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Elitharp-Martin v. Pulaski County School Board

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

October 16, 2014

TONI ELITHARP-MARTIN, Plaintiff,
v.
PULASKI COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD, Defendant

Page 516

For Toni Elitharp-Martin, Plaintiff: Brittany Michelle Haddox, Terry Neill Grimes, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Terry N. Grimes, ESQ., P.C., Roanoke, VA.

For Pulaski County School Board, Defendant: Elizabeth Kay Dillon, Jennifer Dillow Royer, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Guynn & Dillon, PC, Salem, VA.

Page 517

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Hon. Glen E. Conrad, Chief United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Toni Elitharp-Martin, former Director of Special Education for Pulaski County Schools, filed this lawsuit against Defendant Pulaski County School Board (" PCSB" ), alleging that she was sexually harassed bye Dr. Rodell Cruise, a school board member and parent, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (" Title VII" ), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et. seq. The case is presently before the court on PCSB's motion to dismiss. For the following reasons, that motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

Factual and Procedural Background

The following facts, taken from Elitharp-Martin's amended complaint, Docket No. 19, documents incorporated into the amended complaint by reference, and public documents of which the court may take judicial notice, are accepted as true for purposes of the motion to dismiss. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007); see also Katyle v. Penn Nat'l Gaming. Inc., 637 F.3d 462, 466 (4th Cir. 2011).

During the time period relevant to this action, Dr. Toni Elitharp-Martin worked as the Director of Special Education for Pulaski County Schools. In March 2009, Dr. Rodell Cruise, a then-member of the Pulaski County School Board, began to sexually harass her. For example, Cruise repeatedly asked Elitharp-Martin to enter into a sexual relationship with him, told her that she needed medication to make her more attracted to him, told her that he only wanted to sleep with white women (Elitharp-Martin is Caucasian; Cruise is African-American), and suggested that they travel to Richmond, Virginia together to engage in a sexual relationship there. On one occasion, Cruise ran his hand up Elitharp-Martin's dress. Cruise also told her that she " had a lot to lose, and that [she] would never become Superintendent of [PCSB] unless she had a sexual relationship with him." Am. Compl. ¶ 10. Elitharp-Martin repeatedly rejected Cruise's sexual advances.

Cruise left the school board on or around January 1, 2012. Cruise continued to have contact with Elitharp-Martin, however, because his son was a student in the Pulaski County special education program. For example, Cruise would request meetings with Elitharp-Martin purportedly to discuss issues concerning his son, and then use those meetings to harass her. Cruise also continued to threaten Elitharp-Martin by telling her that she had " a lot to lose; " that he would " go to the top" to report problems in her department; and that he would report her for disclosing confidential information and misusing special education funds if she attempted to " dirty his name." Am. Compl. ¶ 13. Cruise's harassment continued until his son graduated from high school in May 2013.

Elitharp-Martin alleges that she repeatedly complained about Cruise's harassment to PCSB officials, including school board members, the human resources director, and the superintendent. These officials acknowledged that Cruise had a reputation as a " predator" and a " bully." Am. Compl. ¶ 15. The board also considered " bann[ing] Dr. Cruise from school grounds," and sent the " sheriff to talk with [Elitharp-Martin] about [her] concerns." Am. Compl. ¶ 16. Elitharp-Martin was not promoted to assistant superintendent or superintendent in March 2010 or August 2012, even though she was well qualified for those positions. She alleges that she was denied those promotions because, " [a]s a result of [her] rejection of [his] sexual advances," Cruise " refused to vote to promote [her]" in 2010 and made " false and defamatory statements"

Page 518

about her to the school board in 2012. Am. Compl. ¶ 17.

On June 17, 2013, Elitharp-Martin filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (" EEOC" ) and the Virginia Council on Human Rights. She received a Notice of Right to Sue from the EEOC dated March 7, 2014, and commenced this action on May 6, 2014. PCSB filed a motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, for summary judgment on July 4, 2014, Docket No. 4. In that motion, PCSB argued that Elitharp-Martin's original complaint, which failed to include any allegations of harassment occurring after Cruise left his position on the school board, should be dismissed because Elitharp-Martin failed to file an EEOC charge within the time period required by law.

The court held a hearing on PCSB's motion on August 19, 2014. After that hearing, the court granted Elitharp-Martin fourteen days to amend her complaint to include the harassment that allegedly took place after Cruise left the school board, and allowed PCSB ten days thereafter to file additional argument or evidence with respect to its motion. See August 19, 2014 Order, Docket No. 16. Elitharp-Martin filed an amended complaint on August 25, 2014, Docket No. 19. The parties then filed supplemental briefing on PCSB's motion. See Docket ...


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