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Pro Se Plaintiff Survives Motion to Dismiss

Published by on November 29, 2010

The Eastern District of Virginia denied an employer’s motion to dismiss a former employee’s retaliation claims under Title VII, the ADEA, and section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1886.  The court granted the employer’s motion to strike the plaintiff’s request for attorneys’ fees as she was not represented by counsel.  A copy of […]

The Eastern District of Virginia denied an employer’s motion to dismiss a former employee’s retaliation claims under Title VII, the ADEA, and section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1886.  The court granted the employer’s motion to strike the plaintiff’s request for attorneys’ fees as she was not represented by counsel.  A copy of the opinion can be found here.  More after the break.

The plaintiff, Kathryn Harman, was employed by Unisys Corporation as a contracts manager from 2005 to 2008.  Harman received positive performance reviews up until 2006, when her current supervisor resigned and was replaced by her new supervisor.  Harman alleged that her new supervisor discriminated against her by giving deference to younger employees and specifically to African American male employees.  Harman approached a member of Unisys’s Human Resources department about her discrimination allegations.  Harman alleged that her supervisor was aware of the complaints she made to Human Resources, and retaliated against her for complaining by denying Harman a raise; reassigning her job duties to a less experienced African American male employee; and not permitting Harman to work from home.  Harman alleged that the retaliation continued after she filed her first EEOC charge alleging age, race, and sex discrimination.  Harman then filed her second EEOC charge alleging retaliation.

After a few proceedings at the district court level, Harman filed an amended complaint alleging Title VII retaliation; ADEA retaliation; and retaliation in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981.  Unisys filed a motion to dismiss all three counts.  With respect to the Title VII and ADEA retaliation claims, Unisys argued that the claims should be dismissed to the extent they rely on alleged retaliatory acts occurring before the filing of the first EEOC charge.  The court disagreed, finding that the allegations were reasonably related to the retaliation allegations in the second charge and would have been revealed during a reasonable administrative investigation.  The court stated that “only claims that are wholly unrelated to a plaintiff’s administrative charge are barred in a subsequent civil action.”  The court further stated that Unisys had sufficient notice of the claims based on the EEOC charges and Harman’s internal complaints. 

The court also denied Unisys’s motion to dismiss the section 1981 claim because it found that Harman had sufficiently pled a protected activity.  Unisys argued that the complaint contained “vague reference, without any details as to the method, time, or person” with respect to Harman’s complaint that she was denied the right to make, enforce, or enjoy the benefits of a contract on account of her race.  The court disagreed, finding that Harman specifically alleged that she complained to a Human Resources employee about racial discrimination by her supervisor.  The court also found that Harman had sufficiently alleged a materially adverse employment action with respect to the allegations that her supervisor had denied Harman a raise and discontinued her work from home privileges.

Finally, the court granted the employer’s motion to strike the claim for attorney’s fees, holding that a pro se plaintiff is not entitled to collect fees under the Civil Rights Attorney’s Fee Awards Act.

Contributed by Claudia Guzman

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