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Jackson v. Gallaudet University

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 14, 2016

SIMONE JACKSON, Plaintiff,
v.
GALLAUDET UNIVERSITY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

TANYA S. CHUTKAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

This matter is before the Court on Defendant Gallaudet University’s Rule 12(b)(6) Motion for Partial Dismissal of Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint [ECF No. 17]. For the reasons discussed below, Court will grant the motion in part and deny the motion in part.

I. BACKGROUND

“Plaintiff is completely deaf and of Jamaican national origin.” First Am. Compl. for Employment Discrimination and Retaliation [ECF No. 14] (“Am. Compl.”) ¶ 4. “She communicates using both American Sign Language (‘ASL’) and Jamaican Sign Language (‘JSL’).” Id.

From 2005 until her termination effective September 23, 2009, see id. ¶ 17, plaintiff was “employed as a school bus monitor for Gallaudet University’s Department of Transportation . . . serving Kendall Demonstration Elementary and Model Secondary Schools for the Deaf, ” id. ¶ 1. She “[sat] on schools buses and assist[ed] special needs kindergarten age children in getting on and off the bus and ensur[ed] that they behaved properly on the bus.” Id. ¶ 5. Out of approximately 13 bus monitors, four (including plaintiff) were deaf. Id.

Wendy Armstrong, who “is hard of hearing (not completely deaf), ” became plaintiff’s supervisor in early 2008. Id. ¶ 8. In this capacity, Ms. Armstrong “was responsible for [p]laintiff’s performance evaluations.” Id. Although plaintiff’s former supervisor provided an ASL interpreter for staff meetings, id. ¶ 7, Ms. Armstrong discontinued the practice, id. ¶ 9. She “is not fluent in ASL, ” yet Ms. Armstrong did “her own interpreting for deaf staff members.” Id. Plaintiff found it “nearly impossible . . . to understand” her. Id. When “[p]laintiff and the other deaf bus monitors requested ASL interpreters for group meetings in 2008 and 2009, [Ms.] Armstrong repeatedly denied” the requests. Id. ¶ 10.

According to plaintiff, Ms. Armstrong “made derogatory statements about [her] national origin, often with co-workers and students present.” Id. ¶ 12. For example, Ms. Armstrong allegedly asked plaintiff, ‘“Why are you here? We don’t understand foreigners’ and ‘Why are you foreigners trying to be promoted above Americans?’” Id. ¶ 12.a. She allegedly “harassed” plaintiff in August 2009 when she made a comment about “a traditional Jamaican dish [plaintiff was eating] for lunch.” Id. ¶ 12.b. Also in August 2009, on a “bus full of students, ” Ms. Armstrong referred to plaintiff and asked the students in sign language, ‘“do you understand her Jamaican sign language?’” Id. ¶ 12.c. “Plaintiff interpreted [these] remarks as insulting and humiliating to her Jamaican national origin.” Id.

In June 2009, “another bus monitor complained to Gallaudet’s human resources office about [Ms.] Armstrong’s discriminatory treatment and unwillingness to provide an ASL interpreter.” Id. ¶ 13. Plaintiff was interviewed in the subsequent investigation by Sharrell McCaskill, id. ¶ 14, who is identified as Gallaudet’s Director of Equal Opportunity Programs and Title IX Coordinator, Mem. of P. & A. in Support of Def. Gallaudet Univ.’s Rule 12(b)(6) Mot. for Partial Dismissal of Pl.’s Am. Compl. [ECF No. 17-1] (“Def.’s Mem.”) at 2. According to plaintiff, “[a] few days after the interview, [Ms.] Armstrong informed [p]laintiff that [Ms.] McCaskill had told her what [p]laintiff had said as a witness, ” at which time [Ms.] Armstrong threatened to fire plaintiff and “block her from future employment[.]” Am. Compl. ¶ 15.

Plaintiff was called to attend a meeting on September 23, 2009. Id. ¶ 16. In attendance were Ms. Armstrong, Gallaudet’s Transportation Manager, Bus Driver Supervisor, and an ASL interpreter. Id. ¶ 17. Ms. Armstrong presented plaintiff “a letter informing her that she was terminated” for the following reasons:

A. [Plaintiff] was warned that she could not wear Capri pants to work, but she wore them anyway on Friday, September 18.
B. On September 18, when Armstrong tried to talk to [p]laintiff, [p]laintiff was insubordinate and had a “loud outburst.”

Id.

Plaintiff brings this action under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), see 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), see 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act (“DCHRA”), see D.C. Code § 2-1402.01 et seq. She alleges that Gallaudet’s refusal to provide a reasonable accommodation in the form of an interpreter at staff meetings violated the ADA (Count I) and the DCHRA (Count IV), see Am. Compl. ¶¶ 23-25, 43, and that Gallaudet subjected her to a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII (Count III) and the DCHRA (Count IV) on the basis of her national origin, see id. ¶¶ 36, 44. In addition, plaintiff alleges that Gallaudet retaliated against her for having participated in protected activity, that is, the investigation following another employee’s ...


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