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Musgrove v. Government of the District of Columbia

March 16, 2009

MILDRED MUSGROVE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE GOVERNMENT OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Emmet G. Sullivan United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

The plaintiff, Mildred Musgrove, filed a Complaint against the District of Columbia Public Schools ("defendant" or "District of Columbia") alleging retaliatory discharge, hostile work environment, denial of service, and age and gender discrimination. Before this Court is a Motion to Dismiss by the defendant. After careful consideration of defendant's motion, plaintiff's opposition, and applicable case law, this Court DENIES defendant's Motion to Dismiss.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Mildred Musgrove, was the principal at Anacostia High School from 1997 until 2003. She had been a teacher and principal with the District of Columbia Public Schools since 1970. In February 2003, she was placed on administrative leave for disregarding the superintendent's directive regarding locked doors in the school in violation of the D.C. Fire Code. She was eventually terminated,*fn1 which she grieved. The grievance resulted in arbitration, and she settled the case, whereby she was reinstated as a principal with back pay. The settlement notwithstanding, plaintiff did not resume her role as a principal.*fn2

On May 19, 2004, plaintiff filed a claim with the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights ("OHR") alleging retaliatory discharge, hostile work environment, violations of equal pay, and denial of service. In her Complaint, plaintiff makes specific allegations of harassment, retaliation, and discrimination, including violations of the Equal Pay Act and the D.C. Human Rights Act ("DCHRA"). The same claim was cross-filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), where the parties went through mediation and an investigation. After a clerical error was corrected, the EEOC issued a right to sue letter on August 7, 2006.*fn3 Plaintiff filed suit in this Court on November 1, 2006.

On July 11, 2008, defendant filed a motion to dismiss arguing that (1) plaintiff's claims are untimely; (2) plaintiff failed to comply with D.C. Code § 12-309; (3) plaintiff's claims are barred by the one-year statute of limitations and the settlement agreement she entered into; and (4) punitive damages are not recoverable against the District of Columbia.

On February 3, 2009, this Court directed the parties to address the applicability, if any, of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, to this matter. As a result, defendant withdrew its timeliness argument.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

To survive a motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a plaintiff must make sufficiently detailed factual allegations in her complaint. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). The allegations must "raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. (citation omitted). "In evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint and grant the plaintiff the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged." Eleson v. United States, 518 F. Supp. 2d 279, 282 (D.D.C. 2007) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). "However, 'a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of [her] entitlement to relief [in her complaint] requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). The Court is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation" when considering a motion to dismiss. Trudeau v. Fed. Trade Comm'n, 456 F.3d 178, 193 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). In determining whether a complaint fails to state a claim, the Court "may consider only the facts alleged in the complaint, any documents either attached to or incorporated in the complaint and matters of which [the Court] may take judicial notice." EEOC v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 117 F.3d 621, 624 (D.C. Cir. 1997) (footnote and citation omitted).

B. D.C. Code § 12-309

D.C. Code § 12-309 has a notice provision requiring a plaintiff who files suit "against the District of Columbia for unliquidated damages" to give notice "within six months after the injury or damage was sustained . . . in writing to the Mayor of the District of Columbia of the approximate time, place, cause, and circumstances of the injury or damage." D.C. Code § 12-309. The notice requirement is a condition precedent to filing a suit against the District of Columbia. Gwinn v. District of Columbia, 434 A.2d 1376, 1378 (D.C. 1981). "Section 12-309 is not, and does not function as, a statute of limitations. Rather, it imposes a notice requirement on everyone with a tort claim against the District of Columbia, and compliance with its terms is 'mandatory as a prerequisite to filing suit against the District.'" District of Columbia v. Dunmore, 662 A.2d 1356, 1359 (D.C. 1995) (quoting Hardy v. District of Columbia, 616 A.2d 338, 340 (D.C. 1992)).

Defendant argues that plaintiff still has not notified the mayor under the statute. Plaintiff argues that not only did she notify the District of Columbia under § 12-309, but also that the statute does not apply because there is no way she could have known within six months after her termination that she would inevitably file suit against defendant because she had a statutory right to file her case with OHR or with the EEOC -- which could have continued for longer than six months.

As an initial matter, this Court finds that plaintiff did give defendant notice of her intention to file a claim. In a letter dated September 24, 2004, plaintiff's attorney informed the District of Columbia that plaintiff was prepared to proceed to trial. See Letter from E. Lindsey Maxwell II, Esq. to Valerie Jones, Sept. 20, 2004. The letter clearly states that plaintiff's claims are based on age and gender discrimination, among other things. On September 21, 2004, the District of Columbia responded to plaintiff's attorney by letter stating that the plaintiff's correspondence ...


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