United States District Court, District of Columbia
DEBORAH K. PUESCHEL, Plaintiff,
ELAINE CHAO, in her Official Capacity as Secretary, Department of Transportation, et al, Defendants.
L. FRIEDRICH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Pueschel engaged in a long string of employment-related
disputes with her employer, the Federal Aviation
Administration (FAA), and began receiving full-time
disability benefits for work-related injuries from the Office
of Worker Compensation (OWCP) in 1998. She later decided to
run for Congress. When FAA found out, it contacted OWCP and
said Pueschel's campaign activities demonstrated an
ability to work that was inconsistent with the full-time
disability benefits she was receiving. OWCP reduced
Pueschel's benefits accordingly and cleared her for
full-time work. Pueschel then wrote FAA to request a job, but
never received one. Now, she brings these Title VII and
Rehabilitation Act claims against FAA for retaliation and
disability discrimination, asserting that FAA retaliated
against her by encouraging OWCP to reduce her benefits and
that FAA discriminated against her by not giving her a job.
Pueschel also brings First Amendment claims against both FAA
and OWCP, asserting that they violated her "right to run
for Congress without penalty" by taking her campaign
activities into account in reducing her benefits. Compl.
¶ 52, Dkt. 1 at 10. Before the Court is defendants'
joint Motion to Dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) and Rule 12(b)6)
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Dkt. 15-1
(redacted). For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant
began working for FAA as an Air Traffic Controller in 1974.
Compl. ¶ 6. In 1980, she filed an EEO complaint alleging
a pattern of sexual harassment by her male colleagues.
Id. ¶ 10. In 1981, her disputes with FAA began
to intensify. First, she was injured at work and filed a
claim for worker compensation with OWCP. Id. ¶
12. Next, she filed a federal lawsuit alleging sexual
harassment and reprisal. Id. ¶ 14. After that,
she called in sick due to back pain on the same day as an
illegal air traffic controllers' strike. Id.
¶ 16. FAA assumed that Pueschel had participated in the
strike, so it fired her and challenged her OWCP claim.
lost her first round of sexual-harassment litigation in
federal court but obtained a reversal from the Fourth Circuit
in 1983. Id. ¶¶ 18, 19. Three months
later, she convinced the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board
to reverse her termination. Id. ¶ 20. Things
between Pueschel and FAA went smoothly for the next seven
years. But Pueschel filed additional EEO complaints against
FAA in 1990, 1992, 1997, and 2001. Id. ¶ 21.
Meanwhile, Pueschel suffered an anxiety attack on the job in
1994 and never returned to work. Id. ¶ 22. She
requested disability benefits for work-related anxiety and
physical injuries arising from the incident, which OWCP
granted in 1998. Id. ¶ 23. In 1999, FAA
terminated Pueschel again-this time because she was no longer
able to work as an air traffic controller. Id.
¶ 24. She unsuccessfully appealed her termination.
2000, Pueschel set her sights on Congress. Id.
¶ 27. She ran for the House of Representatives in
2000-2004 and again in 2012-2016. Id. Sometime in
2012, FAA began questioning whether Pueschel's campaign
activities demonstrated an ability to work that was
inconsistent with the full-time OWCP benefits she was still
receiving. Id. ¶ 28. On October 9, 2015, FAA
sent a letter to OWCP stating that Pueschel
"demonstrated, and continues to demonstrate, the ability
to run for elective office" and that her campaigning
activities "disprove[d]" the conclusion that she
was "permanently disabled" and likely not
"able to work in any capacity." Id. ¶
30. In January 2016, OWCP reduced Pueschel's disability
benefits on the grounds she was then capable of working full
time as a "customer service representative."
Id. ¶ 31. In March 2016, Pueschel complained to
an EEO counselor about what she considered FAA's
"efforts to deprive her of her disability
benefits." Id. ¶ 32.
April 2016, Pueschel sent a letter to FAA-specifically, to
Margaret Gilligan, the Associate Administrator for Aviation
Safety, Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. 4, Dkt. 21-4 at
l-explaining that she had been cleared for
full-time work and was requesting a position in the FAA
Historian's office, Compl. ¶ 33. Gilligan wrote back
that she was "unable to respond to [Pueschel's]
request as this is a matter to be addressed by the Air
Traffic Organization and the Office of Human Resources."
PL Opp'n Ex. 4, at 3; see also Compl. ¶ 34.
Pueschel never heard from FAA again regarding her request.
Compl. ¶ 34.
29, 2016, Pueschel initiated the EEO complaint process
against FAA, which culminated in a final EEOC decision
rejecting her claims on April 3, 2017. Id.
¶¶ 35-42. She timely filed this suit within 90 days
of receiving that decision. Id. ¶ 43; see
also 42 U.S.C. §2000e-16(c).
brings count I against FAA for reprisal under the Rehabilitation
Act and Title VII. Compl. ¶¶ 44-46. She brings
count II against FAA for disability discrimination under the
Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act
(ADA). Id. ¶¶ 47-49. And she brings count
III against both FAA and OWCP for violating her right to run
for Congress without penalty under the First Amendment.
Id. ¶¶ 50-52.
relief, Pueschel seeks: findings consistent with all three
Counts; $300, 000 in compensatory damages; a position with
FAA retroactive to her April 9, 2016 request for employment;
a remand of OWCP's decision reducing her disability
benefits with instructions to recalculate them without regard
for her candidacy for the House of Representatives; and
reasonable attorneys' fees and expenses. Id. at
11. In response to plaintiffs complaint, defendants filed
this joint Motion to Dismiss for lack of subject-matter
jurisdiction and failure to state a claim upon which relief
can be granted.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), a party may move to
dismiss an action or claim when the court lacks
subject-matter jurisdiction. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). A motion
for dismissal under Rule 12(b)(1) "presents a threshold
challenge to the court's jurisdiction." Haase v.
Sessions, 835 F.2d 902, 906 (D.C. Cir. 1987). Federal
district courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, and it is
"presumed that a cause lies outside this limited
jurisdiction." Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins.
Co., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). Thus, "the plaintiff
bears the burden of establishing jurisdiction by a
preponderance of the evidence." Moran v. U.S.
Capitol Police Bd., 820 F.Supp.2d 48, 53 (D.D.C. 2011)
(citing Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555,
ruling on a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, the court must treat the
plaintiffs factual allegations as true and afford the
plaintiff the benefit of all inferences that can be derived
from the facts alleged." Jeong Seon Han v.
Lynch, 223 F.Supp.3d 95, 103 (D.D.C. 2016) (internal
quotation marks omitted). Those factual allegations, however,
receive "closer scrutiny" than they would in the
Rule 12(b)(6) context. Id. Also, unlike when
evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court may consider
documents outside the pleadings to evaluate whether it has
jurisdiction. See Jerome Stevens Pharm., Inc. v.
FDA, 402 F.3d 1249, 1253 (D.C. Cir. 2005). If the court
determines that it lacks jurisdiction, the court must dismiss
the claim or action. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), 12(h)(3).
12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a
defendant to move to dismiss the complaint for failure to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(b)(6). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a complaint must
contain factual matter sufficient to "state a claim to
relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A facially
plausible claim is one that "allows the court to draw
the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556
U.S. 662, 678 (2009). This standard does not amount to a
specific probability requirement, but it does require
"more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has
acted unlawfully." Id.; see also Twombly, 550
U.S. at 555 ("Factual allegations must be enough to
raise a right to relief above the speculative level.").
A complaint alleging facts that are "merely consistent
with a defendant's liability . . . stops short of the
line between possibility and plausibility."
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (internal quotation marks
factual allegations are "entitled to [an] assumption of
truth," id. at 679, and the court construes the
complaint "in favor of the plaintiff, who must be
granted the benefit of all inferences that can be derived
from the facts alleged," Hettinga v. United
States, 677 F.3d 471, 476 (D.C. Cir. 2012) (internal
quotation marks omitted). The assumption of truth does not
apply, however, to a "legal conclusion couched as a
factual allegation." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678
(internal quotation marks omitted). An "unadorned,
the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation" is not
credited; likewise, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the
elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory
statements, do not suffice." Id.