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Young v. Colorado Department of Corrections.

No. 23-1063. 3/11/2024. D.Colo. Judge Tymkovich. Mandatory Employee Training—Hostile Work Environment—Equal Protection— Title VII of the Civil Rights Act—Leave to Amend Complaint—Plausible Allegations.

March 11, 2024

Young was employed by the Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC), which implemented a mandatory employee equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) training with materials from the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment. Young complained through the DOC’s formal complaint process that the EDI training was racially discriminatory and its teachings were abusive. The DOC informed Young that his complaint would not be investigated, and Young resigned from his employment. Young then sued DOC and the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (defendants). He subsequently amended his complaint to allege claims for (1) a hostile work environment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and (2) equal protection under 42 USC § 1983. Young asserted that the EDI training program violated Title VII by creating a hostile work environment and violated the Equal Protection Clause by promoting race-based policies. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint. In his response to the motion to dismiss, Young did not request leave to amend his complaint or separately move to amend. The district court dismissed without prejudice the Title VII claim for failure to state a claim because Young failed to sufficiently plead that the alleged harassment was severe or pervasive, and it dismissed the equal protection claim for lack of standing because Young was no longer a DOC employee. The court cited Young’s failure to request leave to amend in declining to sua sponte grant Young leave to amend his claims.

On appeal, Young argued that the district court erred in dismissing his Title VII complaint because he sufficiently pleaded that he was subjected to harassment and he plausibly alleged that the harassment was severe or pervasive to the extent that it changed his employment conditions and created an abusive working environment. Race-based training programs can create hostile workplaces when such programs combine official policy with ongoing stereotyping and explicit or implicit expectations of discriminatory treatment. The training materials and resulting workplace policies must be so severe or pervasive that they both objectively and subjectively alter employment terms and create an abusive working environment. Here, Young plausibly alleged the first and third elements of a hostile work environment claim: membership in a protected class and harassment due to race. But while Young’s complaint highlighted materials from the EDI training that he found strongly objectionable and alleged that the EDI training could promote racial discrimination and stereotypes within the workplace, Young did not allege that the training occurred more than once or that race-based harassing conduct from his coworkers or his supervisors occurred as a result of the training. Therefore, Young failed to allege the second and fourth elements of a hostile work environment claim: that he was subjected to unwelcome harassment that was so severe or pervasive that it altered the terms or conditions of his employment to create an abusive work environment. Accordingly, the district court did not err in dismissing the Title VII complaint.

Young also argued that the district court erred by dismissing his equal protection claim for lack of standing. However, Young resigned from DOC employment before bringing his lawsuit, did not plead constructive discharge, and has not requested reinstatement as part of his equal protection claim. Therefore, Young did not plead an ongoing injury that a favorable judgment will redress and thus failed to establish Article III standing to pursue his equal protection claim.

Lastly, Young contended that the district court erred by not sua sponte granting him leave to amend his complaint. Absent a request to amend, a district court may dismiss the action rather than sua sponte granting leave to amend. Accordingly, the district court’s choice not to sua sponte grant leave to amend was not an abuse of discretion.

The dismissal of Young’s claims and the denial of leave to amend were affirmed.

Official US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit proceedings can be found at the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit website.

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