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Victoria V. Franklin v. Pepco Holdings

July 13, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: John D. Bates United States District Judge


Plaintiff Victoria Franklin brings this action against defendant Pepco Holdings International ("Pepco"), her former employer, for a violation of her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), the District of Columbia Human Rights Act ("DCHRA"), the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), and the District of Columbia Family and Medical Leave Act ("DCFMLA"), as well as for defamation. Specifically, Franklin alleges that Pepco created a hostile working environment and failed to provide reasonable accommodations for her disability; that Pepco retaliated against her, including wrongfully terminating her, for her filing for and use of allotted FMLA leave; and that Pepco defamed her. Pepco has moved to dismiss these claims on the grounds that Franklin has not exhausted administrative remedies, has asserted claims that are time-barred, and has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Upon consideration of the parties' various filings, the Court will grant Pepco's motion to dismiss on all but Franklin's FMLA claim.

I. Background

Franklin was hired as a legal assistant by Pepco in October 2007. Pl.'s Compl. [Docket Entry 1] ("Compl.") ¶¶ 6, 8. She suffered from a fibroid condition that could cause severe bleeding if not controlled; therefore, she regularly used her allotted sick leave days to visit the doctor. Compl. ¶ 9. While at Pepco, Franklin enrolled in a higher education program for which Pepco paid most of the costs; she signed an authorization stating she would have to repay these funds "should [she] terminate [her] employment with [Pepco] within two years" of taking the courses. Id. ¶¶ 10, 40 & Ex. 10.

In May 2008, Franklin's supervisor, Ellen Rogers, began challenging Franklin's use of sick days. Compl. ¶¶ 11-13, 15-18, 20. In April 2009, Franklin applied for benefits under the FMLA and received intermittent leave for her condition. Compl. ¶¶ 19-20. Under the FMLA, an employee whose serious health condition prevents her performing her job functions is entitled to twelve work weeks of leave over twelve months. See 29 U.S.C. §§ 2611-12. The 2009 mid-year review by Rogers and another supervisor criticized Franklin's work performance and number of absences. Compl. ¶ 21 & Ex. 3. Also, in October 2009, Rogers prepared a calendar of the days of work Franklin had missed, color-coded by cause, which included FMLA leave taken. Compl. ¶¶ 22-23 & Ex. 4.

In January 2010, Franklin was placed on paid short-term disability leave due to "stress," which she alleges was caused by Rogers' behavior. Compl. ¶ 24. Subsequently, Franklin submitted a notice from her physician "recommend[ing]" that on her return she be placed in a different Pepco department. Compl. ¶ 26 & Ex. 6. Pepco read this as a statement that Franklin was unable to continue working in Rogers' department, and therefore required her to apply for other positions within the company if she wanted to remain an employee. Compl. ¶¶ 27-28. Franklin was not accepted in another position within the designated time frame, so her employment at Pepco was terminated on July 20, 2010. Compl. ¶¶ 31-33. Pepco has since sought to recoup from Franklin the amount it paid for her education. Compl. ¶¶ 38-39, 42-43.

On September 7, 2010, Franklin submitted an intake questionnaire to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") citing "[s]tress and fibroids" as the disabilities she believed had caused the adverse action taken against her at Pepco. Pl.'s Resp. in Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. Dismiss [Docket Entry 5] ("Pl.'s Opp'n"), Ex. 1. In October 2010, she submitted a formal Charge of Discrimination to the EEOC in which she checked off "Retaliation" and "Disability" as causes for discrimination. Where the form asked for "the particulars" of the discrimination, Franklin wrote:

On or about January 2010, I was placed on short term disability leave for stress. On or about June 21, 2010, my doctor released me to return to work with a reasonable accommodation for my disability. On or about June 23, 2001, I received a letter from Karen Gentry-Mays informing me that my employment would be terminated effective July 20, 2010.

I believe I have been discriminated against based on my disability, and in retaliation for requesting a reasonable accommodation[.]

Def.'s Mot. Dismiss [Docket Entry 4] ("Def.'s MTD"), Ex. A. The Charge of Discrimination did not mention fibroids. Id. The EEOC sent Franklin a Notice of Right to Sue on August 31, 2011. Compl. Ex. 12.

II. Standard of Review

To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint need only contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2); see alsoBell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (noting that the pleading is intended to "give the defendant fair notice of what the.claim is and the ground upon which it rests" (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957))). Although "detailed factual allegations" are not required to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56; Aschroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-79 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A satisfactory complaint thus includes "more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56.

When the sufficiency of a complaint is challenged by a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the plaintiff's factual allegations must be presumed true and should be liberally construed in his or her favor. SeeLeatherman v. Tarrant Cnty. Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164 (1993); Phillips v. Bureau of Prisons, 591 F.2d 966, 968 (D.C. Cir. 1979). The plaintiff must be granted every favorable inference that can be drawn from the allegations of fact. SeeScheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974); Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000). However, "the court need not accept inferences drawn by plaintiffs if such inferences are unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint." Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994). The court also does not accept "a legal conclusion couched as a factual ...

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