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Johnson-Parks v. D.C. Chartered Health Plan

May 25, 2010

VALERIE JOHNSON-PARKS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
D.C. CHARTERED HEALTH PLAN, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rosemary M. Collyer United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Valerie Johnson-Parks has filed a complaint asserting claims for disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq. The defendant D.C. Chartered Health Plan ("Chartered") has filed a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to dismiss the complaint. The motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, a registered nurse and former employee of the defendant, had a known back injury incurred in a prior job when Chartered hired her in early 2001 to work as a Registered Nurse Case Manager/Telephonic Utilization Review Nurse. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 14-16. She performed her work for Chartered via telephone, facsimile and computer from a station in Chartered's office. Id. ¶ 20. In September 2002, she was promoted to Team Leader for the Telephonic Utilization Review Nurses. Id. ¶ 18. While at work in late December 2003, her back injury became severely aggravated, triggering a 6-week sick leave of absence. Id. ¶ 22; Opp'n, Ex. A at 1.*fn1 Supported by documentation from her treating physician, she requested that she be allowed to work from home. Id. ¶ 25. Although Chartered provided her this accommodation, her supervisor, Karen Morris, began to demand that plaintiff work from the office. Id. ¶¶ 26, 29. In October 2004, Chartered sent a letter to plaintiff's physician asking whether she would be able to begin working in the office and to travel. Id. ¶ 32. The physician responded by asking Chartered to continue to support plaintiff's work-from-home accommodation. In February 2005, without prior discussion or warning, Chartered sent a letter to plaintiff stating that her work-from-home accommodation was no longer tenable, and advising her to either 1) pursue leave through the Family Medical Leave Act; 2) seek long-term disability compensation; 3) return to work by February 25, 2005; or 4) face termination. Id. ¶¶ 34-36. Her physician again requested continuation of the work-from-home accommodation, and Chartered allowed her to continue working from home as a Registered Nurse Case Manager/Telephonic Utilization Review Nurse, but removed plaintiff as Team Leader. Id. ¶ 38.

On October 4, 2005, Ms. Morris and Chartered's Medical Director, Dr. Orr, citing a specific unsatisfactory discharge plan for a patient as the reason, told plaintiff that if she did not resign she would be fired. Opp'n, Ex. A at 4. Plaintiff asked to meet with a representative from the Human Resources Department. Id. Late the following day, plaintiff met with the Director of Human Resources along with Dr. Orr, Ms. Morris, and Francis Smith, a lawyer for Chartered.

Id. During this meeting, plaintiff stated that she was not responsible for the unsatisfactory discharge plan, and noted that Chartered was not following what she understood to be the usual steps toward involuntary termination. Id. at 5. On Monday, October 10, she contacted Chartered to determine her employment status, but did not receive a response, and worked through the day for Chartered. Id. at 6. Late in the work day on October 10, she received an oral directive from a supervisor at Chartered to stop work. Id. The following day, October 11, Chartered arranged for boxes to be delivered to her home and instructed her to use the boxes to pack her files. Id. On October 13, 2005, while packing, plaintiff discovered that a termination letter from Chartered was taped to the side of one of the boxes. Id. She read the letter and learned that Chartered had terminated her employment effective October 10, 2005. Id.

On August 4, 2006, plaintiff submitted an eleven page single-spaced, typed statement to the Washington Field Office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), and a completed "Intake Questionnaire" form used by that office. See Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. 2, Ex. A; Opp'n, Ex. A. The EEOC prepared a "perfected charge" and, on December 4, 2006, mailed it to plaintiff for her signature. Id., Ex. 2, Ex. B. The signed and dated "perfected charge," received by the EEOC on December 11, 2006, was forwarded to the defendant through an EEOC Notice dated December 22, 2006. Id., Ex. 1, Ex. A. In July 2007, the charge was transferred to another field office for investigation. On September 11, 2008, the EEOC issued a finding of probable cause of discrimination, and on or about May 1, 2009, the EEOC issued a Notice of Right to Sue, which plaintiff received on May 5, 2009. Am. Compl. ¶ 43. Plaintiff submitted her pro se complaint for filing in this court on July 28, 2009. Compl. at 1. Her amended complaint asserts four disability claims, alleging disparate treatment, a failure to accommodate, retaliation and a hostile work environment. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 45-84.

In its motion to dismiss, Chartered contends that Ms. Johnson-Parks received notice of her termination on October 4, 2005, making her submissions to the EEOC on August 4, 2006, untimely because they were not filed within the 300-day time period allowed for filing a written charge of disability discrimination. Mot. to Dismiss at 7-8. Further, Chartered maintains that the December 2006 perfected charge, and not the August 2006 submissions to the EEOC, should be treated as the written charge for the purposes of the filing deadline for EEOC administrative charges. Id. at 6-7. In addition, Chartered maintains that any claim arising from any discreet act that pre-dates Chartered's termination of Ms. Johnson-Parks is time-barred. Id. at 9. Chartered also argues that there are alternative grounds for dismissing two of the claims. Specifically, it argues that the retaliation claim is barred because Ms. Johnson Parks did not administratively exhaust that claim, id. at 10-12, and that the hostile environment claim warrants dismissal because it is insufficiently specific to meet the minimum pleading standards. Id. at 5, 10 n.9.

II. LEGAL STANDARDS

A court may dismiss a complaint if it fails "to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). A complaint requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). In determining whether a complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, generally a court "must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint," Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007), and "grant plaintiffs the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged." Kowal v. MCI Communications Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994). A court need not accept a plaintiff's legal conclusions or inferences drawn by the plaintiff if those inferences are unsupported by facts alleged in the complaint. Id. Moreover, "a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions." Bell Atlantic, 550 U.S. at 555 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)). It requires a "showing" and not just a blanket assertion of a right to relief. Id. at 555 n. 3. In short, a complaint fails "if it tenders naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancements." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted).

In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court may consider only "the facts alleged in the complaint, documents attached as exhibits or incorporated by reference in the complaint, and matters about which the Court may take judicial notice." Gustave-Schmidt v. Chao, 226 F. Supp. 2d 191, 196 (D.D.C. 2002) (citation omitted). "[W]here a document is referred to in the complaint and is central to plaintiff's claim, such a document attached to the motion papers may be considered without converting the motion to one for summary judgment." Vanover v. Hantman, 77 F. Supp. 2d 91, 98 (D.D.C. 1999) aff'd, 38 Fed. Appx. 4 (D.C. Cir. 2002) (citing Greenberg v. The Life Ins. Co. of Va., 177 F.3d 507, 514 (6th Cir. 1999)). Further, where a motion to dismiss is based on a contention that the claim is time-barred, it may be granted "only if the complaint on its face is conclusively time-barred," Firestone v. Firestone, 76 F.3d 1205, 1209 (D.C. Cir. 1996), or if "no reasonable person could disagree on the date" on which the cause of action accrued. Kuwait Airways Corp. v. Am. Sec. Bank, N.A., 890 F.2d 456, 463 n. 11 (D.C. Cir. 1989).

III. DISCUSSION

Claims made under the ADA are subject to limitations periods set forth in 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5. See 42 U.S.C. § 12177(a) (applying the limitations periods to ADA claims). "The statute of limitations for ADA claims begins to run at the time when plaintiff knew or had reason to know of the injury that serves as the basis of the claim." Gupta v. Northrop Grumman Corp., 462 F. Supp. 2d 56, 58 (D.D.C. 2006); see also Long v. Howard Univ., 512 F. Supp. 2d 1, 14 (D.D.C. 2007) ("[A] claim accrues under . . . the ADA . . . when the plaintiff knew or had reason to know of the injury serving as the basis for his claim.") (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Plaintiff had 300 days from the date of accrual of her cause of action to submit an administrative charge alleging claims under the ADA. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1); Gordon v. District of Columbia, 605 F. Supp. 2d 239, 244 (D.D.C. 2009).

Defendant argues that plaintiff's claims are time-barred. Key to that argument is defendant's contention that plaintiff's cause of action accrued on October 4, 2005, when two of her supervisors told her that if she did not resign they would fire her. The record facts, however, do not establish that Chartered notified plaintiff of an adverse action at that time; rather, the facts establish that on October 4 Chartered notified Ms. Johnson-Parks of a conditional intention to take an adverse action at some unspecified point in the future.*fn2 That much, without more, does not make a ...


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