ailures of safety and security,” id. at ¶ 18, nor does she
Knoskie asserts that she was sent home and forced to remain on leave until her
next meeting with VDOC. Am. Compl. ¶ 65, ECF No. 5. Absent some additional
explanation, however, this allegation is misleading, given that she met with her
supervisors the very next day after being sent home.
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explain why these alleged failures were unique to black workers. She states only
that she “was not confident that her fellow officers would protect her in the event
of inmate violence.” Id. at ¶ 17. One must speculate as to what those failures of
safety and security might be and whether they were, in fact, unique to black
Knoskie does state that on one occasion, a white coworker “refused to work
a post because it was ‘dirty’” but was “not disciplined in any way.” Id. at ¶ 35-36.
These allegations alone, however, are not enough to survive a Motion to Dismiss.
Knoskie sufficiently pleads that she was treated differently from this unnamed
white coworker. They both refused to work a certain post, and Knoskie was sent
home, whereas this white coworker was not. However, she does not sufficiently
plead that she and this white coworker were similarly situated. Knoskie states that
she herself was sent home for being “hysterical,” but she does not allege that she
and her coworker had similar reactions — whether “hysterical” or not — when
asked to work objectionable posts. Indeed, Knoskie undermines her own argument
by asserting that when she refused to work in the C2 control room on another
occasion, her manager apologized and reassigned her to another post. See id. at
¶¶ 27-29. These facts give rise to a reasonable inference that Knoskie was sent
home on that particular occasion because she was unable to perform her job,
whereas her coworker was reassigned because she was still able to work. It is
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entirely possible that Knoskie and her coworker were both capable — or both
incapable — of working, but assuming that they were similarly situated with
respect to their capabilities and interactions with management requires speculation
beyond the facts that Knoskie pleads in her Amended Complaint.
At bottom, Knoskie does not plead facts sufficient to support her conclusory
allegation that she was subjected to adverse employment actions because of her
race. Her factual allegations are not inconsistent with this conclusion, but in the
absence of additional facts, her right to relief on this basis is merely speculative.
2. Disparate Discipline.
A plaintiff claiming unlawful discrimination in the form of disparate
discipline must show that (1) she is a member of a protected class; (2) her
misconduct was comparable in seriousness to misconduct of employees outside the
protected class; and (3) the disciplinary measures enforced against her were more
severe than those enforced against other employees. Cook v. CSX Transp. Corp.,
988 F.2d 507, 511 (4th Cir. 1993). For the reasons discussed above, Knoskie’s
factual allegations are not sufficient to raise a right to relief for disparate discipline
above the speculative level. She does not sufficiently allege that her misconduct
was comparable in seriousness to the misconduct of her white coworker. She
pleads that they both refused to work particular posts, but she provides no further
details of her coworker’s refusal. Given that Knoskie was apparently sent home
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for being “hysterical,” it would be speculative, based on the minimal facts alleged,
to conclude that Knoskie and her coworker behaved similarly. For these reasons,
and for the reasons described supra at IV.A.1, I will grant the defendant’s Motion
to Dismiss Count I-A.
B. Count I-B: Hostile Work Environment.
Knoskie has also alleged that VDOC created a race-based hostile work
environment. “An employer contravenes § 2000e-2(a)(1) [of Title VII] by, inter
alia, requiring an African-American employee to work in a racially hostile
environment.” Boyer-Liberto v. Fontainebleau Corp., 786 F.3d 264, 277 (4th Cir.
2015). “[T]o prevail on a Title VII claim that a workplace is racially hostile, ‘a
plaintiff must show that there is (1) unwelcome conduct; (2) that is based on the
plaintiff’s . . . race; (3) which is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the
plaintiff’s conditions of employment and to create an abusive work environment;
and (4) which is imputable to the employer.’” Id. (quoting Okoli v. City of Balt.,
648 F.3d 216, 220 (4th Cir. 2011)). Element three requires a showing that “the
environment would reasonably be perceived, and is perceived, as hostile and
abusive.” Id. (quoting Harris v. Forklift Sys., Inc., 510 U.S. 17, 22 (1993)). This
determination requires a court to consider all the circumstances, including the
“frequency of the discriminatory conduct; its severity; whether it is physically
threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and whether it
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unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance.”
Harris, 510 U.S. at 23). The “status of the harasser” can also be a factor in this
determination, as “a supervisor’s use of [a racial epithet] impacts the work
environment far more severely than use by co-equals.” Id. at 278 (quoting Rodgers
v. W.-S. Life Ins. Co., 12 F.3d 668, 675 (7th Cir. 1993)). The harasser’s status is
also relevant as to whether the harassment is imputable to the employer. If the
harasser is a co-worker, rather than a supervisor, ‘“the employer is liable only if it
was negligent in controlling working conditions.’” Id. (quoting Vance v. Ball State
Univ., 133 S. Ct. 2434, 2439 (2013)).
Knoskie alleges facts sufficient to survive a Motion to Dismiss as to her
claim of a hostile work environment. Although she conclusorily asserts that there
was a “severe and pervasive hostile work environment to black workers,” she also
pleads facts supporting this conclusion that raise a right of relief above the
speculative level. Am. Compl. ¶ 14, ECF No. 5. She alleges that use of racial
slurs and race-related jokes is “common and accepted” among VDOC employees.
Id. at. ¶¶ 15-16. She also alleges that one or more employees carved swastikas into
a post and wrote “I hate n******” in a log book. Further, she states that she felt
she could not rely on her fellow officers to protect her in the event of inmate
violence. These allegations support a reasonable inference, without speculation,
that Knoskie was subjected to a work environment that a “reasonable person in
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[her] position” would perceive as hostile and that she herself in fact perceived as
hostile. Boyer-Liberto, 786 F.3d at 277 (internal quotation marks and citation
VDOC argues that because the log book slur was a single incident that was
not “directed at [Knoskie] by a supervisor or manager,” Knoskie has failed to plead
facts supporting her allegation that the abuse is “severe.” Def.’s Mem. Supp. Mot.
to Dismiss 8, ECF No. 14. It also argues that because Knoskie “fails to specify the
time or frequency . . . [or] content or nature of any alleged comments” by her
fellow officers, she fails to plead facts supporting her allegation that the abuse was
“pervasive.” Id. I disagree. Knoskie does not plead facts supporting only a single
incident of harassment; rather, she pleads facts supporting two specific incidents of
harassment, a failure of management to address one of those incidents, and a
workplace culture in which racially-offensive comments are “common and
accepted.” The harassment is clearly frequent if offensive comments are common
and accepted. Furthermore, the unwelcome conduct has clearly interfered with her
job performance, given that Knoskie saw a counselor to discuss the psychological
stress she experienced as a result of her work. The determination of whether a
work environment is objectively hostile or abusive “is not . . . a mathematically
precise test.” Boyer-Liberto, 786 F.3d at 277 (quoting Harris, 510 U.S. at 22). I
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believe that Knoskie has pleaded facts sufficient to support her allegation that she
has experienced a hostile and abusive work environment.
Knoskie has also pleaded facts sufficient to impute the unwelcome conduct
and resulting hostile work environment to VDOC without speculation. Where
unwelcome conduct is perpetrated by a plaintiff’s coworker, “the employer is
liable only if it was negligent in controlling working conditions.” Boyer-Liberto,
786 F.3d at 278 (quoting Vance, 133 S. Ct. at 2439) (citing Ocheltree v. Scollon
Prods., Inc., 335 F.3d 325, 333-34 (4th Cir. 2003) (“[T]he employer may be liable
in negligence if it knew or should have known about the harassment and failed to
take effective action to stop it.”)). An employer thus “cannot be held liable for
isolated remarks of its employees unless [it] ‘knew or should have known of the
harassment, and took no effectual action to correct the situation.’” Spicer v. Va.
Dep’t of Corrs., 66 F.3d 705, 710 (4th Cir. 1995) (quoting Katz v. Dole, 709 F.2d
251, 256 (4th Cir. 1983)) (emphasis omitted). However, “[k]nowledge of work
place misconduct may be imputed to an employer by circumstantial evidence if the
conduct is shown to be sufficiently pervasive or repetitive so that a reasonable
employer, intent on complying with Title VII, would be aware of the conduct.” Id.
VDOC certainly knew about the slur in the C2 control room log book.
Knoskie reported it to her supervisors when she first discovered it on April 1,
2013, and she subsequently followed up with Chief Warden Mathena and
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submitted a written incident report at his direction. In addition, Knoskie has
pleaded facts supporting a reasonable inference that the defendant took no action to
correct the situation. Twelve days after she initially reported the incident, Knoskie
asked Mathena if she should document the incident in CORIS, the official VDOC
incident report system. In response, Mathena told her not to document the incident
in CORIS but to instead create her own written incident report and give it to EBT
manager Hamilton, which she did. However, as of February 27, 2014 — nearly
eleven months after she made her report — the slur was still present in the C2
control room log book. These facts are sufficient to support Knoskie’s allegation
that the defendant knew of the slur’s existence but took no action to correct it.
Knoskie has therefore alleged facts that support a right to relief from a hostile work
environment that rise above the speculative level. For these reasons, I will deny
the defendant’s Motion to Dismiss Count I-B.
C. Count III: Retaliation.
Title VII prohibits an employer from “discriminat[ing] against any of [its]
employees . . . because he has opposed any practice made an unlawful employment
practice . . . or because he has made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in
any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a).
A plaintiff claiming unlawful retaliation must show that (1) she engaged in a
protected activity; (2) she suffered an adverse employment action; and (3) there
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was a causal link between the protected activity and the adverse employment
action. Coleman, 626 F.3d at 190 (citing Mackey v. Shalala, 360 F.3d 463, 469
(4th Cir. 2004)).
“Protected activities fall into two distinct categories: participation or
opposition. An employer may not retaliate against an employee for participating in
an ongoing investigation or proceeding under Title VII, nor may the employer take
adverse employment action against an employee for opposing discriminatory
practices in the workplace.” Laughlin v. Metro. Wash. Airports Auth., 149 F.3d
253, 259 (4th Cir. 1998) (internal citations omitted). Knoskie has sufficiently
pleaded that she engaged in a protected activity when she opposed racial
discrimination at Red Onion by reporting incidents of racially-offensive epithets
and refusing to work in the C2 control room when her report went unaddressed.
However, Knoskie has not adequately pleaded either that she suffered an
adverse employment action or that there was a causal link between her protected
activity and any adverse employment action. As I noted above, see supra at
IV.A.1, Knoskie has not pleaded that she was subjected to an adverse employment
action within the meaning of Title VII. In addition, because she has not pleaded
that she was subjected to an adverse employment action, she has not pleaded that
there was a causal link between her opposition and any adverse employment
action. Furthermore, even assuming that her being sent home early and later being
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place on short-term disability constitutes an adverse employment action, Knoskie
has not pleaded facts sufficient to support a reasonable inference that such
measures were imposed as a result of her opposition. As discussed above, see
supra at IV.A.1, her own pleadings support an inference that she was sent home
and placed on disability because of her inability to perform her job due to
psychological stress. She therefore has not pleaded facts sufficient to give rise to a
right of relief for retaliation. For these reasons, I will grant the defendant’s Motion
to Dismiss Count III.
D. Leave to Amend.
In the event this Court finds that her Amended Complaint was insufficiently
pled, Knoskie has requested leave to further amend her Amended Complaint.
VDOC argues that Knoskie should not be permitted to amend because her
“Amended Complaint suffers from irreparable deficiencies.” Def.’s Reply to Pl.’s
Mem. Opp’n Mot. to Dismiss 9, ECF No. 18. Specifically, it argues that Knoskie
“has not alleged, nor can she allege, that she ever suffered an adverse employment
action”; that she was “never disciplined for prohibited conduct” and did not
“receive treatment inferior to that of [her] white coworker”; that “any allegedly
harassing behavior . . . was not sufficiently severe or pervasive to constitute a
hostile work environment” and was not attributable to VDOC; and that she has
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“demonstrated no materially adverse action(s) taken against her in response to her
protected activities.” Id. I disagree.
Most of these arguments are not appropriately considered in determining
whether to grant Knoskie leave to further amend her Amended Complaint because
they seek to hold her to a higher standard than that applicable here. Before me is a
motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, and
not a motion for summary judgment.
The question of whether Knoskie has
“demonstrated” certain things is not relevant; instead, the question is merely
whether she has alleged facts sufficient to support a right to relief above the
The most glaring deficiency in Knoskie’s Amended Complaint is the fact
that she has not adequately alleged that she was subjected to an adverse
employment action. Under the facts as currently pleaded, it seems unlikely that
she did, in fact, suffer from an adverse employment action under the meaning of
Title VII. Importantly, however, it is still possible for Knoskie to allege additional
facts that would support a reasonable inference that being sent home and/or placed
on short-term disability did, in fact, constitute an adverse employment action. It is
impossible, at this stage, to definitively find that the deficiencies in her Amended
Complaint are irreparable. I will therefore grant her Motion for Leave to Amend
her Amended Complaint.
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For the foregoing reasons, it is ORDERED as follows:
1. The defendant’s Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 12) is GRANTED in part
and DENIED in part.
2. The Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED as to Count I-A (race
discrimination) and Count III;
3. The defendant’s Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 12) is DENIED as to
Count I-B (hostile work environment);
4. The defendant’s Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 12) is DENIED AS MOOT
as to Count II; and
5. The plaintiff’s construed Motion for Leave to Amend Complaint (ECF
No. 17) is GRANTED, provided that any Second Amended Complaint
must be filed within 14 days of this date.
ENTER: February 17, 2017
/s/ James P. Jones
United States District Judge
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