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Stallworth v. Skerrett

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

December 14, 2017



          Denise J. Casper, United States District Judge.

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Nicole Stallworth brings suit against Defendants James Skerrett, David Shulkin and Eric Sheehan based on events that occurred during her employment with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”). D. 4. Stallworth's complaint includes a claim for sexual harassment and sexual battery under Title VII against Shulkin and Skerrett (Count 1), a claim for retaliation under Title VII against Shulkin and Sheehan (Count 2), a claim for race discrimination under Section 1981 against Shulkin and Skerrett (Count 3), and claims under state law for intentional infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, and assault and battery against Skerrett (Count 5). D. 4 at 6-8.[1] Shulkin and Sheehan move to dismiss Count 1, Count 2, and Count 3 against them. D. 27. For the foregoing reasons, the Defendants' motion, D. 27, is ALLOWED in part and DENIED in part.

         II. Standard of Review

         In evaluating a motion to dismiss, “non-conclusory factual allegations in the complaint must [] be treated as true.” Ocasio-Hernandez v. Fortuno-Burset, 640 F.3d 1, 12 (1st Cir. 2011). The Court is required to “view the facts of the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, and to resolve any ambiguities in their favor.” Id. at 17.

         III. Factual Background

         The following allegations are taken from the complaint, D. 4, and, for the purposes of considering the motion to dismiss, the Court treats them as true. Stallworth began working for the VA in its campus at Brockton, Massachusetts, in June 2012. D. 4 ¶ 8. Stallworth's direct supervisor was Skerrett. D. 4 ¶ 11. During Stallworth's employment, Stallworth and Skerrett were the only two black employees working for the VA in Brockton. D. 4 ¶ 12. Stallworth was 27 years old and Skerrett was 60 years old during relevant period. D. 4 ¶¶ 6, 12.

         In November 2013, Skerrett made a sexually harassing comment to Stallworth about cooking dinner for Stallworth. D. 4 ¶ 15. Stallworth responded that the comment was inappropriate from a married man and that Stallworth was not interested in Skerrett. D. 4 ¶ 15. Skerrett continued to make sexually harassing comments to Stallworth and Stallworth would continue to reject his advances. D. 4 ¶ 18. Skerrett's comments became more sexually explicit over time. D. 4 ¶ 19.

         In January 2014, Skerrett restrained Stallworth inside a small file room and attempted to kiss her without her consent. D. 4 ¶ 20. This happened again on three other occasions between January 2014 and March 2014. D. 4 ¶ 21. Other female coworkers expressed to Stallworth that Skerrett was “dangerous” and known to attempt to trap women inside the file room. D. 4 ¶ 24. In February 2014, Stallworth filed an application to transfer to a different department, but her request to transfer was ignored. D. 4 ¶ 25.

         On or about March 12, 2014, Skerrett grabbed Stallworth's vagina as Stallworth was exiting the file room. D. 4 ¶ 27. After this incident, Stallworth stopped attending work. D. 4 ¶ 30. In April 2014, Stallworth reported the incident to police from the VA. D. 4 ¶ 34. Detective Joy from the VA police interviewed Stallworth regarding the incident. D. 4 ¶ 35. During that interview, which was also attended by a local union representative, Stallworth asked Joy whether there was anywhere else that Stallworth should report the incident. D. 4 ¶ 37. Both Joy and the union representative said that Stallworth did not need to report the incident anywhere else. D. 4 ¶ 37. Stallworth also contacted Eric Sheehan, who was then the Chief Financial Officer of the Brockton campus of the VA, D. 4 ¶¶ 4, 39, and James Tavares, who was an officer at the Brockton campus of the VA whose responsibilities included handling cases of employee misconduct, to inform them that she would not return to work because she did not feel safe around Skerrett. D. 4 ¶ 39. Stallworth asked Tavares whether there was anywhere else that she needed to report the assault and Tavares responded that she could talk to the “employee assistance program, ” without mentioning the Office of Resolution Management (“ORM”) at the VA. D. 4 ¶ 40. Sheehan also did not mention the ORM in his communications with Stallworth. D. 4 ¶ 41.

         In May 2014, Sheehan informed Stallworth that she would be considered “absent without leave” if she did not return to work. D. 4 ¶ 43. Stallworth attempted to return to work, but experienced a panic attack and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder when she was in the office. D. 4 ¶ 44. Stallworth was terminated in September 2014. D. 4 ¶ 45. Stallworth did not learn that she had the option of contacting a counselor from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) regarding her experience until April 2016. D. 4 ¶ 47.

         Shulkin has been the United States Secretary for Veterans Affairs since February 13, 2017. D. 4 ¶ 2. He was preceded by Acting Secretary Robert Snyder. D. 4 ¶ 2.

         IV. Procedural History

         Stallworth filed a complaint on March 11, 2017. D. 1. She then filed an amended complaint on June 13, 2017. D. 4. Defendants Shulkin and Sheehan filed a motion to dismiss on September 14, 2017. D. 27. The Court heard argument on the ...

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