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Sonnier v. Diamond Healthcare Corp.

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Newport News Division

June 15, 2015

MILOV M. SONNIER, Plaintiff,

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For Milov M. Sonnier, Plaintiff: Verbena Maxine Askew, LEAD ATTORNEY, The Verbena Askew Law Firm, Hampton, VA USA.

For Diamond Healthcare Corporation, Diamond Healthcare of Williamsburg, Inc., doing business as, The Pavilion at Williamsburg Place, Defendants: Kimberly W. Daniel, Hancock Daniel Johnson & Nagle PC, Glen Allen, VA USA.

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This matter is before the Court on a Motion to Partially Dismiss Amended Complaint, ECF No. 10, filed by Diamond Healthcare Corporation and Diamond Healthcare of Williamsburg, Inc. (collectively, " Defendants" ) . After examining the briefs and the record, the Court determines that oral argument is unnecessary because the facts and legal contentions are adequately presented and oral argument would not aid in the decisional process. Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b); E.D. Va. Loc. R. 7 (J) .


Diamond Healthcare Corporation is the parent company of Diamond Healthcare of

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Williamsburg, Inc. First Am. Compl. ¶ 6. Both entities are incorporated under the law of Virginia, and they share the same officers and directors. Id. ¶ ¶ 5-6. Diamond Healthcare of Williamsburg, Inc. does business under the name " The Pavilion at Williamsburg Place." Id. ¶ 6.

On September 10, 2012, Milov Sonnier (" Plaintiff" or " Sonnier" ), an African-American female, began working for that she was sexually harassed shortly after she began working Defendants as a social worker. Id. ¶ ¶ 4, 8. Plaintiff alleges for Defendants. According to Plaintiff, in the middle of November 2012, Greg Thomas (" Thomas" ), another employee of Defendants, first made a " statement of a sexual nature" to Plaintiff when he stated that " she was in his closet." Id. ¶ 9. Plaintiff alleges that sometime during November or December, Thomas also told Plaintiff that " you look nice in that blouse." Id. ¶ 10. Finally, during that same period, Thomas " leer[ed] at Plaintiff as she was bending over a chart rack and said to Plaintiff, " [y]ou look nice in those pants." Id. at 11.

After Thomas leered at Plaintiff and told her that she " look[ed] nice in those pants," Plaintiff told Thomas that " she did not appreciate his inappropriate comment and asked him to stop." Id. ¶ 12. In response, Thomas " stated that he realized his comment was inappropriate and he apologized." Id. ¶ 13. In addition to confronting Thomas, that same day, Plaintiff complained to Tom Cino (" Cino" ), her supervisor and Defendants' " Social Work Director," about the incident with Thomas and advised Cino that she " was uncomfortable with [Thomas]." Id. ¶ 14-15. According to Plaintiff, Cino told Plaintiff that he would " discuss the matter with [Plaintiff] later, but never did so." Id. ¶ 16.

In February 2013, Defendants transferred Thomas to the Social Work Department, the same department to which Plaintiff was assigned. Id. ¶ 17. On February 26, 2013, during a weekly supervision meeting with Cino, Plaintiff again voiced her concerns about Thomas and her discomfort working with him. Id. ¶ 18.

On March 4, 2013, Plaintiff contacted Defendants' CEO, Chris Ruble (" Ruble" ), but, according to Plaintiff, Ruble referred Plaintiff back to Cino. Id. ¶ ¶ 20-21. The next day, Plaintiff " contacted the ethics hotline and reported the incident with [Thomas] and that [Cino] was unresponsive." Id. ¶ 21.

On March 13, 2013, Plaintiff met with Ruble, Cino, and Thomas to discuss the alleged incidents of sexual harassment. Id. ¶ 22. Plaintiff alleges that she " was questioned, but (Thomas] was not." Id. ¶ 23. Plaintiff alleges that, during March 2013, Cino then retaliated against her in a number of ways.[2] See id. ¶ ¶ 26-32. According to Plaintiff, she informed her supervisor that " she believed she was being retaliated against." Id. ¶ 33.

On March 29, 2013, Plaintiff prepared a letter of resignation. Id. ¶ 34. On April 2, 2013, Rene Larve, an employee in Defendants' Human Resources department, told Plaintiff that it would be her last day. Id. ¶ 35.[3] That day, Plaintiff was escorted from the building. Id. ¶ 36. Thomas then

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replaced Plaintiff in her former position as a social worker. See ¶ ¶ 8, 46.

Plaintiff's husband, Gary Sonnier, also worked for Defendants. Id. ¶ 56. On November 5, 2013, subsequent to Plaintiff's resignation, he overheard a conversation between Thomas and another employee, " mental health tech Tydell" (" Tydell" ) after he passed them in the hallway. Id. Unbeknownst to Thomas and Tydell, Mr. Sonnier could hear what they were saying from his position in the hallway. See id. ¶ 57. Plaintiff alleges that Mr. Sonnier overheard the following conversation. Thomas told Tydell that " [Mr. Sonnier's] wife use[d] to work here." Id. ¶ 58. Thomas then " began laughing" and stated " boy I sure tried to get inside of her." Id. ¶ 59. According to Plaintiff, that was a reference to Plaintiff. See id. Then, Plaintiff alleges, Thomas went on to " boast about inappropriate sexual comments that he made during the time she was employed with the company." Id. ¶ 60. Tydell then responded to Thomas's statements, " if I feel that I can get involved with a married woman I would have done the same thing." Id. ¶ 61. According to Plaintiff, Thomas and Tydell then laughed " in a man[ner] suggesting that [Thomas] had gotten away with his misconduct involving [Plaintiff]." Id. ¶ 62. Thomas allegedly pondered aloud, " I wonder if the brother is taking care of her at home[?]" Id. ¶ 63. Tydell responded, " he needs to." Id. ¶ 64. Following that statement, Mr. Sonnier walked around the corner so that Thomas and Tydell could see him. Id. ¶ 65. Their conversation ceased. Id. ¶ 66.

Mr. Sonnier reported the conversation between Thomas and Tydell to Defendants' CEO, Ruble, and to Stephanie Parker, a " Mental Health Tech." Id. ¶ 67. However, " Mr. Sonnier did not hear anything from [Defendants] until his resignation letter was submitted on December 24, 2013." [4] Id. ¶ 68.

On March 28, 2014, Plaintiff filed an action in this Court asserting causes of action under the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (42 U.S.C. § 1981) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (" Title VII" ). Complaint, ECF No. 1. In her initial Title VII claim, Plaintiff asserted that Defendants discriminated against her on the basis of her race, African-American, and sex, female. Id. ¶ 75. On May 23, 2014, Defendants moved to dismiss portions of Plaintiff's Complaint. In response, Plaintiff filed her First Amended Complaint on June 4, 2014. ECF No. 8. Therein, Plaintiff alleges unlawful discrimination on the basis of race addition, Plaintiff asserts that Defendants discriminated or color under the Civil Rights Act of 1866. Id. ¶ ¶ 71-75. In against her on the basis of her sex, in violation of Title VII, in a number of ways. Under Title VII, Plaintiff asserts causes of action for disparate treatment, harassment, and retaliation. Id. ¶ ¶ 78-80.

On June 16, 2014, Defendants moved to partially dismiss the First Amended Complaint. Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 10. Defendants contend that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted with respect to her Title VII hostile work environment and retaliation claims. Id. at 1. On June 30, 2014, Plaintiff filed her brief in opposition to Defendants' motion. Pl.'s Mem. Opp'n Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 12. On July 3, 2014, Defendants filed their reply brief in support of their motion. Defs.' Reply Supp. Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 13. However, in such brief, Defendants relied heavily on the Fourth Circuit's May 13, 2014 opinion in Boyer-Liberto v. Fontainebleau Corp., 752 F.3d 350 (4th Cir. 2014). Yet, two days prior to Defendants' submission

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of their reply, the Fourth Circuit vacated the Boyer-Liberto panel decision and granted rehearing en banc. On September 30, 2014, in light of Defendants' reliance on the vacated Boyer-Liberto panel opinion, the Court considered it prudent to hold resolution of Defendants' motion in abeyance, pending the Fourth Circuit's en banc opinion. Order, ECF No. 14.

On May 7, 2015, after rehearing en banc, the Fourth Circuit issued its opinion in Boyer-Liberto. Boyer-Liberto v. Fontainebleau Corp.,786 F.3d 264, 2015 WL 2116849 (4th Cir. 2015) (en banc). By Order of May 11, 2015, the Court directed the parties to file supplemental briefing discussing Boyer-Liberto and its effect on the instant motion. ECF No. 15. The parties filed supplemental briefing in ...

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