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Cooper v. Henderson

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 31, 2016

MELISSA COOPER, Plaintiff,
v.
KAYA HENDERSON, Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Emmet G. Sullivan, United States District Judge

Plaintiff Melissa Cooper (“Ms. Cooper”) brings this action against Kaya Henderson, in her official capacity as the Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools (“DCPS”) alleging (1) disability discrimination, failure to accommodate, and retaliation for protected activity, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.; (2) discrimination on the basis of race and gender and retaliation for protected activity, in violation of the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.; (3) discrimination on the basis of age and retaliation for protected activity, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq.; and (4) retaliation for protected activity in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. Am. Compl., Docket No. 25. Chancellor Henderson moves to dismiss the amended complaint. See generally Def.’s Mot., Docket No. 27. Upon consideration of the motion, the response and reply thereto, the applicable law, the entire record, and for the reasons stated below, Chancellor Henderson’s motion to dismiss is GRANTED in part, and DENIED in part.

I. BACKGROUND

Ms. Cooper is an African-American female over the age of forty. Am. Compl., ¶ 8. Ms. Cooper was hired by DCPS in 1980 to serve as a special education teacher at Roosevelt Senior High School. Id. ¶¶ 8, 10. At some point during Ms. Cooper’s tenure at DCPS, she suffered an injury to her foot and requested leave to receive surgery. Id. ¶ 13. Following surgery, Ms. Cooper required crutches and an orthopedic boot to ambulate. Id. ¶ 14.

Ms. Cooper’s classroom was located on the upper floor of Roosevelt Senior High School. Id. When she returned from her surgery, she requested access to an elevator to accommodate her injury. Id. The only functioning elevator in the building was a freight elevator in a remote wing of the building, approximately one city block from the building’s entrance. Id. ¶ 15. Use of the freight elevator involved use of a freight key and lifting a wrought iron door. Id. ¶ 14. In order to use the freight elevator, Ms. Cooper had to find someone with a key. Id. ¶ 15. The one individual with a key was often unavailable or difficult to locate, causing Ms. Cooper to be late for class. Id. Ms. Cooper also requested a parking spot close to the building’s entrance, but her request went unanswered. Id. ¶ 17.

Ms. Cooper alleges that the principal and assistant principal of Roosevelt Senior High frequently harassed her about her age, and that the harassment intensified after she returned from medical leave. Id. ¶ 16. Ms. Cooper alleges that she was reprimanded for arriving late to class and meetings. Id. ¶ 17. When she attempted to explain herself to management, her teaching rating was lowered by ten points. Id. ¶ 18.

Ms. Cooper alleges that she duly reported every action she believed to be discriminatory to the administration, the school principal, and her union, but received little response. Id. ¶ 20. She alleges that she received non-work-related telephone calls from the principal at all hours of the day and night, which she believes were intended to harass and intimidate her. Id. ¶ 23. She alleges that she was reprimanded in front of her students on a regular basis, which she believes was intended to humiliate her. Id. ¶ 24. Ms. Cooper believes the harassing conduct was intended to force her to retire. Id. ¶ 26. She alleges that various members of the administration reminded her of her seniority and inquired as to her retirement plans. Id. ¶ 26.

Ms. Cooper was discharged from her employment with DCPS on August 10, 2012. Def.’s Ex. 1, Docket No. 27-1 at 3. Ms. Cooper alleges that her discharge was discriminatory, and in retaliation for exercising rights under the FMLA. Compl. ¶¶ 29, 79. She further alleges that after her termination, her retirement paperwork was not processed for nearly two years, during which time she was without income or benefits. Id. ¶ 28. Ms. Cooper believes the delay in processing her retirement paperwork was in retaliation for her previous complaints to school management regarding discrimination. Id.

Ms. Cooper filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on December 20, 2013. Def’s. Ex. 1 at 3. The allegations in the charge read as follows:

I was hired in 1980 as a Special Education Teacher. On August 10, 2012, I was discharged. Prior to my discharge, I requested a reasonable accommodation in which I was denied. I was subjected to harassment.
My employer provided no specifics concerning my termination of employment.
I believe I have been discriminated against in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 because of my disability and in retaliation (hostile work environment and whistle blower). I believe I have been discriminated against in violation of the Age Discrimination In Employment Act of 1967 because of my age (58). Race Hostile Work Environment.[1]
My request for a reasonable accommodation did not cause undue hardship for my employer. Being denied the request, resulted in me being late to classes and meetings.

Id. On the charge, Ms. Cooper checked the boxes for “Race, ” “Retaliation, ” “Age, ” “Disability, ” and “Other, ” next to which she wrote “Hostile Work Environment.” Id. In the box entitled “Date(s) Discrimination Took Place, ” the “Earliest” date of discrimination is type-written as August 10, 2012, the date of Ms. Cooper’s termination. Id. For the “Latest” date of discrimination, it appears Ms. Cooper crossed out the typewritten entry of August 10, 2012, and wrote in November 30, 2013. Id. Ms. Cooper signed the charge on November 25, 2013, five days prior to her alleged “Latest” date of discrimination. Id. Ms. Cooper also checked the box entitled “Continuing Action.” Id.

The EEOC issued Ms. Cooper a Dismissal and Notice of Rights informing her that any lawsuit must be filed within 90 days of her receipt of the notice. Id. at 1-2. The handwritten date on the Notice indicates it was mailed May 30, 2014. Id. at 1. Ms. Cooper filed her lawsuit on September 8, 2014.[2]

Chancellor Henderson now moves to dismiss Ms. Cooper’s amended complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See generally Def.’s Mot. Chancellor Henderson raises four arguments in support of her motion: (1) the District of Columbia (“the District”) is the proper defendant in this action and Ms. Cooper’s failure to name the District is grounds for dismissal of her amended complaint; (2) Ms. Cooper’s gender discrimination claim is barred because Ms. Cooper failed to exhaust her administrative remedies by asserting this claim in her charge before the EEOC; (3) Ms. Cooper’s Title VII, ADA, and ADEA claims are barred for failure to timely file these claims with the EEOC, and for failure to timely bring these claims before this Court following ...


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