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Miles v. University of District of Columbia

United States District Court, District Circuit

October 30, 2013

CANDICE MILES, Plaintiff,
v.
UNIVERSITY OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA and HOWARD UNIVERSITY, Defendants

MEMORANDUM OPINION

REGGIE B. WALTON United States District Judge

The plaintiff, Candice Miles, filed this civil action against defendants Howard University (“Howard”) and the University of the District of Columbia (“UDC”), alleging violations of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2615 (2012), the District of Columbia Family and Medical Leave Act (“DCFMLA”), D.C. Code §§ 32-501 to -517 (2001), and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act (“DCHRA”), D.C. Code §§ 2-1401.01 to -1431.08 (2001). Complaint (“Compl.”) ¶¶ 107-39. Currently before the Court are the defendants’ motions to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint, and the plaintiff’s motion for leave to amend her complaint to include a claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a) (2012). For the reasons explained below, the Court must deny the defendants’ motions to dismiss and grant the plaintiff’s motion to amend her complaint.[1]

I. BACKGROUND

The plaintiff’s complaint alleges the following in support of her claims.

A. The D.C. Small Business Development Center Network and the Plaintiff’s Employment

For over twenty years, Howard has “operate[d] the Lead Center for the District of Columbia Small Business Development Center Network [(“D.C. Network”)] . . . under an annually renewable grant from the United States Small Business Administration.” Compl. ¶ 9. “The . . . [D.C.] Network is accredited by the Association of Small Business Development Centers.” Id. Howard and the Small Business Administration negotiate the performance goals by which the amount of the grant is measured. Id. ¶ 10. In turn, Howard “awards sub-grants to . . . different organizations” within the D.C. Network to operate D.C. Network Service Centers, “including UDC, the Anacostia Economic Development Corporation [], and the D.C. Chamber of Commerce.” Id. ¶ 11. The Service Centers provide various consulting and educational services to small businesses. Id. ¶ 12. Howard and the various Service Center organizations within the D.C. Network “frequently refer clients to one another and provide services based upon the expertise and resources of each Center and the convenience of the client.” Id. ¶ 13. The relationship between Howard and the Service Centers is set forth in the D.C. Small Business Development Center Network Standard Operating Procedures (“Procedures”). Id. ¶¶ 14-16.

The plaintiff, Candice Miles, is a Maryland resident who was previously employed in two capacities within the D.C. Network. From March 2007 until early January 2009, she was a Senior Small Business Development Specialist with the Anacostia Economic Development Corporation, id. ¶¶ 1, 27, 30, and from January 5, 2009 until June 30, 2011, she was the Director of the UDC Service Center, id. ¶¶ 1, 30. Before the plaintiff began her employment with UDC, “the Director position at the UDC Service Center was vacant for over six months, ” id. ¶ 37, and “[d]uring the eight years prior to [the plaintiff being] hir[ed for that position], there was high turnover in the positions of Director and Small Business Consultant at the UDC Service Center, ” id. ¶ 39. During the time immediately prior to the plaintiff’s tenure with the UDC Service Center, the “Center referred many clients to other Service Centers” within the D.C. Network. Id. ¶ 37. “Referring clients between Service Centers is a regular business practice of the [D.C. Network] and [is] facilitated by the . . . [Procedures’] guidance on record storage.” Id. ¶ 38. The plaintiff’s UDC “position was a Sponsored Program Appointment, and her position had a not-to-exceed date of September 30, 2009.” Id. ¶ 32. However, “UDC extended the not-to-exceed date each year and starting in September 2009, UDC deducted retirement benefits and health insurance premiums from [the plaintiff’s] paycheck.” Id.

Between April and July 2010, the D.C. Network’s training director, finance director, and director all resigned from their positions. Id. ¶¶ 29, 42. “As of July 30, 2010, the staff of Howard’s Lead Center consisted of an Associate State Director, an acting Director of Finance, and an Administrative Assistant.” Id. ¶ 43. “In August 2010, . . . Don Wilson, the former president of the [Association of Small Business Development Centers, ] . . . [became] a consultant for the [D.C. Network].” Id. ¶ 46. His “responsibilities included assisting the . . . [D.C. Network] with the upcoming accreditation review, leading the search for a new Executive Director” of the D.C. Network, “and handling the day-to-day operations of the remaining staff at Howard’s Lead Center.” Id. ¶ 47. He “did not resume the regularly scheduled meetings” that the former Executive Director had required of personnel at the Centers, id. ¶¶ 35-36, 41, 48, and he also “failed to assist the Service Centers in coordinating their work and achieving their contractually required goals.” Id. ¶ 48.

B. The Plaintiff’s Pregnancy and FMLA/DCFMLA Leave

On August 16, 2010, the plaintiff’s doctor confirmed that the plaintiff was pregnant. Id. ¶ 44. She “immediately notified Hattie Rogers in UDC’s Human Resources department of her pregnancy and inquired about maternity benefits, ” and “notified her Administrative Assistant, Aura Garcia, at this time.” Id. ¶ 45. She additionally notified UDC’s Acting Provost and Vice President, Academic Affairs and Dean of Business and Public Administration, Charlie Mahone, of her pregnancy in October 2010. Id. ¶¶ 33, 49. “During the Winter of 2010, [the plaintiff] also informed . . . [the] Director of the [Anacostia] Service Center[] of her pregnancy.” Id. ¶ 59. “Also in or about January 2011, [the plaintiff] informed the [D.C. Network] Assistant Director and acting Executive Director, Eldridge Allen, of her pregnancy.” Id. ¶ 55. The plaintiff additionally “informed other staff members at the Lead Center of her pregnancy . . . in or about January 2011.” Id. ¶ 56. “In or about February 2011, [the plaintiff] informed [Hattie] Rogers [of UDC’s Human Resources Department] of her intent to take the maximum amount of leave provided by the DCFMLA starting on her anticipated due date, April 3, 2011, and submitted the necessary paperwork, including a certification from her physician.” Id. ¶ 58.

“On multiple occasions [during the Winter of 2010], the plaintiff and [the Director of the Anacostia Service Center] discussed referring clients to the [Anacostia Service Center] during [the plaintiff’s] maternity leave.” Id. ¶ 59. The plaintiff “also met with [her Administrative Assistant] and informed her that the UDC Service Center would have to refer clients to the [Anacostia Service Center] and other [D.C. Network] offices during her absence, ” and “instructed [her Administrative Assistant] to continue to host workshops and to work closely with the [Anacostia Service Center] to ensure that clients’ counseling needs [we]re met.” Id. ¶ 60. The plaintiff “intended to meet with [Charlie] Mahone to discuss her plan to manage the UDC Service Center while on FMLA leave but was unable to do so because Mahone himself was out on medical leave.” Id. ¶ 61.

“On or about March 7, 2011, . . . [the plaintiff’s] doctor unexpectedly placed her on temporary bed rest due to complications with her pregnancy, ” and “[o]n or about Friday, March 11, 2011, [her] doctor placed her on bed rest for the duration of her pregnancy.” Id. ¶¶ 66, 68. The plaintiff informed Mahone of the complications, “and after discussing it with Mahone, sent an email to senior [D.C. Network] staff regarding her medical leave.” Id. ¶¶ 66, 69. “On or about March 14, 2011, [the Howard Lead Center Director] emailed [the plaintiff] and called [her Administrative Assistant] to inquire into [the plaintiff’s] FMLA leave and her plan to operate the center while on FMLA leave.” Id. ¶ 70. The plaintiff asked her Administrative Assistant to inform the Lead Center Director “about the plan to transfer clients to other [D.C. Network] . . . Service Centers, in accordance with existing . . . practice and policy, ” and tell him to “contact [Hattie] Rogers” in the UDC Human Resources Department “regarding UDC’s FMLA policy.” Id. ¶¶ 62, 70. The plaintiff remained “in continuous contact with Mahone, Rogers, and Garcia” while she was on bed rest. Id. ¶ 71. “Through induced labor on or about March 24, 2011, [the plaintiff] gave birth several weeks before her expected due date.” Id. ¶ 72. The next day, “at the end of [the plaintiff’s] short-term disability, UDC granted [her] FMLA medical leave from on or about April 3, 2011, through on or about June 14, 2011.” Id. ¶ 73. On or about April 19, 2011, the plaintiff also received a letter from Hattie Rogers which “stat[ed] that UDC approved [the plaintiff] to take family leave under the FMLA from May 7, 2011[, ] through August 26, 2011.” Id. ¶ 81.

C. The Accreditation Process and the Accreditation Deferral

During the Fall of 2010, Don Wilson asked the “Service Center Director[s] to work with the Lead Center to prepare documents for the [D.C. Network’s] upcoming accreditation review by the [Association of Small Business Development Centers], ” and he also “required each Service Center Director to attend a daylong training session in preparation for the accreditation.” Id. ¶¶ 50-51. Wilson later “changed his mind and excluded the Service Center Directors from the accreditation process which took place in or about December 2010.” Id. ¶ 52. Shortly thereafter, “[i]n or about January 2011, Jason Cross, Director of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce’s Service Center, announced his resignation.” Id. ¶ 53. “During the subsequent months, while the D.C. Chamber of Commerce Service Center was without a Director, the Service Center referred clients to other Service Centers in accordance with the normal practice of the [D.C. Network].” Id. ¶ 54.

“On or about February 23, 2011, Howard’s Lead Center held a [D.C. Network] meeting to introduce its new Executive Director, Darrell Brown.” Id. ¶ 62. At that time, “[Don] Wilson indicated that the . . . Network would likely receive a deferral[2] from the [Association of Small Business Development Centers] Accreditation Committee.” Id. ¶ 63. The next month, “[i]n March 2011, . . . the [Accreditation Committee] issued the [D.C. Network] a deferral and listed numerous deficiencies . . . .” Id. ¶ 65.

D. The Plaintiff’s Termination

“On or about April 7, 2011, [Darrell] Brown, the [D.C. Network’s] new Executive Director[, ] sent a letter to [Charlie] Mahone informing him that the UDC Service Center was being placed on probation, and requiring the preparation of a written recovery plan within 30 calendar days.” Id. ¶ 74. The letter stated in part:

Based upon our performance review analysis of the UDC [S]ervice [C]enter, the review of the [Association of Small Business Development Center]’s accreditation team, and our meeting with you on April 1, 2011, I have concluded that the performance level of the [U]DC [Service Center] is seriously deficient.
Specifically:
. . . .
• [T]he Service Center Director is currently on maternity leave. She took leave without prior notification to the Executive Director. She notified the Executive Director she was taking leave only after her leave started and she failed to make any meaningful provision for the continuation of client services at the UDC [S]ervice [C]enter. Moreover, the Center Director failed to communicate to the Executive Director a specific date and time for returning to work. The Center Director essentially abandoned the [S]ervice [C]enter and its clients by her failure to take the necessary and proper steps to assure viable operation of the [S]ervice [C]enter. Further, the Center Director failed to communicate to the Executive Director that the [S]ervice [C]enter would cease to function when she took maternity leave. Today, the [S]ervice [C]enter is not functioning except for making referrals to other service centers.
. . . .
In drafting the UDC [Service Center] recovery plan, you may wish to consider:
• [R]eplacing the Service Center Director with a more experienced person, who has an educational background and meaningful experience in marketing, business development, consulting, and communications. Should you decide to replace the Service Center Director, the final selection of a new Service Center Director shall be subject to the Lead Center’s approval.

Id. ¶¶ 75-76.

The plaintiff “learned of the existence of Brown’s April 7, 2011 letter” on April 11, 2011, id. ¶ 78, and “pick[ed] up a copy of the letter” from UDC on April 13, 2011, id. ¶ 79. She first spoke with “Renae Lee, a UDC Human Resources Specialist, regarding Brown’s letter.” Id. ¶ 79. “Lee referred [the plaintiff] to UDC’s Manager of Diversity and Equity, Yasmin Mitchell, ” id., and the plaintiff spoke with Mitchell on April 19, 2011, id. ¶ 80. Mitchell instructed the plaintiff to speak with Charlie Mahone, id., and “[o]n or about April 27, 2011, [the plaintiff] emailed Mahone requesting a time to speak about the letter, ” id. ¶ 82. Mahone indicated that he did not want to speak with her, and would rather have her provide “information [to him] by the close of business on or about April 28, 2011.” Id. The plaintiff responded by email, id. ¶ 83, but “[o]n May 3, 2011, Mahone rejected [her] response, ” id. ¶ 84.

“On or about May 5, 2011, [the plaintiff] contacted Mitchell to discuss Mahone’s response, ” and “Mitchell informed [the plaintiff] that due to concerns with [the plaintiff] working while on FMLA leave, Mahone would cease questioning her regarding Brown’s April 7, 2011 letter.” Id. ¶ 86. The next day, “Mahone emailed [the plaintiff]” and stated that he was “surprised that [he] ha[d] not received a response to [his] last email, ” and requested that the plaintiff provide a response. Id. ¶ 87. The plaintiff thus responded with an email in which she “expand[ed] on her plan for improving the performance of the UDC Service Center, explain[ed] her failure to respond to Mahone’s prior email, and reiterate[ed] her dedication to the Service Center and intent to return upon the completion of her maternity leave.” Id. ¶ 88. A few days later, the plaintiff “again spoke with Mitchell regarding her ability to work to address the situation with the UDC Service Center while on leave” and subsequently “traveled to UDC on or about May 17, 2011, and again discussed the subject with Mitchell.” Id. ¶ 89. Mitchell advised the plaintiff “that she had spoken with Mahone, who would no longer contact [the plaintiff] while [she was] on FMLA leave.” Id.

On May 20, 2011, the plaintiff learned that Howard had terminated funding for the UDC Service Center. Id. ¶¶ 91-92. “With the exception of UDC, Howard renewed all of the Service Center sub-awards for 2012 . . . .” Id. ¶ 102. The plaintiff spoke with her administrative assistant on June 7, 2011, “who told her Mahone stopped by the office and informed her that the actual termination [of the UDC sub-award] would take place on June 30, 2011.” Id. ¶ 94. The plaintiff received a voice message from Mahone on June 29, 2011, and the two spoke on June 30, 2011. Id. ¶ 95. “Mahone informed [the plaintiff] that Howard closed the UDC Service Center and stated that her future at UDC was unknown.” Id. Later on June 30, 2011, the plaintiff spoke with UDC Human Resource Specialist Lee, who “stated that [the plaintiff’s] matter had been referred to UDC’s general counsel, and [the plaintiff] should hear back by on or about Friday, July 8, 2011.” Id. ¶ 97.

The plaintiff was formally notified on July 15, 2011, that her employment had been terminated effective June 30, 2011. Id. ¶ 98. The letter “demanded that [the plaintiff] report to Lee for an exit interview and return all UDC property” by July 22, 2011, and “also informed [the plaintiff] that her FMLA leave was rescinded and that [she] was eligible for 31 days of free health insurance.” Id. ¶ 99. Finally, the letter “allege[d] that UDC overpaid [the plaintiff] by $728.46 while on short-term disability, and stated that UDC was withholding” the plaintiff’s final paycheck until she returned the amount of the overpayment. Id. The letter directed the plaintiff to contact Keith Poindexter about the pay discrepancy, who told the plaintiff “that UDC’s letter was inaccurate due to UDC’s miscalculation of [the plaintiff’s] leave, and that he would follow up with her by July 22, 2011.” Id. ΒΆ 100. However, the ...


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