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Michael v. Virginia Commonwealth University

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

January 8, 2019



          John A. Gihney, Jr. United States District Judge.

         Audrey Michael, a 51-year-old African American woman, began working as a senior compliance and policy analyst for Virginia Commonwealth University ("VCU") in March, 2013. In 2015, Michael's supervisor, Jacqueline Kniska, made several derogatory remarks about African American women during a meeting. Soon after reporting these remarks to a supervisor, Michael received an increased workload, tightened deadlines, and a negative performance evaluation. Michael left her job with VCU on October 27, 2015.

         Michael initially brought an eleven-count complaint against VCU that included claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. VCU moved to dismiss the complaint. The Court granted VCU's motion but gave Michael leave to amend her Title VII claims.

         Michael now brings a six-count amended complaint against VCU for Title VII violations and intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED"). Because Michael's amended complaint fails to adequately plead Title VII claims, and sovereign immunity bars her IIED claim, [1] the Court will grant VCU's motion to dismiss.


         In Michael's first complaint, she cited a July, 2015 meeting in which Kniska called an African American woman's name "so ghetto." (Compl. ¶ 10.) At the same meeting, Kniska asked who was responsible for "hiring these people," referring to two African American women. (Id.) Finally, Kniska complained about an African American woman's comment that VCU did not employ enough African Americans. Kniska wondered aloud what would happen if she complained that VCU did not employ enough women. Michael complained to superiors about these comments. After she complained, Kniska assigned Michael extra tasks, found fault in her work, communicated with her almost solely by e-mail, denied her the opportunity to attend a conference, and ignored her request for annual leave. On October 21, 2015, Kniska issued Michael a poor performance evaluation. Michael complained again about her work environment before resigning on October 27. Michael later learned that VCU's system listed her employment as "terminated," rather than "resigned." (Compl. ¶ 32.)

         In her amended complaint, Michael alleges several additional pertinent facts. First, not only did Kniska assign Michael additional work, but she also imposed unreasonable deadlines for that work. As a consequence of not meeting the deadlines, Kniska punished Michael with a poor performance review. Kniska did not assign extra work or unreasonable deadlines to any "similarly situated Caucasian employee[s]." (Am. Compl. ¶ 20, 21.)

         Michael claims that she "experienced such ongoing harassment that she felt the only way to stop it was to resign," and that VCU "constructively terminated" her. (Am. Compl. ¶ 39, 41.) She also alleges that VCU improperly listed Michael as "terminated," which allowed VCU to deny her continued benefits and delayed her start date at her next job. (Am. Compl. ¶ 46.)

         Finally, Michael says that she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"). Due to her experiences at VCU, she suffered sleeplessness and had to increase her PTSD medication.

         The amended complaint alleges six counts: (I) violation of Title VII based on race discrimination; (II) violation of Title VII based on a hostile work environment; (III-V) violations of Title VII based on three retaliation incidents; and (VI) IIED. VCU moved to dismiss all claims.

         II. DISCUSSION[2]

         A. Count I: Race Discrimination

         Under Title VII, an employer may not refuse to hire, discharge, or otherwise discriminate against an individual regarding compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, due to the individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). Without direct evidence of racial discrimination, a plaintiff alleging race discrimination under Title VII must establish:

(1) that she was a member of a protected racial, ethnic, or other group; (2) that she experienced an adverse employment action; (3) that at the time of the adverse employment action, she was performing her job at a level that met her employer's legitimate expectations; and (4) that the position remained open or was filled by a similarly qualified applicant outside of the plaintiffs protected class, or that ...

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