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Bodnar v. National Railroad Passenger Corp.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 26, 2016

JOSEPH BODNAR, Plaintiff,
v.
NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORPORATION, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

AMY BERMAN JACKSON United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Joseph Bodnar has brought this action against defendant National Railroad Passenger Corporation (“Amtrak”), alleging that Amtrak discriminated against him in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., when it revoked his certification to work as a conductor after he failed a color vision test, and it prohibited him from returning to work. Compl. [Dkt. # 1]. Amtrak has moved to dismiss plaintiff’s complaint in its entirety pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), on the grounds that plaintiff failed to file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) within 300 days of the relevant adverse employment action, and therefore, failed to properly exhaust his administrative remedies. Def.’s Mot. to Dismiss [Dkt. # 12] (“Def.’s Mot.”); Mem. of Law in Supp. of Def.’s Mot. [Dkt. # 12-1] (“Def.’s Mem.”).

The Court finds that plaintiff has plausibly alleged that he suffered an adverse employment action when Amtrak refused to reinstate him in February 2015, after an administrative review board ruled in his favor. So, the May 27, 2015 EEOC charge was timely filed, and plaintiff properly exhausted his administrative remedies. Thus, Amtrak’s motion to dismiss will be denied.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was employed by Amtrak for 24 years as a qualified conductor. Compl. ¶ 8. He worked primarily in Amtrak’s yard in Philadelphia, as well as on several work trains in Philadelphia, New York, and Washington, D.C., and on several passenger trains. Id. Plaintiff has suffered from a mild form of colorblindness throughout his entire career, and he asserts that Amtrak has been aware of his condition since the time he was hired. Id. ¶¶ 9-10.

During his employment, plaintiff was regularly required to undergo physical examinations, including vision tests. Compl. ¶ 11. On occasion, he failed the initial color vision test, and he would be referred to an optometrist by Amtrak’s medical director. Id. ¶ 12. Each time, the optometrist provided Amtrak with “detailed information about [plaintiff’s] condition, ” and plaintiff would be found to be medically qualified to continue working as a conductor. Id.

On October 4, 2013, plaintiff again failed a routine color vision test. Compl. ¶ 13. As he had in the past, plaintiff provided Amtrak with information from the optometrist confirming that he could carry out his duties as a conductor, but he alleges that for the first time, Amtrak refused to accept this information. Id. ¶¶ 13-14. Instead, on November 1, 2013, “Plaintiff was removed from service by Defendant pending the results of [a further] color vision field test.” Id. ¶ 15.

Amtrak’s medical department administered the color vision field test to plaintiff on January 15, 2014. Compl. ¶ 16.[1] Plaintiff failed to identify 31 of the 270 color signals during the test, and based on those results, Amtrak’s medical director found that plaintiff “was not medically qualified to perform his duties as a Conductor.” Id. ¶¶ 20-21.

On February 26, 2014, pursuant to the procedures laid out at 49 C.F.R. § 242 et seq., plaintiff filed a petition with the Federal Railroad Administration (“FRA”), “seeking an administrative review of Defendant’s decision to deny him certification to work as a Conductor.” Compl. ¶ 23; see also Ex. 2 to Def.’s Mot. [Dkt. # 12-4] (“FRA Decision”) at 2.[2] The FRA’s Operating Crew Review Board (“FRA Board”) issued a decision on February 10, 2015. FRA Decision at 9. The decision states that Amtrak notified plaintiff by letter on January 21, 2014 that “it would be required to deny [plaintiff’s] certification as a passenger conductor” based on the failed vision test, and that plaintiff sent Amtrak a rebuttal letter on January 30, 2014, challenging the denial of his certification. Id. at 5. The FRA Board noted that neither Amtrak nor plaintiff indicated in their filings before the FRA Board “whether Amtrak gave [plaintiff] notice of its final denial decision or whether Amtrak addressed [plaintiff’s] rebuttal letter in a written document, ” as it was required to do by 49 C.F.R. § 242.401(c). Id. at 2.

Ultimately, the FRA Board granted plaintiff’s petition on procedural grounds. FRA Decision at 1, 6-9. It found that Amtrak never issued a denial decision, leaving plaintiff’s rebuttal unanswered, and that “by failing to issue a written document that stated the basis for Amtrak’s final denial decision and that addressed [plaintiff’s] rebuttal letter, ” Amtrak “fail[ed] to adhere to the procedural requirements set forth in 49 C.F.R. § 242.401(c) [and] caused [plaintiff] substantial harm.” Id. at 6-7. However, it emphasized that “its authority is generally limited to determining ‘whether the denial or revocation of certification or recertification was improper under [the Federal rail safety regulations], ’ 49 C.F.R. § 242.505(k), ” and that its “grant of the petition does not render [plaintiff] eligible or entitled to employment with Amtrak.” Id. at 9.

Plaintiff alleges that “[d]espite the FRA’s decision to grant Plaintiff’s Petition, Defendant has failed and/or refused to allow Plaintiff to work as a Conductor from February 10, 2015 to the present.” Compl. ¶ 25. On May 27, 2015, plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, alleging that the FRA “granted [his] petition on February 10, 2015, but [Amtrak] will not re-instate [him].” Ex. 1 to Def.’s Mot. [Dkt. # 12-3] (“EEOC Charge”).[3] The EEOC Charge lists the date of discrimination as February 15, 2015. Id. On June 1, 2015, the EEOC notified plaintiff that it was closing his charge because it was not timely filed, and it provided him with a notice of his right to sue. Ex. A to Compl. [Dkt. # 1-3] (“EEOC Letter”).

Plaintiff initiated this action on August 26, 2015. Compl. On November 9, 2015, Amtrak moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Def.’s Mot. Plaintiff opposed the motion on November 23, 2015, Pl.’s Br. in Opp. to Def.’s Mot. [Dkt. # 13] (“Pl.’s Opp.”), and Amtrak filed its reply on December 3, 2015. Def.’s Reply in Supp. of Def.’s Mot. [Dkt. # 14] (“Def.’s Reply”).

STANDARD OF REVIEW

“To survive 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.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009), quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A claim is facially plausible when the pleaded factual content “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 a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id., quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. A pleading must offer more than “labels and conclusions” or a “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, ” id., quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, and “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id., citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

When considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court is bound to construe a complaint liberally in the plaintiff’s favor, and it should grant the plaintiff “the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.” Kowal v. MCI Commc’ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994). Nevertheless, the Court need not accept inferences drawn by the plaintiff if those inferences are unsupported by facts alleged in the complaint, nor must ...


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