Federal Employee’s Race-Based Hostile Work Environment Claim Survives Dismissal

In Holston v. Janet Yellen, Secretary of Treasury, No. 20-3533, 2022 WL 4355289 (D.D.C. Sept. 20, 2022), the court, inter alia, denied defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s race-based hostile work environment claim asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

After outlining the plaintiff’s allegations, the court explained:

Taking the allegations described above to be true, construing them in his favor, and making all inferences in his favor, as the Court must at this juncture, Mr. Holston has alleged that after coming under Mr. Lesnevich’s management, he went from being a long-term, valued federal employee who was the recipient of numerous honors and awards, to being subjected to harassment in a variety of ways after Mr. Lesnevich became his supervisor. The harassment resulted in Mr. Holston needing medical care and medication after being diagnosed for the first time in his life, with “physical and mental train related to work,” palpitations, hypertension, and abnormal electrocardiogram, and his ultimate retirement seven years earlier than he had planned. Accordingly, the Court is persuaded that Mr. Holston has sufficiently alleged facts that “were part of a severe and pervasive pattern of harassment” and that he has therefore stated a claim for hostile work environment.7 Cf. Doe 1 v. George Washington University, 369 F. Supp. 3d 49, 69-73 (D.D.C. 2019) (denying motion to dismiss hostile work environment claim); Bergbauer v. Mabus, 810 F. Supp. 2d 251, 260 (D.D.C. 2011)(denying motion to dismiss hostile work environment claim).

Mr. Holston’s allegations are distinguishable from the cases upon which Defendant relies. In Williams, the plaintiff alleged that “denying him the opportunity to negotiate for his pay; mishandling his paperwork; requiring him to re-apply for the position he was hired for; terminating any interviews he had for that position; and subsequently terminating his employment” which the Court found insufficient to create a hostile work environment. Williams, 317 F. Supp. at 202. These allegations are entirely distinguishable from the “severe and pervasive pattern of harassment” Mr. Holston alleges. Similarly, in Stewart v. Evans, 275 F.3d 1126 (D.C. Cir. 2002) the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of hostile work environment claim that was based on a single incident. Stewart, 275 F.3d at 1132-34. Here, Mr. Holston alleges numerous incidents. Finally, in Horsey v. U.S. Dep’t of State, 387 F. Supp. 3d 97 (D.D.C. 2019), the plaintiff alleged a hostile work environment based on, among other things: (1) violation of certain rights; (2) requiring him but not his white counterparts to undergo an evaluation; and (3) subjecting him to emails, phone calls, and letters, threatening [his] employment.” 387 F. Supp. 3d at 111. The court found these allegations to be insufficient because the plaintiff’s pleading did not “describe the volume, nature, or content of the alleged ‘emails, phone calls, and letters’ that [plaintiff] allegedly received.” Id. Here, Mr. Holston has provided detailed allegations supporting his hostile work environment claim.

With regard to whether Mr. Holston has sufficiently alleged that he was subject to abusive treatment because of his race, Mr. Holston argues that because he “was the only employee subjected to such treatment and the only African American male within the employ of the [relevant managers]—all of whom are white—th[e] Court can reasonable infer that the harassment occurred because of [Mr. Holston’s] race.” Pl.’s Opp’n, ECF No. 21 at 26-27. Defendant argues that Mr. Holston’s conclusory allegation is insufficient. Def.’s Mot., ECF No. 22 at 10. However, the authority upon which Defendant relies is inapposite. In Massaquoi v. District of Columbia, 81 F. Supp. 3d 44 (D.D.C. 2015), the Court concluded that the plaintiff was not entitled to an inference of discrimination based on disparate treatment because there were no allegations that the plaintiff was treated differently than similarly situated employees who not of the same national origin, gender or religion. Massaquoi, 81 F. Supp. 3d at 49. Here, Mr. Holston has alleged that he was treated differently from his white peers. See e.g., Am. Compl., ECF No. 9 ¶¶ 42, 56, 72.

Based on this, the court held that plaintiff sufficiently alleged that he was subject to abusive treatment because of his race.

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