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Cobbs v. First Transit Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia

December 16, 2016

Helen L. Cobbs, Plaintiff,
First Transit Company, ET AL., Defendants.



         Norman K. Moon On April 1, 2016, Helen L. Cobbs (“Plaintiff”) filed an amended complaint against First Transit, Inc., Central Virginia Transit Management Co., Inc. (“CVT”), Greater Lynchburg Transit Co. (“GLTC”), Dennis Dorsey, Kevin Lacy, Alan Robey, Gloria Berkley, and Karen Walton alleging hostile work environment sexual harassment (“Count I”), quid pro quo discrimination (“Count II”), and retaliation (“Count III”) by all defendants-as well as intentional infliction of emotional distress (“Count IV”) and assault (“Count V”) by Dorsey. (Dkt. 5). Lacy, Robey, Berkley, and Walton were dismissed from the suit on the ground that supervisors are not liable in their individual capacities for Title VII violations, (dkt. 21), leaving First Transit, CVT, GLTC, and Dorsey (“Defendants”) as parties to the suit.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' motions to dismiss, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), for lack of jurisdiction and/or failure to state a claim. (Dkts. 15, 18, 31). The motions by First Transit, CVT, and GLTC will be denied because Plaintiff has adequately pled Title VII violations, while Dorsey's motion will be granted, and the claims against him will be dismissed because he cannot be sued under Title VII, the assault claim is time barred, and the intentional infliction of emotion distress claim lacks sufficient allegations.

         I. Legal Standard

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint to determine whether the plaintiff has properly stated a claim; “it does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” Republican Party of North Carolina v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992). Although a complaint “does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his entitle[ment] to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations omitted).

         A court need not “accept the legal conclusions drawn from the facts” or “accept as true unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments.” Eastern Shore Markets, Inc. v. J.D. Assocs. Ltd. P'ship, 213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, ” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, with all allegations in the complaint taken as true and all reasonable inferences drawn in the plaintiff's favor. Chao v. Rivendell Woods, Inc., 415 F.3d 342, 346 (4th Cir. 2005). Rule 12(b)(6) does “not require heightened fact pleading of specifics, but only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. Consequently, “only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009).

         II. Facts as Alleged

         On or about November 28, 2011, Helen Cobbs was hired by CVT or GLTC as a bus operator. (Dkt 5 ¶ 13). In December 2013, Cobbs was injured in a work-related accident and restricted to light duty employment. (Id. ¶¶ 14-15). During this light duty employment, Dennis Dorsey, who was employed by either First Transit or CVT, was her supervisor. (Id. ¶¶ 8, 16).

         Over the next few months, Dorsey began commenting on Cobbs appearance, sending her cards, sending her text messages, and making other unwelcome advances. (Id. ¶¶ 18-25). Cobbs told Dorsey that these unwelcome advances and comments were “putting her in a bad position” as she was often secluded in his office alone with him. (Id. ¶ 26). Dorsey would also require Cobbs to accompany him when he left the office to run errands. (Id. ¶ 28). During one these trips, Dorsey placed his hand on her knee and smiled. (Id. ¶¶ 29-30). Again, Cobbs continued to plead with Dorsey to stop these advances, but to no avail. (Id. ¶¶ 33-34).

         Dorsey told Cobbs “she could ‘have it anyway [sic] she wanted, ' and threatened that he could ‘fix it where there wouldn't be any light duty work available for her' and she could just ‘stay home and get partial pay.'” (Id. ¶ 32). The unwanted sexual advances continued, and when Cobbs would not respond, Dorsey told her there was no more light duty work and she had to take time off. (Id. ¶¶ 37-38). However, the text messages from Dorsey continued, in which he asked her to “come on over” and “ride to MD” with him. (Id. ¶¶ 39-41).

         Cobbs returned to work with the assignment of answering phone calls. (Id. ¶ 42). The advances and text messages continued. (Id. ¶¶ 43-56). Once again, Cobbs told Dorsey she was uncomfortable with his communication and requested that she be assigned to work elsewhere within the company. (Id. ¶ 56.) After this meeting, Cobbs spoke with union steward, Chuck Hudson, about the unwanted advances from Dorsey. (Id. ¶ 58). She also reported the incident to Karen Walton, the general manager, and Gloria Berkley, who works in human resources at First Transit or CVT. (Id. ¶¶ 11-12, 59-64).

         On or about May 2, 2014, Cobbs met with Walton and showed her some of the text messages. (Id. ¶ 60). Walton stated that the text messages were not “that bad.” (Id. ¶ 61). Berkley also failed to correct the problem, stating that she had no control over who likes whom. (Id. ¶ 62). After the meetings with Walton and Berkley, Cobbs submitted a written complaint to Berkley. (Id. ¶ 63). On or about May 5, 2014, Berkley informed Cobbs that she would conduct an investigation. (Id. ¶ 65). When Cobbs returned to her mailbox, she had received a letter that she, along with other employees, was being placed on furlough starting May 10, 2014. (Id. ¶ 66).

         After a few weeks on furlough, Gloria Berkley called Thomas Coles to inform him that a position had opened up, but he declined. (Id. ¶ 67). According to company policy, Cobbs should have been the next person contacted about the open position, considering her seniority, but she was not called. (Id. ¶ 68). In August 2014, Cobbs finally returned from furlough. (Id. ¶ 69).

         At the orientation for her return, Kevin Lacy, who was employed by First Transit or CVT, stated that the company was not going to deal with “some of the mess that people were saying before the furlough.” (Id. ¶¶ 9, 70). Cobbs began to recognize that her co-workers would make negative comments when she passed and she was constantly disciplined and given written disciplinary letters. (Id. ¶¶ 71-78).

         On or about September 30, 2014, Cobbs filed a Greivance Form, in which she requested a hearing related to a disciplinary letter she had received and alleged that she was being targeted by Dorsey. (Id. ¶ 81). Cobbs then filed an EEOC Discrimination charge against CVT. (Id. ¶ 83). On or about December 31, 2015, Cobbs received a Notice of Right to sue from the EEOC. (Id. ¶ 89).

         Cobbs sought mental health treatment due to these events beginning in October 2014. (Id. ¶ 82). Dr. George W. Luedke, a psychiatrist, diagnosed Cobbs with single incident major depression and felt that she could not return to work. (Id. ¶ 87). Dr. Luedke believed that Cobbs would be incapacitated through February 30, 2017. (Id. ¶ 92). Another doctor, Dr. Matthew Tatom, has also treated Cobbs and diagnosed her with PTSD, anxiety, and depression. (Id. ¶ 85).

         III. Analysis of Claims Against First Transit, GLTC, and CVT

         A. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

         First Transit and GLTC argue that they should be dismissed because Cobbs failed to name these entities in her EEOC complaint. (Dkt. 15-1 at 4; dkt. 19 at 18-19). Specifically, Cobbs only named ...

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