Court Declines to Recognize, and Dismisses, Hostile Work Environment Claim Based on “Negligent Supervision” Theory

In Lang v. District of Columbia, et al, 2023 WL 2708820 (D.D.C. March 30, 2023), the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed plaintiff’s “failure to protect against hostile work environment” claim.

From the decision:

That leaves Plaintiff’s claims based on Defendants’ negligent failure to protect her from the hostile work environment. These claims are not cognizable.

Under District of Columbia law, “a common law claim of negligent supervision may be predicated only on common law causes of action or duties otherwise imposed by the common law.” Young v. Covington & Burling LLP, 736 F. Supp. 2d 151, 164 (D.D.C. 2010) (quoting Griffin v. Acacia Life Ins. Co., 925 A.2d 564, 576 (D.C. 2007)). Plaintiff raises her hostile work environment claims exclusively under Title VII, the ADEA, and the DCHRA. As a result, these claims are duplicative of Plaintiff’s statutory hostile work environment claims and must be dismissed. See id. at 163-65 (dismissing Title VII and ADEA claims).

Plaintiff mistakenly relies on Vance v. Ball State Univ., 570 U.S. 421, 446-47 (2013), in which the Supreme Court mainly addressed the question of “who qualifies as a ‘supervisor’ in a case in which an employee asserts a Title VII claim for workplace harassment?” Id. at 424. The Court concluded that in that context, a supervisor is someone who “is empowered by the employer to take tangible employment actions against the victim,” and a supervisor’s harassment renders the employer strictly liable under Title VII. Id. In addition, the employer could be held liable if it was “negligent in failing to prevent harassment from taking place,”—if, for instance, it “did not monitor the workplace, failed to respond to complaints, failed to provide a system for registering complaints, or effectively discouraged complaints from being filed.” Id. at 449. Plaintiff apparently reads that latter portion of Vance to establish a freestanding, common-law, negligence-in-preventing-hostile-workplace cause of action. Nothing in Vance supports that reading. Throughout the opinion, the Supreme Court made clear that it was speaking about ways to establish an employer’s “liability under Title VII,” not any statute or common-law doctrine. Id. at 424 (emphasis added); see, e.g., id. at 426-27, 450. Vance therefore does not permit Plaintiff to assert her independent claims of negligent failure to protect against a hostile workplace environment, and they will be dismissed.

This decision underscores that claims asserted under the anti-discrimination laws are statutory, and not common law, claims.

Share This: