United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
RANDOLPH D. MOSS United States District Judge
Kashawna Holmes worked for the University of the District of
Columbia in what municipal regulations call a
“sponsored program appointment.” See
D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 8-B, § 1700.1. The University
declined to renew her appointment while she was on
job-protected medical leave for complications arising from
her high-risk pregnancy. In response, Holmes brought this
suit against the University for violations of the D.C. Family
Medical Leave Act (“DCFMLA”), the D.C. Human
Rights Act (“DCHRA”), Title VII of the Civil
Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), and the
Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). The
University now moves to dismiss the complaint under Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Dkt. 19.
alleged in the complaint, prior to her termination, Holmes
had a number of “uncomfortable” interactions with
the alleged decisionmaker, Elgoria Harrison, regarding her
pregnancy, marital status, and use of pre-approved sick leave
for pregnancy-related doctors' appointments. Not
surprisingly, the parties paint very different pictures of
those conversations. According to Holmes, the key takeaway is
that Harrison conveyed her disapproval of Holmes's
decisions to have a child out a wedlock and to take sick
leave to attend to her pregnancy, and it was that disapproval
that prompted her termination. The University, on the other
hand, contends that Harrison's comments were entirely
innocent and bear no relationship to its decision not to
renew Holmes's employment.
explained below, this factual dispute is not suited for
resolution on a motion to dismiss, nor does the University
identify any other sound basis to challenge the legal
sufficiency of the complaint. The Court will, accordingly,
DENY the University's motion to dismiss.
evaluating the University's motion to dismiss, the Court
takes Holmes's factual allegations as true. See,
e.g., Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights,
Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007). The Court also considers
“documents incorporated into the complaint by
reference” and “matters of which [it] may take
judicial notice.” Id.
Structure of Holmes's Employment
began work as a Program Coordinator for the University on
March 1, 2013. Am. Compl. ¶ 13. Her offer letter
described her job as a “temporary sponsored program
appointment, ” meaning the position's continued
existence was contingent upon the availability of grant
funding. Dkt. 20-1 at 2 (Offer Letter). “If funding for
the position should no longer be available, ” the
letter explained, “then the position must immediately
end.” Id. But her appointment had “been
established” (i.e., had received funding)
through September 30, 2013. Id.
initial supervisor nonetheless assured her that her position
“was permanent for all practical purposes.” Am.
Compl. ¶ 16. “[T]he grant that funded the position
had been continuously renewed for approximately 30 years,
” she said, and “the employees who worked under
that grant routinely had their employment continued.”
Id. For instance, the male employee who had most
recently occupied the position had held it for five years
before leaving voluntarily. Id. ¶ 17. The
notice attached to Holmes's offer letter likewise
explained that her position, “while not permanent,
” was “essentially [an] indefinite term
appointment.” Dkt. 20-1 at 4. But, it explained,
because “[t]here is no automatic right to
continued employment”-even if the position is
re-funded-the documentation needed “to correctly
reflect the actual term of appointment under the current
grant.” Id. at 5 (emphasis added).
Holmes's appointment expired on October 1, 2013, her
employment “simply continued.” Am. Compl. ¶
18. On October 25, 2013, the University retroactively
extended her appointment through September 30, 2014, Dkt.
20-1 at 9, apparently without needing to consult Holmes,
see Am. Compl. ¶ 18. And Holmes later learned
that the position had been funded through at least 2015. Am.
Compl. ¶ 55.
Holmes's High-Risk Pregnancy
November 2013, Elgoria Harrison became Holmes's new
supervisor, id. ¶ 20, and two months later, in
January 2014, Holmes learned that she was pregnant,
id. ¶ 22. This was not the first time Holmes
had been pregnant; she had suffered several miscarriages in
the past. Id. ¶ 23. Doctors therefore
considered her pregnancy “high risk.”
Id. They advised her to consult a specialist, in
addition to her regular obstetrician. Id. ¶ 30.
And, given the risk that her pregnancy might end in another
miscarriage, Holmes opted to keep the news to herself until
later in her pregnancy. Id. ¶ 23.
however, soon outted Holmes's condition. At a staff
meeting in early 2014, Harrison pointed at Holmes's
stomach, asking her, “Is there something you need to
tell me?” Id. ¶ 24. “Feeling
pressured, ” Holmes “reluctantly confirmed that
she was pregnant.” Id. ¶ 25. Harrison
then “proceeded to pepper [her] with questions about
her pregnancy, ” including “whether she was happy
about [it].” Id. Holmes “felt extremely
uncomfortable, ” as she “had only met . . .
Harrison briefly before this meeting.” Id.
¶ 26. She “could not believe that . . .Harrison
would put her on the spot to disclose her pregnancy in front
of other employees like that.” Id. And she
“worried about what would happen if she miscarried,
” as she would now be “forced to explain it to
her coworkers.” Id.
weeks later, Harrison overheard Holmes mention “her
roommate” during a breakroom conversation with a
coworker. Id. ¶ 27. Unprompted, Harrison
interrupted to inform Holmes-in front of several other
employees-that Harrison personally “would never have
considered having a baby when she was living with a roommate
or in her parents' home” and that, “by the
time [Harrison] had a baby, she was married and she and her
husband had a house together.” Id. Harrison
knew at the time that Holmes was neither married to nor
living with her child's father (who was then living
overseas). Id. ¶ 28. Harrison's comments
made Holmes feel “embarrassed, ”
“self-conscious, ” and “ashamed.”
Id. ¶ 29. “She believed that . . .
Harrison had expressed that she was irresponsible for having
a baby when she was not married.” Id.
again arose in early April, when Holmes took a sick day to
attend two doctors' appointments (one for her regular
doctor, and one for her specialist). See Id.
¶¶ 30-31. “[A]s was standard procedure for
[University] employees, ” Holmes requested leave in
advance from the University's Human Resources Department,
and “the director of the department” approved
that request. Id. ¶ 31. As a courtesy, Holmes
also emailed the employees with whom she worked, including
Harrison, notifying them that she would be gone for the day.
Id. ¶ 32.
days after the appointments, Harrison responded to
that email. Id. ¶ 33. “I'm curious,
” she wrote to Holmes, “[d]oes your doctor
require an all day appointment? I have not know[n]
doctor's appointments to be all day; however, you may
have a special case.” Id. This inquiry, and
its implication that Holmes had “somehow abus[ed] her
sick leave, ” left Holmes feeling “upset and
confused.” Id. ¶ 34. The director of
human resources had already approved her leave. Id.
¶ 31. Harrison ordinarily played no role in such
decisions. Id. Yet, after the fact, she was
questioning whether Holmes had needed to take a full day of
leave and was seeking personal medical information.
Id. ¶¶ 31, 34. She accordingly went to see
the director of human resources, where she confided that
“she did not understand why . . . Harrison was asking
these questions” and that “she thought . . .
Harrison was trying to get rid of her.” Id.
¶ 35. The director of human resources instructed her to
answer Harrison's questions. Id. ¶ 36.
point, Holmes “felt that she had no choice” but
to disclose to Harrison that her pregnancy was high-risk.
Id. ¶ 37. When she did so, Harrison probed
further: “What makes you high risk?” Id.
Holmes asked why Harrison needed this personal information.
Id. ¶ 38. Harrison responded that she needed to
make sure Holmes was not “abusing her leave”-
notwithstanding that Holmes was clearly pregnant and that the
director of human resources had approved her request for
leave to attend the two pregnancy-related doctors'
appointments. Id. Harrison also encouraged Holmes to
take “FMLA leave immediately, ” even though doing
so would have exhausted Holmes's family leave before her
due date, and even though Holmes “had never indicated
that she was unable to perform the functions of her
position.” Id. ¶ 39. “Fearing that
she was being pushed out, ” Holmes responded that
“it was unnecessary for her to begin taking FMLA
immediately and that she was not interested in taking leave
before the baby was born.” Id.
again contacted the Human Resources Department, and this time
spoke with a different official. Id. ¶ 40. The
new official expressed “shock” at
Harrison's “inappropriate questioning” and
told Holmes “not to try to ‘explain' anything
further” to Harrison. Id.
Holmes's Medical Leave and Termination
3, 2014, Holmes was diagnosed with intrauterine fetal growth
restriction and preterm labor. Id. ¶ 41. Her
doctor placed her on “complete bed rest” due to
the high risk of premature delivery. Id. ¶ 42.
She accordingly requested FMLA medical leave for the period
from July 7, 2014, to her expected delivery date on September
20, 2014. Id. ¶ 43; see Id. ¶ 68.
The University approved her request. Id. ¶ 43.
The University's human resources compliance officer
explained to Holmes that, under the DCFMLA, her “job
would be protected during the period of time that she took
[DCFMLA] leave.” Id. ¶ 46.
August 27-while Holmes was on protected leave-she saw the
University advertising her job online. Id. ¶
45. She again reached out to the human resources compliance
officer, who expressed concern and surprise. See Id.
¶¶ 46-47. A week later, the compliance officer
still could not provide her any information. ¶ 48.
Holmes was left in a state of “extreme stress and
anxiety, ” “[n]ot knowing whether she would have
a job to return to” after she gave birth. Id.
¶ 49. She developed high blood pressure and medical
complications, and her doctor recommended inducing labor.
September 2, 2014, Holmes gave birth to her child.
Id. ¶ 50. Shortly thereafter, Holmes noticed an
email from Harrison in her personal account, dated August 29.
Id. ¶ 51. Harrison's email informed Holmes
that the University “was not renewing her
appointment” and that, accordingly, “her
employment would end on September 30, 2014.”
Id. Harrison gave no reason for the termination.
Id. ¶ 53. Holmes alleges that “Harrison
made, or was centrally involved in, the decision to terminate
[her] employment.” Id. ¶ 52. Her position
had not been defunded; the University had simply replaced her
with a male employee. Id. ¶ 56.
light of the University's decision not to renew her
appointment, Holmes applied for and received FMLA family
leave for the period from September 20-the date on which her
medical leave was set to expire-to September 30-the date on
which her termination became effective. Id.
¶¶ 58-59. Had she not been terminated, she would
have applied for approximately 14 additional weeks of family
leave. Id. ¶ 59.