United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Big Stone Gap Division
Erlich, Benjamin W. Owen, Davia Craumer, and Katherine L.
Herrmann, The Erlich Law Office, PLLC, Arlington, Virginia,
for Plaintiff; E. Lewis Kincer, Jr., Assistant Attorney
General, Office of the Attorney General of Virginia,
Richmond, Virginia, for Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
P. JONES, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
plaintiff, Marie Knoskie, has asserted claims of race
discrimination, creation of a hostile work environment based
on race, and retaliation for engaging in a protected
activity, all in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights
Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to 2000e-17
(“Title VII”) against her employer, defendant
Virginia Department of Corrections (“VDOC”). VDOC
has moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint for failure to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(b)(6). In response, Knoskie opposes the Motion to
Dismiss and, alternatively, seeks leave to further amend her
Amended Complaint. For the reasons that follow, I will grant
VDOC's Motion to Dismiss as to the claims of race
discrimination and retaliation, deny VDOC's Motion to
Dismiss as to the claim of creation of a hostile work
environment based on race, and grant Knoskie's request to
Amended Complaint alleges the following facts, which I must
accept as true for the purpose of deciding the present
Knoskie is an African-American woman who has been employed by
VDOC since August 2000. Knoskie works as a Corrections
Officer at Red Onion State Prison (“Red Onion”)
in Pound, Virginia. During her employment, the use of racial
slurs and making of race-related jokes by non-black officers
was common and accepted. Knoskie did not feel confident that
her fellow officers would protect her in the event of inmate
violence. Red Onion also experienced failures of safety and
security that were unique to black workers.
April 1, 2013, Knoskie discovered that someone had written
the phrase “I hate n******” in a log book in the
C2 control room. Am. Compl. ¶ 19, ECF No. 5. Because log
books are only available to corrections officers, the phrase
could not have been written by an inmate. Knoskie reported
the incident to management, including Chief Warden Randall
Mathena (her supervisor), Assistant Warden John Walruth, and
EBT manager Israel Hamilton. On April 12, 2013, she asked
Mathena if she should document the incident in CORIS, the
system used by VDOC to manage incident reports. Mathena told
her not to document the incident in CORIS and to instead give
a written incident report to Hamilton. Knoskie did so, but
never heard anything further. According to Knoskie, VDOC took
no action to resolve the matter.
this incident, Knoskie was not asked to work in the C2
control room, where the log book with the slur was located,
until February 2014. On February 18, 2014, she was told to
work at that post by Sergeant Brandon Hall. When Knoskie
reminded Hall of the slur and told him she was uncomfortable
working there, he “said he had forgotten the incident,
apologized, and reassigned [her] to a different
location.” Id. at ¶ 29.
February 27, 2014, Knoskie looked in the log book and found
that the racial slur was still there. The same day, she was
told by Unit Manager Andy Kilborn to work in the C2 control
room. She refused to work the post because of the slur and
told Kilborn that “she believed she was being subjected
to a hostile work environment based on her race.”
Id. at ¶ 33. In response to this incident and
Knoskie's refusal to work, Mathena sent her home because
she was “hysterical” and “unable to perform
[her] job.” Id. at ¶ 34.
next day, February 28, Knoskie met with Chief Warden Mathena,
Assistant Warden Walruth, Unit Manager Kilborn, and Human
Resources Head Officer Renee Conley. At this meeting, Mathena
mentioned a past occasion on which Knoskie had reported
swastikas carved into another post and asked why she had
continued to work at the post where the swastikas were found
but would not work in the C2 control room. Knoskie responded
that the swastikas had been removed promptly after she
reported them, whereas the racial slur in the C2 control room
log book had remained for nearly a year.
March 9, 2014, Knoskie saw a workplace counselor to discuss
the “mental stress, frustrating [sic], and fear
involved at working in a super-max prison where she did not
feel supported by her coworkers and supervisors.”
Id. at ¶ 42. The counselor placed her on
short-term disability leave. Until this point, Knoskie had an
“excellent performance and disciplinary history.”
Id. at ¶ 44.
filed a timely charge of race-based discrimination and
retaliation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
(“EEOC”), and on March 31, 2016, the EEOC issued
her a Notice of Right to Sue. She initiated this action on
July 5, 2016, within ninety days of her receipt of the Notice
of Right to Sue.
asserts that VDOC discriminated against her and created a
hostile work environment based on her race, in violation of
Title VII. She also asserts that VDOC retaliated
against her for engaging in a protected activity in violation
of Title VII. Knoskie seeks damages for loss of earnings and
related employment benefits and damages for emotional
distress and litigation expenses, including attorneys'
survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain
sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state
a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting
Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570
(2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the
plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to
draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable
for the misconduct alleged.” Id. at 678
(citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). In ruling on a
motion to dismiss, the court must accept as true all of the
factual allegations contained in the complaint,
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 572, and it must view those
facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.
Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403, 406 (2002).
this “tenet that a court must accept as true all of the
allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal
conclusions.” Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 678.
“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of
action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not
suffice.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550
U.S. at 555). Although legal conclusions can “provide
the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by
factual allegations.” Id. at 679.
context of employment discrimination claims, “a
plaintiff is not required to plead facts that constitute a
prima facie case” in order to survive a motion to
dismiss. Coleman v. Md. Ct. of Appeals, 626 F.3d
187, 190 (4th Cir. 2010) (citing Swierkiewicz v. Sorema
N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 510-15 (2002)). However, her
“[f]actual allegations must be enough ...