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Debra Wolff v. Beauty Basics

August 24, 2012

DEBRA WOLFF, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BEAUTY BASICS, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ellen Segal Huvelle United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Debra Wolff brings this action against defendant Beauty Basics, Inc., alleging discrimination on the basis of disability in violation of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12181--12189 ("ADA"), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794 ("Section 504"), and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, D.C. Code §§ 2-1401.01 et seq. ("DCHRA"). (See Complaint, May 15, 2012 [Dkt. No.1] ("Compl.").) Defendant has moved to dismiss plaintiff's claims pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). (See Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, July 12, 2012 [Dkt. No. 7] ("Def. Mot."); Plaintiff's Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, July 30, 2012 [Dkt. No. 9] ("Pl. Opp'n"); Defendant's Reply, August 9, 2012 [Dkt. No. 10] ("Def. Reply").) For the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny defendant's motion.

BACKGROUND

Wolff is a deaf woman; her capabilities of hearing and speaking are substantially limited. (Compl. ¶ 5.) She primarily communicates in American Sign Language ("ASL"). (Id.) Beauty Basics, Inc., is a private educational institution that owns and operates the Aveda Institute of Washington, D.C., a cosmetology school. (Id. ¶ 15.) Beauty Basics receives federal financial assistance in the form of direct federal grants to students and federally-guaranteed student loans. (Id. ¶ 6.)

Wolff sought to enroll in a thirteen-month Aveda Institute cosmetology program beginning in either March or May 2012. (Id. ¶ 1.) Wolff began the admissions process with a mandatory tour of the school in late 2011. (Id. ¶ 7.) Prior to attending the tour, Wolff asked the Aveda Institute to provide a sign language interpreter for her, but the school declined to do so. (Id. ¶¶ 7--8.) Wolff instead attended the tour with a friend who provided interpretation. (Compl. ¶ 9.) Wolff told the school that she would like to enroll at the Aveda Institute and asked the school to provide interpreter services for classes. (Compl. ¶ 10.) On January 18, 2012, Wolff received an email from Anna Kiesnowski, Director of the Aveda Institute DC, stating in relevant part:

I am writing you today to discuss your inquiry for future enrollment at our campus for Cosmetology. Unfortunately, we are unable to provide an interpreter due to the great expenses it would require of our Institute and company. We are only able to provide reasonable accommodations, but we would hope that you will still be able to find accommodations to join our Cosmetology class in March. (Defendant Beauty Basics, Inc.'s Errata to Motion to Dismiss, July 19, 2012 [Dkt. No. 8], Ex. A (Jan. 18, 2012 Email from Anna Kiesnowski to Debra Wolff) ("Kiesnowski Email"); see Compl. ¶ 10.)

On May 15, 2012, Wolff filed suit, alleging discrimination on the basis of disability under the ADA, Section 504, and the DCHRA and seeking declaratory and injunctive relief and compensatory damages.

ANALYSIS

I.STANDARD OF REVIEW

A complaint need only contain "'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,'" Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)), "in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Id. (alteration in the original) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). The notice pleading rules are "not meant to impose a great burden on a plaintiff," Dura Pharmaceuticals, Incorporated v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 347 (2005) (citing Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 513--515 (2002)), and "detailed factual allegations" are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Nor is it necessary for a plaintiff alleging discrimination to "plead every fact necessary to establish a prima facie case." Jones v. Air Line Pilots Ass'n, Int'l, 642 F.3d 1100, 1104 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (citing Swierkiewicz, 534 U.S. at 511). Nevertheless, a plaintiff must furnish "more than labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action," id. at 555, and his "complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). "The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that defendant has acted unlawfully." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. In determining whether the factual allegations which are entitled to an assumption of truth in Wolff's complaint are "enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level," id. at 555, the Court must grant Wolff "'the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.'" Am. Nat'l Ins. Co. v. F.D.I.C., 642 F.3d 1137, 1139 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (quoting Thomas v. Principi, 394 F.3d 970, 972 (D.C. Cir. 2005)).

II.THE SUFFICIENCY OF WOLFF'S CLAIMS

Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides that: No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.

41 U.S.C. § 12182(a). It further provides that:

It shall be discriminatory to subject an individual . . . on the basis of a disability . . . to a denial of the opportunity of the individual . . . to participate in or benefit from the goods, services, facilities, ...


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