Parker v. Reema Consulting Services, Inc., 020819 FED4, 18-1206

Docket Nº:18-1206
Opinion Judge:NIEMEYER, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
Party Name:EVANGELINE J. PARKER, Plaintiff - Appellant, v. REEMA CONSULTING SERVICES, INC., Defendant-Appellee. EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION; NATIONAL WOMEN'S LAW CENTER; A BETTER BALANCE; AMERICAN FEDERATION OF STATE, COUNTY & MUNICIPAL EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO; AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF UNIVERSITY WOMEN; AMERICAN SEXUAL HEALTH ASSOCIATION; BLACK WOME...
Attorney:Dennis A. Corkery, WASHINGTON LAWYERS' COMMITTEE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS AND URBAN AFFAIRS, Washington, D.C., for Appellant. Donald James Walsh, WRIGHT, CONSTABLE & SKEEN, LLP, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellee. Julie Loraine Gantz, UNITED STATES EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Washington, D.C....
Judge Panel:Before NIEMEYER, AGEE, and DIAZ, Circuit Judges. DIAZ, Circuit Judge, concurring in part and dissenting in part
Case Date:February 08, 2019
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
 
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EVANGELINE J. PARKER, Plaintiff - Appellant,

v.

REEMA CONSULTING SERVICES, INC., Defendant-Appellee.

EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION; NATIONAL WOMEN'S LAW CENTER; A BETTER BALANCE; AMERICAN FEDERATION OF STATE, COUNTY & MUNICIPAL EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO; AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF UNIVERSITY WOMEN; AMERICAN SEXUAL HEALTH ASSOCIATION; BLACK WOMEN'S ROUNDTABLE; NATIONAL COALITION ON BLACK CIVIC PARTICIPATION; CALIFORNIA WOMEN LAWYERS; CHAMPION WOMEN; DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA COALITION AGAINST DOMESTIC VIOLENCE; END RAPE ON CAMPUS; EQUAL RIGHTS ADVOCATES; FAMILY VALUES @ WORK; FEMINIST MAJORITY FOUNDATION; GENDER JUSTICE; GIRLS FOR GENDER EQUITY; HADASSAH, THE WOMEN'S ZIONIST ORGANIZATION OF AMERICA, INC.; HARVARD LAW SCHOOL GENDER VIOLENCE PROGRAM; LAWYERS CLUB OF SAN DIEGO; LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS OF THE UNITED STATES; LEGAL AID AT WORK; LEGAL MOMENTUM, THE WOMEN'S LEGAL DEFENSE AND EDUCATION FUND; LEGAL VOICE; MAINE WOMEN'S LOBBY; MEDICAL STUDENTS FOR CHOICE; NATIONAL ASIAN PACIFIC AMERICAN WOMEN'S FORUM; NATIONAL ALLIANCE TO END SEXUAL VIOLENCE; THE NATIONAL CRITTENTON FOUNDATION; NATIONAL EMPLOYMENT LAW PROJECT; NATIONAL EMPLOYMENT LAWYERS ASSOCIATION; NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR WOMEN (NOW) FOUNDATION; NATIONAL PARTNERSHIP FOR WOMEN AND FAMILIES; NATIONAL WOMEN'S POLITICAL CAUCUS; OKLAHOMA COALITION FOR REPRODUCTIVE JUSTICE; PEOPLE FOR AMERICAN WAY FOUNDATION; SERVICE EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION; SISTERREACH; SOUTHWEST WOMEN'S LAW CENTER; STOP SEXUAL ASSAULT IN SCHOOLS; THE NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE; WOMEN'S LAW CENTER OF MARYLAND, INCORPORATED; WOMEN EMPLOYED; WOMEN'S BAR ASSOCIATION OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA; WOMEN'S BAR ASSOCIATION OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK; WOMEN'S LAW PROJECT, Amici Supporting Appellant.

No. 18-1206

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

February 8, 2019

Argued: October 31, 2018

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, at Greenbelt. Roger W. Titus, Senior District Judge. (8:17-cv-01648-RWT)

ARGUED:

Dennis A. Corkery, WASHINGTON LAWYERS' COMMITTEE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS AND URBAN AFFAIRS, Washington, D.C., for Appellant.

Donald James Walsh, WRIGHT, CONSTABLE & SKEEN, LLP, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellee.

Julie Loraine Gantz, UNITED STATES EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Washington, D.C., for Amicus United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

ON BRIEF:

Andrew R. Kopsidas, Daniel Tishman, Min Suk Huh, FISH & RICHARDSON, P.C., Washington, D.C.; Tiffany Yang, WASHINGTON LAWYERS' COMMITTEE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS & URBAN AFFAIRS, Washington, D.C., for Appellant.

Gregory P. Currey, WRIGHT, CONSTABLE & SKEEN, LLP, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellee.

James L. Lee, Deputy General Counsel, Jennifer S. Goldstein, Associate General Counsel, Anne Noel Occhialino, Acting Assistant General Counsel, Office of General Counsel, UNITED STATES EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Washington, D.C., for Amicus United States Equal Opportunity Commission.

Kathleen R. Hartnett, Ann O'Leary, Palo Alto, California, Melissa Shube, Brent Nakamura, BOIES, SCHILLER, FLEXNER, LLP, Washington, D.C.; Fatima Goss Graves, Emily Martin, Sunu Chandy, Sarah David Heydemann, NATIONAL WOMEN'S LAW CENTER, Washington, D.C., for Amici National Women's Law Center, et al.

Before NIEMEYER, AGEE, and DIAZ, Circuit Judges.

NIEMEYER, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

In this appeal, the central question presented is whether a false rumor that a female employee slept with her male boss to obtain promotion can ever give rise to her employer's liability under Title VII for discrimination "because of sex." We conclude that the allegations of the employee's complaint in this case, where the employer is charged with participating in the circulation of the rumor and acting on it by sanctioning the employee, do implicate such liability. Therefore, we reverse the district court's order dismissing Count I of the complaint, which makes a claim on that basis, as well as Count II, which alleges retaliation for complaining about such a workplace condition. We affirm, however, the court's dismissal of Count III because the employee failed to exhaust that claim before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

I

The facts before us are those alleged in the complaint. And, in the present procedural posture where the district court granted the defendant's motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), we accept those facts as true. See E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 440 (4th Cir. 2011). They show the following.

From December 2014 until May 2016, Evangeline Parker worked for Reema Consulting Services, Inc., ("RCSI") at its warehouse facility in Sterling, Virginia. While she began as a low-level clerk, she was promoted six times, ultimately rising to Assistant Operations Manager of the Sterling facility in March 2016.

About two weeks after Parker assumed that position, she learned that "certain male employees were circulating within RCSI" "an unfounded, sexually-explicit rumor about her" that "falsely and maliciously portrayed her as having [had] a sexual relationship" with a higher-ranking manager, Demarcus Pickett, in order to obtain her management position. The rumor originated with Donte Jennings, another RCSI employee, who began working at RCSI at the same time as Parker and in the same position. Because of her promotions, however, Parker soon became Jennings' superior, making him jealous of and ultimately hostile to her achievement.

The highest-ranking manager at the warehouse facility, Larry Moppins, participated in spreading the rumor. In a conversation with Pickett, Moppins asked, "hey, you sure your wife ain't divorcing you because you're f--king [Parker]?" As the rumor spread, Parker "was treated with open resentment and disrespect" from many coworkers, including employees she was responsible for supervising. As she alleged, her "work environment became increasingly hostile."

In late April 2016, Moppins called a mandatory all-staff meeting. When Parker and Pickett arrived a few minutes late, Moppins let Pickett enter the room but "slammed the door in Ms. Parker's face and locked her out." This humiliated Parker in front of all her coworkers. Parker learned the next day that the false rumor was discussed at the meeting.

The following day, Parker arranged a meeting with Moppins to discuss the rumor, and at that meeting Moppins blamed Parker for "bringing the situation to the workplace." He stated that he had "great things" planned for Parker at RCSI but that "he could no longer recommend her for promotions or higher-level tasks because of the rumor." He added that he "would not allow her to advance any further within the company."

Several days later, Parker and Moppins met again to discuss the rumor. Moppins again blamed Parker and said that he should have terminated her when she began "huffing and puffing about this BS rumor." During the meeting, Moppins "lost his temper and began screaming" at Parker.

Later that same day, Parker filed a sexual harassment complaint against Moppins and Jennings with RCSI's Human Resources Manager.

Several weeks later, in mid-May, Jennings submitted a complaint to the Human Resources Manager, alleging that Parker "was creating a hostile work environment against him through inappropriate conduct," and Parker was then instructed, based on Jennings' complaint, to have no contact with Jennings. While she asserts that Jennings' complaint was false, she followed the instruction. Supervisors, however, permitted Jennings to spend time in Parker's work area talking to and distracting employees she managed. On these occasions, Jennings stared at Parker at length and smirked and laughed at her. Parker raised this situation with her supervisor and the Human Resources Manager, but neither addressed it, allegedly exacerbating Parker's experience of a hostile work environment.

On May...

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