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Stevens v. University Village Assisted Living and Memory Care

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, Austin Division

December 7, 2017

TOMISHA N. STEVENS
v.
UNIVERSITY VILLAGE ASSISTED LIVING AND MEMORY CARE

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          ANDREW W. AUSTIN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         TO: THE HONORABLE LEE YEAKEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court are Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. No. 4) and Plaintiff's Response (Dkt. No. 11). The District Court referred the motion to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for report and recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §636(b)(1)(B), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72 and Rule 1(d) of Appendix C of the Local Rules.

         I. GENERAL BACKGROUND

         On June 5, 2017, Plaintiff Tomisha Stevens filed this lawsuit against her former employer University Village Assisted Living and Memory Care University alleging disability discrimination, in violation of the American With Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1)(A) (“ADA”), sex discrimination in the form of a hostile work environment, and retaliation, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Stevens, a lesbian who allegedly suffers from an unspecified bipolar disorder and anxiety disorder, worked in the kitchen of University Village from April 19, 2016, until June 16, 2016.

         Stevens alleges that the kitchen manager at University Village, John Davis, made inappropriate comments to her about her sexual orientation. Specifically, Stevens alleges that during her first week of employment, Davis asked her how she and her partner had conceived a child. When Stevens told David that they had used a sperm bank, Davis commented that “she should have just asked him and that he would have given her a free baby which would have saved her money.” Dkt. No. 1 (“Complaint) at ¶ 12. On another occasion, Stevens commented during a lunch break that she “liked to eat” and Davis commented “I bet you like to eat . . . . I bet you do it well . . . better yet . . . I don't even want to know.” Id. at ¶ 14. Stevens also alleges that Davis made repeated inappropriate sexual comments to other female employees. Stevens also contends that three coworkers also harassed her about her sexual orientation and mental disability. Stevens alleges that she informed Davis about the harassment from other employees but that the harassment continued until she eventually quit her job on June 16, 2016. Stevens contends she was constructively discharged “after being severely harassed by her coworkers and could no longer handle the harassment due to her disability.” Id. at 25.

         University Village moves to dismiss Steven's Complaint, arguing that it fails to state sufficient facts to state a plausible discrimination claim under the ADA. In addition, University Village argues that Stevens has failed to allege a viable hostile work environment claim or retaliation claim under Title VII. In her Response, Stevens her ADA and Title VII retaliation claims. The only claim remaining in therefore Stevens' hostile work environment claim under Title VII.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows a party to move to dismiss an action for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, “[t]he court accepts all well-pleaded facts as true, viewing them in the light most favorable to the [nonmovant].” In re Katrina Canal Breaches Litig., 495 F.3d 191, 205 (5th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks omitted), cert. denied, 552 U.S. 1182 (2008). The Supreme Court has explained that a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter “to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the [nonmovant] pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the [movant] is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. The court's review is limited to the complaint, any documents attached to the complaint, and any documents attached to the motion to dismiss that are central to the claim and referenced by the complaint. Lone Star Fund V (U.S.), L.P. v. Barclays Bank PLC, 594 F.3d 383, 387 (5th Cir. 2010).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Stevens' Complaint alleges that she was subject to a hostile work environment “in that she was consistently harassed and questioned by other employees, including her manager, about her sexual preference in being a homosexual female.” Complaint at ¶ 31. University Village argues that Stevens has failed to allege a prima facie hostile work environment case based on sex since sexual orientation is not a protected class under Title VII. The Court agrees.

         A plaintiff may establish a Title VII violation by proving that sex discrimination has created a hostile or abusive working environment. Meritor Savings Bank, FSB v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 66 (1986). In order to establish a hostile working environment claim, a plaintiff must prove five elements: (1) the employee belonged to a protected class; (2) the employee was subject to unwelcome sexual harassment; (3) the harassment was based on sex; (4) the harassment affected a “term, condition, or privilege” of employment; and (5) the employer knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to take prompt remedial action. See Eaton-Stephens v. Grapevine Colleyville Indep. Sch. Dist., 2017 WL 5325807, at *4 (5th Cir. Nov. 13, 2017); Woods v. Delta Beverage Grp., Inc., 274 F.3d 295, 298 (5th Cir. 2001).

         Title VII provides that it is unlawful for an employer “to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). The Fifth Circuit has concluded that “Title VII in plain terms does not cover ‘sexual orientation.'” Brandon v. Sage Corp., 808 F.3d 266, 270 n. 2 (5th Cir. 2015); see also, Blum v. Gulf Oil Corp., 597 F.2d 936, 938 (5th Cir. 1979) (“Discharge for homosexuality is not prohibited by Title VII or Section 1981.”). District courts in the Fifth Circuit that have addressed the issue - including the undersigned - have followed this precedent and have dismissed Title VII claims based on sexual orientation.[1] Further, the majority of the circuit courts have similarly found that sexual orientation is not a protected class under Title VII.[2]

         Stevens argues that the Court should ignore Fifth Circuit precedent and the majority of courts that have addressed this issue and, instead, follow the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission decision on this issue, as well as a recent decision from the Seventh Circuit, both of which found that Title VII's prohibition against sex discrimination encompasses discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.[3] But the Court is not bound by decisions from the EEOC or other circuits, Wade v. Brennan, 647 F. App'x 412, 416 (5th Cir. 2016), but it is bound to apply the holdings of the Fifth Circuit. As noted, that court has conclusively stated that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation ...


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