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Congress v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

October 3, 2017




         Plaintiff Trina Congress was previously employed as a teacher's aide by the District of Columbia Public Schools (“DCPS”). Compl. ¶ 11. Following her dismissal in May 2015, Congress brought suit against the District of Columbia alleging that DCPS had discriminated against her because of her disability, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12112; the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794; and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act (“DCHRA”), D.C. Code § 2-1402.11. The District has moved to dismiss Congress's claims, arguing that she either failed to adequately exhaust her administrative remedies, failed to file suit within the statute of limitations, or failed to state a plausible claim. The Court will grant most of the District's motion, but will deny it solely with respect to Congress's hostile work environment claim raised under the Rehabilitation Act.

         I. Background

         The Court draws the following facts from the allegations in Congress's complaint and accepts them as true for purposes of this motion. Congress was hired by DCPS as an Education Aide (or Teacher's Aide) on December 5, 2011. Compl. ¶ 11. At the time of her hiring, Congress had pre-existing nerve damage to her back, feet, shoulder, hands, and hips. Id. Commencing in September 2013, Congress's supervisor, Abdullah Zaki, denied her request for a key to use the elevator instead of the stairs. Id. ¶ 12. Additionally, her coworkers would park in the handicapped parking spaces and thereby prevent her from being able to park in one. Id. ¶ 13. On January 29, 2015, Congress was attacked and hit hard on her neck by a student. Id. ¶ 16. Her supervisor repeatedly refused to sign paperwork necessary for Congress to receive medications for her pre-existing conditions and for needs related to the January incident. Id. ¶ 17.

         In October 2014, Congress complained to her union that the District was illegally forcing her to cover classes despite her lack of a teaching certification. Id. ¶ 14. The next month, on November 10, 2014, the District informed Congress that she was the target of a residency fraud investigation that was closed on July 22, 2013. Id. ¶ 15. Congress was subsequently terminated from her job on May 6, 2015, allegedly because of residency fraud. Id. ¶ 18.

         Congress filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on July 27, 2015, raising a charge of failure to accommodate and retaliation. Def.'s Mot. Dismiss Ex. A. The EEOC sent Congress a notice of her right to file suit on October 14, 2016. Id. However, Congress did not receive the notice until she physically went to the EEOC office on January 23, 2017. Compl. ¶ 1. She filed suit against the District on May 15, 2017.

         II. Legal Standard

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), 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)). Such factual plausibility requires “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. When addressing a motion to dismiss, the Court “must take all of the factual allegations in the complaint as true, ” id., and “constru[e] the complaint liberally in the plaintiff's favor with the benefit of all reasonable inferences derived from the facts alleged.” Stewart v. Nat'l Educ. Ass'n, 471 F.3d 169, 173 (D.C. Cir. 2006). The Court “may consider the facts alleged in the complaint, documents attached thereto or incorporated therein, and matters of which it may take judicial notice.” Id.

         A motion to dismiss for a plaintiff's failure to exhaust administrative remedies is “properly addressed as [a] motion[] to dismiss for failure to state a claim.” Scott v. Dist. Hosp. Partners, 60 F.Supp.3d 156, 161 (D.D.C. 2014). Since failure to exhaust remedies is an affirmative defense, “the defendant bears the burden of pleading and proving it.” Bowden v. United States, 106 F.3d 433, 437 (D.C. Cir. 1997). Each of the three statutes that plaintiff brings claims under-the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and the DCHRA-has its own set of requirements for exhaustion and its own statute of limitations.

         First, the ADA: The exhaustion requirements for Title VII of the Civil Rights Act govern administrative exhaustion under the ADA. See 42 U.S.C. § 12117(a). Within 180 days of the allegedly unlawful employment practice, a plaintiff must file a charge with the EEOC. Id. § 2000e-5(e)(1). The EEOC investigates the plaintiff's claim and, once the investigation concludes, issues a right to sue notice or provides a final decision to the plaintiff. Id. § 2000e-5(b). The plaintiff must then bring a federal suit within 90 days of receiving the right to file notice or final decision. Id. § 2000e-5(f)(1).

         Second, the Rehabilitation Act: Whether exhaustion of administrative remedies is required before bringing suit under the Rehabilitation Act is an open question in this Circuit. See, e.g., Minter v. District of Columbia, 62 F.Supp.3d 149, 164 (D.D.C. 2014). The Rehabilitation Act incorporates the “remedies, procedures, and rights set forth in title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964” and in 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(3). 29 U.S.C. § 794a. The only specific section of Title VII referenced in the Rehabilitation Act concerns back pay calculations and not administrative remedies. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(3). Title VI, in contrast to Title VII, does not contain a requirement to exhaust administrative remedies. See, e.g., Freed v. Consol. Rail Corp., 201 F.3d 188, 191 (3d Cir. 2000); Neighborhood Action Coal. v. City of Canton, 882 F.2d 1012, 1015 (6th Cir. 1989). Because the Rehabilitation Act expressly incorporates Title VI and only one specific provision of Title VII, neither of which require exhaustion of administrative remedies, the Court finds more persuasive the interpretation that the Rehabilitation Act does not require exhaustion of administrative remedies. See, e.g., Minter, 62 F.Supp.3d at 164; Adams v. District of Columbia, 740 F.Supp.2d 173, 181-82 (D.D.C. 2010).

         Similarly unsettled in this Circuit is the question of what statute of limitations applies to Rehabilitation Act claims. See, e.g., Alexander v. Washington Metro. Area Transit Auth., 826 F.3d 544, 551 (D.C. Cir. 2016) (per curiam). Since the Rehabilitation Act does not itself specify a statute of limitations, “courts generally ‘borrow one from an analogous state cause of action.'” Id. There are two possible statutes of limitations to borrow here: the three-year statute for personal injury actions under D.C. law or the one-year statute in the DCHRA. See id. If the one-year statute applies, so too does the DCHRA's tolling provision. Id. The three-year statute contains no tolling provision. See D.C. Code. § 12-301(8).

         Third, the DCHRA: There is no exhaustion requirement specified in the DCHRA. See D.C. Code § 2-1402.11. A one-year statute of limitations applies to DCHRA claims. D.C. Code. § 2-1403.16. This statute of limitations is tolled, however, by the “timely filing of a complaint” for the period of time the complaint is pending. Id. Because of a work-sharing agreement between the EEOC and D.C.'s analogous agency, complaints timely filed with the EEOC toll the DCHRA statute of limitations. Jaiyeola v. District of Columbia, 40 A.3d 356, 369 (D.C. 2012); see also Alexander, 826 F.3d at 551.

         III. ...

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