Cornish v. Dist. of Columbia

CourtUnited States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
Citation67 F.Supp.3d 345
Decision Date16 September 2014
Docket NumberCivil Action No.: 13–1140RC
PartiesLeslie M. Cornish, Plaintiff, v. District of Columbia, Defendant.

67 F.Supp.3d 345

Leslie M. Cornish, Plaintiff
District of Columbia, Defendant.

Civil Action No.: 13–1140RC

United States District Court, District of Columbia.

Signed September 16, 2014

67 F.Supp.3d 348

James Joseph Pizzirusso, Hausfeld LLP, Stephen B. Pershing, Washington, DC, for Plaintiff.

Patricia B. Donkor, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Shana Lyn Frost, Office of the Attorney General for D.C., Washington, DC, for Defendant.

Re Document No.: 11


RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, United States District Judge

Granting in Part and Denying In Part Defendant's Motion to Dismiss and for Summary Judgment


Plaintiff Leslie M. Cornish (“Cornish”), an employee at the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (the “Superior Court”), brought this action against the District of Columbia (the “District”) alleging violations of numerous statutes, including Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Rehabilitation Act”), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (“Equal Pay Act”), and the D.C. Human Rights Act (“DCHRA”). In addition, Cornish asserts common law claims for breach of contract, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and negligent supervision. The District has moved to dismiss many, but not all, of Cornish's causes of action under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim, as well as for summary judgment on the Title VII claims based on failure to exhaust administrative remedies and on various other claims for unliquidated damages based on failure to comply with D.C. Code § 12–309. Upon consideration of the District's motion, and the memoranda in support thereof and opposition thereto, the Court will grant in part and deny in part the motion.


A. Factual Allegations

Cornish is an African–American woman employed at the Superior Court since August 2008. See 2d Amend. Compl., ECF No. 8, at ¶¶ 4, 6. She began working as a program specialist in the Superior Court's Paternity and Child Support Branch (“P & S Branch”) at a pay grade of JS–11, and in April 2011 she was reassigned to the Superior Court's Budget and Finance Division, which is the position she currently holds. See id. ¶ 6. Sherry Coppet (“Coppet”) and Delores Henderson (“Henderson”), both of whom are African–American, were employees in the P & S Branch during Cornish's tenure with the department. See id. ¶ 7. Coppet was the P & S Branch chief during the relevant period, and from August 2008 to March 2011 she served as Cornish's immediate supervisor. See id. ¶¶ 7–8. During that same period, Henderson served as an Intake/Calendar Section supervisor, a position subordinate in rank to that of Cornish. See id. ¶ 8. In March 2011, Henderson was promoted to P & S Branch supervisor, making her Cornish's immediate supervisor. See id. ¶ 9.

1. Allegations of Harassment and Discrimination in the P & S Branch

Cornish alleges that she suffered “innumerable acts of often shocking hostility

67 F.Supp.3d 349

and degrading treatment” while working in the P & S Branch. See id. ¶ 10. In particular, Cornish alleges that the hostility began during her initial interview for a position in the P & S Branch, when a clerk at the front desk told her that she “wasn't going to make it” in the department because she was “too pretty” and dressed too nicely for Coppet's liking. Id. ¶ 11. The clerk's forewarning soon bore itself out through repeated “derogatory comments” from Coppet and Henderson about Cornish's “conventionally feminine appearance and carefully coordinated apparel,” which Cornish alleges were made because the women “resented her deviation from what they considered conforming dress and personal appearance for an African American woman.” Id. ¶ 12. For example, a co-worker once overheard Henderson compliment Cornish on her appearance and then comment behind Cornish's back, “Oh, she thinks she's so cute.” Id. ¶ 13. And sometimes when other people complimented Cornish, Coppet and Henderson would go into what one co-worker called “hater mode,” which was when they ordered co-workers not to give Cornish any compliments. See id.

Coppet and Henderson disparaged Cornish for being from Baltimore, Maryland, by playing on the alleged stereotype held by African–American women from Washington, D.C. about African–American women from Baltimore being prone to crude and violent behavior. See id. ¶ 14. For instance, one time after Cornish wished Coppet a “good morning,” Coppet reacted by “feign[ing] a dramatic, apprehensive reaction,” and saying that she thought Cornish was “going to hit me or something.”Id. On another occasion, Henderson remarked, “We almost forced out the Baltimore in her,” after a meeting in which Henderson and Coppet had “harassed and bullied” Cornish into becoming “flustered and agitated.” Id .

The behavior of Coppet and Henderson allegedly became increasingly more hostile over time, and they frequently insulted, humiliated, and intimidated Cornish in front of co-workers. See id. ¶¶ 15–16. For instance, Henderson called Cornish by her first name rather than using “Mr.” or “Ms.” like she did for other co-workers. See id. ¶ 18. In addition, Henderson, allegedly with Coppet's encouragement, would question or countermand the directions Cornish gave to other employees, and Henderson would order Cornish to complete certain assignments even though her position and pay grade were below Cornish's. See id. ¶ 20. Together, Henderson and Coppet also regularly forced Cornish to perform tasks below her pay grade, such as administrative and clerical duties, while they “giggl[ed]” and “snicker[ed]” when Cornish was instructed on these tasks by lower-ranked employees. See id. ¶ 21. On other occasions, the two women forced Cornish to stay beyond the time she was supposed to leave by giving assignments with arbitrary deadlines, often for that same night or the next morning. See id. ¶ 22.

The events around Thanksgiving 2010 provide an example of what Cornish allegedly endured at work. On Wednesday, November 24, 2010, the day before Thanksgiving and hours after Cornish's co-workers had left under a grant of early dismissal, Cornish was forced to continue working to finish a project Coppet had assigned to her late that afternoon. See id. ¶ 24. While Cornish worked, Coppet walked by and said “good night” before turning off the office lights. See id. Later that night, a co-worker found Cornish sitting at her darkened workstation “extremely shaken and in severe distress.” Id . In the early hours of the next morning, Cornish awoke at home to discover that she had suffered a stroke while sleeping.

67 F.Supp.3d 350

See id. ¶ 25. The stroke left Cornish partially paralyzed, able to take steps only to the left, and with limited speech abilities. See id. Cornish alleges that “the extreme stress and constant psychic shocks and insults of her mistreatment at work directly or indirectly precipitated her stroke.” Id. In the months after the stroke, Cornish walked with a limp that sometimes required her to use a cane, had difficulty walking up and down stairs, had limpness in her hands, had slurred speech, and suffered bouts of dizziness and fatigue. See id. ¶ 27.

Cornish returned following the stroke in January 2011 as a part-time employee in the P & S Branch, and then as a full-time employee in February 2011. See id . ¶ 26. On her first day back, Cornish found her workstation and desk piled high with so much uncompleted work that she could barely sit. See id. ¶ 29. A Superior Court employee eventually had to ask co-workers to remove some of the piles from Cornish's desk because she could not physically manage the heavy lifting required to clear the workspace. See id. ¶ 30. On her second day of work, Henderson remarked to co-workers within earshot of Cornish, “Look at the way she's limping,” and Henderson later asked Cornish, “Why [do] you walk like that?” Id. ¶ 31. Co-workers also observed Coppet and Henderson laughing at Cornish and mimicking how she struggled to walk after the stroke. See id. At other times, Coppet ordered Cornish to perform routine errands on foot despite her physical disabilities.See id. ¶ 33. Cornish alleges that in addition to demeaning her, these errands were imposed to prevent her from leaving work for medical appointments, and on some days Cornish's co-workers carried her personal belongings to meet her elsewhere in the courthouse so as to spare her the struggle of walking back to the office before leaving. Id. ¶ 34.

In early 2011, a supervisory position in the P & S Branch became open, but Cornish was passed over in favor of Henderson, despite Cornish being more senior in rank and scoring higher on the required diagnostic tests. See id. ¶ 35. Coppet was on the three-person selection panel for this position, and she gave Cornish a “much lower overall score” than did the other two panel members, though Cornish still emerged with the highest total score. See id. ¶ 36. When challenged about her biased opinion of Cornish during...

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