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Hostile Environment Allegations Insufficient

The Richmond U.S. District Court dismisses with prejudice a pro se Virginia State University (VSU) professor’s hostile work environment claim arising out the reduction of her 2007 annual salary offer from $72,500 to $65,000; her Equal Pay Act (“EPA”) claim is dismissed without prejudice; a state law breach of contract claim is dismissed with prejudice for noncompliance with state law requirements to waive sovereign immunity.

Plaintiff is an African-American female with a PhD. In 2007, VSU offered her an associate professor position with an annual salary of $72,500 which she orally accepted. Two weeks later, the same VSU professor that made the offer informed her salary had been reduced to $65,000. Unable to obtain another position in time, she accepted and complained to his supervisor. Plaintiff states other professors, mostly male, on friendly terms with the hiring supervisor, receive $72,500. Plaintiff alleges hiring supervisor began harassing her in 2007, interfering with her grading a female student’s work, threatening to fire her or change her contract, report her to VSU counsel, scheduling unnecessary meetings, closing the door on her in anger, failing to pay a conference fee she was asked to attend in 2008, reviewing her portfolio contrary to VSU policy in 2010, and trying to block her from tenure. Plaintiff again complained to hiring supervisor’s superiors who took no action. She states hiring supervisor showed favoritism to other professors, allowing one to steal plaintiff’s academic idea and misrepresent her teaching. In 2012, plaintiff formally complained to VSU and hiring professor circulated a negative letter about her. Plaintiff met with VSU officials in May 2010 and filed suit state court in September alleging breach of contract, hostile work environment, and violation of the Equal Pay Act (“EPA”). VSU removed under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441 and 1446.

The district court granted VSU’s motion to dismiss the hostile work environment claim with prejudice; the EPA claim is dismissed without prejudice. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12 (b)(6) tests legal sufficiency. Plaintiff’s breach of contract claim must be dismissed with prejudice for failure to comply with controlling Virginia law requirements for waiver of sovereign immunity (Va. Code § 2.2-814(A)). As a matter of law, professor’s allegations hostile environment allegations are insufficient to state a claim for employment discrimination based on race or sex. She primarily faults the hiring professor but alleges no facts showing harassment because of her race or gender. Her allegation that he yelled at people who disagreed with him at meetings indicates plaintiff is not the sole target of his alleged harassment. Plaintiff may be able to state an EPA claim under 29 U.S.C. § 206(d)(1) based on her allegation that males on friendly terms with hiring professor receive the higher salary she was initially offered. She must allege facts allowing a comparison of these professors to show substantially equally skills, effort and responsibilities are required for her teaching position. This claim is dismissed without prejudice.

Noel-Batiste v. Virginia State University (Hudson) No. 3:12cv00826, Feb. 7, 2013; USDC at Richmond, Va. VLW 013-3-063, 12 pp.

 

VLW 013-3-063

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