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Rhonda Dahlman v. American Association of Retired

June 13, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Beryl A. Howell


Plaintiff Rhonda Dahlman alleges that her former employer, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), and her former supervisor at the AARP, Jan May, discriminated against her in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (hereinafter "ADA"), violated provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act (hereinafter "FMLA"), and also intentionally caused her emotional distress. The defendants have moved to dismiss, arguing that the plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative remedies before filing her ADA claim, and that all her claims are time-barred under the applicable statutes of limitations. The plaintiff concedes that her claims were filed outside the statutes of limitations, but nonetheless requests the Court to toll the limitations periods on equitable grounds and effectively waive the exhaustion requirement because the plaintiff allegedly suffered acute post-traumatic stress disorder (hereinafter "PTSD"), which prevented her from bringing this action in a timely manner. Despite plaintiff's alleged medical diagnosis of PTSD, the plaintiff has not demonstrated that she was non compos mentis, and is therefore not entitled to equitable tolling or waiver. Accordingly, for the reasons set forth below, her claims are dismissed.


In 1999, plaintiff Rhonda Dahlman was hired by the AARP as an attorney in the AARP's Legal Counsel for the Elderly division. Compl. ¶ 10. According to the plaintiff, because of her "diligence and competence," the plaintiff was assigned a disproportionate share of the litigation caseload in her office, given assignments on tight deadlines, and by 2005, had a caseload "quantitatively larger" than her co-workers. Id. at ¶¶ 9-17.

In November 2004, the plaintiff approached her supervisor, defendant Jan May, and informed him that she was planning to leave her job in the spring of 2005 and move to Canada. Id. at ¶¶ 18-19. At defendant May's request, the plaintiff agreed to take a transitional leave of absence rather than resign. Id. at ¶¶ 19-20.

Shortly after the plaintiff agreed to take a leave of absence, the plaintiff claims that defendant May "began a campaign of hostility, ridicule and intimidation of [the plaintiff] that caused her to suffer severe emotional distress." Id. at ¶ 21. These acts of harassment were "mainly conducted in private, but on numerous occasions, [defendant] May acted to humiliate [the plaintiff] in the presence of her peers and colleagues." Id. at ¶ 22. Specifically, the plaintiff alleges that defendant May ridiculed the plaintiff for wearing a baseball cap to work and openly accused her of being an alcoholic and a substance abuser. Id. at ¶¶ 24-25.

In July 2005, the plaintiff began a four-month transitional leave of absence. The week before this leave began, the plaintiff alleges that defendant May unfairly reprimanded her for not working many hours. Id. at ¶ 23. In addition, the day before the plaintiff began her scheduled leave of absence, defendant May allegedly "stripped [plaintiff] of her duties as Coordinator of the Alternatives to Landlord/Tenant Court as well as her Court-Ordered, D.C. Superior Court Probate Reform work, the very work for which [plaintiff] agreed to take a transitional leave of absence." Id. at ¶ 26.

The day before the plaintiff was to return from her scheduled leave, in October 2005, the plaintiff claims that defendant May "had his office manager call [the plaintiff to] threaten her." Id. at ¶ 29. This caused the plaintiff to suffer an "emotional breakdown such that whenever she even thought of the AARP or [defendant] May she began to cry uncontrollably and suffer completely dissociative behavior." Id. at ¶ 30. The plaintiff was "unable to function," could not go to work, and "lost the ability to care for herself, such as bathing and other personal hygiene matters, cleaning or eating regularly." Id. at ¶ 31. The plaintiff further alleges that in October 2005, "when [she] returned from her leave of absence," she informally complained to the AARP about defendant May's actions and "requested assistance from AARP to protect her from further abuse." Id. at ¶ 28. The AARP, however, refused her request. Id.

On November 9, 2005, the plaintiff sought psychiatric treatment and was diagnosed with "acute post-traumatic stress disorder." Id. at ¶¶ 32-33. The plaintiff's psychiatrist recommended that she not attempt to return to "the physical premises" of the AARP, but instead work from home on "non-litigation projects, such as the book chapter [the plaintiff] was working on for the American Bar Association." Id. at ¶¶ 16, 34. At some unspecified time after meeting with her psychiatrist, the plaintiff requested the AARP to allow her to work from home on non-litigation writing projects during her recovery. The AARP refused and "instead of allowing [the plaintiff] to work from home, or providing her with another supervisor, Defendant AARP placed [the plaintiff] on temporary disability." Id. at ¶¶ 35-36.

The plaintiff alleges that during the time she was on temporary disability, she completed writing her book chapter for the ABA, but the AARP "refused to provide [her with] editing support" and "refused to submit [her] chapter to the ABA in a timely manner." Id. at ¶ 37. The AARP further refused her request to be "reasonably accommodated within the context of her internal grievance" against defendant May, and fired the plaintiff "because of her disability and without providing [the plaintiff] an opportunity to gather her belongings." Id. at ¶ 38.

Following the plaintiff's termination from the AARP, the plaintiff alleges that the AARP withdrew money from her checking account without informing her and also refused to inform T. Rowe Price, an investment company, of the plaintiff's new address, which caused her "not to receive her account statements at a time when the money markets were in great financial distress." Id. at ¶ 39. The plaintiff further states that even after she left the AARP, defendant May continued to "exhibit hostility" toward the plaintiff. Id. at ¶ 40. Defendant May allegedly failed to secure the plaintiff's personal belongings from her office, causing her to lose some of her personal artwork, and also attempted to disrupt the plaintiff's immigration to Canada. Id. at ¶¶ 40-41.

The plaintiff states that the symptoms of her PTSD "have continued more or less unabated" and only since April 2008 has she been able to "function effectively so that she can care for herself, and leave her home and attempt to take care of her business affairs." Id. at ¶ 42. Moreover, the plaintiff states that when she first "attempted to [] invoke her legal rights" in 2008, she "discovered that [defendant] May had forged two emails under her name."*fn1 Id. at ¶ 43. This caused her to "suffer a relapse, and she had to abandon all efforts to vindicate her rights." Id.

On November 5, 2009 -- according to the defendants over three years after the plaintiff was fired from the AARP -- the plaintiff filed a Complaint alleging that defendants AARP and Jan May violated the American with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq., and the Family Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. §2601, et seq. ECF No. 1. The plaintiff also suggests, but does not specifically list as a cause of action, a common law claim of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (hereinafter "IIED") against defendant May.*fn2 For these alleged unlawful acts, the plaintiff seeks $300,000 for mental anguish and emotional distress, punitive damages, and back pay and other wages to "make Plaintiff whole" for the discrimination she suffered. Compl., Prayer for Relief ¶¶ 3-4.

On March 26, 2010, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiff's Complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing, inter alia, that the plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative remedies with regard to her ADA claim, and that the Complaint is "time-barred in its entirety under the applicable statutes of limitations." Defs.' Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 3, at 1. Having considered the defendants' motion, the briefs submitted in ...

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