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Additional Claim of Sexual Harassment Not Included in EEOC Charging Document Cannot Be Pursued in Civil Action

Renee L. Cuffee v. Verizon Communications, Inc.
No. 10-01748-AW, (D. Md. 2010)

By Eric M. Leppo, Associate
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (

In this recent opinion authored by Judge Alexander Williams, Jr., of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, the Court denied Plaintiff’s motion seeking to amend her Complaint to add additional counts based on alleged sexual harassment on the basis that amendment of the Complaint would be futile.

The Plaintiff, Renee Cuffee, was a female consultant for Defendant, Verizon Communications, Inc. Hired in 1997, she obtained several promotions, and by 2007, was Supervisor of Operations for the Virginia/West Virginia region, and lead sales consultant on Verizon’s Sell One More campaign. The Plaintiff’s proposed Amended Complaint alleged that she was sexually harassed by Verizon on separate bases. During her employment with Verizon, she was involved in a romantic relationship with a Verizon executive, Charles Casteel. In September 2008, she learned that she was pregnant with Mr. Casteel’s child, and he allegedly tried to convince her to procure an abortion. Plaintiff alleges that a security officer, Tillmon Figgs, called the Plaintiff to his office and threatened to have her fired if she attempted to contact Mr. Casteel further.

Additionally, she alleged—for the first time—that from April 2008 to September 2008, she was subjected to sexual advances from Tyrone Stephenson, the highest level executive in the region where Plaintiff worked. The Plaintiff reported these unwanted advances to Mr. Figgs as the security investigator, and approximately two months later she was removed from her position as the lead sales consultant on the Sell One More campaign.

Prior to bringing a Title VII sexual harassment lawsuit, a plaintiff must file an administrative charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). Plaintiff did file a charge letter with the EEOC which indicated discrimination based upon sex, and detailed allegations regarding Mr. Casteel. The letter, like her original Complaint, includes no allegation about sexual harassment from Mr. Stephenson.

The Court noted that ordinarily leave is freely given to amend complaints, however, one of the exceptions is when amending the complaint would be futile. That is, the proposed amendments could not withstand a motion to dismiss. Perkins v. United States, 55 F.3d 910, 917 (4th Cir. 1995). The Plaintiff attempted to amend her Complaint to allege three additional causes of action: a hostile environment sexual harassment claim under Title VII; a retaliation claim based on Title VII; and a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Court found that each claim would be futile and, therefore, Plaintiff was not entitled to amend her Complaint.

The Court determined that the Plaintiff’s hostile environment claim was based on the alleged sexual advances of Stephenson. Therefore, the failure to exhaust her administrative remedies was fatal. The Court cited Evans v. Tech Applications and Services Company, 80 F.3d 954, 963 (4th Cir. 1966) for the proposition that the complaint may only raise “claims stated in the initial charge, those reasonably related to that original complaint, and those developed by reasonable investigation of the original complaint.” The Court found that the sexual harassment claims against Stephenson were too far removed from the charges in the Plaintiff’s letter to the EEOC regarding the specific actions of Mr. Casteel as they related to the Plaintiff’s pregnancy.

Similarly, Plaintiff was unable to amend her Complaint to include a retaliation claim as her charge letter did not allege retaliation. She did not even check a box provided for indicating that discrimination was based on retaliation. Thus, the Court found that the Plaintiff had not exhausted her administrative remedies with regard to a claim of retaliation.

Finally, the Court found that Plaintiff’s intentional infliction of emotional distress claim would also be futile. A claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress requires conduct that must be extreme and outrageous. To be conduct that is extreme and outrageous, it must go beyond all bounds of decency, be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in civilized community. Childers v. Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Company, 881 F.2d 1259, 1266 (4th Cir. 1989). The Court noted the allegations in this case are, “sadly, fairly typical in workplace harassment situations. They do not rise to the level of outrageousness required to make out an [Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress] claim.” Cuffee at *11.