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Salmons v. Commercial Driver Services, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

December 13, 2019

DIANA MARIE SALMONS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMERCIAL DRIVER SERVICES, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Hon. Glen E. Conrad Senior United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Diana Marie Salmons filed a five-count complaint against her former employer, Commercial Driver Services, Inc. (“CDS”).[1] Count I is a claim for sexual harassment and hostile work environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq. (“Title VII”). Counts II and III allege claims of discriminatory and retaliatory constructive demotion and constructive discharge, respectively, in violation of Title VII. Counts IV and V allege sex-based wage discrimination in violation of Title VII and the Equal Pay Act of 1963, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d) (the “Equal Pay Act”).

         CDS moved to dismiss all of Salmons' claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). On November 18, 2019, the parties presented oral argument in a telephonic hearing. During that hearing, Salmons moved for leave to amend her wage discrimination claims, and CDS moved for a discovery stay until the court ruled on CDS' motion. The court granted both motions. Salmons has since filed an amended complaint, and CDS has filed an answer in response. CDS' motion to dismiss is thus ripe for review. For the reasons stated, the court will deny CDS' motion to dismiss in whole and lift the stay of discovery.

         Background

         The following facts, alleged in the amended complaint, are taken as true for purposes of CDS' motion. CDS is a Virginia-based truck driver training and job placement program with several locations throughout Virginia. Am. Compl. ¶ 8. On June 6, 2014, Salmons, “who identifies her sex as female, ” was hired by CDS as an Instructor at CDS' Roanoke location. Id. ¶ 9. Salmons was a Co-Lead Instructor there from 2015 until September 2017. Id. ¶ 15. CDS failed to have an anti-discrimination or anti-harassment policy in place during Salmons' employment. Id. ¶ 10.

         Harassment Allegations

         Salmons alleges numerous examples of “unwelcome inappropriate remarks and sexually aggressive behavior at CDS.” Id. ¶ 19. For example, male CDS employees made the following remarks about female students: “Boy, she's got some big melons, ” “I'd like to get in her pants, ” “I'll do her, ” “She can back that up on me, ” and “She can drive me anytime.” Id. Several male employees “inappropriately and consistently” called Salmons “Dirty D, ” and “often lewdly discussed their genitalia” in front of Salmons. Id. Another male employee, J.R. Mays, “slapped” Salmons “on the buttocks, ” and told Salmons that he “would take [her] to bed any time.” Salmons reported Mays' “sexual misconduct to CDS management twice, but, upon information and belief, [] Mays was never appropriately disciplined.” Id. Salmons witnessed, during a company bowling outing, that other female employees and students were asked by a male employee, Matt Walfare, to “hold his balls” as he held two bowling balls in front of his crotch. Salmons also alleges that “[s]everal members of CDS management were present at this event and, upon information and belief, heard [the] inappropriate comment, but [] Walfare was never counseled about, or disciplined for, his misconduct.” Id.

         Salmons further states that she was CDS' sole female Instructor for the first year of her employment, that “her male colleagues resented having to work for or under the supervision of a female supervisor, ” and that male employees worked to undermine her. Id. ¶ 20. For example, CDS employees directed students to ignore her instructions and to provide false, negative reviews. Id. A male Instructor, Walfare, advised multiple students that Salmons “doesn't know what she is doing. She got her [supervisor] position because she cried and whined about it.” Id. Walfare also admitted to a student that he, and other Instructors, were reporting allegations regarding Salmons to CDS because the Instructors did not want her as their boss. Id.

         Salmons also alleges that she was disciplined for mistakes that men were not. For example, her truck became stuck. She was written up and her male co-workers were not disciplined for the same errors. After complaining that she did not think the write-up was fair on that basis, Salmons “was treated differently.” Compl. Ex. B.

         In addition, several CDS students made a sex discrimination complaint to Patrick Henry Community College about the environment at CDS, and made a similar complaint to CDS management. Ultimately, the students filed a complaint with the Department of Education, which resulted in Patrick Henry not renewing its contract with CDS. Id. ¶ 28.

         Salmons alleges that CDS' failure to address her discrimination claims led her to step down from her role as Co-Lead Instructor in September 2017. Salmons brought her concerns to CDS General Manager Crystal Kennedy on several occasions. On one such occasion, in September 2017, Kennedy responded by telling Salmons to “stop pouting and put your big boy panties on.” Id. ¶ 21. Walfare also told students that Salmons was forced to step down from her leadership position because “no one would listen to a woman.” Id. ¶ 23. As stated in an email attached to Salmons' amended complaint, she “felt forced to step down from [her] supervisor position . . . because of all the harassment[.] I just could not take it anymore.” Am. Compl. Ex. B.

         In January 2018, Salmons met with Kennedy to discuss how a male employee, Everett Markham, had been treating her. Kennedy declined to file a formal complaint or take other action on Salmons' behalf, and instead invited Markham into her office, and told Markham that Salmons intended to file a complaint against him. Thereafter, Markham “angrily rebuke[d]” Salmons, “curse[d] at her, ” and spoke to Salmons “in a demeaning way.” Am. Compl. ¶ 26. Kennedy also told Salmons that she had no recourse and that she shared the blame for her workplace conditions. Id. ¶ 27. Salmons further described this encounter in the email attached to her complaint. Salmons relayed that “[Kennedy] wouldn't let me get up and leave[.] She stated you called this meeting and we will settle this today and be done with it.” Am. Compl. Ex. B.

         Further, on April 9th and 19th, 2018, Salmons complained about the harassment she endured to CDS President Jill Balleh, Vice President Chris Pender, and again, Kennedy. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 29-31. Salmons stated she was concerned about being retaliated against for her complaints. Salmons also explained that she had stepped down from her Co-Lead Instructor role due to harassment, and asked to be reinstated. Balleh and Pender denied Salmons' request. Id. They told her, instead, to meet with Markham alone. Id. Salmons told them she was “scared of” Markham due to his “past aggressive behavior.” Balleh nevertheless insisted. Id. Later, Markham cornered Salmons and “cursed her.” Id. ¶ 35. Eventually, Salmons feared for her safety, to the point that she told Markham she would call the police if he did not cease his behavior. Id.

         “Left with no other choice, ” as she “could no longer risk her personal safety, ” Salmons resigned on July 9, 2018. Id. ¶ 31. Salmons has sought “ongoing medical care due to the discriminatory and retaliatory acts she suffered at CDS.” Id. ¶ 32.

         Unequal ...


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