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Williams v. Donovan

United States District Court, District of Columbia

November 30, 2016

YVETTE WILLIAMS Plaintiff,
v.
SHAUN DONOVAN, SECRETARY, U.S. DEPARTEMENT OF HOUSING AND HUMAN DEVELOPMENT Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Emmet G. Sullivan United States District Judge.

         Ms. Yvette Williams brings this action alleging that defendant Sean Donovan, in his official capacity as Secretary, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (the Department), violated the Rehabilitation Act (Act), 29 U.S.C. § 791, et seq., by discriminating against her based on her disabilities. In Count 1 of her Amended Complaint, Ms. Williams alleges that the Department discriminated against her because of her disabilities based on a series of events that culminated in her termination. Am. Compl., ECF No. 18 ¶ 43. In Count 2, Ms. Williams alleges that the Department denied her a reasonable accommodation for her disability. Id. ¶¶ 44-45. In Count 3, Ms. Williams alleges that the Department terminated her in retaliation for engaging in protected Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) activity. Id. ¶¶ 46-47.

         Before the Court is the Department's Motion to Dismiss Counts 1 and 3 of the Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), or in the alternative for Summary Judgment on Counts 1, 2 and 3 pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 56.

         Upon consideration of the motion, the response thereto, the applicable law, and the entire record, the Department's Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART, and the Department's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED without prejudice.

         I. Background

         As this matter is before the Court on the Department's Motion to Dismiss, the Court assumes the following facts alleged in the Amended Complaint to be true and grants Ms. Williams the benefit of all reasonable inferences deriving from the Amended Complaint.

         Ms. Williams began working for the Department in August 2008 as a Federal Career Intern. Am. Compl., ECF No 18 ¶ 6. In this capacity, she performed rotational assignments until she was permanently assigned to the Office of Executive Secretariat (OES) in July 2010 as a correspondence specialist performing mail room duties. Id. ¶ 6. Ms. Williams was in this position until February 4, 2012, the effective date of her removal from her position. Id.

         Ms. Williams has a number of physical disabilities - Adenomyosis, Psoas Syndrome and Lumbar Scoliosis - which substantially limit her ability to sit, stand, walk, and sleep. Id. ¶ 7. Ms. Williams also experiences episodes of severe pain - including pain in her back, hip, leg, and foot, that are exacerbated by sitting, standing, and by stress. Id. This pain affects her ability to sleep and also her ability to function after she is unable to sleep. Id. Finally, the pain causes Ms. Williams to vomit, resulting in her need to be close to a restroom. Id. Despite these disabilities, Ms. Williams was able to perform the essential functions of her job with reasonable accommodations. Id. ¶ 8.

         Ms. Williams successfully completed her internship on August 18, 2010. Id. ¶ 9. On December 6, 2010, Ms. Williams met with her supervisors and was informed that she would not receive a promotion to GS-12 due to her absences. Id. ¶ 10. Ms. Williams alleges that all of her absences were approved as either Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or annual leave. Id. Ms. Williams further alleges that her performance throughout her internship had consistently been rated “outstanding.” Id.

         On December 14, 2010, Ms. Williams received an official reprimand as a result of allegedly rude and discourteous behavior during the December 6, 2010 meeting. Id. ¶ 11. Ms. Williams states that at that meeting she “respectfully questioned her supervisor's decision not to promote her by pointing out her performance rating and the fact that all of her absences had been approved.” Id. Ms. Williams alleges that this official reprimand was used to support the ultimate decision to remove her from her position. Id.

         Also on December 14, 2010, Ms. Williams' supervisor ceased allowing her to work an alternative work schedule, requiring her to work on a fixed schedule Monday through Friday. Id. ¶ 12. Ms. Williams alleges that her supervisor knew that she had an alternative work schedule based on the recommendation of her doctor that she telework at least two days per week. Id. Ms. Williams states that she needed a flexible schedule so that she could seek medical treatment and alleges that “similarly-situated non-disabled co-workers were permitted to continue working on an alternative work schedule.” Id. ¶¶ 12-13.

         On January 13, 2011, Ms. Williams received a performance appraisal of “excellent.” Id. ¶ 15. Ms. Williams states that she had received an “outstanding” rating the previous year. Id. Ms. Williams alleges that the “[d]efendant considered this performance rating in her decision to remove [her] from her position and federal service.” Id.

         On February 11, 2011, Ms. Williams' supervisor informed her that as of February 14, 2011, she would perform filing duties rather than mail room duties. Id. ¶ 17.

         In March 2011, Ms. Williams “took leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act to care for her father who was suffering from end stage renal failure.” Id. ¶ 19. At that time, she also submitted a request to telework to her supervisor. Id. ¶ 20. In April 2011, Ms. Williams provided a letter from her doctor supporting her request to telework. Id. ¶ 21. Ms. Williams' FMLA leave expired on April 18, 2011. Id. ¶ 22. On April 20, 2011, Ms. Williams' “request to telework was denied, her request for leave without pay (LWOP) was denied, and she was placed on absent without [official] leave [AWOL].” Id. ¶ 23.

         On June 27, 2011, a memorandum was issued instructing Ms. Williams to return to work by July 11, 2011. Id. ¶ 26. On July 12, 2011, Ms. Williams submitted a request for reasonable accommodation - that she be allowed to telework - to the Employee Assistance Program office. Id. ¶ 27.[1] On July 22, 2011, Ms. Williams “received a notice of proposed removal based on AWOL, failure to follow directive, and failure to follow instruction.” Id. ¶ 28. Ms. Williams returned to work on August 1, 2011. Id. ¶ 29.

         With regard to her EEO activity, Ms. Williams contacted an EEO counselor on January 18, 2011 “regarding her non-promotion, official reprimand, removal of alternative work schedule, and performance appraisal.” Id. ¶ 16. Thereafter, on March 3, 2011, Ms. Williams filed a formal complaint in which she alleged “disability discrimination and retaliation for requesting reasonable accommodations based on her non-promotion, official reprimand, removal of alternative work schedule, and performance appraisal.” Id. ¶ 18. On May 13, 2011, Ms. Williams “amended her formal complaint to include the February 11, 2011 reassignment of job duties, April 20, 2011 denial of reasonable accommodation to telework, and the April 20, 2011 denial of LWOP.” Id. ¶ 24.

         On February 6, 2012, Ms. Williams “contacted an EEO officer regarding the December 23, 2011 denial of reasonable accommodation to telework and the February 4, 2012 removal” and on April 9, 2012, she “filed a formal complaint alleging disability discrimination and retaliation based on the December 23, 2011 denial of reasonable accommodation and her February 4, 2012 removal.” Id. ¶¶ 40-41.

         Ms. Williams alleges that she exhausted her administrative remedies by filing these two complaints of discrimination with the Department. Id. ¶¶ 2-3.

         On January 31, 2012, Ms. Williams was removed from her position effective February 4, 2012. Id. ¶ 6.

         II. Legal Standards

         A. Standards of Review

         1. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss “tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint.” Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C.Cir.2002). To survive a 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)). Facial plausibility requires that “the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. Detailed factual allegations are not required, but the plaintiff is required to provide “more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation, ” id., and must plead enough facts “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. ‚ÄúDetermining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its ...


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