243 F.3d 687 (2nd Cir. 2001), 00-7077, Gregory v Daly

Docket Nº:Docket No. 00-7077
Citation:243 F.3d 687
Party Name:THERESA GREGORY, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. EDWARD J. DALY, individually and in his capacity as Executive Director of Community Action Agency of Greene County, Inc. and COMMUNITY ACTION AGENCY OF GREENE COUNTY, INC., Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:March 27, 2001
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
 
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243 F.3d 687 (2nd Cir. 2001)

THERESA GREGORY, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

EDWARD J. DALY, individually and in his capacity as Executive Director of Community Action Agency of Greene County, Inc. and COMMUNITY ACTION AGENCY OF GREENE COUNTY, INC., Defendants-Appellees.

Docket No. 00-7077

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

March 27, 2001

Argued: August 9, 2000

Appeal from the judgment of the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York (Lawrence E. Kahn, Judge) dismissing, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, plaintiff's claims of sex discrimination and retaliation by her employer.

AFFIRMED in part, VACATED and REMANDED in part.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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KEVIN G. MARTIN, Kernan and Kernan, P.C., Utica, NY, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

JAMES T. TOWNE, JR., Thorn Gershon Towne Tymann and Bonanni, LLP, for Defendants-Appellees.

Before: CALABRESI, CABRANES, and POOLER, Circuit Judges.

CALABRESI, Circuit Judge:

Plaintiff-appellant Theresa Gregory brought suit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York (Lawrence E. Kahn, Judge) alleging that her former employer, defendant-appellee Community Action Agency of Greene County, Inc. ("CAAGC"), and her former CAAGC supervisor, defendant-appellee Edward J. Daly, discriminated against her based on her sex and, when she objected, retaliated against her, all in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Gregory claims that Daly subjected her to a barrage of sexual ridicule, advances, and intimidation, intensified his harassment in response to her complaints, stripped her of work responsibilities, otherwise undermined her ability to do her job, deprived her of salary increases, and ultimately fired her. The district court, however, granted defendants' Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Because the district court erroneously analyzed some of plaintiff's claims, and overlooked others, we vacate the judgment of the district court insofar as it dismissed plaintiff's claims against CAAGC, and remand for further proceedings. We affirm the district court's decision insofar as it dismissed plaintiff's claims against Daly.1

Background

In her complaint, as well as in her charge of discrimination before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") (which she expressly incorporated into the complaint by reference), Gregory made the following allegations, which we take as true for the present purposes.

Gregory began working for CAAGC in 1988, and, after several promotions, she was, at the time of the relevant events, Education Coordinator in CAAGC's Head Start Department. In September 1996, Daly became CAAGC's Executive Director, and the workplace environment began to deteriorate. Soon after entering his new post, at the meeting in which Gregory was first introduced to him, Daly made "demeaning comments about women." Later, Daly made further "demeaning comments of a sexual nature," engaged in "behavioral displays of a sexual nature,

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and made unwelcome physical contact...of a sexual nature" with Gregory. In particular, Daly asked Gregory if she knew what a "sexual perpetrator" was, explained "in graphic detail[]" how a rape may occur, told her "how easy it is to rape a woman," and "described sodomy and anal intercourse relating to boys in detail." Gregory further alleges that Daly repeatedly came into her office, closed the door, and stood uncomfortably close to her, despite her requests that he move away.

In response to these actions, Gregory complained both to her immediate supervisor and to Daly directly. The supervisor, however, was herself terminated after making similar complaints about Daly, and Daly's reply to Gregory's complaints was that she should "get on board or quit." Gregory's new supervisor, acting on Daly's instructions, imposed novel restrictions on her work activities, including the requirement that she, unlike other employees, provide a "minute by minute" record of her movements.

In April 1997, Gregory, along with other CAAGC employees, filed a lawsuit in state court concerning Daly's behavior,2 and Gregory continued to file internal grievances concerning him. Despite Gregory's complaints, her employer did nothing to stop Daly's actions. In the meantime, Daly's conduct worsened. He made hostile comments concerning the lawsuit Gregory had filed, started to threaten her job, and subjected her to baseless disciplinary actions. According to Gregory, her ability to do her job began to be compromised by Daly's harassment, as he took steps to undermine her supervisory authority, withheld information necessary to her work, and prevented her participation in important training sessions that other staff members attended. Throughout, Daly belittled Gregory, yelled at her, called her stupid, and made vulgar, sexually explicit comments to her.

In addition to this harassment, Daly withheld from Gregory raises that other staff members received. Ultimately, in February 1998, Gregory was fired. Daly explained to her that she was unqualified for her position, an accusation Gregory denies.

Gregory filed a charge of discrimination (alleging sex discrimination and retaliation) with the EEOC in July 1998. After a right-to-sue letter was issued by the EEOC, this action was timely brought. In due course, defendants moved to dismiss under Rules 12(b)(1) and (6), arguing that plaintiff had failed to state a Title VII3 claim and that the district court should not entertain this lawsuit while the earlier-filed litigation was still pending in state court.

The district court granted defendants' motion under Rule 12(b)(6). See Gregory v. Daly, 78 F. Supp.2d 48 (N.D.N.Y. 1999). In a brief opinion, the court characterized the complaint as containing nothing more than accusations of "'demeaning' comments,'" id. at 49, and as failing to address the factors that, under Harris v. Forklift Systems, 510 U.S. 17 (1993), bear upon whether harassment is sufficiently severe or pervasive to be actionable. The court specifically noted that Daly's comments concerning sexual abuse of children might have been innocuous because they were relevant in the professional context of Gregory's and Daly's roles as caregivers. See 78 F. Supp.2d at 49. And with respect to the claimed denial of pay increases and termination,

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the district court concluded simply that the "get on board or quit" statement "will not support a Title VII claim despite [plaintiff's] characterization of it as a 'quid pro quo' demand." Id. The court's decision did not address either whether, aside from the "quid pro quo" theory, sex discrimination was the cause of her withheld pay raises and her ultimate termination, or whether any of the harms she allegedly suffered at CAAGC were in retaliation for her workplace complaints or for the state court lawsuit she had brought.

Discussion

We address, in turn, Gregory's allegations that she was (1) subjected to a hostile work environment because of her sex, (2) denied salary increases and then terminated on account of her sex, and (3) retaliated against for challenging what she believed to be discriminatory treatment. For reasons explained below, we treat the facts underlying Gregory's "quid pro quo" allegation in the context of each of these three claims, while rejecting that allegation's viability as a separate cause of action.

The district court's decision was made on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. We review that decision de novo and will affirm only if "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of [her] claim[s] which would entitle [her] to relief." Tarshis v. Riese Org., 211 F.3d 30, 35 (2d Cir. 2000) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). In making this assessment, we "must accept as true all of the factual allegations set out in plaintiff's complaint, draw inferences from those allegations in the light most favorable to plaintiff, and construe the complaint liberally." Id. Particularly important in this case is the well-established principle, apparently overlooked by the court below, that we include in this analysis not only the assertions made within the four corners of the complaint itself, but also those contained in documents attached to the pleadings or in documents incorporated by reference. See Austin v. Ford Models, Inc., 149 F.3d 148, 152 (2d Cir. 1998); Cortec Indus., Inc. v. Sum Holding L.P., 949 F.2d 42, 47 (2d Cir. 1991). Accordingly, we treat Gregory's allegations in the affidavit she submitted to the EEOC as an integral part of her pleadings.

Applying these standards, and mindful of the care exercised in this Circuit to avoid hastily dismissing complaints of civil rights violations, seeTarshis, 211 F.3d at 35; Gant v. Wallingford Bd. of Educ., 69 F.3d 669, 673 (2d Cir. 1995), we find that Gregory adequately pleaded each of the three claims set forth above.

I. Hostile Work Environment

Title VII prohibits employers from "discriminat[ing] against any individual with respect to [her] compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's... sex." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). The phrase "terms, conditions, or privileges of employment" is broad enough to encompass, and render actionable, an employer's requirement that an employee "work in a discriminatorily hostile or abusive environment," so long as the discriminatory conduct at issue is "severe or pervasive enough to create an objectively hostile or abusive work environment." Harris, 510 U.S. at 21. And this is so notwithstanding the fact that the employer takes no "tangible employment action... [that] itself constitutes a change in the terms and conditions of employment" by formally altering a worker's employment status. Burlington Indus., Inc. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742, 753-54...

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