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Dumbaugh v. University of Richmond

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

September 10, 2019

DELLA J. DUMBAUGH, Ph.D, Plaintiff,


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

         Dr. Delia Dumbaugh, a former Associate Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Richmond, brings this action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. She alleges that the Dean, Dr. Patrice Rankine, criticized and humiliated her, stripped her of responsibilities, and barred her from working with other personnel, causing her to resign her post as Associate Dean. The University has moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Because Dumbaugh fails to plead facts showing an adverse employment action or that Rankine's conduct qualifies as severe or pervasive, the Court will grant the motion to dismiss. The Court will dismiss Count One with prejudice. The Court, however, will dismiss Count Two without prejudice and will grant Dumbaugh leave to amend her complaint as to Count Two.


         Dumbaugh joined the faculty of the University's Department of Mathematics and Computer Science in 1994. In 2016, Rankine became Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences and chose Dumbaugh to serve as Associate Dean. The parties anticipated that Dumbaugh would serve a three-year term with the potential that Rankine would reappoint ber for an additional three years. Dumbaugh's relationship with Rankine began to deteriorate in April, 2017.

         During a staff meeting in April, 2017, Rankine asked Dumbaugh to share the reactions of faculty members to his remarks at a recent University event. After Dumbaugh conveyed several negative reactions from faculty members, Rankine cut her off, and said that the reactions came "from a position of low self-esteem." (Dk. No. 1, at ¶ 11.)

         In several staff meetings during April and May, Rankine told Dumbaugh not to "panic." (Id. at ¶ 13.) During one meeting, Dumbaugh asked Rankine to stop ridiculing her in front of other faculty members. Rankine responded, "[y]ou are not in charge of this meeting!" (Id. at ¶14.)

         In May. 2017, Rankine directed Dumbaugh to organize the new faculty orientation. When Dumbaugh presented her preliminary arrangements, Rankine criticized her for making plans without his approval.

         In June, 2017, Rankine told Dumbaugh to coordinate first-year undergraduate classes. To accomplish that task, Dumbaugh needed first-year registration data. Rankine, however, prohibited Dumbaugh from communicating with the Provost, who had the necessary data. Dumbaugh says that Rankine also barred other women from contacting University officials to complete their tasks. Dumbaugh proceeded to schedule classes by contacting individual department chairs. Even though her predecessor had also contacted department chairs for scheduling purposes, Rankine "threw his head back in disgust and criticized her for 'singling out chairs this way.'" (Id. at ¶ 17.) Rankine also reassigned Dumbaugh's tasks without telling her.

         When Rankine asked Dumbaugh about a project during a budget meeting in July, she prefaced her answer with, "I know this might make you frustrated or angry." (Id. at ¶ 20.) Rankine responded, "[w]hen have I been frustrated or angry? This comment is not constructive. It is not helpful." (Id.) In contrast, when a male counterpart began bad news with "[t]his is going to piss you off," Rankine simply replied, "[t]ry me." (Id. at ¶ 21.)

         On August 2, 2017, Rankine reappointed Dumbaugh as Associate Dean for another year. (Id. at ¶ 24.) During a retreat later that month, staff members discussed their results from a "love language" survey. When a staff member shared that his love language was "words of affirmation," Rankine said, "[y]ou are a 'words of affirmation' person: [y]ou are doing a good job." (Id. at ¶ 25.) Dumbaugh responded, "these words only count if they are not spoken disingenuously." (Id.) Rankine replied, "[t]hat is so low." (Id.)

         Two days after the staff retreat, Dumbaugh called Rankine to resign as Associate Dean. Rankine simply responded, "[o]key, dokey." (Id. at ¶ 26.) Dumbaugh says that Rankine humiliated her in front of her colleagues, stripped her of responsibilities, raised his voice when speaking with her, or barred her from working with others in at least nine out of sixteen meetings from April to August of 2017. She says that other women quit after Rankine treated them the same way. She further alleges that Rankine's behavior diminished her professional reputation and opportunity for advancement in the University, and caused lost earnings, emotional distress, humiliation, and embarrassment.

         After exhausting her administrative remedies, Dumbaugh filed this action. Her complaint alleges two counts: gender discrimination in violation of Title VII (Count One), and hostile work environment in violation of Title VII (Count Two). The University has moved to dismiss both counts for failure to state a claim.

         II. DISCUSSION [1]

         A. Count Two: ...

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