Where a Muslim teacher alleged she was subject to mandatory Christian prayers and other proselytizing, despite requests that such efforts cease; was repeatedly called a “radical Islamic terrorist” and her repeated complaints were ignored, she plausibly alleged a claim for a religious hostile work environment.
Plaintiff Malikah Abdul-Musawir Williams sued the Newport News School Board for discrimination, retaliation and constructive discharge on the basis of religion, retaliation and breach of contract. Defendant has filed a motion to dismiss.
Plaintiff has adequately exhausted her disparate treatment and hostile work environment claims. Although the language is not precisely the same, the allegations in the complaint are reasonably related to the facts alleged in the second EEOC charge and would be expected to follow from an administrative investigation.
However, while the underlying complaint was filed within 90 days of the second right-to-sue letter, it is undisputed that plaintiff did not timely file a complaint within 90 days of the first right-to-sue letter. Consequently, due to plaintiff’s failure to timely file, the court may not consider plaintiff’s discrete religious discrimination claims based on the factual allegations asserted in the first EEOC charge.
Defendant contends that the remaining factual allegations are insufficient to state a claim for religious discrimination in violation of Title VII. Reviewing the complaint and relevant factual allegations as a whole, it appears that plaintiff’s positive feedback from 2009 until her separation in 2017, from both parents and faculty, is a reasonably plausible fact in support of her allegation that she was performing her job satisfactorily.
And the proposed involuntary transfer plausibly appears to have been an ultimate employment action that would have adversely affected the terms, conditions and benefits of plaintiff’s employment. However, because plaintiff failed to identify suitable comparators, she failed to plead plausible facts sufficient to state a claim for disparate treatment based on religion in violation of Title VII.
Hostile work environment
Plaintiff alleged that she was subject to mandatory Christian prayers and other proselytizing, despite requests that such efforts cease; was repeatedly called a “radical Islamic terrorist” and, her repeated complaints of such treatment were ignored. Assuming all facts are true and giving plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable inferences, the court finds that plaintiff has asserted a plausible claim for hostile work environment. Plaintiff’s factual allegations plausibly go beyond creating “a merely unpleasant working environment” and could constitute a work environment hostile to plaintiff’s Muslim religion.
It is undisputed that plaintiff’s filing of formal complaints to defendant’s HR department and filing of the first EEOC charge are protected activities. Defendant’s allegedly adverse response to plaintiff’s internal complaints—the movement of classrooms, the lack of response and the scrutiny at a meeting—appear to plausibly rise to the requisite level of objective material adversity.
However, the placement on administrative leave and involuntary transfer are materially adverse actions for purposes of alleging retaliation. And while the six-month gap between plaintiff’s first EEOC charge and the proposed involuntary transfer is too long to allow the court to infer a causal connection, the placement of plaintiff on administrative leave two weeks after plaintiff’s protected activity, and defendant’s decision to involuntarily transfer plaintiff two months after plaintiff’s protected activity, suffices.
Whether plaintiff can prove any set of facts establishing that she was constructively discharged in support of her hostile work environment and retaliation claims remains to be seen. However, because there is no separate cause of action for constructive discharge, defendant’s motion to dismiss Count Three must be granted.
Breach of contract
Defendant argues that plaintiff “fails to state a claim for breach of contract because [plaintiff] has not identified nor asserted any facts to demonstrate either the existence of a legally enforceable obligation or defendant’s violation or breach of that obligation . . .” Plaintiff did not respond at all to this contention in her brief in opposition. Defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s breach of contract claim is therefore granted.
Plaintiff has asserted claims for compensatory and punitive damages under Title VII “in amounts no less than $1,500,000.” Defendant contends that it is immune from punitive damages under Title VII and thus they must be struck, and that the compensatory damage claim exceeds the statutorily permissible cap on Title VII claims. The court agrees. Punitive damages may not be recovered against defendant nor may compensatory damages exceed $300,000.
Defendant’s motion to dismiss granted in part, denied in part.
Williams v. Newport News School Bd., Case No. 4:20-cv-41, Aug. 19, 2021. EDVA at Newport News (Leonard). VLW 021-3-400. 40 pp.