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Vice v. Oklahoma Department of Human Services

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

September 22, 2017

JAMIE VICE, Plaintiff,
v.
OKLAHOMA DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN E. DOWDELL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. Plaintiff's Allegations

         In her Second Amended Petition (Doc. 2-8), which was filed in state court prior to the removal of this action, plaintiff asserts several employment-related claims against the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS). DHS moves to dismiss (Doc. 8). The facts set forth herein are alleged in the plaintiff's Second Amended Petition and are taken as true for purposes of this order.

         Plaintiff was first employed as a temporary worker with DHS from 2005 to August 2010. During that time, she was the target of sexually harassing and abusive comments from a male coworker, Abe Helfenstine. According to plaintiff, Helfenstine was known throughout the DHS office for making “sexually charged comments” to female customers and coworkers. Plaintiff complained to DHS supervisors about Helfenstine's behavior.

         Plaintiff was again employed by DHS beginning in April 2014, when she commenced working as a temporary administrative assistant in the DHS's Delaware County Child Support Office in Jay, Oklahoma. “Within hours of this period of employment, Helfenstine renewed/continued his sexual harassment and crude sexual statements towards the plaintiff.” Helfenstine told plaintiff that he was happy to have something to “look at, ” he made vulgar comments about plaintiff's appearance and dress, and referred to her as a “MILF.” Plaintiff's coworkers overheard those comments. In October 2014, while plaintiff was outdoors on a break, Helfenstine yelled from his state vehicle “Hey, how much?” Plaintiff informed DHS Staff Attorney Susa Hopper about the event, as no supervisory-level employee was present. Hopper informed plaintiff that she confronted Helfenstine about his conduct, which he denied.

         Helfenstine engaged in numerous other instances of demeaning conduct toward the plaintiff. For example, he crudely gestured to his genital area while discussing being shaved for a medical procedure, he sang “major tongue to birth control” lyrics, shouted “shake it, shake it” while plaintiff walked by, and he loudly commented about another DHS employee's penis size. Plaintiff informed a DHS supervisor, Jammie Sartin, about Helfenstine yelling at the plaintiff from his vehicle, and Sartin reported that incident to DHS managing attorney Martha Sue Thompson. Plaintiff also directly reported to Thompson that Helfenstine was having inappropriate, sexually-charged conversations with a DHS client, and Thompson responded that “at least [Helfenstine] is leaving us alone.” Thompson did not address plaintiff's complaints.

         Plaintiff applied for a full-time position with DHS as Child Support Specialist in the Jay office in December 2014, and she was qualified for that position. Plaintiff was selected by a three-person panel of DHS employees. After the selection, Thompson held a meeting and demanded that the panel members justify their selection. Thompson later informed the plaintiff that she would not be hired for the position. Thompson gave the position to a far less qualified and inexperienced applicant. Plaintiff alleges that Thompson's actions were in retaliation for plaintiff's reports of abuse and harassment by Helfenstine.

         After she was denied the full-time position, another supervisor, Lori Lovell, appointed the plaintiff as “Office Ambassador.” Thompson disapproved of the appointment of plaintiff and later rescinded the appointment. Over the course of plaintiff's employment at DHS, she has been repeatedly subjected to abuse, harassment, and taunts by Helfenstine, while supervisors such as Thompson have provided no relief. According to plaintiff, Thompson has a documented history of completely ignoring the needs of DHS employees. Plaintiff spoke publicly about the DHS's refusal to protect her from Helfenstine's abuse, Thompson's misuse of power, and raising matters of public concern.

         Based on the foregoing factual allegations, plaintiff asserts five claims against the DHS: (1) violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and hostile work environment; (2) retaliation in violation of Title VII; (3) negligence in hiring, training, and supervising employees; (4) violation of the Oklahoma AntiDiscrimination Act (OADA) by gender discrimination, harassment, and retaliation; and (5) violation of plaintiff's speech rights under the Oklahoma Constitution. The DHS moves to dismiss those claims. (Doc. 8).[1]

         II. Dismissal Standards

         In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court must determine whether plaintiff has stated a claim upon which relief may be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A complaint must provide “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). The standard requires “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, ” and the factual allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. at 555-56, 570 (citations omitted). Twombly articulated the pleading standard for all civil actions. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 684 (2009). The Court must accept all the well-pleaded factual allegations of the complaint as true, even if doubtful, and must construe the allegations in the light most favorable to claimant. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         The dismissal standard does “not require heightened fact pleading of specifics, but only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, ” and the factual allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. at 555-56, 570 (citations omitted). “Asking for plausible grounds . . . does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage; it simply calls for enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence [supporting the claim]. And, of course, a well-pleaded [pleading] may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable, and ‘that a recovery is very remote and unlikely.'” Id. at 556. “Once a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint.” Id. at 563.

         III. Discussion

         A. Title VII: ...


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