Racial Discrimination and Hostile Work Environment Claims in D.C. in in summary judgment

In Akridge v. Gallaudet University, No. 06-0346 (D.D.C. Aug. 3, 2010), Judge Urbina granted summary judgment to defendant Gallaudet University. The plaintiff, a hearing-impaired African-American male employed at the university, had aplied for the position of Career Center Director. Although the plaintiff was among 13 out of 52 applicants who were interviewed by the screening committee, the committee selected a non-disabled, white male for the position. The screening committee had ranked plaintiff the lowest of the 13 interviewed candidates.

Plaintiff filed an EEOC complaint, alleging that defendant had discriminated against him on the basis of his race and disability. Plaintiff also alleged retaliation, because of an internal race discrimination complaint he filed in 1998. The EEOC issued a dismissal and a "right-to-sue" letter.

Plaintiff then filed suit, alleging defendant intentionally discriminated against him on the basis of his race and disability, and retaliated against him in violation of Title VII and the ADA. The allegedly discriminatory actions include delaying plaintiff's employment advancement, failing to award plaintiff the Director position, and condoning retaliatory and hostile behavior directed toward plaintiff after he sought employment advancement.

Defendant moved for summary judgment, on the grounds that plaintiff did not commence his lawsuit in a timely manner, failed to exhaust his administrative remedies with respect to his hostile work environment claim, failed to allege any hostile conduct as a matter of law, and failed to allege any facts in support of his claim of retaliation. The Court granted the university complete summary judgment.

Among other things, the Court's opinion included an interesting discussion of plaintiff's hostile work environment claim. Plaintiff's EEOC charge did not specifically make this claim. The Court acknowledged that the exhaustion of administrative remedies is less stringent for hostile work environment claims, and that a plaintiff may adequately exhaust administrative remedies without specifically alleging a hostile work environment claim in his EEO charge, so long as the hostile work environment claim is like or reasonably related to the allegations in the formal EEOC complaint and grows out of such allegations.

Here, however, the plaintiff did not rely on the one discrete act of discrimination alleged in the EEOC charge -- failure to hire him for the Director position -- in support of his hostile work environment claim. Therefore, plaintiff failed to demonstrate that his hostile work environment claim is "like or reasonably related to" the allegations in his EEOC charge.