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Cagle v. Estes

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

August 22, 2018

TAMMY CAGLE, Plaintiff,



         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Tammy Cagle ("Plaintiff") alleges that Thomas Estes ("Estes") and Behavioral Health Network ("BHN") created a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. ("Title VII") and Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151B ("Chapter 151B"). BHN has moved to dismiss the claims against it pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), arguing that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The parties have consented to this court's jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73. For the reasons that follow, BHN's motion to dismiss is DENIED.

         II. Background

         A. Facts

         To evaluate a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the court must "accept as true all well-pleaded facts alleged in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in the pleader's favor." A.G. ex rel. Maddox v. v. Elsevier, Inc., 732 F.3d 77, 80 (1st Cir. 2013) (quoting Santiago v. Puerto Rico, 655 F.3d 61, 72 (1st Cir. 2011)). The complaint's factual allegations are recited according to this standard.[1]

         Plaintiff's complaint is based on the alleged conditions of her employment as a specialty court clinician assigned to the drug court session that was established in the Pittsfield Division of the District Court Department of the Massachusetts Trial Court ("drug court") (Dkt. No. 1 ¶¶ 22, 28, 32). Drug courts are "diversionary courts" that were established to reduce recidivism by defendants with substance abuse challenges by providing them "with increased access and linkage to treatment and community resources" (id. ¶ 8). Drug courts employ a team approach to accomplish their goals (id. ¶ 9). The presiding judge leads the team, which normally includes a specialty court clinician in addition to a probation officer, drug court coordinator, clerk, prosecutor, defense attorney, treatment provider, and law enforcement representative (id. ¶¶ 9, 10, 14). The judge assembles regular staff meetings during which the team reviews drug court participants' progress and needs (id. ¶ 13). The drug court judge, in collaboration with the team members, "decides whether a particular criminal defendant is eligible to participate in drug court, crafts treatment plans for drug court defendants, and makes the ultimate decisions in drug court cases, including the imposition of incentives or sanctions" (id. ¶ 12).

         During staff meetings, the specialty court clinician recommends "appropriate treatment options to the judge" and "inform[s] the drug court team on clinical perspectives" (id. ¶ 21). The Trial Court Department had an interagency service agreement with the Department of Mental Health ("DMH") to place clinical professionals in the specialty courts (id. ¶ 16). The specialty court clinicians worked through the DMH Court Clinic system and were paid through a grant funded by DMH and the Trial Court Department (id. ¶¶ 15, 20).

         The Pittsfield District Court received funding to establish a drug court in 2016 (id. ¶ 22). Estes, who was the First Justice of the Eastern Hampshire Division of the District Court Department of the Trial Court in Belchertown, was appointed as the presiding justice of the Pittsfield drug court (id. ¶ 23, 24). As the presiding justice and the Pittsfield drug court team's leader, Estes oversaw the drug court's development, presided over the sessions when the court opened, established work schedules, and set the dates, times, places, and agendas for the drug court team's meetings (id. ¶¶ 24, 33, 34). He worked one day a week in Pittsfield, where he shared a lobby with another judge who was assigned to Pittsfield, and retained his position as the First Justice of the Eastern Hampshire District Court along with his chambers in Belchertown (id. ¶¶ 24, 25, 26).

         DMH subcontracted with BHN to provide a specialty court clinician to the Pittsfield drug court (id. ¶¶ 17, 18). Plaintiff, who was a licensed social worker, applied to BHN for the position of specialty court clinician for the court (id. ¶ 27). On June 24, 2016, Dr. Welli Yeh, the program director of BHN's adult court clinics, notified Plaintiff that she was authorized to hire Plaintiff as a specialty court clinician subject to Estes' approval (id. ¶¶ 19, 28). In July 2016, Estes approved Plaintiff's hire after he met her and Dr. Yeh in his Belchertown chambers (id. ¶ 29, 30). Plaintiff began working as a member of the drug court team on July 18, 2016 (id. ¶¶ 31, 32). Her office was in the Pittsfield District Court (id. ¶ 35). Estes was Plaintiff's sole supervisor in the drug court from July 2016 through November 2016 (id. ¶ 42). From December 2016 through March 2017, he was her only "consistent" supervisor (id.).

         In approximately August 2016, Estes told Plaintiff that if she "'needed anything'" or wished to "'vent, '" she could speak to him in his Belchertown chambers (id. ¶ 36). Thereafter, he directed her to meet with him alone at that location (id. ¶ 37). Plaintiff alleges, upon information and belief, that she was the only drug court team member who met privately with Estes in his Belchertown chambers (id. ¶ 38). During these meetings, Estes "offered [Plaintiff] a sympathetic ear" regarding her attempts to get the probation department to accept best practices for the drug court and he expressed his satisfaction with their meetings (id. ¶¶ 39, 40). He voiced disappointment when they missed a meeting (id. ¶ 40).

         The Pittsfield drug court opened in October 2016 (id. ¶ 41). The weekly court sessions were usually held on Thursday mornings (id.).

         On or about November 16, 2016, Plaintiff, Estes, and other members of the Pittsfield drug court team attended a two-day conference (id. ¶ 46). Estes, Plaintiff, and other team members drank alcohol during the cocktail hour after the first day of the conference (id. ¶ 47). They continued drinking during dinner at the hotel restaurant (id. ¶ 48). After dinner, Estes and Plaintiff remained at the table while other members of the team retired to the hotel bar (id. ¶ 49). Before Estes and Plaintiff joined the other team members at the bar, Estes "began looking at Plaintiff suggestively and suddenly reached out and began rubbing her arm. He told her that she was 'adorable' and 'attractive'" (id. ¶¶ 51, 52). Plaintiff dismissed his overtures (id. ¶ 52).

         After Estes and Plaintiff retired to their respective hotel rooms, Plaintiff sent Estes a text message asking for his assistance with her television remote control (id. ¶¶ 53-59). Estes came to her room and fixed the television (id. ¶ 60). He then "sat on the bed, crossed his legs, closed his eyes, and appeared to be falling asleep" (id. ¶ 61). Plaintiff, who was wearing a t-shirt and sweatpants, lay on the bed and watched television (id. ¶ 62). Estes suddenly stood up, began undressing, reclined next to Plaintiff on the bed, kissed her, pulled down his boxer shorts, and forced Plaintiff to fellate him (id. ¶¶ 63-66). After he was satisfied, he dressed and told Plaintiff that he had to go to his room (id. ¶ 68).

         Plaintiff left the conference early the next day "because she felt uncomfortable, ashamed, and confused" about the events that had transpired with Estes in her hotel room on the previous night (id. ¶ 69). Estes called her on November 18 to discuss what had occurred (id. ¶ 70). Both parties acknowledged that alcohol had fueled their sexual encounter (id. ¶ 71). They agreed not to engage in sexual acts again (id.). Plaintiff expressed her desire to maintain a professional working relationship (id. ¶ 72). Estes allegedly responded that their working relationship had changed, and, if anyone found out about their sexual encounter, "'it would be worse for . . . Plaintiff' in drug court" (id. ¶¶ 73, 74). He told Plaintiff that she would "'lose credibility'" with the probation officers if they learned of their tryst (id. ¶ 74).

         Approximately a week later, Estes invited Plaintiff to Belchertown to discuss the drug court (id. ¶ 75). Plaintiff traveled from her office in Pittsfield to Belchertown and met with Estes in his chambers during court hours (id. ¶ 76). After discussing the drug court, Estes "suddenly" closed the window blinds, shut and locked the door, and told Plaintiff that "he wanted to continue what they had started" at the conference (id. ΒΆΒΆ 78, 79). Plaintiff alleges that Estes initiated frequent sexual encounters with her, ...

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