The University of Richmond on Monday filed to dismiss former associate dean of Arts and Sciences Della Dumbaugh’s amended hostile work environment complaint on the grounds that it fails to provide evidence in support of her claim. 

In January 2019, Dumbaugh filed a federal complaint against UR that named Arts and Sciences Dean Patrice Rankine, claiming he discriminated against Dumbaugh based on her female sex and effectively fired her from her position in the dean’s office during fall 2017.

UR filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, and in September 2019, a Richmond court granted the motion -- dismissing one of the two claims with prejudice -- but gave Dumbaugh the chance to amend her complaint

Dumbaugh submitted the amended complaint Oct. 8, and UR has filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint with prejudice, which if granted would prevent Dumbaugh from filing a future case on the same grounds.

Cynthia Price, university director of media and public relations, provided a statement on behalf of UR. 

“The University has filed a motion to dismiss the complaint,” Price wrote. “Our reasons are contained in the motion. The facts alleged in the complaint are assumed, for purposes of the motion only, to be true. The University strongly disputes the allegations in this lawsuit.”

Click to view UR's motion filed in response to Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences Della Dumbaugh’s amended hostile work environment complaint. 

If this motion to dismiss is granted, both claims in Dumbaugh’s lawsuit will have been dismissed with prejudice.

UR’s motion states that Dumbaugh’s complaint should be dismissed according to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), or failure to state a claim upon which any relief can be granted. 

Dumbaugh has not pleaded facts sufficient to establish that Rankine’s alleged conduct towards her resulted because of her gender and was severe and pervasive enough to change her employment conditions, the motion stated. As a result, the complaint does not meet the standard for a hostile work environment claim.

The motion claimed that Dumbaugh’s “non-conclusory factual allegations” only established Rankine objecting to alleged criticism she shared with him, telling her -- his subordinate -- that she was not in charge of a meeting he was running, questioning her about making plans without checking with him first, criticizing her handling of a project involving department chairs, objecting to conversing with her in a hallway and telling her that saying her statement may possibly anger him was not helpful. 

Other events that the motion claims were established by Dumbaugh’s allegations were that Rankine objected to her calling him “‘disingenuous’” in front of his staff, reappointed her as associate dean and announced her return to the mathematics department without “elaborating on her tenure” as associate dean.

Dumbaugh’s accusations, as stated in the background of the motion, provide more detail about these alleged events.

Dumbaugh has alleged that Rankine’s conduct created a hostile work environment. One allegation is that Rankine objected to criticism from faculty that Dumbaugh shared with him by saying that it came from low self-esteem. Dumbaugh’s complaint also alleges that Rankine told her not to panic when she raised an issue with him and had shouted at her that she was not in charge of a meeting.

Dumbaugh alleged in her complaint that Rankine assigned her responsibility for the new faculty orientation but criticized her for making plans without checking with him, and also criticized her handling of first-year registration. 

And, when Dumbaugh returned to her position in the mathematics department, Rankine did not acknowledge her contribution to the School of Arts and Sciences or express appreciation for Dumbaugh’s work, the complaint alleged. 

“None of these statements reference, comment on, or are linked to Plaintiff’s gender in any way. And, they amount to nothing more than ‘the ordinary tribulations of the workplace,’” according to UR’s motion.

The motion also states, “[w]hile it is clear that Plaintiff laments the Dean’s sporadic questioning of her actions and occasional admonishments, despite his status as her supervisor, she has offered nothing more than rampant speculation as to the intent behind those statements. Moreover, while Plaintiff considered the alleged comments to be disrespectful, no reasonable person would find them hostile or abusive.”

Contact news and content editor Katherine Schulte at katherine.schulte@richmond.edu.