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Congress v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 27, 2018

TRINA CONGRESS, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         What a difference a lawyer can make. Trina Congress brought suit against the District of Columbia alleging discrimination on the basis of her disability. The District moved to dismiss her original complaint, and the Court dismissed all but one of her claims. Now represented by new counsel, Congress has filed an amended complaint with the District's consent. Once more, the District has moved to dismiss. This time the result is a bit more favorable to Congress. The Court will still grant the District's motion in part, dismissing Congress's ADA claims and two of her Rehabilitation Act claims while keeping the remaining two Rehabilitation Act claims.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         The Court draws this factual background from the amended complaint, assuming the truth of all well-pled allegations as it must on a motion to dismiss. See, e.g., Sissel v. U.S. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 760 F.3d 1, 4 (D.C. Cir. 2014). Plaintiff Trina Congress was hired by the District of Columbia as an Education Aide in December 2011. Am. Compl. ¶ 23. When she was hired, Congress suffered from nerve damage that impaired her physical abilities as a consequence of a prior car accident. Id. ¶¶ 9-10. She informed her supervisor, principal Abdullah Zaki, of her condition after being hired. Id. ¶ 25.

         In September 2013, Congress requested an elevator key so she would not have to use the stairs of the school building. Id. ¶ 26. She also requested that Zaki ensure the school's handicap parking spaces were kept available for those with valid placards, such as Congress, so that she could park closer to the school. Id. ¶ 27. Zaki allegedly denied Congress's requests for accommodations. Id. ¶¶ 27, 30. Congress repeated her requests for both the key and an open parking space throughout 2013 and 2014, and claims that Zaki never acted on them. Id. ¶¶ 28, 31.

         During 2013 and 2014, Congress also took intermittent medical leave due to her nerve damage. Id. ¶ 33. Nevertheless, Zaki several times denied Congress medical leave and placed her on absent without leave (“AWOL”) status. Id. ¶ 35, 51. He also emailed Congress saying that he “had no time for someone being sick.” Id. ¶ 37.

         On September 9, 2014, Congress submitted a complaint against Zaki to the District's Labor Management and Employee Relations team. Id. ¶ 42. She met with the team in October 2014 to discuss her complaint. Id. ¶ 43. During that meeting, Congress indicated that Zaki had forced her to cover classes that were not included in her job description and that she could not cover because of her disability and requested that Zaki stop assigning her these duties. She also told the team that Zaki placed her on leave and refused to grant her an accommodation such as an elevator key or closer parking spot. Id. ¶¶ 44-47. Immediately after that meeting, Congress was informed that a claim was being asserted against her for alleged residency fraud-a claim she says was “previously adjudicated” in July 2013. Id. ¶¶ 49-50.

         In January 2015, Congress claims she was assaulted by a student, which aggravated her pre-existing nerve damage. Id. ¶ 53. From January 29 through May 4, Congress was on workers compensation leave due to the injuries she suffered in the assault. Id. ¶ 54. While she was on leave, Zaki gave Congress a negative performance evaluation that was later forced to be rescinded due to inadequate documentation. Id. ¶¶ 55-57. He also refused for several months to sign paperwork necessary to allow the relevant insurance carrier to process Congress's claims for treatment stemming from her injuries. Id. ¶ 60.

         On May 6, 2015, shortly after Congress returned to work, Zaki terminated her employment, allegedly because of dishonesty associated with the residency fraud claim. Id. ¶ 62. A few months later, in July 2015, Congress filed a charge of discrimination against the District with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the D.C. Office of Human Rights. See MTD Ex. 1. In her complaint, Congress checked the boxes for retaliation and disability discrimination and detailed how Zaki had refused to provide her an elevator key or parking spot and terminated her employment. Id.

         B. Procedural History

         After receiving a right to sue letter from the EEOC, Congress brought suit against the District of Columbia. Her original complaint raised three claims: (1) discrimination on the basis of her disability due to a failure to provide a reasonable accommodation, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), Rehabilitation Act, and D.C. Human Rights Act; (2) retaliation because of protected activities, in violation of the ADA, Rehabilitation Act, and D.C. Human Rights Act; and (3) creation of a disability-based hostile work environment, in violation of the ADA and Rehabilitation Act. See Compl. ¶¶ 20-27. The District filed a motion to dismiss, which the Court granted as to all but Congress's hostile work environment claim under the Rehabilitation Act. See Congress v. District of Columbia, 277 F.Supp.3d 82, 86 (D.D.C. 2017).

         While the parties were undergoing discovery, Congress's original counsel filed a motion to withdraw. See Mot. Withdraw Attorney [ECF No. 17]. Following a sealed, ex parte hearing, the Court granted the motion. See Order [ECF No. 18] (Jan. 24, 2018). The Court also stayed discovery for a period of 30 days from the date of the Order to allow Congress to seek new counsel. Id. The stay was extended for an additional 60 days on Congress's request. See Minute Order (Jan. 31, 2018).

         On March 20, 2018, Congress's new (and current) counsel entered a notice of appearance. He also filed a motion seeking reconsideration of the Court's prior dismissal ruling or, alternatively, leave to file an amended complaint. After the District indicated its consent to the filing of an amended complaint, the Court granted the motion to amend, denied the motion for reconsideration as moot, and directed the District to file an answer or motion to dismiss the amended complaint. See Minute Order (May 8, 2018). In response, the District once more moved for dismissal.

         II. Legal Standards

         A. Rule 12(b)(6) standards

         In analyzing a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court must determine whether the complaint “contain[s] 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)). This requires “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. To make this determination, the Court “must take all of the factual allegations in the complaint as true.” Id. It also must “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). Finally, the Court may only “consider the facts alleged in the complaint, documents attached thereto or incorporated therein, and matters of which it may take judicial notice.” Id.

         B. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

         Arguments that a plaintiff failed to exhaust administrative remedies are ordinarily addressed through the vehicle of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). See, e.g., Scott v. Dist. Hosp. Partners, 60 F.Supp.3d 156, 161 (D.D.C. 2014). As an affirmative defense, the District bears the burden of pleading and proving failure to exhaust. Bowden v. United States, 106 F.3d 433, 437 (D.C. Cir. 1997).

         The ADA and Rehabilitation Act each have their own set of exhaustion requirements and statutes of limitations. As to the ADA, the requirements for Title VII of the Civil Rights Act govern exhaustion of administrative remedies. See 42 U.S.C. § 12117(a). An aggrieved party must file a charge with the EEOC within 300 days of the allegedly unlawful employment practice.[1]Id. ยง 2000e-5(e)(1). She must then file her ...


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